Have you seen this video of a three-year-old weeping over Justin Bieber? It became an Internet phenomenon, culminating in Jimmy Kimmel flying the toddler to his show so she could sit on Bieber’s lap. A lot of people thought it was pretty cute. Others found it disturbing, lumping it in with the broader societal problem of the sexualization of increasingly young girls.
This particular example may be a little extreme: she’s three. But there’s a general feeling out that girls are crushing way too hard, way too young, on the boys they see in magazines. Look around, and you’ll find no shortage of six-, eight-, ten-year-olds in the grip of a pretty serious Bieber fever.
I’m here to tell you: don’t worry about it.
Remember Hanson? For about five years of my life, they were my life. Them, and another band, The Moffatts. The Moffatts were the Canadian Hanson: an all-brother band that sang and played instruments and had hundreds of thousands of utterly rabid, scarily desperate young girls tearing their hair out over them. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I spent the years between the ages of thirteen and seventeen doing very little aside from obsessing over these two bands. Or that between 1996 and 2000 I went to more than a hundred of their concerts, television spots, autograph sessions, radio interviews, and other public appearances. That I followed them around most of Canada and a good part of the United States. Or that I spent, in total, probably about sixty nights sleeping in parking lots, on sidewalks, in decrepit motels, and in the back of a minivan. My friends and I once spent four nights in a Walmart parking lot, in the rain, just to be first in an autograph line.
Yes, I had friends. I had a posse, and we were famous in the world of band fans. We were interviewed in newspapers and by radio and television stations everywhere we went. The Life Network did a special on us called The Things We Do for Love. When we showed up at the Sally Jesse Raphael show in New York, to see The Moffatts, the fans waiting outside the studio screamed for us, asked us for our autographs. We were famous for loving famous people.
Membership in our posse rotated, but generally there were five of us, and like any good reality show, we covered the type spectrum: on any given road trip we’d have the planner, the comedian, two divas, and the crazy one. (I was one of the divas; when we’d arrive in a new town, looking for a motel, I’d jump out of the van and go ask the person at the reception if there was an iron in the room.)
People ask how we did what we did—we were in high school, we didn’t have driver’s licenses—and my answer is: we had Sue. Sue was the communal mom (she was also an actual mother to one of us), and she drove us around in what practically functioned as our home for those years: the Van, a forest-green Astro. We went to some pretty random places.
On one leg of a Canadian tour, we covered Vaughn, Toronto, Hamilton, Brockville, Hanover, Sarnia, Thunder Bay, and Winnipeg, with an emergency, rain-induced overnight at the Sportsman Motel in Wawa, Ontario. Have you seen a map of Canada? Winnipeg is not close to Toronto. But we’d go anywhere, by any means. I distinctly remember driving over the U.S.-Canadian border with someone hiding on the floor of the van because we didn’t have enough seats.
Toronto was ground zero, and we owned the scene there. City TV reported live from inside our tent when we camped out for shows. When I was interviewed outside one Walmart show, I looked directly into the camera and said, “We will follow The Moffatts all over the world. They’re our boyfriends, they just don’t know yet.”
(Subsequently, when the band attempted to play inside the store, the fans rioted and trashed the place, utterly destroying the entire Walmart. Management had attempted use boxes of Tide to form a blockade around the makeshift stage … because they thought we wouldn’t tear through the boxes like rabid wolves in two seconds flat. It was front-page news the next day, and Walmart was forced to cancel the rest of the scheduled in-store appearances.)
All we cared about was seeing the band. I don’t remember my favorite class in high school, but I remember that I carried around a framed picture of Taylor Hanson to put on my desk in each class. I remember being literally breathless, waiting for the bell to ring, on the day a new album was released or a new video was being debuted. My friends and I once took a ten-hour bus ride to Monroeville, Pennnsylvania, and spent thirty hours in a mall parking lot with no sleep, to see Hanson talk into microphones for less than two minutes—from a balcony.
But why? Why did I do this?
