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ESSAY
Tales from the Depths of a Fandom
Lauren Evans

 Photo by  Eva Rinaldi

Photo by Eva Rinaldi

Written in these walls are the stories that I can't explain

It started recreationally, as these things do. I can probably blame my childhood, since I spent a lot of it with *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and 98 Degrees, defending their flawless harmonies, oversized sports jerseys, and frosted tips. I had never kissed a boy in my life, but I can remember imagining what it would be like to kiss Nick Carter. He would touch his lips to mine, and the world would stop turning, as worlds do when soulmates kiss. Then, I would become best friends with the rest of the band, and we would all live happily ever after.

This never happened. I grew up. I dated boys who were sorely lacking in the hair gel department. Nick turned to drugs. I went to college and forgot all about him.

One day, I found something new—something that merged my childhood fantasies and my aimless wanderings of adulthood. While scrolling through Pinterest at my apartment, I kept seeing pictures of a celebrity I didn’t recognize. His glorious brown curls, radiant smile, and palpable joy mesmerized me until the skies opened up, and what I know now to be the voice of God said, “Google it.”

Thus began my relationship with Harry Styles. The vast, all-knowing Internet led me into a black hole of information about Harry and his band One Direction. A few years before my discovery, Harry, Liam, Niall, Louis, and Zayn tried out for The X Factor U.K. as solo artists, where the judges thought they would work better as a group. Though they came in third, the band developed a passionate fan base and launched an international career.

After watching a few videos on YouTube I became a One Direction fan. My love for them started normally, I swear. I downloaded their newly released first album, Up All Night, through some freeware I won’t mention. I didn’t want to share this new band with anyone else, because I was in college, and it seemed weird.

One Friday night while driving to dinner with my girlfriends, I suddenly felt the need to play a One Direction song. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to download the album to my iPod. I happened to look in the rear view mirror and make eye contact with my friend Lara. Once again, the voice of God came to me: “Ask her.”

“Hey Lara, do you have the new One Direction song?”

“Yeah!” she exclaimed, as she passed her iPod to the front seat.

We didn’t know it then, but that moment bonded us for life.

Though I now had an ally, I remained on the casual side of the One Direction fandom for the next couple of years. They released another album, Take Me Home. Lara and I graduated college. She got a job in Atlanta, and I moved on to graduate school in North Carolina. We kept in touch. During the summer of 2013, I went to visit her, and we started talking about One Direction’s newest single, “Best Song Ever.”

“Maybe it’s the way she walked/Straight into my heart and stole it” describes “Best Song Ever” better than I ever could. Writing about a song and the way it makes you feel when the song is about a song and the way it makes you feel gets a little confusing, but keep up. It’s a fun song. It’s a corny song. It’s upbeat. It’s about happy memories, and it makes me think of my own happy memories. Let’s not dance around it—it’s “Baba O’Riley” remastered.

“Have you seen the video?” she asked.

“No, not yet.”

“Well, you should. It’s great,” she said casually, like spiritual guides do once they know they have your attention.

Once I got home, I remembered Lara’s suggestion and decided to watch the video. Now, you may be hesitant to believe in my aforementioned interactions with a higher power, and I understand. Believe what you will, but I have to insist that my experience watching the “Best Song Ever” music video for the first time felt as real as any other scenario in which claims of shattering or aligning astronomical bodies seem appropriate.

Something had occurred since their last album. They now had facial hair, deeper voices, tattoos, and—you guessed it—hair gel. After a quick jaunt over to Wikipedia to check their ages, I felt safe admitting to myself and to Lara that my admiration for them had grown stronger. We joined the ranks of fellow Directioners at the virtual meeting place for all fandoms—Tumblr. Lara and I shared pictures and articles as we came across them. We also caught up on the videos we had missed during the casual part of our relationship with them.

In the early stages of my fangirling, I kept all of this pretty quiet. I have no shortage of strong pop culture opinions, and I’m usually more than happy to share them. This was different. Admitting that I liked One Direction always warranted the same patronizing and sympathetic “Oh” that I get when stating that my parents are divorced or that I went to graduate school to write. I could always see my audience’s brain at work as they moved me from one compartment in their mind to another equipped with a boy band warning. Their faces wore that look you give to the tragically misinformed. After enduring several of these instances, I figured, why bother? Sometimes secrets are just easier.

