Why Are so Many Adults Obsessed with One Direction?
"It's more that 1D reminds me I am going to die."
Image by Giphy
There is a double standard surrounding fans of boy bands, and it has nothing to do with gender—it has to do with age. No fans get as unfairly dumbed down as boy band fans, particularly One Directions'. To assume that all fans of boy bands are consumerized teenage girls is not only incorrect, but it disqualifies a large percentage of the fandom who are actually adult women (and men). While yes, boybands do in fact attract throngs of young females, don’t chalk that up to more than what it is and that’s good marketing.
Consider the canon: Every boyband from The Monkees to The Backstreet Boys has left an imprint on generations of teenage superfans. Every woman remembers the boy band of their youth because that music often represents a first promise of romance, seductive to pubescent girls for obvious reasons. A recent segment on NPR stipulated that through the boy band archetype, young girls latch onto boy bands as a way to define and make sense of the love and sexuality looming up ahead. However, that kind of psychology suggests that obsessively loving a boy band acts as a placeholder for an adult experience. But what happens to these fangirls once they age out of the targeted demographic? If fangirling over a boy band like One Direction is understood to be a uniquely adolescent phenomenon, both commercially and psychologically, then why is that according to data from Pandora, 60 percent of their fans are 25 or older?
Dr. Jamie Goodwin-Uhler has published multiple studies on the psychology of fan culture. When asked if she had any theories as to what might attract out-of-demographic women to the One Direction fandom, she explained that "the experience of allowing oneself unabashed infatuation with handsome, famous, unreachable young men might recreate the kind of teenage abandonment that we (as adults) wonder to be long-lost. Adolescence is a powerful developmental period, rife with complicated feelings, a steeped-in-hormones search through and discovery of one's sexuality and identity. Boy band fandom could allow one to re-experience that some of that youthful, vital energy—and for a person slogging through the often un-fun responsibilities of adulthood, that energy could be intoxicating."
Today marks the release of 1D's anticipated new album Made in the A.M. (alongside Justin Beiber's album as well.) Basically, it's a big day for boy bands and an even bigger day for their fans. I decided to ask several adults 21 or older about their involvement in the fandom and their connection to this particular band. While a few of the participants admitted that their involvement in the One Direction fandom is, as Dr. Goodwin-Uhler claims, a distraction from their adult lives, that's hardly unanimous. Turns out the reasoning behind these seven adults' obsession with One Direction deals directly with the realities of their adult lives, ranging from accepting with death, coping body image, and discovering sexuality to dealing with depression or a paralyzing fear of physical intimacy.
Case in point: The stereotype that all diehard boyband fans are weeping teenage girls is as dated as it is shallow. The impact of boy bands on the adult over 18 is actually very real and rooted in the many struggles of the human condition. Here are a seven self-proclaimed adult Directioners explaining why they personally are obsessed with 1D.
The thing about being an adult and loving a boy band is that you have way more options than if you were a teenager. When I was a kid, I wanted to go to every Backstreet Boys show on their Millenium tour—but my mom was obviously not going fund that. Now, I can make my own decisions—whether they're responsible or not. I can stay up all night to attend Good Morning America or the Today show and still make it to work on time. I can open up a credit card, max it out, and travel all around the country and Canada to see One Direction as many times as I want. I had to go into double digits to feel fulfilled. I'm still paying off that credit card bill, and my only regret is that I wasn't able to make it to a show in Buffalo when Harry wore a gay pride flag as a cape.
Another thing is that being 25 and obsessed with 1D is that I'm really not that far in age from them. I'm older, but I've always been more attracted to younger guys. They're hyper-sexualized beings, and they definitely know it. As an adult, it almost seems like something could happen with one of them. It probably won't, but in theory, it could. Especially on later albums, they haven't been shy about referencing sex and even one-night-stands. It's not as squeaky-clean like the boybands of the past—it’s very obvious that they like to fuck. So when they're singing something like “You say you're a good girl/But I know you would, girl”, as a sexually active adult, I'm naturally thinking about what it'd be like to bone Harry.
