I grew up in the Dominican Republic. I came to New York when I was 11 and all I wanted was to pass for American. To make as little ripples as possible and just get by. I wanted to look and speak like everyone else. My allowance was $20 a month. That seems like nothing now but it was a lot at a time when Starbucks was a luxury. My mother would hand it to me at the beginning of every month and instead of rationing it, I blew it on all the Tiger Beats and J-14s the local Rite Aid had. I thought that's what other kids did and, surely, I'd pick up some Americanisms from them. Instead, I found boy bands. Plastering my wall with those insert posters of NSYNC, Britney Spears, and the Backstreet Boys made me happier than anything else at the time. I listened to Z100 every morning and afternoon waiting to hear their music. I voted for their videos every day on TRL. I physically went to Sam Goody to reserve my copy of their albums.
Fandom* has always been a solitary venture for me. As long as I can remember, I've loved stuff in a way that I recognized wasn't quite average. Whether it was a book series or a band, I always had something to fixate on, to get out of bed for, to think about when I was bored in class. Sure, my classmates liked some of the same stuff but were they calling Z100 every day after school to win NSYNC tickets? Not really. I had one friend who camped out with me when Harry Potter books went on sale at midnight at our local bookstore. Loving those things never went beyond my immediate surroundings. I was alone with the things I loved but I was never lonely. I didn't feel like an outcast because I wasn't aware there was anywhere to be cast out of. It's only now, in retrospect, that I wish I could've somehow shared that with a community. Like most teens, I spent my afternoons online but I was IMing my friends and writing about John C. Calhoun (a boy, not the Vice President) on my Xanga. I wasn't reaching very far across the internet to speak to anyone about fandom.
I went to One Direction's last U.S. show in Boston last night. They announced a hiatus but we all know what that means. It's easy to love these boys. They're gorgeous, they sing about morning wood and loving you desperately, and they make you feel special. Their songs are about the listener. Being a girl is exhausting and kinda terrifying at times. One Direction's songs make me feel good about myself. Unlike my undying love for NSYNC, I can share those thoughts with other women and get immediate feedback and reassurance. Surrounded by 60,000 screaming fans last night, I felt at home. These are my people, I thought. They love something.
One Direction fans live on the internet. They're responsible for this band's success. They make Twitter and Tumblr accounts updating fans around the world about what the boys are doing. In that process, they found a sisterhood. Between finding HQ pictures of Liam Payne, they talk to each other about real life problems. They share their stories about school, work, and family. They comfort and uplift each other. Millions of women of color found a hero in Zayn Malik. Someone who looked like them and had a family like theirs. Many of them have never met nor will they.
I work at a music venue and while I'm lucky to see some of the world's best bands, that's not my favorite part of the job. Every now and then, we have the kind of show that has fans lining up one to two days in advance. That's what I love the most. Those are my people. I put up with a fair amount of innocent teasing about One Direction at work. At this point in my life, I'm not ashamed of anything I like. I was a fangirl on my own for a while but it's nice to know it doesn't have to be that way.
*I think this is a fairly recent term. I didn't ever think of myself as in a fandom when I liked stuff when I was younger but I don't know what else to call it now!