Is there anything that comes from One Direction fans that still exists today?
KT: There were honestly a lot of fandoms using the internet in the early days like Beliebers and Rihanna’s Navy in addition to One Direction [fans]. They embodied this idea that the fandom is responsible for the artists they support and should have a creative role in their careers. For example, One Direction lost The X factor, and fans decided they were losing the show but gaining the world. The mythology – whether it’s true or not – is that the amount of social media shares they got is what made them stars and gave them careers. At some point, fans decided that a certain song should be a single, so they did it unofficially. There are rumors that some international fans have taught themselves to use VPNs to simulate US streams. The DIY approach to pop music fandom began with these early fans.
The need for intimacy within the fandom – something that immediately makes you one of the crowd – interests me. As a fan, I know it’s fun to be a part of something no one outside can really understand. Do you think there are platforms out there right now that give fans the same kind of opportunity to frantically store inside jokes and shape their own lore as Tumblr did?
KT: I’m not convinced there’s a major Tumblr revival right now. I don’t think it’ll ever be the center of internet culture like it was, but it’s moving on, and there are still people who practice their fandom mostly on Tumblr. But I don’t think there’s a good replacement for it either. You now see much of the Island fan community experience on Discord, such as private channels for small groups of fans that you must be invited to participate in. There’s also a lot of fan activity on Reddit, which isn’t quite as insular, but it’s another platform where there are nicknames and throwaway accounts. I think there’s a push back from the audience because Twitter has gotten so much attention for being a place for fans, and a lot of it has been negative, so a lot of fans are looking for quieter places to interact.
I was just at VidCon, where all those fans of a Minecraft YouTuber collective called Dream SMP went absolutely wild – they were mostly young girls losing their minds to British boys again. It reminded me of the Directioner days of yore. What do you think these new fandoms (and established ones that are still transforming, like Nicki Minaj’s Barbz and BTS ARMY) can learn from One Direction fans?
KT: The great tragedy of the One Direction fandom is that it ended up erupting over conspiracy theories that were just divergent ideas from reality, such as that Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles were secretly in love, or that Louis Tomlinson didn’t didn’t actually father a child. It was becoming so impossible to reconcile the resentments that were building around such sensitive lines, and it was sad to see. If I was participating in a fandom now, I would suggest noting how this became a major weak point for One Direction fans.