Forever Tugging at Teenager’s Purse Strings: A Look at the Commodification of Teenyboppers

At some point in our life we have all been fans of something. It could be a specific musician, like Jay-Z, book like Harry Potter, or television show, like Park & Recreation. There is no specific archetype when you imagine these fans and there is really no stigma associated with them. However there is one fan group that typically receives rolling eyes or sighs out of annoyance, and those fans are teenyboppers. These fans have a lot of adjectives associated with them, mainly crazy, but they are a subculture that should be better understood before written off.

You may be wondering why one would consider teenyboppers a subculture because they are not trying to create a change in society or bring recognition to an issue they find important, but Teenyboppers fit into many of Ken Gelder’s definition for a subculture. The first of Gelder’s characterizations being that they transcend class because within the subculture there is no class system, although they do have a tendency to divide into specific fan groups based off of their favorite groups (Gelder 3). These fans also have a tendency to come together on the Internet through interactions on fan blogs, social media sites, and concerts, which occurs outside the domestic sphere (Gelder 3). Gelder also believes that subcultures are rooted in excess and exaggeration (Gelder 3). If you were to look at a picture of a stereotypical teenybopper that would be evident because they abide by that ideology in clothing, by their hysterical actions, and fan Twitter accounts, which are put on limits (Gelder 4). Although Gelder does not discuss this, Robert Kozinets believes that there are subcultures that are derived from leisure activities, which can pertain to the major fan subcultures (Kozinets 68). He also observes the commonly shared identity that these subcultures have, which is evident when young girls consider themselves fans of one group specifically (Kozinets 68).

The commoditization of Teenyboppers happens everyday. This subculture is typically made of young girls on the cusp of adulthood who are loyal followers of singer in the sugar-pop genre. The expanse of teenyboppers is vast with many different groups and factions, however the main focus of this discussion will be on the fans of Justin Bieber and One Direction, known as Beliebers and Directioners respectively.

Source: mirror.co.uk

The idea of these fans invokes plenty of images, like that above which compares them to rabid zombies, is a common stigma which compares these fans to mindless, obsessive beings. However, at the heart they are like most other fan cultures, akin to Star Trekk and Harry Potter fans, except they are not considered as bookish and odd. This is why Henry Jenkins believes the word “fan” is slippery and expansive (Jenkins Textual Poachers). These are “subculture of consumption” because they have a unified loyalty to a certain brand, activity, or product, which applies to each of these fandoms (Kozinets 68). The main difference is how the media and public view them because the genetic makeup of the subculture, the consumer nature, is the same. Without the commitment of the fans none of the material would exist.

Fans have been around for nearly forever, but the specific teenybopper fan is a more recent phenomenon. The history of Teenyboppers begins with Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley (Lewis 85). However, the early predecessors do not resemble those teenyboppers of today. The hysteria that comes to mind started with the introduction of The Beatles. October 1963 was the first instance of what would be dubbed “Beatlemania,” which came about because parents believed their daughters were plagued with an actual illness (Lewis 85).

Source: amazfacts.com

Beatlemania was the first mass outburst of the sixties that features women, which is odd to imagine that before the feminist movement started there were young women crying over four men with bowl cuts (Lewis 85).

Source: londontow.com

Source: londontown.com

Typically these fans were women aged ten to fourteen years old, right on the cusp of becoming a teenager. However when looking closely at the reaction, Lisa Lewis believes these actions were a way for these fans to express their urges, mainly those of a sexual nature (Lewis 85). During this time sexual references in mass media had doubled making sexuality a more noticeable thing (Lewis 85). This band was allowing these young women to give into their sexual urges, which was rarely encouraged before. Females were shedding their cloak of purity and lusting after these musicians, which may explain why parents were so concerned. These girls no longer had to strive for the suburban home with a white picket fence, but were able to deviate from that idea. Part of the appeal of these stars was that the young women knew they were never going to marry them, allowing them to freely express themselves (Lewis 96). These girls would choose monogamy based on their favorite member and would want to enter a relationship with them, even though they knew it was never possible (Lewis 96). The height of Beatlemania occurred from 1964-65, during this time there, surprisingly was a lot of violence between girls trying to get tickets or to see the artists (Lewis 85). These images and characteristics eventually stuck to the teenyboppers, which is why they are viewed the same way today.