 

30 August 2013

The One Direction documentary One Direction: This Is Us premiered. Since Lara and I now lived 400 miles apart, we found similar showing times and had a long distance movie date. It might be hard to understand what happened next. You should know that the One Direction fandom is a deep, dark hole. I approached this hole nonchalantly, truly believing that I was behaving in the same ways that other people behave when they listen to music they like. I missed any and all signs that I was headed for some crevasse already filled with millions of others who had fallen in before me. Suddenly I fell—that was it.

Everything after the movie started as a joke.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we saw the movie again?”

“Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I changed my desktop background?”

The cloak of irony only works for so long. Eventually you have to own up to your true feelings, and we were straddling this line.

                                                             

Joy, or the concept of joy, is often toothless and vague because it needs to be. It is both hollow and touchable, in part because it is something that can’t be explained as well as it can be visualized and experienced.

Hanif Abdurraqib

 

I don’t know that I can explain my attraction to One Direction. I don’t know that I can really explain my attraction to anything. I like the sunshine-on-a-chilly-day feeling I get when I listen to their music. It’s usually happy. Sometimes, it’s heartfelt. Some songs are blatant escapism like “Kiss You” and Steal My Girl.” Some songs can be exactly how you feel when you’re feeling it like “Infinity” and “Perfect.”

Yes, I’m older than most of their fans. No, I don’t care. I have no interest in discussing any sort of Peter Pan complex or Lost Girl syndrome. I’m a white girl who likes pop music, which isn’t really groundbreaking. I like laughing, and One Direction makes me laugh. They also make me cry and make me crazy. For me, at least, the whys don’t matter.  

 

Baby, look what you've done to me
Baby, look what you've done now

 

After seeing the One Direction movie again, Lara and I were ready to see them in person. When researching tour dates, we found that One Direction had a stadium tour scheduled for summer 2014 in Europe and Latin America. We joked repeatedly about making a trip out of it, but decided to wait until their next tour that included dates in the U.S.

Logically, it was the right thing to do, and it should have ended there. I had been to London before, but I missed out on one of my dreams—visiting Wembley Stadium. When I was young, my sister and I used to listen to my dad’s Queen cassettes on repeat. I’ve loved Freddie Mercury for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen every Queen-related documentary that I can find. Even though this didn’t win me any friends, I used to watch Queen’s 1986 concert at Wembley Stadium on DVD over and over again. Now, you can watch clips from it online, and it still makes me emotional. Freddie Mercury had been dead for a few years, before I even understood that he had died. I remember my mom trying to break it to me gently, but I was heartbroken that I had been living in a world where he didn’t exist anymore. How was that fair? When I saw Wembley Stadium listed on the One Direction tour schedule, I couldn’t help but long for it.

I jokingly mentioned it to Lara, and she agreed that it would be an amazing show. You know where this is going. One night during one of my visits to Atlanta, Lara and I had a little too much tequila followed by a little too much wine while listening to a little too much One Direction, and Lara put the tickets on her credit card. At the time, we convinced ourselves that it was a logical purchase, because we could always sell the tickets online and call the whole thing off. I now realize that I would have been more likely to sell a kidney than those tickets.

As we waited impatiently for their new album, we listened to their old albums and filled our iPhone camera rolls with their photos. Lara and I were constantly texting lyrics, photos, and gossip about the band and other Directioners we had become familiar with on social media. As our secrets got bigger, the challenge to do something else and find something else moved us from fascination to devotion and then to addiction.

 

November 2013

When One Direction released the album Midnight Memories, Lara and I spent the day obsessing over every line of every song. That night, I visited her in Atlanta, and we drove around singing the new lyrics at the top of our lungs while imagining ourselves at Wembley Stadium in a crowd of like-minded strangers. Any remaining doubts about our London trip faded.

I know it was the secrecy that drove me deeper into the darkness of Directionerland. I found a thrill in cloak-and-dagger Googling under the noses of my co-workers and hidden stashes stuffed strategically into dresser drawers. Lara and I didn’t realize that the excitement of clandestine activities would lure us near that outer layer of alarmingly passionate fans.

