The first response I had to I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story was, admittedly, that sheer gobsmacking realisation that I used to be like that. Every detail of my teenage boyband-obsessed life was inserted back into my brain; memories that I had long forgotten and repressed. The multitude of posters adorning my bedroom walls, recording songs off the radio before I could afford the cassette tapes and of my first concert; an experience which I hasten to add was omitted long ago from my personal history. Boybands just aren’t cool when you’re in your thirties and admitting you loved them so much you signed your name with their surname is even less so.
Filmed over five years, I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story follows four diverse inter-generational women; each with their own story of boyband mania spanning different decades of pop and arguably the biggest boybands of each generation: One Direction, Backstreet Boys, Take That and The Beatles
Starting with The Beatles, arguably one of the most successful bands in history, let alone classed as a “boyband” is interesting when you wouldn’t necessarily categorise them as such nowadays. Their music is iconic and respected, by everyone worldwide. They’re not what we would consider in 2019 as being a boyband, but in the 1960s, they held every young woman’s heart in their hands. Being a boyband is a niche, reserved only for a certain type of group of male singers and/or dancers. The documentary goes into specifically what makes a boyband a boyband. You have to sing certain songs, the boys in the band must have a certain marketable personality (the sexy one, the cute one, the responsible one) and songs about sex are a total no-no. These boys have to be everything to everyone, but ultimately if you were lucky enough to be the girl who introduced this boy to your parents, of course they would approve.
It’s easy to forget that a boyband is there to make money. It’s not just the attractive young men at the forefront, it’s their management, their PR, their record companies that are the true masterminds behind each wink at the camera and each kiss blown out to screaming fans. The more appealing a band is to young girls, the more popular they will be and the more money they will make. It’s not just the music; it’s the special appearances, tours, merchandise, all wrapped in an attainable package that young women just can’t resist. Like the mythical hydra, should one boyband break up then two more shall take their place in the charts and create the ultimate boyband rivalry.
What’s most interesting though about I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story, is the real human stories behind each fangirl. Susan wells up after speaking about how her love for The Beatles helped her through real-life tragedy. Dara’s realisation of her sexuality through her passion for Take That. Sadia combating her traditional Muslim upbringing and her father’s dislike for her love of the Backstreet Boys and probably most emotional of all 18 year old Elif, whose love for One Direction goes against her strict Turkish parents’ insistence she cannot follow her dreams of becoming a musician.
Each woman’s story is interesting, honest and heartfelt but as Sadia reflects on how embarrassing her love for Backstreet Boys was, ultimately the Geocities fan site she set up led her to her dream job as a writer. The documentary tells us, if anything, to never be ashamed of who you were, because it made you who you are and, so I’m told, that’s what makes you beautiful.