An ode to the boy band fandoms of the 2010s
On 25 March 2015, One Direction announced Zayn Malik was leaving the band.
Time came to a startling halt. Birds stopped chirping. Traffic stopped moving. The only sound that could be heard for miles was the violent sobbing and anguish of Directioners. This crisis was so serious that even 5SOS fans lowered their defences in the Twitter fanwars out of respect. Society, civilisation, humanity, as we knew it would never be the same again.
The boy band fandom was truly an icon in our adolescence, and a cornerstone of 2010s culture more broadly. Although at the time we were both immersed in our ‘not like other girls’ phase, and we acted like we couldn’t care less on the outside, but deep down, we were avid readers of One Direction fanfiction, and hopelessly in love with Zayn (and the other boys). Okay can we just say that that man was criminally underrated. Who else could hit that high note in “You & I” like he did? While his departure was devastating, one thing boy bands taught us was that acceptance and support were the most important things when it came to supporting your favourite musicians. As for the indefinite hiatus of the OT4, we’re still patiently waiting for the reunion…
Loving One Direction and other boy bands was a whole culture. Fans expressed their love through a variety of creative mediums, making GIFS, edits, forums, etc. All these internet subcultures formed communities, uniting people in their love for the smol beans of One Direction, Panic! At The Disco, The 1975, The Neighbourhood, 5 Seconds of Summer, and other bands that amassed huge and dedicated followings. Gabbie had a Tumblr blog, just for fantasising what it would be like being “one of the boys’” in these bands. Everyone had the same fantasy, it may not all be the same tropes but we were all experiencing the same yearning in different expressions. This relatability formed communities that made your hopelessness feel not-so-lame, but understood. People would reblog and comment on all of the things you created, and it was encouraging, and ego-fuelling.
These bonds also extended beyond the internet. At concerts, people would meet up with their internet best friends, or create new friendship groups with other fans who were also camping out. The common ground of being a fan of Panic! At The Disco or Arctic Monkeys instantly removed the ‘stranger’ barrier, which is honestly refreshing to experience in your teenage/young adult years, given how isolating that stage of life can be.
Perhaps one of the boy band fandom’s greatest legacies was its creation of an entirely new genre of fanfiction. This explosion of literature truly catered to everyone’s tastes. For those with more vanilla preferences, there was the run-of-the-mill Stockholm Syndrome plots, where Y/N falls in love with her kidnapper, the blue-orbed, Niall Horan. Or, the classic trope of being adopted by Harry Styles, with his mop of chocolate curls, after Y/N’s parents mysteriously die in a sudden car crash. For those with spicier tastes, the fandom had a never-ending supply of, to put it more gently, ‘creative’ smut. Whether you’re after a fiery love triangle between Oprah Winfrey, Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles, or you’re in the mood for a romantic tale where Y/N finds out they’re first cousins with Luke Hemmings, and the two get married anyway, the fangirls have got your every desire covered.The only limitations standing in their way of crafting post-postmodern works of literature were Wattpad’s content guidelines and Tumblr’s censorship rules.
Even if you had a short attention span that prevented you from perusing fanfiction.net ‘til 2 am, you could still satisfy your wild fantasies with ‘Imagines’: short descriptive passages usually written in second-person, accompanied by a completely out-of-context and grainy GIF/photo. Common imagines featured Y/N eating carrots with Louis, waking up and finding out that your kidney donor was Zayn, running away from spoons with Liam, and various scenarios where One Direction members nibble away at your ear.
The thing is, the world of fanfiction and imagines weren’t just for angsty horny teenagers, many successful authors got their start in the humble tabs of Wattpad. Anna Todd, author of After, a Harry Styles inspired fanfic, blew up and was published into a novel. Obviously, the characters’ names were changed for legal reasons—we assume—but Anna made a wholeass pentalogy, and later, also a series of film adaptations. While we’re no After fangirls, you can’t discredit the power of fanfiction.
However, the boy band fandom wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Some fans were also straight-up bullies. This side of the fandom was called Twitter. It’s universally known that Twitter stans are the worst breed. There would always be discussions of Niall’s teeth or Louis’s kid being fake (babes, his son is real, stfu!). Not to mention the weird and problematic shipping of group members—we’re looking at you Larry stans. Within the indie band sphere, fans also heavily romanticised mental illness, and pretentiously looked down upon pop music lovers, or anyone who didn’t appreciate the poetry genius of Matty Healy’s lyrics.
It’s 2022, and as society we’ve finally collectively recognised that it’s not cool or edgy to shit on boy bands anymore. These fandoms gave us, and many other adolescents, powerful creative outlets. From our humble beginnings as Wattpad writers of fanfiction with 30k views, and Tumblr bloggers of Picsart edits, we proudly owe a big part of our drive, and personalities, to being fangirls in the age of the 2010s boy band renaissance.