When I was eleven, I was obsessed with Hanson.
It was my first foray into the world of pop culture. My awkward middle school years of beginning to leave behind some of my elementary ways but not quite old enough to understand most of the temptations of the world. My parents kept a very tight watch on the movies, TV shows, music, and books we consumed. PG movies were as far as we could go, Dawson’s Creek was expressly forbidden, anything that could appear on MTV was out of the question, and material purchased at our church bookstore was the end of the line.
So naturally as the oldest I started to dabbling with boundaries first. Mostly when it came to music. My parents let us listen to either oldies or CCM. We cut our teeth on a healthy dose of the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson (anything Thriller or before), Earth Wind and Fire, James Taylor, and Neil Diamond, or your CCM trailblazers like Steven Curtis Chapman, Geoff Moore and the Distance, DC Talk, Michael W Smith, Amy Grant, and Chris Rice. Oddly enough several of that CCM crowd ended up being employers, friends, and acquaintances.
I remember the summer my neighborhood friend Melissa let me see the ‘Mmmbop’ music video. I was both fascinated and drawn in. These boys who were my age were fun, popular, cute, and seemed to enjoy life. Soon I began to devour any teeny-bopper magazine I could find, often giving Melissa my allowance to buy the magazines for me from Walgreens. I’d spend hours pouring over the magazines, writing letters, and listening to the music.
And you know what? It changed me. At eleven I found myself searching for a way to find these boys and be friends with them. I wanted to know what life was like behind the stage and on the tour bus. Who were they? What did they like? We didn’t have internet back then and Google wasn’t even a pipe dream. My parents weren’t about to indulge my curiosity to the point of actually helping me figure out a way to meet them, either.
That summer I decided someday I wanted to work in the music industry. Well, I wanted to be a famous singer at first but eventually I gave that up. I started writing what I thought would be song lyrics, researching how to get a record deal, and trying to decide how I could hang out with the bands and make a career out of it. I wanted to tour. I wanted to travel the world. And once I saw their documentary I was completely hooked.
That childhood obsession opened me up to a world I didn’t even know existed (probably much to my parent’s chagrin). It set me on a path that led me to my college choice, my major choice, my first jobs post-college, and into a world I loved. I knew what I wanted to do and was set in my course. Honestly, I don’t regret a single choice I made and I’m still incredibly grateful I got the chance to work in the music industry. I had experiences my 11 year old self would freak out about. (Including seeing Hanson at a coffee shop in Nashville. Twice.)
While my musical taste has become a little wider than the run of the mill boybands, I do have a soft spot in my heart for them. So obviously I saw One Direction’s new movie, This is Us. I was mildly skeptical and expected to feel an “aw, so cute” warm fuzzy towards them. What I got out of it was so much more.
I was transported back to my Hanson days. Seeing the thousands of fans lining up outside the venue or around the hotel brought the little girl giddiness out. I felt the passion and acceptance and the hope of growing up. I chuckled because these screaming, obsessive, adoring fans were the products of their own mothers who were once that way with their favorite bands.
As always, there is criticism of these fans in the media. They’re mocked, put down, dismissed, and not taken seriously. But you know what? When I was living in that fandom (as they call it these days) I found a group of people who loved the same things I did, could imagine a world where these boys cherished us, and accepted me. They became my tribe. Something I didn’t have in my “real world.” I was bullied at school, made fun of, excluded – things I was protected from with my fellow Hanson fans.
So I get it – these girls who spend hours obsessing over these boys. I completely get it and I’d challenge you when I say there isn’t a harm in it. Everything is magnified when you’re 11-18. You feel things like you haven’t before, your emotions are heightened, the world begins to open itself up to you, you have more passion in your pinky finger than most adults do in their entire body. Better to channel this energy towards a fantasy than the unfortunate things our world has started to create and encourage at younger and younger ages.
And these One Direction boys – or I guess I should call them young men – seem to be a good place to channel that passion. They tend to stay out of the media with major scandals (aside from normal late teen/early twenties shenanigans), they seem to truly appreciate their fans, and their lyrics (from what I’ve heard) encourage positive self-esteem. With the rise in suicide, bullying, and hateful language posted everywhere, it’s something that is needed for our next generation.
They need to be told they are beautiful and worthy and wonderful and special. While their parents often tell them, I guarantee you there are very few boys their age telling them those things without hidden agendas. So fellow twentyandthirtysomethings maybe instead of hating and rolling our eyes at these boybands and their fans, let’s have a little more grace for them, yeah? Because we once were and sometimes still are those young kids.
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