Source: artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com

These young teenagers were the main targets of the music industry. They were trying to cash in on this post-war belief that teens were the prime market for consumer goods, which still reins true today (Lewis 115). Recently One Direction announced a stadium tour for the summer of 2014 and these tickets can range from $350 to $75. The profit from touring will be huge, as will the DVD sales of their movie that is being released this month This Is Us. This is not the first of movies filmed as part documentary, part concert and it also was not the most profitable. Justin Bieber’s film of the same genre, Never Say Never, dwarfed One Direction’s 28 millions dollar profit with a staggering 73 million dollars at the box office (Box Office Mojo).

Never Say Never, released in 2011, follows Bieber while he prepares for his show at Madison Square Garden. Throughout the films there are clips of songs from the concert, filling out the half concert aspect of the genre. Cameras follow him a week prior to his concert and show his life. Some scenes include his hometown, playing around with his friends, old home videos, and interviews and interactions with Beliebers.

The film itself is Bieber propaganda and a bit of extra publicity, although it is characterized as a documentary. At one point there were news show clips discussing the term Bieber-Fever, aligning this type of movement to the Beatlemania that occurred decades before. The film is simply another revenue stream for the young pop star and his record label, as stated earlier; it earned over 73 million dollars domestically (Box Office Mojo). There is an intense sense of loyalty bordering on stupidity that many fans have because they feel as if they found him first and have a sense of ownership over him due to his modest beginnings as a YouTube star. The filmmaker tries to bring this idea that they help to make up Bieber by showing videos of fans, from the digital platform YouTube, dancing and singing along to his song “One Time.” These videos eventually merge to create his concert performance, which once again tries to show the teenyboppers’ importance and also aids in giving them a sense of self-worth.

At the beginning of the film you watch the small pop star getting ready to go onstage at Madison Square Garden and all you can hear is high pitched screaming. Then once he is finally performing on stage you finally see the jubilant girls watching their object of obsession singing and dancing onstage. Once the opening credit have finished you see the modern day teenyboppers, specifically Bieber fans. Dressed in homemade shirts holding intricate signs, the girls sing and dance outside of the concert venue professing their love for the singer. One girl who cannot be over the age of eleven says, “I think about him 99% of the time of my life.” She then proceeds to scream at the top of her lungs, undoubtedly egged on by the director, and her two other friends follow suit. Later another group of friends discuss in which order they would become Mrs. Bieber. This is exactly how the media sees Teenyboppers, as these crazy young girls who obsess over after and idolize a boy in a manic way. The film depicts this hyper, frenzied feeling by using fast, shaky shots when filming the fangirls.

The documentary is shot in observational mode because the viewer does not notice the presence of the filmmaker. There are home videos within the film, obviously to give the fans the feeling of being closer to the starlet, thus creating an encore relationship between past and present throughout the film. These videos consistently being brought up, as well as the interview that include family, friends, and seemingly people who you would expect to have only met the childstar a few times, show that there is a specific agenda for this film, which is to humanize the subject, especially since the interviews are masked (Nichols 53). These interviews give a larger frame of reference, obviously legitimizing the story. They interviewees discuss his life, his career, and his love for his fans, which help to make them, as well as Bieber, social actors in the film. The filmmaker really plays up the idea that without his fans he would not be anywhere near where he is today, giving the teenyboppers watching a sense of importance.