The truth is that there’s no explaining it. Fans are fanatical, and fanaticism isn’t rational. At the time, we told ourselves (and justified it this way to others, because, I can assure you, there was no shortage of ridicule directed at us) that it was all about the music. That was the refrain, the mantra, the verbal talisman we wielded to ward off haters: It’s All About the Music. MMMBOP, motherfuckers.
But of course, that wasn’t exactly true. I mean, we did love the music. Those songs were catchy! We loved the shit out of that music, and it was the only thing we’d listen to. But because of our age, it would be hard to deny that sex was a big part of it.
Okay, it was mostly about sex. It was about Taylor Hanson grinding those beautiful hips of his into the keyboards. OH MY GOD, we would think, clearly and explicitly imagining being pulverized by that same pelvis, imagining our bodies as the instrument that Taylor would play into the ground in a phantasmagoria of erotic-melodic fuckrock. I’m just being honest.
We’d get our jollies wherever we could. There was this fan-fiction blog that we were addicted to; we’d print out the new installment every morning and take it to school, carry it around like a religious tome. It was called DevilAngel and it was an X-rated homoerotic love story starring Hanson and The Moffatts. MIND IMPLOSION. My friends (and thousands of girls like us) were sexually hypnotized by this story, written by a fan who was herself sixteen at the time. And it was dirty. I can name at least two sexual acts I heard about for the first time from this blog.
But what the wary moms forget is that idolizing pop stars is a way for adolescent girls to explore sexuality—without having to actually have sex. My friends and I weren’t ready to have sex, like some of our peers, but we could have sleepovers in my basement and stay up all night talking about the things we’d do to those Hanson boys, if only we could get our hands on them. Which of course, we couldn’t, which was the whole point. The innocence inherent in this type of boy worship is also pretty obvious when you look at the boys themselves: they look like girls. There was nothing threatening about these guys. It was this epicene quality that made it possible for my friends and me to say such vulgar, sexually aggressive things about them. I actually held up a sign that said RIDE ME at a Moffatts concert. Had Bob Moffatt looked like Kid Rock, rather than an emaciated, puppy-faced, silky-haired version of myself, I probably wouldn’t have been so bold.
Still, that’s the difference between my friends, back then, and my six-year-old Bieber-crazed niece and her friends now. Our sexuality was inchoate, but it was real. We knew exactly what we wanted: while Taylor sang about holding hands, we dreamed about being dominated by him. My niece and her friends may look like they’re in the throes of some seriously disturbing mega-lust, but they’re not. So what’s the driving force behind their passion?
Here’s my theory: some girls just want to go apeshit. They want to scream and jump up and down and go absolutely fucking bananas over something. Pop stars are catnip for a girl who wants to go bananas. Pop concerts are an evangelical experience. There is, undeniably, something of the pentecostal in them, and I think it is this kind of energy that these girls are looking to expel. I’ve read about taking ecstasy and going to raves, and I’ve seen videos of seemingly normal people collapsing into a writhing pile of Jesus-love and hysterical gibberish, and while I’ve not experienced either of those, I can imagine it’s pretty intoxicating to surrender like that. I can imagine it because I’ve felt it, too. It may sound ridiculous, but I’ll telling you, singing “Where’s the Love?” in a hysterical crowd of twenty-thousand girls while your personal idol is banging away on the keyboards right there in front of you is heady, friends. You can lose yourself, and we did.
The vast majority of these young girls swooning for Justin Bieber don’t want to have sex with him. They just want something to love, something to go crazy over. And in our culture, we go crazy over celebrities. So I say that if you’re a young girl in the throes of this kind of worship, the kind that makes you fall to your knees in a state of absolute reverence for Justin Bieber—this cute kid with a fantastic voice and some pretty sick dance moves—you could be doing a lot worse.
I say, let the girls do their thing. Go nuts. It’s when they start weeping over the teenage alcoholics on The Real World that we’re in trouble. But for the Bieb? Let em weep.