 

I don't need my love, you can take it, you can take it, take it
I don't need my heart, you can break it, you can break it, break it

 

The album was new, but soon it would be old. What were we going to do between November and June? As time went by, we fell deeper into social networking. I found myself on Tumblr and Instagram all the time, which is how I found my next joke—One Direction fanfiction. I read one chapter and found it so hilarious that I could barely contain myself. The author turned the five band members into college students at Washington State University. The story centered on Harry, but eventually our heroine ran into all five of them in the midst of misspelled words and incorrect subject-verb agreement. The drama was so unbelievable and infuriating that we became swept up in it. I wish I could explain why I couldn’t stop reading it, but I have no real answer.

At some point in all of this, the author got a real publishing deal from Harper Collins, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I wish I could go back and react in a different way. I should have been happy that a young, female writer (and Directioner) had fulfilled her dreams. Instead, I was furious. How could they give her a book deal based on what I had been reading on the internet? It wasn’t good! Yes, I was reading it, but I’m an idiot! I’ll read anything! I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Anna Todd and to wish her the best.

 

Summer 2014

I had everything and nothing going on in my life. After finishing my thesis, I wanted out of Wilmington, and I couldn’t bear to move back to my hometown, because I was a true adult, and I wanted to do new and fun adult things. The day I graduated, I moved all of my belongings to Atlanta with no plans, no job, and few savings, besides what I had saved for London. When I was younger, my mother used to quote Styx to us about having too much time on our hands, and Lord knows she was right. I read a lot. I watched a lot of TV. I also spent a lot of time in the darkest of the dark web—Directioner Twitter—where drama never ceases. Mostly, I waited to go to London.

 

07 June 2014

You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

Samuel Johnson

 

Lara and I had both been to London before this trip, so we knew how to navigate the Tube and what attractions to skip. We saw the Crown Jewels, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. I almost died climbing to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. We ate fish and chips and quite a few sandwiches from Pret.

Finally, concert day arrived, and we ate lunch somewhere I can’t remember and rode the Tube to Wembley. I do remember filing out of the train and wondering if we were going the right way, but all of a sudden, there was Wembley Stadium with the arch and the glass and the Wembley of it all.

Our general admission tickets meant we would be waiting in line for a few hours with the rest of the fandom, so we planned accordingly by bringing no liquids to avoid having to go to the bathroom. We also brought walkie-talkies in case we were separated by screaming fourteen-year-olds. We sat in line for three or so hours next to groups with tents and full picnics, and it was not lost on us that this was the first time we were with the fandom in person. Suddenly, people in front of us began to jump up and run forward, which gave us the opportunity to move ahead in the line since we had no tents or children to wrangle. What can I say? Americans don’t queue well.

“Do not overtake the stewards!” security shouted as they herded us like cattle, one section of the rope line at a time, until we eventually made it through the doors, down the stairs, and onto the pitch. The. Actual. Pitch.

We waited for another couple of hours, Lara and I surrounded by hundreds of teenage girls subtly shifting closer to the stage. The venue looped pop music videos on the screens while we waited, and I thought I would never get “Wake Me Up” by Avicii out of my head. Finally, the opening act began. I didn’t know much about 5 Seconds of Summer before watching their music videos on the screen that day. Two years later, I would break my leg at one of their concerts in Atlanta, but that’s another story. The 5SOS album wasn’t out yet, but the majority of the pit knew all of the words to all of the songs already. This is the power of the dark web.

This concert started a thing for Lara and me, but we didn’t realize it at the time. In fact, I’m only realizing it now. I won’t get into the details, but I want to be clear that this was neither my first concert nor my last, so I have a decent sample for the hypothesis I’m about to present: I blackout during the opening song. Is this normal? Probably not. I assume the lights and the sounds and the sudden excitement overwhelm my brain. I would blame the alcohol, as it is normally to blame for my problems, but I first registered this brain spasm when One Direction took the stage at Wembley, and I was completely sober.

I remember the intro video. I remember looking up through Wembley’s open roof and wishing the sun would go down. I remember seeing Harry’s face. Then, I’ve got nothing until the break before the second song. Other parts of the show have become hazy over the years since, but I can still feel the excitement and the sheer joy radiating from the pit.

