Apr 26, 2017

Loving Boy Bands as a Teen Made Me a Stronger Woman

I was driving Patrick to the airport a week or so ago, and we were listening to John Mayer in the car. When I hear John, or Dave Matthews, or Counting Crows, I'm instantly transported to when I was 16.

I remember my dilemmas at that age: having a "cool" car, having a crush on a boy that wouldn't reciprocate; and serious issues, like one of my close friends enduring a very aggressive eating disorder.

That story is for another post, though. This post, on a lighter note, is all about my love of boy bands, and how it's affected me as an adult.

Most of us chain memories to songs. Most of my memories are, at least. For instance, we'd drive to San Marcos and watch Counting Crows with our lawn seats most summers. The boys we were with would drink, and everyone else was high as hell. My friends and I, on the other hand, happened to remain somewhat relevant to the more popular kids without having to engage in either.

The point is I became fans of these bands — John, the Crows and Dave, as I fondly know them now — because they were impressed upon me by someone else. Taylor, a girl a year older than me, introduced me to Room For Squares when I was a freshman. I would listen to that CD through my computer speakers because bluetooth didn't exist then. I might have had a boom box, but I was obsessed with being online at that point, and I wasn't allowed to have Napster, either. Dad's rules — and thank the lord, because many of my college friends got served with a massive fee for all the illegal music they downloaded.

Counting Crows were introduced to me by one of my best friends. The guy she dated and his group of friends were really into them. My first real interaction hearing them was on the Clueless soundtrack, and even then I thought they were a whiny college band. Once I took some time to actually listen to their music, though, I was addicted. I'd drive my Sebring Convertible, thinking I was hot sh*t, down dirt roads to bonfires while blasting "Up All Night" and "Good Time." You know I love them red head girls, I'm just another boy from Texas...

And Dave. DMB was my first boyfriend's absolute favorite band. Hearing songs from Under the Table and Dreaming transport me to the end of my sophomore year, meeting said boyfriend at my long-lost friend Amy's house, and then spending every waking moment I could with him that summer before he hauled himself off to college.

I avoided going to my job as an usher at the local movie theater, but recall the movies playing that summer: Charlie's AngelsThe Fast and the Furious (number God-knows-what) and Finding Nemo, based off the songs that would play during the credits, when I had my broom and dustpan and went in to sweep popcorn out of the aisles. (For the record, the songs were "Any Way You Want It" by Journey, "Somewhere Beyond the Sea" by Robbie Williams and "Pump It Up" by Joe Budden.)

As you can tell, the soundtrack to my teenage years was heavily influenced by other people. Which is not a bad thing! But that's why boy bands are so special. When I became a fan of *NSYNC, I was 12, or maybe even 11, and that decision — embarrassing or not — was all mine.

Nobody told me to like them. Nobody else was really listening to them, and if they were, they weren't openly admitting it. (I take that back. People were listening to them: 2.1 million people were, at least.) My best friend and I bonded over our mutual love and adoration of this band — of these five grown-ass men, who wore outfits in similar yet different fabrics and color patterns, who sang about space cowboys, cyber sex and having no strings to hold them down. (I always say that I wish *NSYNC performed Backstreet Boys songs, because BSB's music has produced many earworms and is lower on the cheese scale than, say, "Bye Bye Bye" or "Tearin' Up My Heart." Although we wouldn't have this Justin Timberlake meme, so never mind.) Just reading that sentence makes me cringe a little, because I am imagining how deeply obsessed and emotional I was over these men, whose schtick was unadulterated, cheesy pop. There's no denying it — they even wrote a song about it!

But I loved them. And loving a boy band as a teenager shaped me into a better person. I know... That's a stretch! I mean it, though.

When I went to my first *NSYNC concert in March of 1999, I was beyond excited. I can't remember how I got turned onto this band. Maybe MTV? But I had the opportunity to see them in concert and meet them before the show, and I was downright giddy.

I wore the worst outfit ever, but I was dedicated. I wore a JC necklace I bought at Claire's. It was a cheap silver and painted in blue and sparkly blue. I brought a CD I ordered off eBay, which was from another country. I wanted to make sure they knew my dedication. (Are you cringing reading this? I don't blame you.) While signing my CD, Lance commented that he hadn't ever seen the CD before and said it was cool, and my efforts were validated.

