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Your Heart on Your Sleeve: The Commodification of Fangirls

Consumerism and fandom have become intertwined. Is the modern-day “fangirl” too lucrative a demographic to ignore?

Credit: Maryam Salim

In 10 months, your favorite artist is embarking on their first-ever world tour. You’ve been preparing for this, listening to their sophomore album on repeat, making fan-cam edits to their top songs, and refreshing Ticketmaster for the last 20 minutes. When you’re finally in, you see nosebleed tickets selling for $450, but what other option do you have? Give up now? You bite the bullet and front the bill— this is life or death.

When the concert finally comes you’ve never been more excited… to stand in the merch line for 2 hours. $75 for a sweatshirt is steep, but how else are you going to show your support for the billionaire artist? 

After some girl math here and there, your grand total for the concert is $120 (the tote bag was cute..ish and only $50). 

No matter how many Olivia Rodrigo concerts you’ve attended this experience can’t help but feel familiar. We’ve all been there, right?

When did girl math become girl exploitation?

We’ve become so engrossed in fan culture that the line between being a fan and being a walking billboard for your favorite pop culture icons has become increasingly blurred. Creator Tana Mongeau revealed that on the first leg of her “Cancelled” podcast tour, she earned over a million dollars, focusing on how integral merchandise sales were.

This intersection of consumerism and fandom has not only reshaped our closets but also our identities.

Why do we have to wear our interests on our sleeves— literally

It’s not my fault you’re like in love with me or something!

It’s not just about enjoying a show or a song; it’s about wearing that enjoyment like a badge of honor, or perhaps more accurately, a walking advertisement. 

We proudly post our four favorite films on Letterboxd. We take Buzzfeed quizzes to discover which TV character we’re most similar to. We wait in line for Taylor Swift merch even though we don’t have tickets, and we “run, don’t walk” to Target for the latest merch drop (sorry Canadians) with no hesitation.

Are you really a Swiftie if you don’t have the Target-exclusive Midnight’s vinyl?

@notdulapeep

At least I didnt spend $800 on nosebleeds. 🤷🏻‍♂️ #taylorswift #erastouratlanta #taylormerch #swifttok

♬ original sound – Tai

Modern identity is, in large, expressed through merchandise—a tangible way to show interest. Consumerism and fandom have become intertwined.

Whether it’s our celebrity crush or favorite song, we are obsessed with obsession.

Content Creator Brooke Averick has popularized a three-tiered approach to navigate this phenomenon.

@ladyefron

I present to you- my three tiered approach for ranking your celebrity crushes. New @bncmap out now with my favorite @Brittany 😍

♬ original sound – Brooke Averick

Modern “fangirls” often claim they “can’t like something a normal amount” but have they been conditioned to behave this way? Are they too lucrative a demographic to ignore?

Is this passion organic or strategically manufactured? Have marketing tactics manipulated fangirls to become hyper-consumers of their fave’s products?

Girlish charm?

This manipulation undoubtedly preys on young women.

Like a band? Choose your favorite member and get a life-size poster of them! Oh, you’re shy? You would love Zayn Malik! Do you like Joe? Everyone knows only the true Joe girls will have the official “I Heart Joe Jonas” tee available at shop.jonasbrothers.com!

These musicians are packaged as personalities, each with their own appeal. Just last week I told someone I was a Niall girl (apparently it “makes sense”).

@jonasbrothers

We ❤️ you New “I Heart” tees now available in our store. Get yours!

♬ original sound – Jonas Brothers

From their tote bags to their bedspread, girls are taught from a young age that a mega fan can be spotted from a mile away. 

Even if you can ace every “guess the Justin Bieber song in one second” challenge on YouTube, no one will know your success if you don’t plaster your score on your t-shirt.

@brits

as if Jordan thought this was actual Louis Tomlinson @Nell Mescal @Jordan Stephens

♬ original sound – BRITs

This passion and loyalty is subsequentially mocked and disregarded as frivolous. 

The portrayal of fangirls in media and popular culture often reinforces stereotypes of obsession and irrationality. This portrayal not only diminishes the legitimacy of female interests but also makes them more susceptible to exploitation.

In an interview with Jordan Stephens. Nell Mescal admits to “scream crying any time someone mentions One Direction.”  Stephens’s “oh you were one of them?” response trivializes this intense emotional connection that many young women feel towards their favorite bands or celebrities— a connection they are bred to experience. 

Boiling her excitement down to her being “one of those people who just screams at things,” Stephens claims to have “always been fascinated by you guys” as if she’s another species or the concept in itself alien. I’m guessing he has never seen someone scream at a bar TV during a football game either. 

Sometimes your Instagram username was once @sydney_horan, and that’s ok. Hailey Bieber was a fan and now the only merch she wears is her last name. 

At what point does it stop being supportive and become delusional? Are we all destined to become @clubchalamet— a 58-year-old stan Twitter user? 

When a man hangs jerseys of his favorite sports players on his wall he’s considered loyal. When a woman merely likes a fan edit, she’s considered obsessive. This cycle is endless, manufactured to criminalize the very thing they created.

Put that on a T-shirt!

This is all fun and games until you ask for a Cricut machine for Christmas and make I <3 Adam Driver bumper stickers so everyone knows you’ve seen HBO’s Girls and are such a Hannah it’s crazy.

In recent years, companies have increasingly recognized the profitability of catering to fangirls. But in doing so, are they perpetuating a cycle of obsession and consumption, where fans feel compelled to buy more and more to prove their loyalty?

Oh, you want to know my favorite show? Haven’t you seen my “Single and Fabulous?” t-shirt? I’m such a Carrie!

Every thought has to be materialized. We need every song “injected in our veins” and iconic lines on t-shirts—or birthday cards, or our next Instagram caption. 

There’s this desperate need to be in on the joke— a desperate need to ask every stranger in a Nirvana t-shirt to “name 5 songs.” It’s gone beyond mere curiosity, becoming a way for fans to test each other’s authenticity and cement their taste as far more elite.

It’s no longer enough to enjoy something; we feel compelled to wear it, share it, and display it for the world to see. We crave immortalizing every aspect of our favorite media in physical form.

This urge to materialize our thoughts and experiences is driven by a desire for validation and connection. By wearing our favorite quotes or lyrics on a t-shirt, we’re signaling to others that we belong to a shared community of fans.

Can’t get your hands on this Challengers movie merch? You can always get the $330 Loewe “I TOLD YA” collection! This “special edition” apparently “lightweight cotton” t-shirt was “worn by the film’s protagonists,” you know, and “exclusively available on loewe.com.”

Etsy shop owners scramble to be the first to release merch after a big event. What’s marketable?

Taylor Swift’s “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” pleads “You hung me on your wall, stabbed me with your push pins” but how does the star feel about me thrifting an $85 ultra rare eras tour blue crewneck? I’ll never have the opportunity to buy it again, right? 

Has your “iconic tee” diluted the meaning behind your favorite show? Have you, too, become a commodity to be bought and sold?

Written By

Sydney Havlick, a recent Smith College graduate with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Sociology, is an aspiring and modern-day Carrie Bradshaw. Don't be too surprised if you catch the “Sex and the City" influence sprinkled throughout her work. Join her as she discusses the most pressing (and most fun) topics in popular culture and beyond!

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Emily

    May 15, 2024 at 12:31 am

    Enjoyed this article immensely. Really hit the nail on it’s head with this subject.

  2. Bella DeAngelo

    May 16, 2024 at 6:32 pm

    Wait this is so good!!!! So insightful!

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