Since The Atlantic staff writer Kaitlyn Tiffany put out her book Everything I Need I Get From You: How Fangirls Created The Internet As We Know It, Taylor Swift fans, also known as Swifties, came under fire for sharing screenshots of the “Blank Space” singer and her boyfriend Joe Alwyn at a funeral that was being livestreamed.
taylor and joe were seen at a funeral in the UK that was broadcasted live recently pic.twitter.com/NiO5FSvO1d
— aIex (@taysexiIe) July 4, 2022
Swifties, safe in their anonymity usually with handles and avatars that have only to do with Taylor rather than their own identities, replied to the pictures with frantic affection: “Imagine sitting next to her,” “I’m like awww they’re so cute but I’m also like oh no rip HELP,” “the girl sat to next taylor is so lucky.” Some Swifties condemned this behavior (“what is wrong with u”), but it went viral nonetheless, whether for curiosity of seeing their fave or for notoriety that fans would make a spectacle out of such a private, sad event.
Everything I Need I Get From You is a study on this kind of community of devoted, frequently unhinged pop fans called stans. Tiffany taking on this task was undeniably brave; upon its announcement, she received a barrage of hate from stans asking why she was so obsessed with them, despite the fact that she had actually been one when she was younger. Of course, these stans have a reason to worry. Their image has never been clean. They are known for the dark side of their dedication, which mainly consists of harassing people who get in their way, like their fave’s new romantic partner or a harsh critic (Tiffany quotes a tweet of an example of the latter: “I want to f*cking mutilate your insides, feed them to my dog and burn your body in my own personal raging hell.”). But Tiffany’s book is not a takedown — it is an examination, but that is still too much for stans to fathom as well.
“Infatuation is irrational but it can be a precursor to introspection,” Tiffany asserts early on. It is hard to believe. If anything, it seems like the infatuation of these fans is the kind of coping mechanism that is numbing and distracting. But obsession can definitely be multi-dimensional; think Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick, a cult-followed autofiction masterwork that proves the way uncensored, indulgent female obsession can be a vehicle for creativity, knowledge, and power. Tiffany argues that the passion stans feel is similar, instead of the kind of blind consumerism that many think it is.
When I took a class on The Beatles during my last semester of college, my professor showed us photographs on a projector of crowds of hysterical girls. He said, “Let’s talk briefly about Beatlemania.” He clicked through the black and white pictures of the crowds of teenage girls, distraught, crying, possessed, their hands covering their faces or on their heads if they were pulling out their hair. The Beatles were different than any other band, my professor explained, because they allowed women to behave passionately in public with security. They could be assertive, and for once they were not the ones being pursued — they were the pursuers, and the band their object.
Tiffany, though, knows that stan culture cannot be reduced down to this simple explanation. She debunks the myth that One Direction’s fan base is mostly women due to their attraction to the boys; she dives into “Larry,” a shipping of bandmates Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. Tiffany quotes Hannah McCann and Clare Southerton, two cultural studies scholars: “Far more than lusting after their boyband idols, Larries desire desire itself.” This is special, especially for young people who haven’t yet had access to the experience of the intensities and thrills of adulthood: love, sex, yearning, want. In this way, the band is not the object that they are pursuing; One Direction is, instead, a vessel through which fans can escape reality and live vicariously.
But it is true that being a stan is a route through which a young woman can be free and defy the conventional rules of femininity. Tiffany describes seeing One Direction as a college student: “Outside, the strange things we were capable of feeling were sneered at or smiled off or commercially packaged as ‘girl power,’ but here they were rough and loud. The sounds were ugly,” she wrote. Even if this power that the community holds often manifests in really ugly ways — like accusing Tomlinson’s girlfriend Briana Jungwirth of faking her pregnancy and attempting to prove it by tracking her menstruation cycle(! )— it also came in handy sometimes for the greater good. When Black Lives Matter protests broke out in 2020, K-pop fans flooded hashtags that cops had been using to try to find and criminalize protesters. Fandoms in general also “repurpose[d] news accounts with large followings that usually track chart positions or celebrity Instagram activity to instead disseminate information about the protests,” Tiffany explains, such as “reading material, bail fund links, shareable graphics.”
The best part about the internet age is that everything online is a project that others can become involved in. But this might also be the worst part. The mob mentality will probably never relent. But it also isn’t just exclusive to pop fandoms, or the music scene in general; it’s the entire way the internet operates, and it’s designed for such chaos. What drives more traffic? It is incredibly easy, probably inevitable, for someone to lose their sense of individuality. Tiffany, though, denies that fans are just feeding into the system; they are rebelling against it. What they partake in is democratic, and it’s personal and transgressive; everything they do is an act of their own volition. She even shares quotes from an article hailing One Direction as punk and DIY because of all of the fan’s antics with hacking security cameras and taking charge of music charts by making collective efforts to increase streams for a song, often through clever loopholes.
Tiffany primarily gave stans the benefit of the doubt, and they should be grateful. Everything I Need I Get From You ponders: “Even alone, even in secret, there must be a reason to do what we do.” Though fans can often cross boundaries and get a bad rap, Tiffany finds them redeemable, charming, and fundamental to culture. She knows they have good intentions. They are just doing what everyone else is trying to do — find solace in a tumultuous existence.