Review: ‘Everything I Need I Get From You,’ by Kaitlyn Tiffany
EVERYTHING I NEED I GET FROM YOU: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It, by Kaitlyn Tiffany
One Direction was a British boy band that was cynically assembled for the reality television competition “The X Factor” in 2010, and went on to release five albums of catchy if unremarkable pop songs before going on indefinite hiatus in 2016. (For reasons that are somewhat mysterious even to myself, I love the band.) As the internet culture reporter Kaitlyn Tiffany charts in “Everything I Need I Get From You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It,” the band’s cultural impact might have been unexceptional were it not for its fans, who built a bizarrely powerful online community featuring subversive fan-fiction narratives, absurdly funny memes and occasionally distressing coordinated campaigns that grew so influential they managed to destabilize “1D” itself.
Tiffany counts herself as a fan (she is the same age as Harry Styles, the band’s youngest member), though she approaches her subject with a wry critical distance — which is actually, she argues, an underappreciated but common fan characteristic. It is a persistent sexist attitude that flattens the fangirl’s perspective into inarticulate shrieking. “Though the criticism of fangirls is that they become tragically selfless and one-track-minded,” Tiffany writes, “the evidence available everywhere I look is that they become self-aware and creatively free.” She argues that One Direction’s blandly corporate beginnings formed an inviting blank canvas for the band’s fans, who marshaled their generative powers to challenge the music industry’s scripts about what women and girls want — or simply to amuse themselves. Following internecine fandom battles, Tiffany writes, can be “vicious and exhilarating, like college football except interesting.” She tracks down one fan who was ridiculed on television for creating a “shrine” to a spot on the 101 freeway where Styles once vomited and finds the young woman perplexed at the media freakout over “a comedy routine she was performing, primarily with herself as the audience.”
Through data points like these, Tiffany traces the shifting status of fangirls in the culture at large — once dismissed as hysterical teeny-boppers, they were later rehabilitated by the empowering winds of poptimism before stan culture complicated their role yet again, establishing pop music fans as among the internet’s most powerful and feared operators. The 1D fandom would eventually splinter along two lines — those who believe that Styles and his bandmate Louis Tomlinson are secretly in love and who are obsessed with “proving” the truth; and those who believe that it is an inappropriate thing to aggressively insist on a story line about real people in a band you ostensibly love. The conflict culminated in a 2016 conspiracy that Tomlinson’s newborn baby was, preposterously, fake.
The Dreamy World of Harry Styles
The British pop star and former member of the boy-band One Direction has grown into a magnetic and provocative performer.
But the fandom taketh away, and the fandom giveth: Tiffany is at the height of her powers when she is describing, with touching specificity, why it might make sense for a person to invest serious time and money into a bunch of cute boys singing silly love songs. She contextualizes fandom as a culturewide coping mechanism and creative outlet; it can be a lifeline for a lonely and powerless teenager, a site of reflection for a middle-aged mom or a wonderful excuse for anyone to scream into the void. Ten years after she discovered the band, Tiffany’s favorite 1D inside joke — “We took a chonce”; if you know you know — still “smacks me with a lingering hit of dopamine,” she writes, “like a gumball-machine-sticky-hand landing on a windowpane.”