While this documentary, a term that should be used loosely, does however deliver entertainment value it is hard to ignore the real reason this film was created, which most teenyboppers probably do not realize, to create revenue. Not only was there a 3D version, there as also a directors cut edition that was later released in theaters. The creators obviously decided this was a good idea because not only would there be teenyboopers, mainly Beliebers, coming in droves, but they would also need chaperones as well. This film was also a way to give fans the ability to experience a concert if they were unable to attend or afford one. It is also attempting to turn people into fans, especially because the pop star is very charming throughout the film and they try to show that he is just a teenager. This is not the only way they try to push the Bieber brand because while the movie was being release he was also promoting an album, nail polish line, and perfume. This is not including the other forms of revenue like clothing and nail polish. Although these young girls may not have money to spend, their parents do, and many would rather give into their children’s whims than try to fight it, especially at an age where being accepted by peers is so important. Just like with The Beatles, girls who are able to partake in anything Bieber would be praised and could even gain popularity from it, not only within their own Belieber community (Lewis 86).

As an outside observer, these depictions of the subculture in the film are not very favorable, which is interesting because those fans are the people who were the main consumers of this movie. During one instance police has to calm down a riot that occurred at a mall on Long Island after being told Bieber was going to be making an appearance. Other times he has to be shielded by policemen while he tries to enter a concert venue. There are images of girls screaming, crying, and trying to climb fences just to see the popstar. There was also one girl who had to be taken out in a stretcher. However, during one video you can hear the comments of other fans that were waiting to see Bieber, who was being chased by a mob. They felt sorry for the singer. This was an instance of them recognizing that maybe what they were doing was, in a way, inhumane to the other person.

This unfavorable view may have been in hopes to show girls that if they act that way they are not alone, which gives them a connection to other fans. This way they can see that there are girls that have an obsession just like them, allowing them to have a mutual bond, thus creating a sense of community. This other type of community is also evident in the YouTube video “Things Directioners Need To Hear!”

This gives a much different view of Teenyboppers. This video is produced by a fan and discusses the etiquette that goes along with being a One Direction fan. This video has garnered over 94,000 views since it was posted April 23, 2012. It boasts over 1,000 comments that agree with the subject, named Sara as she writes in the video description, along with her Twitter and Tumblr information.

The girl in the video, named Sara, feels the need to reach out to these other girls to say, “respect the boys.” That phrase comes up consistently throughout the video this seems to be her slogan. She discussed how to respect their choices and their loved ones, especially girlfriends. This necessity of telling other fans how to act invokes the idea of the subculture self-governing itself as Gelder discussed (150). She also makes a point that; even if girls have a favorite member they should support all of them because without their fans they would not be where they are today.

Within the group of Directions sometimes jealousy arises between Directioners of different geographical locations because they think they may spend too much time in one place. The idea of ownership also comes up in discussion, but it is worldwide. Sara seems to understand that their management is moving them and the fans do not have a say in their location. They are fans of a group that is part of the “global entertainment industry” and they should really use their solidarity to befriend one another (Gelder 145). One example she gives is that the Chicago Directioners decided to have a flashmob and she was able to meet more people. In the end she gives a rallying cry not to give up hope in meeting “the boys” because it could always happen.

In the beginning Sara, as Sarah Banet-Weiser suggests, is using this idea of “Broadcasting Yourself,” YouTube’s slogan, to create a self-brand and identify herself within her own subculture. There is a freedom of “crafting identity” that self-produced videos allow and this video is an example of how this user is not only trying to craft her own identity as a fan, but also help to rebrand Directioners (Kearney 280). Although there is a divide based off of location between many of the fans they have the ability to develop communities, just like Gelder suggested (Gelder 147). Although the video did view fans in the way that much of the media does. This video, in a sense, was trying to show teenyboppers, focusing on Directioners, in a better light rather than fanatics who know every detail about their obsessions. This sort of fan production seems to be “motivated by social reciprocity, friendship, and good feelings” as Henry Jenkins suggests. This is simply a way for a fan to be a part of the participatory culture than is common within fan culture.

Banet-Weiser says the ability to create a self-brand is a type of post-feminism because young females are able to create a discourse about consumer commodities allows for empowerment (Kearney 282). I do not agree because although these videos allow for discussion these young girls do not even understand what is going on and the giant corporations that are behind them.

