A few weeks ago, right before Christmas, I met a hardcore One Direction fan. I believe we all remember the Channel 4 documentary Crazy About One Direction that depicted the Directioners (aka the One D fans) as crazy teenagers, being completely obsessed by the band members and proving to be quiet abusive online towards those who would not fit their standards. I wanted to have a heart-to-heart with a fan, someone who was not a teenager, someone who could be the voice of a fandom and let me into the world of a One D fan…
Thanks to social media, I met with Neneh, 24 and from London, who kindly answered my questions about what it is like to be a fan of one of the greatest boybands this planet has ever seen…
Me (left) and Neneh (right)
First things first, how did Neneh discovered the band? “I’ve always watched X Factor, every year and yeah, I just saw them on X Factor, thought they were good. I wasn’t too crazy about them until their first single came out. (…) And it all went downhill from there, to be honest.”
Neneh is very active on social media: she is a blogger and a YouTuber, has just over 9000 followers on Twitter and a very popular Snapchat account. Whenever she meets One D, she shares it online with all the other fans. Neneh has met all the boys (yes, even Zayn!) several times. But how does she actually get to meet them? “I don’t find it too hard because, I’m used to it by this stage. You know if they have an event coming up, if they are going to be performing, they’re probably going to be doing rehearsals so it’s mainly…we’d go there because we know they have to do it a few days before, just check the studios. Some of my friends live near so we’d just take the bus to the studios, check if their cars are outside. If they’re not, then just go home and report to everyone else if they’re there or not and just keep checking until they’re actually there. So it’s not like a coincidence; we just know they’re going to be there, even though there is a lot of trials and errors at trying to find them.”
My next question was – and I think I was very curious to understand how one can gather so much detailed information about a celebrity – how do you know where their studios are and what their cars look like? A question that Neneh swiftly brushed by replying: “They are creatures of habit. So they’ve been using the same rehearsal studios since 2010 or since the Up All Night Tour. They don’t change things: their rehearsal, their photography, all their studios are the same. It’s pretty well known. If they’re going to be rehearsing, they will only really be at that one rehearsal studio. Mainly. I found out because, when I saw some people had met them, I saw the van in the background of the picture with the name on it and I just went to check it and that’s how I discovered where it was. That was in 2013, something like that.”
Then, I immediately started to wonder if Harry, Niall, Louis and Liam were recognizing Neneh. It feels she has met them often enough to be more to them than just another face in the crowd of excited fans. “I think the first time I noticed they were starting to recognize me is…I met Niall last year at the X Factor and then, I met him again at the studio like the same week and he remembered me because it was twice in the same week. And he was literally just like: “Hi, you’re alright?” He was really nice. (…)I think Louis and Niall are the ones that recognize me the most. They’re always really nice and ask me if I’m alright.” But what is their reaction? Are they happy to see her; or do they think “oh, her again…”? The answer is a pretty sweet one: “If they know there is a lot of people, they’ll make sure they’ll come to me and my friends cause they know we’re the ones that are kind of always out. That’s usually what happens so yeah…a positive reaction!”
Neneh tweeted pictures of her encounters with the One Direction boys
Most of fans and random people would be pretty happy to meet their idols – click! – get a picture, brag about it a little, then move on. So, I can’t help but wonder: Why does Neneh keep trying to meet the singers? Why is a picture not enough and what is her goal when she meets them repetitively? “I would say to get a better experience. It’s addictive and, every time you meet them, you want a better experience and to continue progressing towards a more friendly relationship with them. Yeah, it’s really addictive meeting them!”
At this stage, it seems undeniable: One Direction is addictive. So, will Neneh feel tempted to try and find them during their break? She looks unsure and bites her lip before saying: “Me and my friends said that we won’t…but… I don’t know. It depends: the other day, we were out with my friend and it was literally a day or two after the start of the break and we went to Winter Wonderland. And we found out that Selena Gomez was staying in this hotel and that Niall was at the hotel. So we were like “Let’s just walk down to the hotel”. I think they’d already left so we thought: “ok, never mind”. So…I don’t know…I don’t want to…but…Maybe Harry and Louis…I really want to meet Harry, like all the time! I love Harry!”
