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Aren't Boybands for Girls?

In 2013, One Direction released their documentary-concert film “This Is Us”. Now, as a devoted fan (or directioner), I have seen that film over a dozen times (and I’m not exaggerating). However, there’s a specific scene in the film that just stands out for me every single time I watch the film. The scene opens with Simon Cowell charting the growing popularity of One Direction, from the X-Factor days up to the release of their first single. Cowell remarks, “These girls are crazy about One Direction. And I have no idea why.” The scene cuts to a neuroscientist (a real one), who takes over and explains how what happens to the fans when they see One Direction on stage, is not hysteria but a feeling of excessive joy and excitement resulting from the release of a brain chemical called dopamine.

I always found the entire scene a bit overdone. Do people really need a neuroscientist to explain an obvious fact to them? This was until I realized that women’s experience of music is not so easily understood by everyone. To need a scientific explanation of how women feel when they listen to the music they like, is to indirectly say that their behavior is a peculiarity that needs to be examined.

Women screaming the lyrics of Little Things at the top of their lungs is peculiar because a) sane women do not scream b) these women got to be crazy to burn their vocal cords over a cheesy love song. However, men blasting Kanye’s misogyny anthem Famous at full volume in their cars is never considered peculiar, nor are men screaming at the top of their lungs at every football game.

Fangirls are routinely dismissed as hysterical women and teenage girls, driven by heedless infatuation as opposed to a sophisticated understanding of what constitutes good music.

In a 2015 piece, Jonathan Heaf, a journalist for GQ, while talking about female fans of One Direction, wrote,

“These women don't care about the Rolling Stones. They don't care about the meta-modernist cycle of cultural repetition. They don't care about history. All these female fans care about is their immediate vociferous reverence: the beatification of St Harry, St Zayn, St Niall, St Louis and St Liam.”

However, this discrediting of pop music and its consumers does not stem from the so-called authenticity that popular music is said to lack, as music critics argue. On the contrary, the authenticity of a popular music record, is vetted against a gendered understanding of the consumer base. This can be best explained through the phenomenon of gender contamination.

Gender contamination is more common in the case of consumer goods not necessarily related to the consumption of media. It refers to the threat or alarm created by the incursion of a female consumer base into a brand of consumer product stereotypically associated with males and vice versa. According to brand management expert and scholar Jill Avery, men are more likely to be averse to products associated with women than women are to products associated with men.

Consider the case of diet coke. For a long time the zero-calorie cola with its quintessential white packaging had been a favourite among women. It was not until the company came up with a ‘Coke Zero’ with a striking black packaging and a marketing policy solely directed towards men that the brand caused some stir among its male consumers.

Thus, there exists a clear dividing line between consumer products, based on a gendered understanding of the buyers.

Now, apply this to the music and entertainment media industry.