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Fueling the Passion: Anatomy of a Die-Hard Fan

Mark Metcalfe, Getty Images

In case you ever wondered whether the PopCrush editors are as hardcore into their favorite pop artists as our readers are, I’ll let you in on a little secret: We are. And we go hard.

I’d like to think that one of the reasons why I love what I do so much is because I live it every day. I understand what it’s like to be a fan in the deepest sense of the word because that’s how I feel about “my” band, Hanson. Much like Mahomies, Beliebers, Directioners or any other dedicated fan base, I just get that level of passion — the kind that makes you travel all over the country to see them in concert in numbers well into the double digits, camping out on the sidewalk in the hope of getting front row just to get as close to the music as you possibly can.

That kind of devotion is not something that everyone can understand — but we die-hards do. In fact, PopCrush readers couldn’t wait to explain why they love their favorite artists so much when we asked:

 

So, what is it really like to be a die-hard fan? Let us explain.

Beatlemania + Beyond: The History of Fangirling

First, let’s dig just a little deeper back in time. And thanks to the powers of the Internet, we’ve discovered that the fan frenzy didn’t start with the Beatles. Or with Elvis. Or even with Frank Sinatra. Apparently, in the 1800s, girls used to lose their minds over classical pianist Franz Liszt to such an extent that the term ‘Lisztomania‘ was used to describe the phenomenon, which was apparently treated like a legit illness. (Wonder what they would think of Bieber Fever!)

As the decades went on and the world changed and evolved, so did the music — and the corresponding level of pandemonium. In the 1940s, crooner Frank Sinatra already had fans lining up overnight on city streets to see him perform. A decade later and Elvis was wiggling his hips in such a frenzy that girls would faint at the sight of the move. And, of course, things reached a fever pitch when the Beatles invaded the U.S. in 1964, sparking an unparalleled intensity known to the world as Beatlemania.

Of course, this type of hardcore fandom continued to transcend decade after decade. Groups of fans known as Dead Heads followed the Grateful Dead on tour in the ’70s, while fans worshipped the ground that Michael Jackson moonwalked on in the ’80s. The ’90s gave us pop stars like Backstreet Boys, Hanson, Britney Spears and ‘N SYNC, and with them came flocks of fans eager to consume anything — and everything! — about them. And today — with the dawn of the Internet age — message boards, social media and Tumblr make fangirling as much of a sport as it is a hobby, allowing fans to have direct access to their idols as well as other millions of other die-hards, with the simple click of a button and the clacking of some keys.

The Symptoms of Fandemonium

To get all precise about it, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “die-hard” as someone who is “very loyal to a set of beliefs and not willing to change those beliefs.” This would explain why Beliebers have so passionately stuck by Justin Bieber regarding his recent legal issues, refusing to give up on the singer and proving their fierce loyalty. While we’re not saying we condone his actions, we get the fans’ sentiment. Hear us out: Sticking up for (and sticking by) your idol is just one of the many aspects that come with the territory, and defending and fighting for something you so strongly believe in is a pretty admirable trait.

We’re not going to list the things that separate an average fan from a die-hard one — no need to pit fans against each other! — because ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen your idol in concert, how many tweets you’ve favorited or the number of Tumblr blogs you have dedicated to them. What’s at the heart of being a die-hard fan is the kind of passion that is real and raw, the feeling in your gut when you hear that one note, the way the music speaks to you in such a way it’s like they wrote it just for you. It’s like they say in ‘Almost Famous’: “They don’t even really know what it is to be a fan, you know? To love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.”

The Psychology of Fandom

Turns out, the reason we’re so drawn to certain musicians is so much more than the artist’s good looks, sexy accent (lookin’ at you, One Direction and Cody Simpson) or even necessarily the music itself. According to Psychology Today, it’s all about the positive reinforcement.

“It’s like a temporary roller coaster of emotions, with no severe consequences,” Valorie Salimpoor, a researcher at McGill University, told the site about listening to your favorite band’s music. “The intensity of the feelings the music evokes is highly reinforcing.”

And as anyone who has seen the One Direction documentary ‘This Is Us’ would know, there is also a biological component in play as well: In the film, a scientist explains that when a person listens to music that she enjoys, dopamine is released into the brain’s pleasure centers, making the enjoyment of the music quite literally a chemical reaction.

But there is more here than just positive reinforcement and biological factors. According to psychologist Dr. Sudeepta Varma, being part of a hardcore fandom helps develop a sense of community, an idea that everyone is banded together for a reason greater than they realize. “We all have a need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” she explained to Vulture. “There is a degree of escapism and avoidance, but there’s hope and optimism. There is camaraderie. A common shared interest brings people together.” This explains why so many fan bases are like families, welcoming each other in with open arms. There are only so many people out there who genuinely feel the same way that you do about the artist or the music, so why not soak it all in together? If there is one thing that fandoms have proven time and time again, it’s that they have a bond that won’t shatter. Unbreakable.

Band Appreciation = Fan Appreciation

While nay-sayers tend to lump the die-hards together under a collective umbrella of “crazy,” the type of die-hard fan we’re talking about is not a stalker, not a creep and certainly not crazy — just someone with an unbelievable amount of passion for their idol’s music and craft. And when the artists see that (and trust us, they do) they give it back in the most meaningful of ways, whether it’s through heartfelt tweets (a la Justin Bieber) or fan tribute videos, like Austin Mahone‘s ‘All I Ever Need’ music video:

There is no greater feeling than knowing that something you’ve done has meant the world to someone else, an idea that goes both ways in the fan-artist relationship. It is not only about what the bands or musicians or artists mean to us — it’s also about what we mean to them. It’s that deep, heartfelt appreciation for everything that we do for one another. And that kind of passion never dies.

Next: The Definitive Guide to Fan Base Nicknames

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