As the year ends and I start to make real choices about my future, I'm reflecting on a couple lessons I've learned. One, that relates to the music I talk about on here and why I talk about it on here, is that I'm tired of pretending I don't like things or I'm too good for something. I was an oddly pretentious little kid when it came to just about everything. I made the choices that I felt were mature and sophisticated because those were two things I valued over everything else. I never fit in with my peers very well, and I embraced being different with my whole heart. I'd also never been in a situation where liking mainstream things was really praised. After my Disney days, which I still hold quite close to my heart, I refused to admit that I liked super popular music. Music that was seen as things for obsessed, little girl fans. I don't think it went that deep, consciously, for 8 year old me, but the societal ideas were there. Part of it came from the fact that certain artists and bands were popular with people who were awful to me. I flinched away from all of it figuring I couldn't possibly relate to it if they liked it. Because of this, I also didn't have friends to share their obsessions with me. I got my music from the Top 40 radio, shuffled and skipped through by my parents or what they played on the speakers. I didn't really have my own taste back then, and I couldn't do my own deep dive to form an opinion on anything at that age. I could only judge artists and fandom off of what the major pop culture narrative was. Certain artists were for hysterical little girls, and the thing I got prided on was being smart and mature (two things presented as the opposite of a fangirl, but couldn't be less true). I couldn't possibly like One Direction with their boyband image and Barbie dolls (even though I owned plenty of the plastic dolls). I have distinct memories of scoffing in my head at liking Taylor Swift. Couldn't be me.
I think that says more about the world we live in and the messages it sends us than it does about my third grade self. To be smart and taken seriously, I had to shun the popular things? They couldn't possibly be good if millions of people loved them. But I was only exposed to what the world at large had to say when trying to mold opinions. It wasn't until I was twelve that my mind started to expand on the subject and think more critically. The summer before the 1989 tour started, I just had a weird impulse that I had to be in a stadium watching it. I wasn't an obsessive Taylor fan. I barely knew the 1989 album well, but some switch flipped in me. I begged and begged my parents to let me go, and so started my deep love for Taylor Swift. But, at that point, Taylor had become somewhat of a mixed figure. Even though 1989 was a pinnacle of her career and a time when she found a lot of new respect from the mainstream world, I'd gotten to the age where it was a sin to be excited about anything. No one in my class really liked Taylor, or would admit it, at least, so I kept quiet about my admiration. I studied her songs and followed her on Instagram. I finally felt understood for the first time in ages in her lyrics. She actually became a really important figure in my relationship with my dad. He took me to the 1989 tour, and he made an effort to get into her music. I'd share news updates with him, and my life at home was soundtracked by Taylor. I was also getting older and Apple Music became a thing. I fought to subscribe to the streaming service, and it opened a whole world of getting to choose, search for, and understand the music that was out there. It opened up the world even more, but I still had a long way to go. My tastes were mostly influenced by my parents still or the radio, and I didn't have anyone to properly fangirl with. I knew enough about the whole Swiftie existence to be well versed in Tumblr and Taylor Nation and notices, but it made me feel more excluded from that sphere than ever. I knew the fandom existed, but I didn't have the agency to sink into it at that point.
Then the Rep era hit, and, while it didn't bring me into the fandom, it defined me as a Swiftie and a music lover. Rep spoke to me on a level I hadn't really tapped with Taylor yet, which surprised me. I fell in love with its dark vibe and ascetic. While I loved 1989, Rep and the struggles Taylor was facing at the time felt like me. It was also the first era I got to experience from the start. I didn't feel constantly behind and unable to catch up. I watched every moment from the Instagram blackout to the first snake videos to the shocking song drop at midnight for "Look What You Made Me Do". It was also the first time I stayed up for a midnight release and bought all the merch without really hearing the album first. I made my Dad go out super late to buy the two Target exclusive Reputation magazines, I bought the album on iTunes, I worked for boosts for the fan-presale on TicketMaster. It helped that Rep was just a masterpiece and an album that has been widely misunderstood and mischaracterized. I want to write something about that at some point, but I loved its undercurrent of finding and creating beauty even in the most horrific times. I liked the promise it quietly offered. Between the CDs in the two VIP concert ticket boxes and the two from the magazines and another I got somewhere along the way, I have more Reputation CDs that I have no way to play than I can count. I'm going to hang one on my bulletin board when I get to decorate my dorm because that will forever be my peak Taylor era. Dressing up for the concert, making a shirt with Sharpie, vibing to the album on the daily, and watching tour videos and fan projects through my Instagram explore page was my first taste at being a part of a fandom.
