It must have been this time of the year five years ago, when I took a few decisions that landed me where I am now. If you’re reading this, you might know about me that I’m a PhD candidate and lecturer at a university, and that my research is about people’s popular music memories from a recent past. If you told me five years ago I would be working at university and conducting interviews with Backstreet Boys fans, I would probably have laughed. Very loudly. But now I’m here, and it’s the best thing in the world (on most days).
Somewhere in the spring of 2009 I decided to apply for a Master in Media Studies. At the time I was finishing my Bachelor in Journalism, freelanced a bit here and there, but that wasn’t cutting it for me. I wanted more. To learn more, to dive deeper into theories, to find out ‘why’ people (journalists) do certain things and how this influences others. Media Studies looked fun and logical, because I was about to learn the ‘back end’ side of whatever I had done before as journalist.
Somewhere in the spring of 2009 I had a sleepless night. Maybe it was about my application for university, maybe it was stormy outside. I cannot remember. I only know that I was watching a re-run of the MTV Movie Awards and that I found this ‘commercial, yet I’m still watching’ event highly amusing. For me, watching such a show (any MTV show) at the time being was pure relaxation. So, I was not paying that much attention to the show, until I realized that the same movie won over and over again. And this tiny little snippet of the movie that was shown caught my attention: a girl and a guy in a forest and she’s rambling something about him being old, cold and pale. He’s a vampire. Then the award for best Movie of 2009 is handed out. And again, it’s that movie: Twilight. The whole cast appears on stage to fetch the award and the director of the movie mumbles something I don’t even pay attention to anymore. I’m fascinated by the youthful cast, the happiness they radiate and the new clip that is shown of the movie.
And to speak in Twilight-lingo: That was the first night… I watched Twilight. I was hooked! I watched the whole movie in tiny bits that were uploaded and available on YouTube. A few weeks later, I confessed to a friend how much I liked the movie and she and a few other friends bought the books (as far as they were available in the Netherlands) for my birthday. I could not wait to kick them out in the evening. I read for hours and although I knew the end, I had to read (and still re-read) the book(s).
My friends thought I was a fool: I had to talk about Twilight, about Bella, about Edward, wanted to visit Forks or the movie premiers in London (which I still regret for not doing)… but none of them understood that ‘feeling of importance’ that Twilight has to me. And even tough we’re five years further, all books and movies are out… still, reading the first lines of the preface of the first novel gives me a feeling of ultimate happiness, rest, and an entry into a world where all the wrongs of y daily life do not exist. When in 2012 the last movie of the saga was released in cinemas I knew it was not over. It being my fannish experience. I could still go online, visit blogs or Facebook pages about Twilight and follow the actors into their next movies. I still follow my favorite actors from the movie on Twitter up till date.
As a media-student I became highly fascinated by my own behavior. I was twenty-something and had a poster of Twilight hanging on my dorm room. A friend photoshopped me into a picture with Robert Pattinson and framed it. The frame stood on my side table. Everybody knew I was a fan. Everybody knows I’m a fan. And in Media Studies fans can be a topic of research. So, Twilight became my first thesis topic (the representation of Twilight fans in American media from 2007-2009, a content analysis that illustrated how fans were portrayed in the early days of Twilight until the highlight of the hype/ breakthrough into the mainstream industry). After that study, I looked into Harry Potter fans and how their varied on- and offline. And now, I’m looking into long-term fandom: the ones who (have the chance to) stay(ed) with their idols from the very beginning till the not yet-announced end.
Often, when I conduct an interview for my Backstreet Boys study, the fans ask me whether I’m a fan of the boys as well. I’m not. But that does not mean I do not know or recognize the feeling(s) they have. I know what it’s like to wait for a new album (book/movie), I know that feeling of how something can take you out of your everyday world for a while (music/ song/ book/ movie), I know what it’s like to admitting that something that you’re crazy about if either considered a guilty pleasure or not a very suiting thing to like for people ‘your age’… That’s why I wanted to write this post. And that’s why I love studying fans and interviewing them. Even-though I’m not a ‘fellow-fan’ of the Backstreet Boys, I am a fan and I want to make sense of fans. We can learn from their behaviors, we can learn from their loyalty, commitment, dedication. But also from the moments they stop to engage with their object of fandom. All of these tiny things they can tell me about, are not just data to be analyzed, they’re learnings. What these learnings are? Stay tuned, I still have 2,5 years to finish up my dissertation 😉