The proposed media artifact would be a documentary. This would be an in-depth look into how the music industry creates and manufactures these young idols to take advantage and raise revenue off of these easily fooled Teenyboppers. However, it would not only look at the Teenybopper, but also how the giant music corporations not only take advantage of young girls coming into their sexuality, but the stress they put onto the young idols themselves. The songs that these boys sing rarely have any social commentary or deviate from the norm, which were the main drawing points for fans of Star Trek.

The main idea of the film would be that these large music corporations are simply trying to take the subculture of consumption to the extreme, knowing that fans are likely to consume to excess. Unlike Trekkies, who rally around various ideas and morals brought up in Star Trek, these young girls rally around singers who they “love” and are in some cases the object of their obsession. This emotion of lust is being pumped for as much revenue as possible.

To really construct this film, it would need to be created with the Reflexive Mode of Representation. In this specific mode of representation, noted by Bill Nichols, the filmmaker brings the historical world into discussion, which is easier to help to bring the viewer to the same conclusions as the filmmaker (Nichols 57).  This is necessary because if one were to talk about the only the historical world, as Nichols suggests, the purpose of the documentary would be lost. This is important because the techniques that go along with this mode of representation aim to interrupt and expose the reality and how people view a subject and this would be the main goal and core of the documentary. This is also important because if certain artists were able to be interviewed their publicist may not allow them to give all of the information needed because it might be seen as detrimental to their image. It is also possible that they might be under contract that they are not allowed to share information, which would make getting the information needed without cajoling them difficult. For example, in his documentary Bieber’s manager discussed how the 16 year old had 120 concerts in two years. These young teens are being overworked, although the media typically claims it is out of their own volition.

These large labels are taking these teens, like Bieber and the members of One Direction, and making their dreams come true, while essentially selling them to the media and these teenyboppers. They feed off of the emotions that these boys invoke within young girls to create a huge profit. Turing these humans into a brand that these girls believe they have a stake in because they fuel the fire to continue to create things for them to consume. It is curious to see what would be listed in their contracts because, for example One Direction has had two world tours in two years and Justin Bieber is coming out with another movie around Christmas time.

Thanks to social media and places like YouTube these young girls are given the feeling that they have a connection with these people. The documentary would mainly be used to show the effect technology has had on the psychological effect of fans and to open the eyes of these people. This way if they want to give into the corporate machine, they can, however they should just be aware of what they are consuming is not made specifically for them, like some my imagine, but for millions of girls exactly like them. They should understand that companies have paid millions to understand what their demographic wants and to these artists, although they are appreciative of their fans, they do not and probably never will know them and that they will forever just be a nameless face or dollar. However, with every generation there is a new craze for teenyboppers to follow and the cycle will simply repeat itself.

Works Cited

“Box Office Mojo – Movie Index, A-Z.” Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Box Office Mojo, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

Corner, John. (2002). “Performing the Real: Documentary Diversions.” Television New Media, 3, 255-269. doi:10.1177/152747640200300302

Gelder, Ken. Subcultures. London: Routledge, 2007. N. pag.  Print.

Hall, Stuart. “The Work of Representation.” Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in Association with the Open University, 1997. N. pag. Print.

Jenkins, Henry. “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching.” Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York UP, 2006. N. pag. Print.

Jenkins, Henry (2012-12-07). Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture . Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Kearney, Mary Celeste. Mediated Girlhoods: New Explorations of Girls’ Media Culture. New York: Peter Lang, 2011. Print.

Kozinets, Robert Z. “Utopian Enterprise: Articulating the Meaning of Star Trek‘s Culture of Consumption.” JSTOR. The University of Chicago Press, June 2001. Web. 27 Sept. 2013.

Lewis, Lisa A. The Adoring Audience Fan Culture and Popular Media. London ; New York: Routledge, n.d. 256. Print.

Nichols, Bill. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991. Print.

Never Say Never. Dir. Jon Chu. Perf. Justin Bieber. Paramount, 2011. DVD.

“Things Directioners Need To Hear!” YouTube. YouTube, 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

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