Review: I Used to Be Normal: A Boy Band Fangirl Story

From sports to comic books, fandom has become a pivotal part of pop culture and for some people, it’s an integral part of their daily lives. However, no fandom has transcended through generations more rapidly and with greater force than that of Boy Band fandom. Since The Beatles hit the music scene back in the 60s, fangirls have come from near and far to simply just be in presence of their favorite boy bands and have gone so far as to make them a part of their who they are as a person. Normally, most girls are told that this is a phase in their lives and that when they’re older they’ll look back and think that they were just immature – but is this really true.

Well, this is what Australian filmmaker Jessica Leski uncovers in her new documentary “I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story,” and the result is a very engrossing film that expertly covers the positive and negative effects boy band fandom can have and the roles they’ve played in women’s lives for generations.

Initially, when Leski introduces viewers to the four girls and their favorite boy bands, Elif (One Direction), Dara (Take That), Sadia (Backstreet Boys), and Susan (The Beatles), it’s hard not to cringe at how strong their fandom is. From the way that Elif literally bursts into tears at the mear mention of One Direction to the sensual/sometimes sexual fantasies the girls would have about their favorite members, there’s definitely a cringe factor that’s tough to ignore. In some ways, though, that’s because that’s sort of the stereotype that’s become a part of the fandom. Whenever videos are shown of girls “fanning out” at concerts or even talking about boy bands, it’s usually shown in a negative light and just shoved off as just a phase.

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This is even a fear that has developed by Sadia and Dara throughout their lives and has even greatly affected them personally. Sadia struggles to make romantic connections because of her devotion to the Backstreet Boys and Dara had trouble finding someone that could understand her while sharing her love for Take That. However, while Leski doesn’t ignore the “negative” effects that boy band obsession has played on these girls, her film actually does a great job flipping the script on this view and offers a lot of intriguing insights as to how boy bands can play a pivotal role in female upbringing.

“[I Used to be Normal] is a very engrossing film that expertly covers the positive and negative effects boy band fandom can have and the roles they’ve played in women’s lives for generations.”

As Leski nicely shifts between each interviewee, there’s an underlying theme that develops that acknowledges how women of different generations actually had similar thoughts and feelings towards these groups. During an anatomy breakdown that Leski does of these group, she acknowledges that boy bands are generally aimed towards teen girls and all four women actually acknowledge this same fact.

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It was interesting for them to cite boy bands as, sort of, an introduction to liking boys and even citing them as a heavy influence in their adult lives. From the jobs they chose as adults to their attitudes, there’s actually a strong case made that boy bands are more than just a phase. Even hearing how Susan used the music of The Beatles to help her and her children grieve, how the Backstreet Boys helped Sadia through a difficult time in college, and how Take That actually helped Dara understand her sexuality was really powerful to watch. Leski also utilizes some strong moments of the women simply listening to the music and capturing their reactions and you can feel their passion and pure joy as a viewer.

“With “I Used to Be Normal,” Leski crafts an intriguing narrative about female upbringing that excellently flips the script on people’s views of girls’ devotion to boy bands.”

Leski also explores what happens with the fandom when the girls get older and there are some really interesting thoughts that come from Sadia and Dara that I think will stick with viewers. The film also delves slightly into what happened with the girls when their favorite bands would break up and even get back together and how it affected them – however, I think this could’ve been explored a little deeper. Especially with Susan and I think it would’ve been interesting to see how she reacted and possibly grieved for the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison because she felt so attached to them.

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There’s also an interesting dive into how culture impacts how Sadia and Elif’s fandom and their parents scrutinize them because of their values towards boy bands. With Sadia, this dive actually takes some interesting turns with how this more American value has impacted her parent’s traditionally Muslim background and there’s a more rebellious element to boy band fandom that comes to light. However, with Elif, the Turkish vs. American values between her and her parents don’t connect as well as to her fandom as it’s never fully outed that it’s a specific thing that her parents cite as a reason to not let her follow her musical aspirations.

Either way, with “I Used to Be Normal,” Leski crafts an intriguing narrative about female upbringing that excellently flips the script on people’s views of girls’ devotion to boy bands. It’s actually one of the favorite docs that I’ve seen in recent time and, hopefully, we get to see more from Leski and on this fandom sometime soon.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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