It was around that time that I also discovered Glee on Netflix and fell in love. Looking back, it was an important show for me in a lot of different ways, but it was something that was popular that had kind of moved to the pop culture ridicule stage now. I felt like I couldn't talk about it or share my excitement for the show. It felt weird, but, again, I turned to fandom archives long since abandoned and stared in through the glass.
Which brings us to sixteen year old me who is typing this now. I'm four years older, I'm far more confident and assured in who I am, I'm about to go to college and join the adult world, and I feel cemented enough in myself that other people's opinions don't make me feel any less. I'd listened to Harry Style's self titled album when it came out in 2017 a few times. I liked a couple of the tracks. I'd always had a passive awareness of One Direction, and Harry always seemed interesting. I didn't really get it though. One Direction's highlights played on the radio, and they were all fine. I really liked Perfect, and I'd put it on a few playlist, but 2015 me wasn't into exploring and questioning herself much, especially went came to famous boybands.
In October, I got sick and was couch-ridden for like a week, and I started watching a ton of YouTube. Somehow, a "Harry Styles King of Entertaining The Crowd" video popped up, and it auto-played. I watched it cause I had nothing else to do, but I watched the other million parts of the series because I was kinda captivated at how easily he commanded the audience. I'd never seen a performer really interact with specific members of the crowd. Concert videos turned into interviews which turned into live performances of songs which turned into me actually listening to deep cuts and realizing a few things. Ya, their earlier albums had a lot of bubblegum pop. Was their later stuff like that? No. Was the fandom 11 anymore? No, they were my age or slightly older at its core. They were funny and interesting and had a lot of talent. More than anything, they'd become famous when they were my age and lived in the spotlight almost ten years. The idea of that fascinated me. At this point, most of them had solo albums out, and I liked most of their individual music too. While, especially after seeing their solo careers, I don't really want them to get back together, I can appreciate what they were and what they experienced. I never thought that sixteen year old me would stand up proudly and be like I like One Direction, but I call it character development. What that band did as individuals, as musicians, and as pop culture phenomenons, was fascinating and telling of a larger story. The media portrayal and the impact that you can see ripples of now is a window into that reality and how popular culture influences us all. While I'm more a fan of Harry than I am of the band as a whole, I felt like it was an important step for myself to acknowledge that I liked them. It was videos of Harry's solo concerts, though, that inspired me to engage more. Harry waved pride flags, had stickers for March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter, made donations to Time's Up. His motto printed on the old shirts is Treat People with Kindness. And even through the shaky YouTube videos, you could feel the bubble of love and acceptance brimming in the room. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. Also, like Glee, it came at the moment I needed it most. The Fine Line era started a couple weeks after I fell down the rabbit hole, and with each appearance, heeled boot, and new nail art, it felt like Harry was becoming more and more himself. I've been feeling more assured at who I am as a person but more lost than ever about my future, and it's comforting to see people going through a lot of change and coming out better on the other side. It also inspired me to dip a toe into the world of fandom and explore stan twitter, something I never thought I'd do. Twitter had given me such a community that I figured it was worth a shot, and, even though I'd come a long way in admitting to liking things and being thoughtful and interrogating of my opinions, I still didn't have that aspect of community. No one in my life got it, but the fandom did. While I'd love to find people one day in real life who are as unabashedly excited and in love with music, fans, and that world as I am, it's pretty amazing how well the internet will suffice. There's plenty of drama, but it's also a lot of people coming together to bond under a shared interest, love, and respect. People are more open about their sexuality, their mental health, and their truths behind the icons of their favorite artist- free from judgement of their real life friends and family. At its best, fandoms are their own little families drawn together by a common interest. And, while having lyric handles and magazine photoshoots for profile pictures could bring out the worst in people, oftentimes, there's nothing but love and support.
So go be a fan of something or someone. Love the art that is made and the potential friendships you can have. Stop worrying about how sophisticated your palate is and enjoy what feels good to you. I wasted far too much of my childhood, when I should've had a free pass to be my most honest self, questioning how things looked from the outside. I'm over it. Don't be afraid to like things.