Life rarely happens in an organized way. It never stops to compartmentalize events. It never waits until you feel ready to move on to the next thing. I believe in transparency, so I have to tell you that my grandpa died while I was at Wembley. At least I assume I was at Wembley when it happened. I’m sure the email I got from my dad the next morning has the details, but I don’t care to know. I tend to bottle up my feelings in these situations, and I certainly don’t like to talk about them, so we continued the trip as planned, since there wasn’t much I could do from another continent. The last real conversation my Grandpa and I had was about Sherlock Holmes, and Lara and I had already planned to go to Baker Street that day. There’s something poetic about it, I guess, but not when it happens to you. It felt more like salt in a wound.

That Christmas, Lara got everyone in our friend group those gold cuff bracelets with coordinates, and my bracelet has the Wembley coordinates. In 2016, we were in Tuscaloosa for a football game, and I got to the intersection of Bryant and Queen City and realized I didn’t have the bracelet anymore. It was dark, and I was worked up, so my friends got out their iPhones and helped me look for a few minutes, but they wanted to sing karaoke, and I knew we would never find it. She got me a new one for Christmas. Sometimes when I look at it, I think of my grandpa for some reason, even though it wouldn’t mean anything to him. Joan Didion said, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” My grandpa having any type of connection to Harry Styles proves this.

Before we left London, Lara and I wanted to go out to a club, so we researched our options. Do you know how many clubs exist in London? We wound up going to a club that Liam had mentioned, because ladies got in free and got free drinks before 10 p.m. When we got there, we were among the first six in line, all of us cheap Americans.

One of them was a young woman from Texas named Courtney, who had also been at Wembley. We’ve been friends since then and have expanded our concert-going beyond the realm of One Direction. That night, the club would only serve vodka for the free drink, and I never drink vodka, but I always drink free, so I did it anyway. We ended up missing the last Tube and had to find a cab to take us back to the hotel. We had to fly home the next morning, and I was sad to leave, but more than happy to sleep off the hangover.

                   

October 2014

Welcome to Atlanta where the players play
And we ride on dem thangs like everyday

Jermaine Dupri

 

One Direction came to the Georgia Dome. We sat in the second row, but didn’t do very much sitting. I waited in line to buy more beer, and missed the first song altogether, because the woman in front of me was buying six bottles of water and couldn’t figure out how to carry them all at the same time. Lara kicked the beer over once I got back to our seats, which was a blessing, because I didn’t need it. At the end of the night, I walked to the MARTA dazed and barefoot.

 

25 March 2015

I was working at my desk in my office, when I got an alert on my phone with the official statement about Zayn Malik leaving the band. I was never a Zayn stan, but it still hurt. Of course, I felt sorry for the kid. I’m sorry he had anxiety issues. I’m sorry that he felt that he needed to make such a drastic change. Honestly, though, my biggest feeling was betrayal.

 

23 August 2015

Jump in the crowd, spark your lighters, wave 'em around
If you don't know by now, I'm talkin' bout Chi-Town

 Kanye West

 

The On the Road Again tour didn’t make a stop in Atlanta, so after ranting for a couple of days, Lara and I decided to make the best of it and plan some vacations. Lara and I reunited with Courtney in Chicago, and we had great seats on the floor at Soldier Field. I know little about the NFL, but Soldier Field was a perfect venue for a concert, at least. Harry is a Packers fan, so there was a little trash talk, and I generally agree with whatever Harry has to say. We made signs in the hotel room before the show, and I used mine to ask Niall about the status of Rory McIlroy’s injured ankle, because I find it impossible to keep my fandoms separate. 

 

24 August 2015

Rumors of a break had been rippling through the fandom since Zayn left the band. I never like to panic until it’s actually time to panic, so I had plenty of logical answers for this. They always take a break at the holidays. They need time to regroup after the Zayn drama. They deserve a vacation. Courtney’s flight left early on the morning after the concert, but Lara and I discussed all of the options at this highly recommended, yet still trash brunch place we found, where I had to shield my eggs from swarming pigeons. That afternoon, the band announced it would be taking a short break after they finished the current tour.

