“A Chaos Of Feeling”: Screaming Fan Girls Past And Present

Published July 1, 2015
Updated February 16, 2018

One Direction and Justin Bieber fans fall under tough criticism for their fandom. But this has less to do with them than it does technology and hormones.

fan girls history

A girl caught up in the moment at a 1960s Beatles show.

Teen and pre-teen girls have caught a lot of flack for their dogged adoration of pop stars like Justin Bieber and One Direction. And in some cases, rightly so: on several occasions, Bieber fans–popularly coined as “Beliebers”–have actually issued death threats to people (often women) who get too close to their carefully-coiffed obsession.

Fan Girls Pictures

Justin Bieber fans at a concert in Cape Town, South Africa. Source: Fortress of Solitude

In 2011, when Bieber failed to win a Grammy for best new artist, fans vandalized the Wikipedia page of Esperanza Spalding, the jazz artist who bested Bieber for the title. And lest it be forgotten, after Zayn Malik called it quits with One Direction early in 2015, teen girls began to share images on social media which indicated that they had physically harmed themselves after hearing the news.

Fan Girls History Beliebers Malik

Fans respond to Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction Source: YouTube

While these fans may seem insufferable–and often are authentically, unabashedly so–such attributes have less to do with the generation specifically and more with the technology that allows the hysteria to circulate so quickly and widely. Can you imagine what a Beatles fan would have tweeted during their 1964 tour in the United States, or what images an Elvis Presley devotee would share following the announcement of his engagement to the young Priscilla?

In a 1992 essay on Beatlemania, authors Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess and Gloria Jacobs wrote that “For girls, fandom offered a way not only to sublimate romantic and sexual yearnings but to carve out subversive versions of heterosexuality. To abandon control—to scream, faint, dash about in mobs—was, in form if not conscious intent, to protest the sexual repressiveness, the rigid double standard of female teen culture.”

As girls’ bodies begin to change and sexuality becomes less of an idea that lurks beneath Barbie’s dress and more of a reality begging to be examined firsthand, the feelings that a girl develops come not just with desire, but fear. The sexual world is new and difficult to navigate, especially when it stands before you, flexing its pelvis and singing its promises of pleasure.

Fan Girls History Presley

Elvis Presley fans gather at Graceland for his birthday. Source: The Tennessean

Said writer Rachel Monroe in an essay on the subject, “Teenage girls have been mocked for their crushes, but that scorn is just a shoddy mask for the anxiety these crushes inspire. Because a teenage girl with a crush is frightening. The Beatles were always on the run from shoving, hysterical girl-crowds, who wanted—what? To crush into them, to crush themselves, to crush against other girl-bodies that were all feeling the same feeling together, a chaos of feeling, a feeling that took your breath away.”

Rather than responding to the singular appeal of artists like One Direction and Justin Bieber, today’s teen and pre-teen female fans bring the legacy of music’s complex, seemingly magical relationship with human hormones and sexual defiance into the present. The shrieking and squealing is still there; it’s just shared a bit differently. See the similarities below in this gallery of hysterical fans past:

“A Chaos Of Feeling”: Screaming Fan Girls Past And Present
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