Millie Lovelock tells us about her Master's thesis mapping the processes of fan and celebrity identity co-construction in the boy band One Direction.
Tell me about your thesis: Celebrity Identity and One Direction
Millie Lovelock joins the show to discuss her thesis on the boy band: One Direction.
Before you tell me about your thesis, tell me about your journey with One Direction, are you just a fan who decided to take it one step further and treat them as a subject of academic research.
Well, kind of, it’s a little more complicated than that. So, my dear friend Adrian, who I was in a band with, a band called Trick Mammoth a few years ago, he told me, as we were on a flight to Auckland, "oh, Millie, I watched the One Direction documentary last night,” my response being; “What’s wrong with you? Why would you do that? That’s so embarrassing.”
He, in turn responding that it was really interesting, and suggested I would really enjoy it, because of the way they treat their fans with so much respect.
I shrugged off the suggestion, but as time went on (late 2013-2014) One Direction’s fan-base and hype grew massive and as they kept popping up on my radar; through social media newsfeeds and mass media, I started seeing all the positive stuff, and my interest and curiosity started peaking.
With the massive fan base, I kept hearing all the reports of how they treated their fans, especially young girls, with respect and dignity which is not very common for young female fan bases to be treated in that way.
After watching the movie, which was delightful, and interesting, and I was shocked at my new found love for pop music, listening to it, reading about it and writing about it. It all escalated from there.
Had you done your bachelor’s at that point?
I was in my third year.
What subject does this Master’s Thesis come under?
I did it through the English department at Otago.
Did that take some convincing?
Not as much as I thought, fortunately. I had a very very supportive supervisor, who was excellent and within the department, a few people were a little sceptical and worried that my scope was too broad and that it would be too similar to a media and film thesis.
It came together in the end and it went well.
How did you decide what exactly you were going to study? What was the most interesting aspects of the band, the phenomenon for you?
I was always convinced that there was something about One Direction that was more than just this heteronormative, sugar-coated pop group. The reason I was convinced of that was because of the fans, and so I was always really concerned with legitimising the love that these girls have for One Direction.
When I was thinking about what I wanted to write about, the angle that I wanted to take, I was always thinking; these fans are engaging with this in a way that is really interesting, and I think it is more complex than just - these are five cute boys and I want to date them - or whatever.
Was there already some academic literature on this topic?
A little bit on boy bands, I read at least one interesting piece on ‘N SYNC that was about the fan fiction that was written about ‘N SYNC when they were really really famous, so there was a little bit.
There have been quite a few books and articles written about pop music and boy bands through a musical phenomenon, but there wasn’t anything that was looking at social media, fan text, the music, the lyrics, that did an in-depth, textual analysis on One Direction.
Were you keen to see this evidence, physical manifestation of the outpouring of love for One Direction, to look at it, and find out what it meant and exactly what it was expressing.
Yes. My area of interest is identity, gender identity, and queer identity, particularly how young women (or women in general) write themselves and the narrative that we come up with about ourselves, and how we present ourselves publically.
That is my background and what I wrote my honours dissertation on, and going into this, I was clearly looking into gender and how we are performing gender and performing heterosexuality, and using these fan texts I dug into this more.
Fan Text and Fan Fiction, can you explain to us what Fan Fiction is?
There are different types of fan fiction, as it’s been around for decade, a broad description is when you really love something, a T.V. show, a Book, One Direction, and through that love you decide you are going to create your own stories about the characters on the T.V. show, the book, or the individual members of One Direction and that story might feature you in some capacity.
You might be a part of that narrative or that story may be a homoerotic story, where the characters, or the members of the group are in a relationship with one another, where you may not really be there, but you’re constructing this narrative.
How did you enjoy all this research?
It was great. I had a great time reading through, because it is so clever. Like I didn’t find anything that didn’t astound me, a lot of the time it felt like procrastinating, because previously, my research has been exclusively reading a book that I was writing about, or reading articles about the book.
Yet, through this research I found myself trawling through Tumblr and YouTube and their Fan Fiction archives trying to find really gripping pieces, but of course there was always so many. It was exhausting, but rewarding.
Through it, did you feel some affection for the fans?
Yes. Completely. I couldn’t believe how clever the stories were, and the sense of community through One Direction Fandom.
Teenagers really looking out for one another and forming really strong bonds and feeling less alone because they can talk to someone on the internet on the other side of the world who loves One Direction s much as they did. They feel like they are part of something really powerful.
What conclusions did you form?
My thesis ended up being driven by this idea of intimacy and how intimacy is about the narrative we share and that we create about ourselves and other people.
So looking at intimacy and how we generate intimacy by writing these narratives, as a by-product of this quest for intimacy start constructing an identity in really interesting ways.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that social media, in the way that it relates with mass media content, revolutionises the way that we experience intimacy. As a result of that intimacy through online networks, the way that we understand identity begins to change.
Theorists like Judith Butler says gender and identity are performative and are not fixed or inherent, we’ve had that for a long time, but we are starting to see, in young people especially, who are living a lot of their lives online, this innate understanding that identity as malleable and performative, and it shifts. That’s where I came out at the end.
What did you get for it in the end?
My mark was a 94.
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