 

12 September 2015

She said I think I'll go to Boston
I think I'll start a new life
I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name

Augustana

 

Lara and I had discussed going to a second show on the tour, but we could never seem to buy the tickets. The Boston show closed out the U.S. leg of the On the Road Again tour, and the impending break kept getting scarier. Again, I don’t like to panic prematurely, but it’s hard to stay calm when you’ve got millions of teenagers on Twitter crying about the end of One Direction. If we bought the tickets, it felt like we were admitting to the real possibility that this was the end. If we didn’t buy them, we could miss the end. One night we had some margaritas, and the tickets were ours.

At the time, I was a 26-year-old One Direction fan, and I don’t think I’ve fully expanded on that weirdness. Example: Once, I wound up in a group text talking about concert tickets, and by the end of it, I was helping a girl with her algebra homework. I don’t have any complaints about situations like this, because I’ve only interacted with sincere and supportive young women in the 1D fandom. Lara and I have met a few women our age over the years, since the bar line tends to weed out the youngsters and their parents. Those moments never fail to make me laugh, but there’s nothing like a fourteen-year-old girl announcing that she wants to be you when she grows up. (Of course, I did the responsible thing and told her to pick a better role model.)

Being adults with jobs, we were able to afford the flight to Boston, the hotel, and the vacation days, and soon enough we were there. Leading up to the concert at Gillette Stadium, we tried to make sure we had thought of everything. Most people know the stadium is not actually in Boston, but in a made up place that could be in Narnia for all I know. I can’t speak for now, but in 2015, Gillette Stadium’s website spelled out exactly how to get there if you’re going to a Patriots game, but they had no information on how concerts work. I called every phone number I could find, combed through message boards, and emailed random people for about a week straight, because we needed to know if we should rent a car to get there. I finally reached someone at Gillette, and he told me we should take the train to a certain station, and we could get a cab from there. This is what we did.

When we got off the train at the instructed stop, we were in Mayberry. We were five miles away from the stadium, and there were zero taxis. Other concertgoers had made the same mistake of listening to Gillette Stadium, and we were all walking around a tiny train station trying to figure out what to do. Uber had just made it to Atlanta, and thank god Lara had the app and was able to locate one Uber twenty minutes away. I find it handy to travel with someone as Type A as Lara, because I walked across the street and got pizza from a hole-in-the-wall pizza place, while she paced the train tracks waiting for the Uber. Once the driver rescued us, he promised that he had a special shortcut for getting us to the stadium. He asked us to trust him and drove us down a dirt road until it turned into a trail through the woods, and he instructed us to follow the trail on foot until we hit the train tracks and then to follow the tracks until we saw the stadium. Since I’m from Backwoods, Alabama, I tried to roll with this murder plot, but I should be clear that city people would not have done this. We followed the man’s directions and somehow emerged from the woods in a parking lot behind Gillette.

Lara and I found our seats and made friends with a group of teenagers next to us. Besides the beer, I managed to show my age in a multitude of ways. One of the girls near us had long blond hair, and, I swear, looked identical to Denise Richards. I asked her, “Do you know you look just like Denise Richards?” She responded, “That’s what all my friends’ parents say.”

A couple sat down next to us, and Lara and I made friends with them, too. (Did I mention the beer?) The guy got up to go to the bathroom, and I leaned over and asked the girl how she got him to bring her on a date to a One Direction concert. She responded, “Uh, that’s my dad.” To which the beer and I said, “Oh, well he’s attractive.”

The show started. It rained, and we all embraced it. Augustana opened for One Direction, and “Boston” in almost-Boston couldn’t have been more perfect. One Direction took the stage. It was Niall’s birthday, and we were surrounded by Bostonians, so everything was super Irish. The band kept thanking us for the whole tour, since this was the last show in the US. Lara tried to get our famous “one last beer” before the venue stopped selling, and we usually have this timing down to a science. She didn’t want to miss too much of the show, so she waited until the last minute and ended up running full speed at the drink counter. When she got there, the bartender yanked the actual tap out of the counter and refused to sell her anything else. This was probably for the best.