Because she goes really out of her way to meet the One D boys, Neneh has been called a stalker. The Oxford Dictionary says that to stalk is to obsessively follow, watch or try to communicate with a particular person. Does Neneh feel like she falls into that category? “Erm… I was thinking about this the other day because everyone calls my friends and me the “London Stalker Crew”. I actually googled the word “stalker” and I don’t really think it’s exactly the same. A lot of the time, stalking is unwanted attention, like going after someone and it’s unwanted by the other person. I think that if the boys didn’t want to stop, they wouldn’t so all the times that they’ve stopped…(…) A lot of the time, if they literally don’t want to meet people, it’s completely their choice so that’s why I don’t think it’s bad cause there are so many times, like hundreds of times, where they just drove past us and none of them would stop. It happened on so many occasions so…I think it’s them that make the decision so I don’t think it’s bad.”
As we are nearing the end of the interview, our hot chocolates going cold and the coffee shop getting louder, I want to give Neneh an opportunity to add, correct or say one last thing. She looks up to me and says: “Yeah, just that me and my friends aren’t weird crazy people just because we’ve met them so many times. (…)Most of the hate I get on Twitter is just people saying “why won’t you leave them alone?” or there’s always going to be the comment “oh, that girl again” and things like that. Obviously, I’ve met them a lot but (…) there are so many people who have met them so many more times than I have. And they’d get completely overlooked. I don’t know why…Maybe I’m just prominent or something like that but…I don’t think I’m a crazy stalker, I just really enjoy meeting them, they’re really nice and every opportunity is different so you never know what you’re going to get every time you meet them: sometimes, they’ll stop and have a talk, sometimes it’s literally just a quick picture…”
There is one thing that seems to validate the idea the general public has about the Directioners: they can be real bullies on social media. Just a few days ago, Saira Khan, the ITV presenter got hate and abuse on Twitter from many Directioners, simply because she tweeted that she had seen Harry whilst filming. She reported those abusive tweets to the police…
THE tweet that started all the abuse…
And Saira Khan saying she’s reporting the insulting tweets to the authorities.
Neneh is also getting hate online, because she has met Louis, Harry, Niall and Liam a few times. What is her take on the subject? She tells me: “I think that, if anyone was in the same situation, like if they were living in London and they knew people who had met them and knew how to meet them and where they’re going to be, I think everyone would go.(…). At the end of the day, all the people that send hate, I know that it’s just jealousy so I can’t really… I don’t really get too angry and respond to it. Sometimes, I retweet it and laugh about it. I don’t take it too seriously because I know anyone would take up the opportunity to meet them.”
As I leave the coffee place, I think of the conversation I have just had. And I feel old…Because, when I was head over heels for Leonardo DiCaprio, it meant putting posters up and kissing them when no one could see me (yeah, I know, I was only 13 and, weirdly, didn’t think about kissing a real boy at all!). It meant watching his films and memorising his lines; it meant daydreaming about meeting him and imagining what kind of person he was. With the birth of social media, we have let our boundaries loose and our barriers down.
We know who is where and when, at all times. I think that is why the One Direction fandom is so intense: they live with that sense of immediacy, which means they can find the boys, even during their hiatus! They can tell the other fans about it on Twitter, post a picture on Snapchat and, in exchange, receive love, admiration, jealousy and hate.
I believe One Direction is a one of a kind phenomenon that goes way beyond the music. It is the testimony of a new era: the proof that immediacy can be a blessing and a curse; the clue that maybe we should take a step back and remember that Niall, Liam, Louis and Harry are human beings and that their fans are too…
(This post was previously published on missdiversit.blogspot.com on the 17th of January 2016.)