My legs are way too tired to keep me up, so I don’t mind that I’m probably sitting on a cigarette butt in my nice jeans. My stomach is doing leaps from excitement: I’m here after seeing a Julian + the Voidz show with one of my best friends, Shriya, waiting around and cracking jokes after midnight. While we know Julian Casablancas might come through the back stage door at any moment, we are sure the night won’t have been wasted if he doesn’t show. It’s all part of the fun: We commune with the other girls circled near the bolted door, cracking jokes about the band members and sharing bags of candy. At 12:51 AM, we all burst out into a rendition of the Strokes song of the same name, changing the lyrics into a plea for Julian to come out and meet us.
The Strokes are my most recent crush, maybe because their music sounds like an intense infatuation feels: fast, full-bodied, so easy to love that it’s almost painful. I put on the Strokes whenever I drive, which may not be a good idea, especially with Julian yelling, “Please don’t slow me down.” I can’t get enough of it. Of course I can’t slow down.
Being a fangirl is hard work. It flushes you with a love akin to a romantic relationship’s, the difference being that reciprocation is never an issue. It’s an exercise not in restraint, but its opposite, extent: You love this band/actor/personality, and you do so boundlessly. You never have to conceal your ardency for another person’s sake.
During the Voidz concert, I notice that Julian was wearing a pin I’d given him when I’d met him last November in an incredibly awkward exchange that I treasure and laugh about.
“Does he ever wash his clothes? Or does he put the pin back on every time?” Shriya’s voice lands somewhere between giggling and hollering.
“You’re welcome!” I yell in his general direction.
Shriya and I grab each other and start laughing. We’re at the barrier, so many other girls around us are equally devoted; when they hear about the pin, they swarm us and start hugging me and laughing, too. I don’t know any of them. As the songs progress, I find myself watching the crowd of girls around me instead of the Voidz: noticing whose hands they reach for when they recognize a song, the signs they hold up, whether they cry when Julian sings “I’ll Try Anything Once.” They are way more entertaining.
It wasn’t until I was 13 that music meant anything to me. My first obsession was classic rock. I found comfort in it, mostly because it was what I’d grown up with. It felt really cool to rediscover the music my parents liked on my own terms, and that shared love helped me understand my mom and dad better.
But fangirling came later, when I started really getting into the Beatles at age 14. I loved them with my heart and soul: I can’t even remember how many diary entries I dedicated to them, and I’m definitely not going back to check. They lifted me up with songs like “Golden Slumbers,” which I saved for only the darkest points in my life. I listened to them when I walked down the hallways at my school, where I spent some of my loneliest days. I still count them as my first love, before real live people complicated that word. Even though I didn’t have many friends, I never felt a lack of love, nor did I feel animosity. My heart was too full.
At 17, I was grieving. My grandfather passed away, and it was the first death I’d ever known. I learned how hard it is to love. His death was not tragic, because his life had been full and he was out of time, but it wasn’t any less devastating. I often found myself holding my arms to my chest and crying: Losing him felt like someone forcibly reaching beneath my ribs and snatching away an essential part of me.
I needed something to throw myself into, and Lorde gave me what I was looking for. Listening to her music shortly after his passing gave me back my lifeforce. I felt like such a frail object, like I had this suddenly fragile body and heart that needed to be coddled and sheltered. Lorde lacked the fear I’d become accustomed to; she wasn’t afraid of the world, danced with volatility that threatened to snap her in two, bared her whole soul. I lived vicariously through her. I watched videos of her incessantly, taking in her feral dancing with a feeling close to hunger. Here was something I could love again.
Dressing like her, listening to her, reading what she read: I did whatever I could to gain Lorde’s power. She seemed untouchable. As a girl devastated and rendered breakable by grief, I wanted that strength: to be bulletproof. I didn’t want any more sad songs, or sympathy, or comfort. I wanted to sharpen my teeth on something, to get on with it. I needed, mainly, to feel in charge again. I used to think music had to be full of instrumental arrangements to be powerful, but Lorde’s music challenged me with its sparseness. Backed by a small army of jointed clicks and heaving bass, her voice led the pack. I located my own lost voice by watching her, admiring the way she made her power the main attraction.
Lorde was my age, which made it even better. I took notes. A bunch of kids I knew said she was exactly what they needed, too. She made our lives into something interesting: While most “teen culture” is born from the (20/20) hindsight of artists in their 20s, Lorde reported life as she lived it. I was struck how much of myself existed in her songs, because teenagers, contrary to popular songs, don’t live the clichés in TV shows; we tool around town in our best friends’ cars, go to parties with people we don’t like, scrounge around for money to go out on weekends, and get sick of the “rager” songs we are supposed to love. Being content with what we had felt good—like we were enough. I loved Lorde so much for what she did for me that I couldn’t help but love myself, since there was so much of my life in her work. I let that love heal me.
I was almost afraid to see Lorde perform, but when I got tickets to see her on a warm September night in Harlem, it was a catharsis. The venue was this old church, gilded and ornate; seeing her walk onto the stage felt like a religious experience, like I’d made a pilgrimage to see the angel that cured my heart. I cried and held my arms to my chest not because I was missing anything, but because my heart felt too full once again.
I’m driving home from school, and Taylor Swift is making me giddy. I always thought I’d hate her until I gave her a listen, and now I can’t stop. My requirements for pop songs are that (a) they are infectious, (b) they are good in any situation, and (c) they are therapeutic to scring (scream-sing) in the car. Tay meets all three requirements: When “Style” comes on, I roll down all my windows and scring every word. I speed past a man in khakis who gives me a stern look—Oh shit, I know that guy. Whatever. I laugh at him, knowing he thinks I’m a foolish girl, taking great satisfaction in my complete joy and his utter irrelevance to it.
My friend Sarah, a fellow fan, catches me spamming my blog with Tay posts. “Someone’s got Tay on the brain,” she tags one of them. But she’s not making fun of me, and that’s what is so great about fellow fangirls. She’s merely glad to see me get excited over a new crush.
OK, so we didn’t get to meet Julian. We gave up around 2 AM and got milkshakes at a diner nearby. I follow Shriya to wait for the 3 train, which comes very infrequently. We wait for a half hour before it does.There’s only one other person on the platform. They graciously ignore us as Shriya dances a made-up routine, hopscotchy and joyful, while humming “You Only Live Once.”
Shriya’s voice echoes off the walls and the rickety metal tracks. While I didn’t know her that well before the show, so much has happened: We’ve already cried together, and that usually solidifies a friendship. I watch her dance around with so much love, knowing that our friendship can only get stronger and brighter. I can’t stop giggling. I’m so excited about the future.
This year, I got into a really tough fight with one of my friends. While we spent time together, I misplaced my joy and forgot who I was: Her influence darkened my world. Now, it’s been resolved, and I’m still me: Nothing about me has been stolen or lost. I’m learning how to compromise without compromising myself, something I picked up on while obsessing over bands past and present.
Fangirling is a method of self love. It’s a heartspace that is free from fear of rejection, and therefore cannot be compromised by identity: While, in the past, I edited myself to gain the love of others, the space in which I freaked out over bands was where I could shape my selfhood free from critique. Fangirling helped me settle myself, and once I did that, I could settle my place among other people.
Listening to Taylor’s anthemic 1989 feels triumphant. The relief sinks in. I let it, singing along: “AREWEOUTOFTHEWOODSYETAREWEOUTOFTHEWOODS—” I become aware of just how happy I am, how happy I’m letting myself be: goofy and loud and obnoxiously loving. I realize that I’ve never met a fangirl who hated herself. There’s just not enough space to. ♦