When you think of fandoms today, one of the first few thoughts you think of probably have something to do with the internet, social media, fangirls, or all of the above, but this wasn’t always the case. As many Barry Manilow fans know, the technology of choice to actively participate in a fandom was through writing letters. There was a ‘mail fan club’ where fans could write letters to each other and discuss Barry or even their own lives. Just like fandom members then, many aficionados today turn to Twitter or Tumblr to meet fans where they stay in touch about their favorite musician or connect through personal conversations.
Before all of the present day technology, fans would join fan clubs online where they could receive pre-sale opportunities, a letter from the artist, or a signed photocopy of a photograph for a small fee. While fan clubs still exist today, Twitter has the capacity to directly connect fans to bands. Rather than getting a well thought out letter written by an assistant, fans can now get messages directly addressed to them from a band member, and can connect on a more personal level.
Just over a decade ago on February 9, 2005, Yahoo! Music launched its internet radio, streaming audio, and music videos online for the first time. They offered features from artists and relevant news about the media. Now fans can access any music, any video, anytime through this service.
Just six days after Yahoo! Music launched, the infamous YouTube activated its webpage for the first time. A year later, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion, but this was just the start. In May 2007, YouTube launched a program that enabled people to be paid for popular, viral content. The more views meant more money. In April of 2009, Justin Bieber introduced himself to the world by revealing how Usher discovered him on YouTube. This was the start of mainstream YouTube.
YouTube has also had a huge impact in the existence of modern day fandoms. For sports teams it means they can relive the unbelievably lucky goal their favorite player scored, or a UConn basketball fan can boast about the incredible plays the women’s team had. YouTube has also created its own fandom. Commonly known as ‘YouTubers,’ average people have become stars because of this website. Christopher Cayari describes YouTube as:
“An art medium; a technology which allows listeners to become singers, watchers to become actors and consumers to become producers creating new original works and supplementing existing ones. It allows everyone to have a voice that can be heard and face that can be seen” (Cayari, 2011, p. 24).
YouTube has blurred the lines of fans and figures. YouTubers like Tyler Oakley prides himself on being a “professional fangirl” of One Direction, Ellen DeGeneres, Darren Criss from Glee, and Taco Bell. Prior to the blurred lines of fan versus influencer, to view a music video, or re-watch a play in last nights’ game required tuning into MTV or ESPN. The difference was that you had to wait for the content creators of these channels to bring the videos to you. Now, with the click of a few buttons, you can have that play in HD right in front of you on your laptop.
As expected, with this new surge of technology there have been a shift in the norms of belonging to a fandom. Many teenage girls who fall under the fangirl category of a boy band often find themselves being teased. Casey Fiesler notices this and documented that “such public displays of mockery have become more common in fandom in recent years” (Fiesler, 2008, p.750). The reality is that “Fandoms are extremely close-knit communities, and members protect themselves by operating under a specific set of self-regulating guidelines – their own social norms” (Fiesler, 2008, p. 745). Members of a given fandom will protect each other and themselves from outsiders. They form cliques and come to the aid of any member in need. The use of social media has directly helped fans bond and stick together, regardless of what others think.
Bruno, Antony (February 9, 2005). “Launch Becomes Yahoo! Music”. Billboardbiz.com. Billboard. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
Cayari, C. (2011). The YouTube effect: how YouTube has provided new ways to consume, create, and share music. International Journal of Education & The Arts, 12(6), 1-28.
Dickey, M. R. (2013, February 15). The 22 Key Turning Points In The History Of YouTube. Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/key-turning-points-history-of-youtube-2013-2?op=1
Fandom’s the Same, Technology Improved. (2013, June 14). Retrieved March 10, 2016, from https://versusthefans.com/2013/06/14/fandoms-the-sametechnology-improved/
Fiesler, C. (2008). Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Fandom: How Existing Social Norms Can Help Shape the Next Generation of User-Generated Content. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, 10(3), 729–762.