Loving One Direction as obsessively as I do has really helped me realize, something my therapists have always tried to impress on me-- is that all my feelings, whether rational or not, are all entirely valid. I have extremely bad depression and anxiety and I truly believe 1D has lifted me out of some my darkest moments, especially when my relationships have gone awry. I was hanging out with this guy for a couple months and when it didn't work out I was convinced it was because I listened to too much One Direction and he thought it was weird. There were certain songs I couldn't listen to for awhile because they reminded me of him, but then I realized that he was actually a total shithead and One Direction are way better for me.
Occupation: Customs Broker Analyst
I'm 27 years old. I live at home with my dad because my mom died six years ago and I don't want him to be by himself. I'm never going to get married and I'm never going to have children. These are facts I have accepted and moved on from. I don't drink but a few times a year. I don't do drugs. I've never touched a cigarette in my life. One Direction is what I've chosen to dedicate my time and thoughts and affection towards. Also, as a fat girl, I relate to how I've gotten to witness them mature and just become hotter and hotter and grow into their weird faces. I don't think I would've gotten into 1D if they'd all been uggotrons. (Side note: I own at least 100 teen magazines with 1D on the cover. Kill me.) I would say being in One Direction fandom has made me more confident in expressing my opinions. I've been actively participating in one fandom or another since I was 15 years old.
Occupation: Writer, Professor, and Mother
I like One Direction because when I hear them, when I look at them, I realize how quickly they will be gone. How quickly I will be gone and I feel very grateful to be here. One Direction is all brevity, tender flowers, a reminder of mortality, a reminder to live with joy.
It's more that 1D reminds me I am going to die. Which of course, makes me a much better mom because, for me, at their shows, I feel certain nothing beside kindness matters when youth, life, beauty are so brief. 1D fills both my daughters and me with joy, with love. That comes back as kindness.
Occupation: Full-time Design Student
My love for One Direction has made me realize and accept who I am. I distinctly remember seeing a paparazzi shot that came out of Harry Styles shirtless walking with a dog as a freshman in college and realizing that I was in fact gay. Now because I'm so obsessed with Harry, I feel in a way that no man that I will ever date/see/etc. will ever compare to him. I've never met Harry but after watching interviews, seeing them in concert, reading interviews, and now, as an adult, Harry Styles has become the benchmark for any man in my life.
Over the summer when the Supreme Court made the major decision to legalize gay marriage in the U.S., Twitter obviously exploded. One person in particular that showed their support was Harry Styles. I can’t describe the feeling I felt when he tweeted his support and put a rainbow flag on his Instagram. I literally wanted to cry because I was so overwhelmed with how happy that made me. Someone I love supporting who I love. Especially with him being the same age as me it's a wonderful feeling knowing that someone my age is in my corner.
Occupation: Cable News Production
I'm a person who identifies as asexual and it's not something I'm open about to everyone in my life, but I do think it plays a lot into the way I romanticize 1D. A lot of the group's appeal comes from the fact that they are just sexually threatening enough; they wear tight jeans and occasionally thrust at a mic stand, but they're so tender and doe-eyed that you could never imagine them being physically threatening. So, as a 25 year old woman who has a) never had a boyfriend, b) can often feel very lonely, and c) is not interested in a physical relationship, One Direction has acted as the perfect buffer.
Absolutely terrified of unwanted sexual advances, I have thus completely avoided the real-life dating pool. Over time, I have increasingly projected all of my romantic feelings and crushes onto completely unattainable men: celebrities. These are people I would probably never have to physically encounter and who would therefore never be in the position to sexually pressure me. This might also have something to do with the reason I've always favored small, waif-y guys (I previously went through a long period of obsession with the Culkin brothers.)
