Like anything, fandom can be a good thing when used in moderation. Derived from the word fanatic, humans can be fans of something without ever crossing the line into an obsession. As a culture, when it comes to the newest boy band, the act of being a Stan or fangirling can disrupt personal relationships, work life and other aspects of living a healthy lifestyle. Director Jessica Leski’s latest film, I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story delves into the lives of four women across three generations and the ramifications their fangirling has had on their lives over the course of three years.
The Lives of Four Fangirls
The documentary follows four women from three generations over a span of three years as they detail the ups and downs of being fangirls of different boy bands. The women have different ethnic backgrounds and Leski does a good job at documenting how it influences relationships with their friends and family.
The youngest fangirl of the four is 16 year-old Elif from New York. When we’re introduced to Elif, she’s a high schooler from Long Island who is obsessed with One Direction, The band is her life and sh was in a viral video crying over the band. Elif thinks that no one can be as perfect as One D and she’s had dreams of playing tag with the band. Her parents are from Turkey and they do not understand their daughters’ obsession with the band and want her to focus more on school; however to Elif, One Direction is life.
When it comes to 1990s nostalgia, the Backstreet Boys fangirl is 25 year-old Sadia of San Francisco. Sadia started out as a fan of the Spice Girls, then transitioned to the Backstreet Boys as a preteen. During the infancy of the internet, her fandom of the group made her create a popular newsletter for other Backstreet Boys fans. The Backstreet Pride newsletter allowed fans to stay up to date on the happening of the boyband and prepared Sadia for her future career as a writer. Who knew a teenage crush on Nick Carter would spark a career.
Traveling across the pond to the land Down Under is where the last two fangirls reside. Dara, 33, is an enthusiast for the British boy band Take That. The blonde haired woman’s life goal is to be on stage with Gary Barlow, who is her favorite member of the band. The veteran of the documentary is 64 year-old Susan, who is a fangirl of the first boy band the Beatles. Susan also lives in Australia and was infatuated with Paul McCartney to the point that she would practice his signature. Susan’s fandom has not escaped her because she’s collected photos, frame autographs and newspapers for over forty years.
What Truly Makes A Boy Band?
Understanding the basics of a boy band is key in Leski’s documentary. Some argue of The Beatles count as the original boy band, but Dara has her own “Boy Band theory” that is educational and informative. Basically, a boy band is usually aged between 17 – 21 with 3 – 5 members. Their songs are themed around sex (implied in a PG way), love, fun. heartbreaking and longing for a good time.
Distinct personalities are also key. Dara explains that the personalities that makeup a successful boy band are mysterious, cute, an older brother (sensible), the sexy one, and forgotten one. One member usually plays an instrument at radio shows. Coloring and styling are also important because boy bands have to match. The band’s lifespan is an average of five years and they usually do not take themselves too seriously. To keep their boyish appearance they usually do no have beards, but at times facial hair like stubble is okay.
Three Years Later
The documentary follows its subjects over the course of three years and there is a lot of change the fangirls go through over that time. Elif has grown the most, figuratively and literally. The youngest of the fangirls has graduated high school and is on her way to college, but her fandom in One Direction has wandered off. She makes music now and says that she loves jazz music. Her parents do not see her vision and do not support her on her musical endeavors, but the one time Directioner is determined to prove them wrong.
Sadia, who has closeted her Backstreet Boys fandom during her formative years, has decided to let it be known that she’s a fangirl. She reads fanfiction about the group and the her newsletter that once had over 2,000 subscribers. Her parents are more supportive of her fandom than Elif’s were. Like Elif, her parents are also immigrants, they’re from India, so the documentary delves into the effects of being a brown girl who stans an American boyband. Over the years, Sadia goes to conventions and shows where the band performs and she even got to take a picture with Nick Carter. Sadia has a breakthrough while attending a Backstreet Boys cruise and notices how all the other women are acting and realizes that this isn’t healthy.
Of the fangirls who were followed, Dara is the one who has came to terms with a lot of things in her life. Her mother didn’t take her to a Take That show in the Outback when she was a kid and she resented her for it. Later. her mom took her to her first show and she forgave her. Dara is the only fangirl in the documentary that wanted to be a member of the boy band that she obsesses over. As a lesbian, Dara wanted to be Gary Barlow. Her blonde hair is styled in a similar manner as the band member. Like Barlow, Dara wanted the fame and all the girls screaming at her in admiration. Now that her sexuality is outed, she’s outed her fandom and she’s a lot happier for it. She has a customized license plate on her Mini Cooper so the world knows who she’s riding with.
As the elder stateswoman of the fangirls, Susan found a way to move on from the Beatles. She’s still a fan, but she came to grips that her and John Lennon were not meant to be together. Her introspection as the one who’s been through what the other girls are going through is insightful. Susan states that there was some resentment when she was younger when the Beatles would date other women, but as she got older she realized that’s what the game was. She is the only subject in the documentary that has children of her own. She isn’t with their father anymore but she says the Beatles stuck with her through all the ups and downs in her life.
I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story is an informative documentary on how being a fan of something can weigh on someone’s life. Jessica Leski’s documentary does an excellent job at covering multiple angles of fangirls from various paths of lives and backgrounds. This allows for an insightful viewing experience that makes the audience think about what the fangirls we see screaming on television might be going through. How thin is the line between fandom and obsession? The women followed in this documentary all have one thing in common, their families didn’t “get it” or understand it which effected their relationships. These fangirls came to realizations of their fandom which in a way helped them obtain a sense of normalcy.
[All Mames Wey]
I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story was released onto digital platforms (Amazon, iTunes, DirecTV, AT&T, FlixFing, InDemand, Vudu, FANDANGO, Sling/Dish) on September 17, 2019.
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