girls on shoulders at concert

Opinion: Respect the Fangirl

The internet was buckwild last week as Halloween, the beginnings of Mercury Retrograde and the fall officially hit. Between My Chemical Romance coming back, more impeachment inquiries and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announcing Twitter would no longer be promoting political ads, there were plenty of trending topics to be paying attention to.

However, one trending topic stood out amongst the rest. At roughly 3 AM PST, international Kpop boy band Monsta X’s Wohno announced an extremely shocking and swift departure. The details of the departure are due to a series of alleged scandals that you can find research into outside of this article.

For us, it’s what happened after that counts. Monsta X’s fanbase, dubbed “Monbebe” — a combination of Monsta X’s name and “baby”– immediately sprung into action. Trending topics were made, a petition for his return came, other large Kpop fandoms like BTS’ Army, iKON’s iKonics, NCT’s NCTzens, Got7’s Aghases, Exo’s EXO-L, BlackPink’s Blink, Twice’s Once and many more banded together to support not just Wohno but their fellow Kpop fans who felt the lose reminiscent of that fateful day in March 2015 when Zayn Malik announced his untimely departure from One Direction.

Within 15 hours, the petition had almost 300k signatures, Monobes had two different hashtags trend worldwide with over 1 million tweets each, and, as this is being written, it looks as though they have no signs of stopping. At time of publication, Monbebes have effectively run through a new hashtag every twelve hours to remain on the Top Trending Worldwide Count, and they continued to protest in South Korea outside Starship Entertainment, with some international fans flying in to join their Korean sisters.

Over the years, fandoms online have become increasingly engaged within their communities. They have become politically and socially engaged, they have grown to understand and ask for accountability from their “problematic faves” and have begun to have the fledgling conversations of nuance for what is a “cancellable” offense and what or whom can be redeemed. There’s a movement amongst fandoms on the internet, and it aligns with a lot of the movements we are seeing of the youth in 2019. “We’re here, we know what we want, and we’re not going anywhere.”

To break down the phenom that can create such dedication and a riot online, we need to go back to the pre-internet music industry days. To days of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and the days the Beatles first touched down on U.S. soil. While we often herald The Beatles as the greatest group of all time — rightfully so — the context of who put them there is glossed over in conversations of their technical contributions to music.

In every Beatles documentary you watch, there’s always a slew of camera clips of them running from young female fans, of fans jumping on their getaway cars, crowding the airports, passing out just looking at them. The fans’ arms are full of albums, they’re crying over how much the music means to them, and they’re forming friendships, relationships and bonds over music that set the tone for the first intense wave of fandom success. And while the Beatles’ male fanbase wasn’t lacking, it’s not hard to see who put them on the charts, and who kept them coming back.

Young women’s influence on music has often been thrown aside as a “fangirl mentality.” Where women like music for two reasons: the first being they have more interest in the members than they do the music, and the second being that the music can’t be that good if it’s only young women listening to it. As we strive to break fangirl stereotypes, we see the efforts of these fandoms that have created some of the biggest artists in the world ignored.

Most obvious in this ignorance was a recent Pitchfork article accrediting Kanye West with the success of musicians going viral on Twitter. This claim ignored the early days of Bieber fans — you know, before Justin tried to start his own social app (RIP Shots) –, Swifties — who largely began their crusade online after the infamous incident–, Directioners — arguably the first fanbase to truly use Twitter to its fullest extent–, and more. The cultural and social significance of the fangirl doesn’t even have proper documentation. There is so little academic study into the passion of young women and how they form the grassroots of and self-market artists, who go on to have the kind of cultural impact to swing elections. It’s disappointing.

Even more recently, The Hollywood Reporter released an interview with Kpop mold-breaking sensation BTS that was nothing short of disappointing for long-term fans and a band who sold out the Rose Bowl twice in minutes. The lack of awareness from one of the biggest entertainment editorial structures in the U.S. speaks volumes about just how irrelevant cis-white-male-centric-run publications claim young women to be. When the writer Seth Ambrovitch was critiqued by both fans and journalists alike for his poor misuse of precious time with some of the most sought after musicians in the world, he claimed he was doing them a favor, that 99.99% of the population didn’t know who BTS is yet, and that he was bringing BTS to the attention of the general public. Nevermind the sold-out U.S. stadium tour – One Direction, Beyonce nor Taylor Swift sold out the Rose Bowl – or the fact that since BTS’ breakout moment and their hard work to help credit the validity of the Kpop industry in the west has allowed multiple other bands like Monsta X, NCT 127, Super M and more receive well-deserved credibility here. Seth just didn’t seem to care. Because 99.99% of his immediate population didn’t know BTS, he didn’t bother to do his research and realize that young women — fangirls — around the world have risen BTS to an international household name, one that you would have to live under a very specific bubble to ignore.