Lara and I stood there in the rain and sang and laughed, and I remember feeling that sense of weightlessness when you’re completely in the moment, and nothing else matters. One Direction finished the set and went backstage for a break before the encore. They do an extended intro for “You and I” so people can get back to their seats, and, listening to the guitar playing those familiar notes, I felt the logic of the truth settle over me.

 

I figured it out. I figured it out from black and white.

 

I turned to Lara and said with conviction, “This is the last time we’ll ever see them.”

She started to cry, and soon everyone in our general area was crying.     

We danced all night to the best song ever. One Direction had an out-of-character group hug onstage. Then, we called a $72 Uber to get back to Boston.

 

November 2015

They finished the tour in Europe, released a new album, and did all of the standard talk shows and interviews that come with a new album. Every interviewer asked about the break, and they began using the word “hiatus” which did not sit well with me. Why were we moving away from the casual term “break”? Someone at some point in some interview mentioned a four-month hiatus, so the fandom ran with that schedule. We could survive four months.

 

13 December 2015

One Direction went back to where it all started and performed on The X Factor U.K. finale. Harry wore a red floral suit. Niall’s hair was perfect. They sang “History” while photos of our shared history played on the screen behind them. They were emotional. Lara and I watched from our couch, and we were emotional.

 

14 December 2015

The hiatus began on my 27th birthday. Honestly, it felt like a break up. On my birthday. The One Direction Money-Making Machine had run like clockwork for a long time. They would make an album release last for two weeks, releasing one song every few days until we had them all. Then, we would get the press interviews and talk shows. Then, a music video. Then, one of them would say something stupid, and the stans would go to war on Twitter. Then, a tour would start, and we would get all the videos from all the shows. Suddenly, they were just gone.

Lara and I have both been through break ups, so we did the usual mourn and move on tactics. Have some carbs and some alcohol. Wallow for a couple of days. Eventually, though, you’ve got to get on with your life.

Our young Directioner friends needed a little more support. For many of them, One Direction was their first love and their first heartbreak. You’ll probably laugh at that, and I get it, but it’s true. One Direction has always been good to their fans—liking tweets, posing for photos, and recognizing their efforts with all sorts of praise. A lot of the young fans had never dated or kissed anyone. They didn’t stay up all night talking to a boy from school. They stayed up all night tweeting to the band or writing fan fiction or watching old concert videos. They worked on fan projects. They watched music videos on repeat to try to break YouTube records.

The hiatus pushed them over into the void of heartbreak and the stages of grief. The dark web quickly became a scary place. I resisted the urge to tell them all that they would be fine, because it hurts to hear that phrase when you feel hundreds of miles from the vicinity of fine. Plus, we could survive four months.

 

2018

We had some good times, didn't we?
We wore our hearts out on our sleeve
Goodbyes are bittersweet
But it's not the end, I'll see your face again

As I write this, the hiatus has gone on for a little over two years. Liam and Louis have babies. Harry became a serious actor in a Christopher Nolan film. Every member of One Direction has put out solo material. Lara and I have seen Harry, Niall, and Liam in concert as solo artists.

We sat VIP at Harry’s show in Atlanta, and we watched nineteen people pass out and get trampled before being rescued from the throes of the pit.

We had to celebrate Niall with a pre-show Guinness or two, so we were the last people to arrive right before he started. Our precious fandom somehow let us sneak through to the front, though. He opened with his song called “The Tide,” and Lara yelled “Roll Tide, Niall!” We made friends with the other Alabama fans in the room.

Liam should have left his “I used to be in 1D/Now I’m free” lyrics at home, and maybe I wouldn’t have booed him.

We’ll see Harry and Niall again at their shows in Georgia later this year. We also have tickets to see Harry at Madison Square Garden.

Maybe we’ll see a One Direction reunion tour once they’ve all finished their solo business. Maybe Lara and I will go see it at Wembley. Maybe we’ll never see One Direction again. I figure we have a fifty-fifty shot, and, for now, that’s all I have to say about that.

You and me got a whole lot of history

So don't let it go, we can make some more, we can live forever


Lauren Evans is a native Alabamian currently living in Atlanta with her beagle, Lucy. She received a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama and an M.A. in Liberal Studies from UNC Wilmington. Her writing has appeared in Palaver.