When I was between 11 and 13, my favourite ‘artists’ were as follows: Soul Decision, The Spice Girls, Prozzak, S Club 7, B*Witched, 5ive, the Backstreet Boys, Wave, and LFO. Of all the CDs I owned, there were only two that could be considered legitimate music: Ben Folds’ Rockin’ the Suburbs which I picked up in the eighth great because I thought the title track was funny, and The Foo Fighters’ Nothing Left to Lose, because I thought the video for “Learn to Fly” was funny. Both of these records are mainstays now and the records by the aforementioned ‘artists’ are now on my iPod for bubbly Friday night pre-bar, or energetic workout nostalgic purposes.
It was these people – these horrible denim-wearing, over-produced, choreographed, polished people – introduced me to my own identity as a music fan. Before I was a teeny bopper, I listened to my mother’s classic rock, new wave 80s and 1970s a.m. Time Life collections (she’s really big on compilations). I knew who Pink Floyd was before I knew how to multiply by 11. And yet, those weren’t my records. They were mom’s records that she played in the car and played on Sunday afternoons while she was doing laundry. But they weren’t part of my experience. I liked them, but I liked them as a kid who grew up with them. It’s rather like raising our kid to like the same sports teams that we do.
Yes; I was raised on music – good music. And I liked that good music. In fact, my mom remembers a time when my sister and I were on our way to the Santa Claus parade on a visit to our aunt and uncle’s in Toronto, and we were singing the 1960s folk song, “Bottle of Wine” loudly and attracting odd stares. Still though, that never stopped me from exploring the so-called garbage of my own generation, if only because music that’s yours during those formative years, helps you find who you are, relate to your peers, and have common interests with other young people around you. If music is something you care about like I did, this is how your niche is found.
As I got older, I gradually discovered through various means, music that would last longer than half a year or so and music that didn’t involve artificial chimes, Spanish guitar and a bad Canadian rap bridge, or that wasn’t sung by cartoon characters. By the time my first year of university was over, I was an indie folkie and I wore Chuck Taylors to Wolfmother concerts and that became my niche. I started penning reviews of records and relating much of my life, experiences, memories and moments of profound sadness and ecstatic moments of wonder to the excellent music that was a part of who I was (who I am in fact) and here I am now as someone who cares about music and (I feel) knows pretty well what a good record is, and what a crappy record is. And I can tell you why I feel this way to justify my choices.
What astounds me though is, exploring Twitter and Facebook these days, how cruel the music-savvy social media can be to this new generation of music-loving teeny boppers.
They call themselves “Beliebers” and “Directioners”; the former are Justin Bieber’s army of millions of tweenage minions who dominate Twitter almost every single day. The latter are the fans of the new boy band sensation One Direction, who came from the U.K., got their big break on a reality show, and are slowly on their way to conquering the world by breaking one 14-year old heart at a time. These girls are intense; they don’t mess around, they don’t stand for people who hate on their idols, and they will fight back mercilessly, such as the time when Esperenza Spalding was favoured over Justin Bieber at the Grammys last year, and a few Beliebers made some not-so-nice updates on Spalding’s Wikipedia page.
Directioners are a bit less defensive, if only because they haven’t been around the hate block as long as Beliebers have. Surely though, as One Direction builds in momentum across the known universe, they will soon be rising up in a similar manner. But you can see them in the audience at live interviews with the group, and in their music videos and on their live shows; the tears and screaming and flailing and loss of muscle control. It’s something to behold, the amount of power attractive young pop singers can have over millions upon millions of ‘ordinary people’.
The other day one of Twitter’s trending topics was “#HappyHitDirectionersWithAShovelDay”.
Where do I even begin?
First of all, that’s quite harsh, no? Even to jokingly want to bludgeon someone based on their music taste is a little bit of a crude joke and demonstrates a whole lot of hate for something you can’t control, or stop. Let’s be honest: are these “haters” strongly thinking about their hatred so much during their day that they;re going to bother tweeting about it?
Secondly, these are little girls; some of them are probably as young as 4 or 5. You really have to consider how cold-hearted and mean-spirited the joke is in the context of exactly who a “Directioner” is.
And lastly my question is, What’s the harm? Do we feel that by being mean and hating on these young superstars and their fans, we are somehow stopping an epidemic of terrible, pointless, substanceless music? Because… we’re not. As long as there are teenagers listening to music and watching television, there will be a barrage of artists that are marketed to them. They’ll be rushed out and over-exposed and their records will be bland and cater to kids who don’t know anything about a classic riff or a Rickenbacker guitar. And their popularity will span countless lesser copycats that will each have their own little tweenager niche market. They will all have cute tousled hair and be spiffy little dressers and say things in interviews that are kinda funny and kinda awkward and make every girl across the globe swoon and cry and jump around and make scrapbooks and blanket their bedroom walls with pictures clipped from Teen magazine. And unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to stop that from happening, no matter how much time you spend hating the kids for having “no taste” or hating the artists for being substanceless…
The thing is, of course we’re critical and outraged and annoyed at the shallow state of society’s values, its acceptance of mediocrity, the crime that One Direction has sold more records than a band like First Aid Kit or The Barr Brothers. Remember though… we are looking at music from an adult perspective. Rewind 10+ years and remember who you were when you were 13. I think I said once, “I’m going to be obsessed with Wave forever!” Here I am, at 25… am I obsessed with Wave? God, no. I moved on from all my childish tastes (most of them anyways) eons ago. These girls will, too. Then they’ll turn into us in ten years and there will be some other teen idol at the turn of the next decade and they’ll scoff at them and make fun of them and lambaste the fans and make stupid jokes. This is how it’s always been and there’s nothing new. The only thing that’s new is the face behind the hatred.
So by criticizing these kids, we’re becoming the people we hated when we were young : our parents who told us that N*SYNC were “manufactured and had no talent”; our older sister who told us, “Britney Spears is going to be over in a few months”; those boys on the playground who followed us around and made fun of us for liking that “gay” band. We’re ignoring the fact these sweet little girls are screaming, cheering, dancing and singing along with the innocent, simplistic music of their idols – their idols who show them where they belong and who they are at this stage of their young lives and gives them a sense of ownership over their tastes, their chosen peer group and their interests. We’re also disallowing them the pleasure of becoming our age and reminiscing about the music they loved when they were younger. Someday, that little girl in seventh grade will be sitting in her apartment when she’s in university and talking with her friends about who their favourite member of One Direction was and why, and laughing about it.
Being a teeny bopper crazy fan girl is a fundamental part of girlhood and growing up and rites of passage; it’s our first exposure to boys that we can bring home to our moms and for some, a first exposure – a basic kindergarten-level intro – into music itself and the joys, pleasures and excitements we can get from just putting on a set of headphones. It’s a first step into becoming the savvy adults we are now and understanding human nature, the stages of human development, and that maybe all those Twitter girls’ obsessions with all things Justin Bieber are so bad, really; maybe we can look at them and remember for a moment when we were young and we didn’t need to challenge ourselves or pretend to be too cool for that guilty pleasure on the radio.