I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story – Review

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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.

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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.

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So…. I started a podcast

About a year ago, something big happened in my life.

To try to cope with this thing that happened, I decided to create a podcast.

Seriously.

I needed to focus on something, anything, to take my mind off something that basically destroyed my very sense of self-belief. It sounds ridiculous now when I look back, and probably one of the main reasons I struggled to get it off the ground initially. I was trying to focus and I couldn’t focus.

I had the name, the vision, the social media handles. I started building up a network of other movie podcasters I enjoyed talking to, who were anxious to know when my show would be out.

“Soon!”, I kept saying, “Really soon!”

It took the death of my grandfather just before Christmas to finally give me that push. My Grandad was literally the greatest, kindest man in the world. He, along with my late Grandma, were my favourite people growing up. Grandma, because she was always so stylish, but had a fierce, formidable side to her (you did not cross my Grandma!) and Grandad because he always took the time to listen to what I had to say. Even in his 90th year on this earth, he still just loved to talk to me, share his stories (often the same stories he told me the last time I visited!) and always said he loved to hear my stories in return.

My Grandma died when I was 26 and I got a tattoo shortly after, because although she hated tattoos, I’m sure she’d love what it symbolises. (I’m really sorry I got that tattoo, Grandma!)

My Grandad died last Christmas and I did the most grown-up thing I could do and I visited him in the funeral home to pay my respects to him. It was something I’d never done before, but something I was insistent I wanted to do alone. I just wanted to talk to him one last time….

And so, I told him I was going to start my podcast. I was going to try my hardest. I was going to learn everything I needed to learn to make it as good as I could. Because he believed in me, he always told me I could do anything; I just told myself I couldn’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t.

And so…. I started a podcast.