FANGIRLS Reminds Us We Can Love Fearlessly, Regardless Of What Other People Think

Dayna Ransley

When I was in Year 10, I wanted to be Justin Bieber’s One Less Lonely Girl, but I never would’ve admitted it back then. 

He was one of my guilty pleasures. I listened to him on the bus going to school, but I’d turn the volume down so that people couldn’t hear his smooth high tones through my not-so-good-quality headphones.

Throughout my teen angst years, JB wasn’t my only celebrity or pop star crush. When you’re a teenager, your capacity to fall in love feels endless and the men of your dreams are sold to you at every turn. In primary school it was Zac Efron, or more specifically Troy, from High School Musical. I felt as though I looked like Vanessa Hudgens (at least a little bit because I had brown hair and olive skin, okay!) and I was convinced that if we ever met, that we’d find a way to be together, and that it would be The Start of Something New. 

Then — when I realised that boys sucked — it was Taylor Swift. I’d listen to her songs and cry into my pillow at night because love was such a rollercoaster of emotions, but she totally understood me. She knew what it was like to be Fifteen and to want to believe somebody when they told you they loved you.

Even though I wasn’t an out loud and proud fangirl, I loved these famous figures silently with all of my heart. 

Then, last week, I watched a musical that made me wonder why I didn’t go to concerts and scream my feelings out loud and unapologetically. Why wasn’t I one of those girls that had a 10/10 meltdown on national TV because Justin Bieber looked at me? Why hadn’t I tried out for Gabriella in our High School Musical Production just to live out my fantasy?

The answer to this question I’d never asked myself until now, struck me ten years after my crush on Justin Bieber: I was ashamed to be a fangirl. 

Fangirls are ridiculed, they’re called pathetic and lame and laughed at… for what? Loving something or someone with unapologetic joy. The way the world and the media sees fangirls is as problematic, sometimes even dangerous but always something to be made fun of. I’d never consciously recognised this until I watched FANGIRLS, (A New Musical).

Photo by Dayna Ransley

Last Thursday night, FANGIRLS premiered in Melbourne. In short, FANGIRLS is an Australian thriller-comedy musical that delves into the difficulties of being a teenage girl, the world of unapologetic fandom and an exploration of how the world looks at young female enthusiasm.

The show really leans into the sometimes lethal extremes of boy band fandom, which creates some farcical elements to the show and allows you to laugh at the relatable ridiculousness of teenage love as well as at the people that make fun of it. It’s also got the most dance-y bops and original smash hits that make you want to jump out of your seat and get down.

Photo by Dayna Ransley

The plot and characters of FANGIRLS are loosely based around an actual boy band — One Direction. The pop star character is named Harry, his band is called True Connection and their songs sound strangely familiar. 

Writer, Creator and Composer of FANGIRLS Yve Blake, was inspired to write this musical thanks to a 1D fan. 

“A teenage girl changed my life, by telling me that she’d met the man she was going to marry,” Blake said during her TED Talk; Why Are Fangirls Scary?

“When she told me that his name was Harry Styles, I laughed at her. ‘Don’t laugh at me’, she said. ‘I’d slit someone’s throat just to be with him’.”

“That was the moment I became obsessed with fangirls. That moment transformed the course of my life. It changed everything I thought I knew about being an adult, being a woman and being truly happy,” Blake said. 

Blake began her research into fangirls in 2015, when One Direction were the biggest boy band in the world. She found out that Harry Styles was known for his sweet personality and perfect hair. She saw the dedication of his fans, so loyal and loving, that they transformed a place he’d vomited into a sacred shrine.

She watched videos of girls crying and their concerts, screaming their lungs out with the classic ‘fangirl shriek’ that can only be described as an expression of true excitement but always seems to appear as “a bit too much”. She realised that perhaps not being a fangirl herself as a teenager, she had an internalised misogyny attached to the way she viewed these young women.

When Zayn Malik left One Direction, on that fateful day in March 2015, Scott saw that the media painted fangirls as ‘crazy’ and ‘psycho’. The more she researched, the more she’d find compilations of girls crying at 1D concerts labelled on YouTube as “PSYCHO ALERT”, or their screams of joy described as “hysterical”. She read one article that stated there’s “nothing scarier than a group of excited teenage girls”. 

She wondered if the media coverage would utilise those same words if they were describing fans of a football game. Surely, they’d use words like passionate, loyal and devoted and put their ‘excessive emotions’ (that is a literal symptom for female hysteria) down to “the love of the game”.

