Before my sister had a mortgage and a fiancé, she was a One Direction fangirl. As a younger sister who copied her every move, that meant I was one too. She taught me everything I know. I became fluent in the language of stan culture through peaks into her Twitter account, was fawned over by the girls she waited outside of concert venues with and witnessed the rush of navigating Ticketmaster’s flawed queuing system for the first time as she tried to snag seats to stadium shows. She showed me what it meant to devote yourself to something bigger than you, despite judgment from family and friends who didn’t understand her fervor.
While I may have been too young to wait outside hotels or camp outside venues, that didn’t stop me from lurking on Tumblr tags and Twitter hashtags before I had my first training bra. I read Wattpad stories under my covers until my eyes burned and waited until I was old enough to be set free into the wild world of concerts and fan culture.
Like many fangirls, my sister knew some people perceived her as frivolous or crazed. Yet nothing could dim the love she had for her favorite artists, which I understood myself as I became enamored with my favorite artists. One Direction always had the most special place in my heart, but I started attending concerts at a peak time for alternative pop, when artists like Melanie Martinez, Halsey and The 1975 were releasing some of their most memorable work. I started living out crazy fan stories of my own, like running through the streets of Midtown on a scavenger hunt to win tickets to meet Halsey during her Badlands tour (which I did), feeling a flurry of starstruck as I watched 5 Seconds of Summer perform on Good Morning America after waiting in the rain for 14 hours overnight and getting Josh Dun’s drum sticks shoved into my hands by a kind Madison Square Garden worker.
I was more than a fan; I was a stan who would sleep on the streets of New York City for however long if it meant getting barricade. It didn’t matter how hot, cold, boring or unsafe it would be. I lived for the music, and I loved the people behind it.
My love for the celebrities I idolized was like a special secret I held close to my heart. It was more than love; it was being consumed.
My feelings didn’t fade as I entered high school, but swelled, because Harry Styles released his first solo album. It was May of 2017 and summer had finally started to come to New York City. I was living in my grandma’s apartment that had no air conditioning, and I was sweating. The lights were off, and the apartment was mostly dark, except for the silver light of the city’s skyline illuminating the one-bedroom. My grandma was passed out, sprawled on the couch and snoring, so I was alone. I played the album for the first time ever, and while I listened, I fell into an ever-deeper love with a man I had never met.
While I had loved this man since the age of nine, giggling at the X-Factor video diaries of him and the rest of One Direction with my sisters, this was different. This love for him was all my own. I was hooked on Harry like he was a drug. He was mine, no matter how famous he was, and I fell down a familiar spiral of watching fan compilation videos of his interviews and concerts, as well as learning everything about him that’s publicly available. I had Twitter notifications on for Harry Styles update accounts, so I knew his every move. I’d be sitting somewhere thousands of miles away from him and I’d know: Harry just bought a cup of coffee, Harry just went running, Harry just got another tattoo.
I continued this way, wacky with infatuation, for years. Until, gradually, it became harder for me to be okay with fan’s behavior online. As I read tweets infantilizing Harry, who is a grown man pushing 30 years of age, or speculating in a possessive rage about his newest relationship, I became increasingly bothered. I began to grate away at my label as a “stan,” as I was now more irritated by their behavior rather than partaking in it too.
I learned what a parasocial relationship was, which is a one-sided relationship where a person has strong feelings towards a celebrity or influencer, someone who doesn’t know they exist. An important aspect of parasocial relationships is that the person has feelings towards the carefully managed public persona being portrayed, not the actual person, despite feeling like they really know them. Parasocial relationships aren’t inherently a bad thing, but they can be when so much of a person’s time is occupied with being obsessed with someone’s persona.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the nail in the coffin for my infatuation with celebrities. I watched celebrities complain about having to isolate in their ivory towers and they sickened me. It became impossible for me to ignore how out of touch with reality they are as members of the bourgeoisie treated like gods amongst mortals. I continued to learn about parasocial relationships, and I woke up to how contrived everything in the entertainment industry is. My soul was crushed a little at the realization that Harry Styles isn’t real: he’s a culmination of everything he and his team want me to believe and know.
I hated watching celebrities try to make their fans feel like they really know them, when all I saw was insincerity. I also realized that celebrity interaction with fans on the internet, no matter if they are sincere or not, is intended to create a protective base of fans who feel like they know the real [insert celeb name here]. This makes it so matter what the celebrity does, or how the media tries to paint the celebrity, they will always have a pack of fiery defenders who believe they can do no wrong. These fans also always keep the celebrity relevant, constantly tweeting and creating posts about them that boosts their relevancy.
I became too prideful to obsess over people who didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them. I had to take a hard look at who I was, without using my love for celebrities as a defining personality trait. I didn’t want to idolize anyone that much ever again. I was no longer okay at defining myself through another person.
I started to become more preoccupied with my own life. Once, all I wanted was to be old enough to chase after artists like Harry without my mom asking where I was, but once I finally could, I had other things on my mind. I became focused on the tangible things in front of me: like kissing boys I could touch, not just watch through my phone screen, or getting wasted off White Claws on some juvenile misadventure.
I turned off my Twitter notifications, now aware of how unhealthy it was. I also made a conscious effort to not engage or consume meaningless content put out by celebrities, trying to be selective with my valuable attention, which is all influencers and celebrities desire in our hellish content economy.
This is not to say that people shouldn’t feel meaningful connections with the things that make them happy, or that they shouldn’t be a part of communities that give them purpose. But everyone should remember that no matter what, they don’t know these people. No matter how well they think they do, nothing can replace face-to-face interaction, and it’s important to engage in communities in a healthy way that doesn’t cross normal boundaries. Fans should never take things too far, and make sure they’re living their own lives instead of being wrapped up in someone else’s. They should love who they love while also staying grounded.
I encourage everyone to devote less of their time and energy towards celebrity figures. My views of celebrities may be jaded, but my love for music and concerts hasn’t faded, and never will. Now, I love artists from a healthy distance and the only person I “stan,” is myself.