So what makes a fangirl? The definition is broad, but it’s mostly applied to young people — mostly young women/nonbinary individuals who are incredibly passionate about musicians they listen to. It’s a term that’s been weaponized, attempted to be recaptured, and forced on a lot of people who make that delicate transition from female fan to female music industry professional.

In 2015, Zayn Malik left One Direction, and the internet had a field day. Directioners were one of the first massive young female fanbases to overtake Twitter, constantly winning 1D fan-voted awards, pushing every single thing the band did, and creating fan accounts that accumulated mass amounts of followers in short amounts of time. And yet, on the day Zayn Malik left, and Directioners were grieving on a platform they largely helped grow, they were mocked, meme’d and, again, not taken seriously. But it was hard on these young women. They invested, they voted, they fought for the legitimacy of One Direction. They bought tickets to tour dates all over the world, they cried to their music, had their first kisses, first drinks, graduations, first loves, friendships, break-ups and lives soundtracked by five boys from the U.K.

The internet allowed them to connect across the world with people they would have never otherwise known. It created a safe-haven online for people to discuss the real problems teen girls face, open their eyes to the issues of other young women around the world, and it took a lot of them to different countries they would have never seen. When 1D, the Jonas Brothers, Bieber and many other male-centric fandoms were suffering from a unique drought, the Beyhive, Swifties, Selenators and Arianators were there to offer community. Where you were a fangirl once, even with a broken heart, you could find love again.

Two years before 1D broke up across the world, Kpop band BTS debuted under the small company Big Hit Entertainment. As is standard with Kpop bands, they were promoted around Korea, did various variety shows, performances, etc. But BTS also did something different: they began to utilize western social media more interactively with their base. With the decline of One Direction and no main boy band in sight, there was a missing stage from the U.S. Market, and it didn’t take long before BTS was rightfully filling that role. With their first world tour taking place in 2015, the hype quickly began to build with their social media presence and fan interaction.

Rightfully dubbed ARMY, BTS’ fanbase weaponized the internet in a Swiftie/Beyhive-like takeover, and before you knew it, not a single tweet could be found without a Kpop fancam under it. BTS grew exponentially and routinely received millions of likes on single posts on Twitter, making them one of the most interacted with Twitter accounts on the platform.

Fast-forward to 2019, where Harry Styles is accrediting his success largely to his female fanbase, BTS sold out two nights at the Rose Bowl in minutes, Taylor Swift is being honored as Artist of the Decade at the AMA’s and Selena Gomez took two days to garner enough streams to debut on the Billboard Charts. It’s evident and clear that as long as social media is a prevalent part of music, the fangirls yield power. As they learn these lessons about nuance, start banding together more often as fanbases, and demanding accountability, there’s truly no telling what young women are capable of in this industry.

At time of press, Harry Styles announced his new album Fine Line will be released on December 13th, and the internet and young women he’s so long accredited with being the key to his success responded in kind. Four of the top worldwide trends are currently about Harry Styles, Monsta X and BTS, with multiple tweets crossing fandoms, once again reminding us of the significant power that stan twitter and its fangirls have.

As far as we go, we’re investing in them in the long-haul. We’re watching them teach themselves how to video edit, use photoshop, optimize analytics, control trends, outsmart algorithms and even create movements within themselves. We’re hoping to help all those brilliant young women who have found a home in a smooth melody and an intense emotional connection to find career paths in the things that make them passionate and happy.

And while we are on the side of the Monbebe’s, and we hope Wohno returns to Monsta X happy and healthy, we are proud of these young fans for standing up for what they believe is right, supporting one another, having honest conversations about accountability, but mostly inspiring change. We’re hoping to see more fanbases coming together as human rights violations take a world stage in the upcoming 2020 U.S. elections. We’re hoping to see the power these young women hold continue to transfer into the parts of their lives that have been fighting for equality and justice.

All in all, it’s time we #RespectTheFangirl, and we’d love to hear your favorite fangirl stories.