“If young girls, young fans of pop stars grow up in a world where words like crazy, psycho and hysterical are casually used to describe female enthusiasm, then how will those girls grow up see themselves?” Blake rightly asked.

The show is called FANGIRLS and it concerns fangirls, but it’s really much broader than that. 

“It’s about how we ask young women to see themselves,” Blake told POPSUGAR Australia. 

FANGIRLS made me think about my own experience. I was sure I’d made fun of fangirls throughout my life, while secretly being one. I’ve never watched a musical that was so relatable to my own experience, as a teenage girl, as a die hard fan and as a young woman growing up in Australia. 

To see an Australian musical, which celebrates a cast of diverse cultures and identities, as well as young women, women in the arts, our beautiful Australian accent and the pure joy of loving something without apology; it was a new experience for me. Most of the musicals that we know and love are American, written by men or a male dominant team and are extremely white, with a mostly-white cast, all the things that FANGIRLS is not. 

Photo by Dayna Ransley

“My dream was to one day make what I wish I had when I was 14, I wanted to create a work that really honestly articulated what it feels like to be a teenage girl,” Blake told me.  

“I think that there’s a level of honesty that you can only bring to that if you have been a teenage girl.”

Yve Blake wrote and composed all 23 of the songs herself, with the help of YouTube and a music producer. She doesn’t play a single musical instrument and was kicked out of her Year 9 music class for “being too sh*t at it”. The show took five years to write and has had many different lives already, playing around with the ending (which we simply will not give away you’ll just have to go watch) and songs being added and removed, bringing it to the version that is being performed today.

Blake also doesn’t have a musical theatre background. Although she played the main character of FANGIRLS, Edna, in the first two seasons of the show back in 2019, Scott reveals that it was the first musical she’s ever been in.

“The whole show is very DIY. It’s very much the story of a teenage girl who wished there was a different kind of musical.”

“I think it’s really important for people to know that you don’t need a tick of approval from an institution to say that you’re allowed to do something. I spent a lot of my life not understanding that. Like I didn’t understand that you can literally just YouTube ‘how to write a pop song’ and make one in your bedroom.”

But the show isn’t just an ode to teenage girls. It’s a story for anyone that has been made to feel stupid for loving something wholeheartedly. 

Photo by Dayna Ransley

We spoke to Tom Kantor, a member of the FANGIRLS Ensemble and an Understudy for Harry and other main characters, who feels blessed to be a part of a show.

“This show is really an ode to the joy and the turmoil of being a teenager, but we’re not making fun of it,” he said.

“Of course, there are so many hilarious things about being a teenager in retrospect, but in the moment it feels so real and heightened in a way that seems unexplainable to anyone else. It’s so beautiful to be able to represent that, in a way that feels real and reflective.”

He also told me that big groups of school audiences come to see the show, which often includes lots of boys during the teenage years.

“It’s really interesting to see their responses. Sometimes it makes them feel seen, or it helps them to reflect on their behaviour. Maybe they’ve ridiculed someone for being a fangirl, as a way to feel like they’re playing that masculine role.”

“I remember my music taste in high school becoming really performative,” he continued, “to fit in and show people that I like masculine things. I didn’t want to show people the parts of myself that I felt could be ridiculed. As a teenager, I think all you want sometimes is to feel like you fit in.”

“I actually also had a huge crush on Justin Beiber. I remember going to see Never Say Never with a friend of mine at the movies, and after she left, I went back in and saw it again. I just had the biggest crush on him and I never told anyone!”

Although FANGIRLS does have this underlying commentary around gender, it’s also just a beautifully simple and welcome reminder for young people to come into their own power and realise that they’re enough. 

Photo by Dayna Ransley

There’s a line in one of my favourite songs from FANGIRLS, Maybe We’re More, which said:

“It’s a brave thing to love, but the bravest thing you can do is to decide that you’re already what’s enough, and let nobody take that from you.”

I mean, all I can say is yasss. 

I hope that this musical is seen and appreciated by all the young (and older) people that want to feel things but are afraid of what other people might think. FANGIRLS, has reminded me that we’re already stronger than we think and that there is nothing wrong with loving something or someone openly, without apology and simply because we want to. 

FANGIRLS, is showing at Melbourne’s Arts Centre until Sunday 9th of May. You can find tickets here

If you’re unable to see the show, or can’t afford a ticket don’t stress. The cast album is officially out on Spotify and it is iconic. It was put out by Ghostlight Records (the label behind the cast albums of Legally Blonde, The Book of Mormon etc) and is the first Australian cast album the legendary label has ever put out.

You can listen to the FANGIRLS World Premiere Cast Recording Ensemble on Spotify now.

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