We got a ton of photos with the boys afterwards; I got mine with JC and was so excited to put them in my binder and show everyone when I returned to school that week. Because, yes, we did not have social media. We couldn't Snap/IG/Tweet/post to Facebook what we were doing the exact second we were doing it. We actually had to physically verbalize our actions to the people we wanted to share the information with. Novel concept!

When I returned to school, I was absolutely dying for someone (anyone!) to see my photo collage in my binder pocket. Just ask me what this is about so I can word-vomit that I met the love of my life. And someone did!

"Who's that?"
"JC from *NSYNC. I met him this week before their concert!"
"Oh. What a loser."

And from that one interaction, I realized that loving this boy band was not the cool thing to do, even in 6th grade, when it's basically your job to love stuff like this. The boys who recognized I was a fan of this band would call them "gay" as a derogatory term, as young, dumb boys did (and maybe still do?) to the guys all the girls loved back then. (I heard that about Leonardo Dicaprio and Jonathan Taylor Thomas as well.) I didn't care if they were gay or not. I loved them.

While that event did keep me from going to school and yelling from the rooftops that I met (or loved) *NSYNC for some time, it didn't deter me from doing things I loved involving the band. I recorded every TV program they were ever on. I recorded TRL daily, on the same tape, in hopes that it would be the day my message would be broadcast on the ticker on the bottom of the screen. I bought merch from other countries. And I went to every concert they had in the state of Texas each year — usually three — and tried to meet them every chance I could. I would go to the concerts with my close friends, and it was something we all legitimately looked forward to. My mom says one of her favorite experiences with me as kid was going to *NSYNC concerts. They were fun even for the people who weren't in their target demo. (They would often cover hits from the 60s/70s/80s. They're the reason I know Michael Jackson's "PYT," "Sailing" by Christopher Cross and legitimately every Bee Gees song.) I even became pen pals with friends I met online through *NSYNC forums.

It was the equivalent of what you might be doing as a One Direction or Harry Styles fan today: looking up concert clips on Youtube and saving them to different playlists, buying merch from Instagram stores, learning songs like "Teenage Dirtbag," obsessing over photos and finding leaked songs online, or finding Twitter friends to bond over 1D news with. In fact, you guys are sleuths and have so many different ways to keep up with your favorite artists than I did.

Don't let being "uncool" keep you from loving your favorite bands, or celebrities, or whatever it may be. I was inspired to write this post from Harry Styles' comments to Rolling Stone about teenage girls.

Styles is aware that his largest audience so far has been young – often teenage – women. Asked if he spends pressure-filled evenings worried about proving credibility to an older crowd, Styles grows animated. "Who's to say that young girls who like pop music – short for popular, right? – have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That's not up to you to say. Music is something that's always changing. There's no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they're not serious? How can you say young girls don't get it? They're our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans – they don't lie. If they like you, they're there. They don't act 'too cool.' They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick."

Right on, Harry. We need more idols that teens worship to speak of young women this way. I would have loved to hear Justin Timberlake say something like this when he went solo. Maybe he did? But I would bet I would have the quote engrained in my head. After all this time, I still love Justin, but it felt like when he transitioned into the Justified era, he was ready to grow up, and he was ready to leave the *NSYNC fandom behind — almost like he wouldn't be respected if teenage girls were still his target demographic. (For the record, they were.) With Harry, it's thrilling to hear that while he might be maturing musically, he's not throwing his babies out with the bathwater, so to speak.

My best memories came from finding a band that genuinely made me happy. It helped me embrace my love of dance and entertaining. It made me passionate about writing and interviewing. I'd write faux profile pieces about my favorite artists, aspiring to emulate a piece a la Cameron Crowe's account of Harry, and ask questions to imaginary celebrities in my car. And it helped me find my way to Los Angeles. The feeling I got when I went to their concerts gave me a high. I was straight-up emotional when it were over, because I wanted so desperately to make other people feel the way I felt after watching them. I was transported to another world for an hour and half, where I wasn't worried about anything other than enjoying the show.

So, friends, both young and old: enjoy being in a fandom. Even as an adult. I am.

1 comment:

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