BFB #4: Midnight Memories About One Direction (and Growing Up)
by Tiffany Tao
Maybe you’ve already heard me talk about this, but if not: I freakin’ love One Direction. It’s been a long-time love, one that’s consumed me since my freshman year of high school and has never faded since. But since I see Harry Styles in concert this weekend (!!!), which in my mind really marks the end of the band as I knew it, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with them a whole lot over the past few days.
There have been some particular memories that stick out to me, and for the sake of vulnerability, I figured this was the time to share them with the world. Looking back, it wasn’t necessarily the concerts or meet-and-greets or movies that were the most memorable, but the way the band was interwoven into my life (particularly when I was learning crucial things about myself).
(For context, I spent my high school years devoted to running a big One Direction fansite online — not kidding.)
The Shorty Awards are an annual event, dedicated to “honoring the best of social media.” I was in 10th grade and only had a vague idea of what this meant until my 1D twitter fansite was nominated, and then won an award. That was exciting! As a naive 16-year-old, I traveled to New York City for the ceremony and walked into a room full of important media people: Steve Wozniak, Mike Krieger, Jenna Marbles.
Soon, we were seated in a packed auditorium, and the winners began heading up to the stage one by one, accepting their awards and presenting their acceptance speeches. It then dawned on me that I was gravely unprepared and that I had absolutely no idea what to say when I reached the podium. I panicked — I was so young that my mom had to chaperone me to the event, and yet I was on the verge of delivering a speech in between the prepared remarks of really famous people. Combine this with a deathly fear of public speaking and thousands of eyes on me, and I was completely paralyzed with fear. Somehow, as my page was awarded “Best Fansite” (can you believe this was a real category of award?!), I managed to make my way onstage and stutter some semblance of a speech.
It wasn’t that One Direction suddenly inspired me to give TED talk-worthy commentary to a large crowd, but loving the band had suddenly pushed me out of my comfort zone in a real and profound way. This moment was the first of many times that my boyband love made me take that one extra step that scared me, from asking for the extra interview to introducing myself to someone intimidating. And so I left the awards a little braver than I walked in.
It was always momentous when a member of the band changed their profile picture on Twitter. New eye candy! On a particularly contentious day though, Harry Styles changed his icon to a photo of him in a Native American headdress. Something about this didn’t feel right, even though I couldn't quite articulate what was so wrong about it. I had spent enough time on the internet to have witnessed explosive arguments about cultural appropriation and the way celebrities are often blameless in these scenarios, so it felt particularly bold to bring this up when the rest of Twitter was fawning over the photo. The thought of starting a heated argument online, or even simply being wrong, scared me. Nevertheless, something motivated me to put together my thoughts in short 140-character blurbs and blast them out on my page.
As anticipated, the reaction was heated. There was aggressive pushback from all sides: "I was way too sensitive," "how dare I attack Harry," "was I calling him a racist?" Seeing these responses wasn’t easy since a computer screen can only soften a mean message so much, but it also felt freeing to voice my opinion even if it went against others. The next morning, I woke up to articles about my comments in both Breitbart and J-14 (let’s talk hard-hitting journalism), as well as an entirely new, non-controversial picture on Harry’s profile. Looking back, I still cringe at the way I phrased my argument, and I don’t think I am/should be/ever was the voice on cultural appropriation, but saying something about a controversial subject, even if I knew my perspective was in the minority, was strangely liberating. I didn’t suddenly start engaging in internet arguments left and right, but I was a bit more confident in my beliefs and a bit more ready to share them when necessary.
I’m asked a lot about what exactly made me like One Direction so much — they’re so cute, and the music’s catchy enough — but most fans never went to the extreme lengths that I did. I think I can attribute my obsession most directly to the community that formed around the band. Rarely are teenage girls entirely surrounded by other women, from different backgrounds but with similar interests, and able to pursue an interest of theirs wholeheartedly without harassment or judgment.
In retrospect, I found feminism in this reckless pursuit of five (admittedly average) teenage boys. I learned that girls look out for one another from whispers of hotel names and restaurant sightings. I understood the strength of female-centric communities the first time I camped out for a concert: “Will you watch my stuff so I can charge my phone at the Starbucks across the street?” “Don’t worry; I’ve got your spot in line.” I was frequently surrounded by 80,000 girls shouting back the lyrics to their favorite song — no one could challenge me on the power of a united female voice after I had felt it literally shake the floor of a football stadium.
In this way, I have always known of the importance of having pure, simple teenage idols. They serve as fun entertainment, but they also help to harness some of the very best parts of coming-of-age, of community, of girl and womanhood. I’m fairly certain that One Direction will never love me back the way I had hoped, but at this point, I think I’ve reaped enough from this relationship so that it’s far from one-sided. I’m a little braver, a little louder, a little more convinced of the magic of women-centric communities, and for that, I’m super, super grateful.
If you’ve ever felt similarly — about a band, a book, a person — I’d love to hear! But tell me before Sunday, because I see Harry perform Kiwi live then and there’s a high chance I won’t make it out alive.