Super fandom & celebrity obsession

“You know a lot of girls be … thinking my songs are about them.”

Sometimes I’m sure Drake was thinking of me when he wrote these lyrics for his 2009 single “Best I Ever Had”. Only I know others are too. Feeling connected to a musician or celebrity is something most of us experience at some point in our lives.

I follow Drake’s every move. I often scream when he posts a picture of him in Toronto. But it’s only because I love him.

Drake’s music has had a great impact on my life. It’s emotionally honest and intimate. It’s as if he’s rapping and singing just for me.

But he isn’t. We’ve never met.

This notion of feeling a connection with celebrities appears to be a pervasive part of our culture. A lot of people follow celebrities on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

We often feel that we connect on a deeper level with musicians, celebrities and public figures.

Why, though?

According to Brian H. Spitzberg, a professor at the San Diego State University School of Communications, a relationship with someone you’ve never met can actually be “perfect”.

“That is, you don’t have any of the actual costs associated with having to have arguments with them,” Spitzberg said.

“We get to idealize our relationships with celebrity in ways that we don’t get to do with actual relationships.”

Spitzberg co-authored an article and study titled “Fanning the Flames of Fandom: Celebrity Worship, Parasocial Interaction, and Stalking”.

The article noted that 90 per cent of people surveyed in a 2001 study indicated they had “been attracted to a celebrity idol at some point in their lives”. Seventy-five per cent noted they’ve experienced “strong attachments to more than one celebrity”.

“‘Parasocial interaction’ is the concept that, due to mass media, we become emotionally invested in characters or personalities we see online or on television,” Spitzberg said.

“[Parasocial interaction is] the idea that we develop relationships with people who we experience in the media, in much the same sort of way that we experience relationships with people in real life.” Otherwise known as “fandom”, parasocial interaction can often help those experiencing loneliness or depression. It allows them to feel a sense of connection with another person.

But there’s also a dark side.

“The dysfunctional aspect of fan worship and celebrity parasocial relationships clearly raises its head in the form of stalking,” he said. “But most of the evidence we do have suggests that the vast majority of fans lead a relatively normal, well-adjusted life.” Following celebrities on social media platforms allows fans to feel closer to their idols, he added.

“It allows people to connect more easily with celebrities and to feel a closer engagement because they actually receive tweets from a celebrity,” he said.

“But they don’t always realize it’s not directly to them in particular, but they can still feel more connected on a real time basis to that celebrity’s life.”

Bailey Cole, a self-professed Taylor Swift fan, said social media has allowed fans to relate to celebrities more than ever.

“With things like Instagram, where [celebrities] are posting pictures of them[selves] hanging out with their friends … it’s not so much the media’s profile of them,” said Cole, ArtSci ’16.

“That shows a lot more of their daily lives … it definitely does give them more of [a sense of]individuality than we would see from just reading magazine profiles or seeing them at award shows.” Cole said she’s been a fan of Swift since she was in the seventh grade. She was originally drawn to Swift’s music.

“One of the reasons I’ve stuck with her for so long is she’s really someone I think I could be friends with,” she said.

“[In] just the fact that I can relate to her and see a lot of myself in her, as weird as that may sound.” Mark Duffett, who teaches media and cultural studies at the University of Chester in England, said there are many reasons musicians, in particular, gain large followings.

“Certain musicians are recognized as having something about them that people like … musical virtuosity, a voice, charm charisma or what ever and people take to them,” Duffett told the Journal via email. “Individuals start feeling a connection with them.

“Potential fans then see [celebrities’] great popularity and understand that there is a thrill to be had if and when they find a connection,” he said.

Duffett is the author of “Understanding Fandom”, a text that aims to “re-imagine” fandom through understanding its impact on culture and daily life, as well as examine fan-theory and the field itself.

He said popularity is interpreted as a form of success, which is seen as attractive to others.

“Popular music makes visible a quality common to many celebrity-following forms of fandom: that people get a buzz out of getting closer to socially-valued individuals,” Duffett said. He added that music is a vehicle for generating a greater amount of intimacy between the celebrity and fans.

“A bit like close-up camera work, [music] lets us see individuals express emotions in close-up and therefore gives them an appealing quality of vulnerability,” he said.

Duffett said it’s important to understand that no evidence exists that suggests fandom can lead to deviant or destructive behaviours with individuals.

“We know that audiences can contain all manner of people, a tiny, tiny fraction of whom may be deeply troubled individuals,” he said.

“Fandom is about maintaining a positive relationship with the object of one’s interest; anyone behaving in another way — intrusive, harassing, or threatening — is not actually a fan.”

With the rise of social media, this phenomenon has affected the nature of fandom, Duffett said.

“Social media is a tool that both fans and their heroes use. It has enabled celebrities more control over revealing aspects of their lives, and that has further reduced their privacy in some cases,” he said.

“Social media [has] also made fan networking more rapid and public.” Following Drake on social media has allowed me to have a glimpse into his life that seemingly isn’t produced by a team of professional photographers or journalists.

But we can’t truly know if the persona they project through social media is truly genuine — although for Drake, I’ll make an exception.

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