By being seemingly-available 24/7 via a constant stream of content, the boys of One Direction alsserve to fill the void of loneliness. I don't ever reach the point of delusion where I believe I'd ever be in a close personal relationship with any one of them (though I genuinely believe Harry & I would get on swimmingly), but I do think by constantly watching concert vines, reading their interviews, and listening to their music, I do simulate a lot of the intimacy of a close personal relationship. For instance, I have set it up so that each of the boys' tweets are sent to my phone via push notification so that they almost feel more like a text. In fact, I am so thoroughly fulfilled by the unceasing stream of 1D in my life, that I have not developed a crush on a man I know in real life in the last 18 months, while I have developed crushes on Zayn, Liam, and Louis (in that order) that weren't there before (Harry is forever; Niall is a never.) Actually, the band also serves the purpose of pushing away men my age who are turned off by the idea of a boy band or a woman who is obsessed with a boy band.
Occupation: Social Media Manager
I don’t just “have a thing for younger men.” I’m an ephebophile; meaning post-pubescent dudes (or post-pubescent resembling dudes) really turn me on. I’ve been warned to never become a teacher (I have a teaching certificate). I am completely obsessed with One Direction and I think I know why. My favorite 1D member has and always will be Niall Horan. Niall’s 22 and still looks like a goddamned teenage boy—he’s never grown past 5’8” and still spikes the front of his frosted hair like a sixteen year old.
I’m pretty open about the weirdest "relationship" I’ve had—a 14-year-old when I was 18. It fragmented for apparent reasons then resumed somewhat when he was 16, and I was 20. I’d consider it a bit continuous. We held hands in a park near my parent’s home when I was 22, and he was 18. He’s 21 now and just texted me.
Talking to psychologists over the years, I might just have daddy issues. My biological (and abusive) father kidnapped my brother and I when we were infants and following our rescue the United States justice system insisted I spend my developmental years sporadically “visiting” him in rooms heavily guarded by armed policemen. He had a thick, dark mustache, and I hated his fucking guts. During my childhood, my biological father was every man with a mustache—all men with facial hair were, therefore, a threat to my mother, brother, and I—all men with facial hair were evil. If facial hair—beards and mustaches—societally characterize manliness, all “men” were evil, too. I actually felt grossly betrayed when boys my age began sprouting facial hair. There’s actually nothing that turns me on more than hearing a wistful sigh followed by “… this is all the facial hair I can grow.”
While I could use my daddy issues to justify all my weirdness, I was also raped and in a physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive relationship with an older dude from 15-17 and (though I’m predominately over it) I’ve described the experience to shrinks as “having robbed me of my teenage years.” Maybe a part of me wishes I could relive them—wishes the asshole controlling my life had allowed me to go to prom and that I’d been able to socialize and flirt with all the post-pubescent boys I wanted.
Sarah Jean A.
Imagine that every person on this planet is born with a semi-corporeal, entirely trackable amount of grief that they can physically bear until it breaks their body down and turns it into dust. This would include palpable weariness, mental strain, emotional capacity—anything and everything that leads you from being alive, to being entirely dead in the ground until the earth burns up. There are things that exist to push this off: things that pause these enduring aches. These are the things that keep you alive. Things like the new One Direction album on repeat. Things like watching the music video for "Perfect" 48 times in a row. You just took a break from turning into dust and added 183 minutes to your life. Things like Harry Styles in the tightest pants imaginable. Things like imagining Louis Tomlinson smiling into the camera while looking eerily too similar to a jungle cat. Things like Niall's chest hair (I don't deserve those hairs but I will take them). Every moment of mild to extreme obsession that I spend considering cute and sort-of-dirty boys are moments that I don't have to worry about dying. I worry about dying a lot. I'm worrying about it now. I'm off work in 6 hours. I have the new One Direction album downloaded already. I won't be worrying then. So I’ll just worry about 1D to fend off the fact that death is coming for me regardless.