Written by Kate Leaver

Voices

For thine is the fandom

After a transformative experience at a Beyoncé concert, Kate Leaver found herself wondering – and worrying – about the extraordinary power of mass devotion.

Taylor Swift making a heart-shaped hand gesture

Taylor Swift doing something unusual and no doubt fashionable with her hands. Photo: Big Machine.

In 2013, I had my first religious experience. The only one I’ve had in almost three decades.

It was at a Beyoncé concert.

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter was my deity, and a cavernous stadium space my place of worship. A cool 30,000-strong congregation held their breath for a full 20 minutes before she came on stage and then yelled, “Hey, Mrs Carter!” on her command, over and over. We were in a trance. A tranceyoncé. My heartbeat fell in time with Crazy in Love and my hands/hips/arms popped in time with everyone else.

It was a magnificent feeling.

I was about three aggressive Single Ladies hand gestures away from renouncing atheism to serve at the altar of Yoncé, forever. I can, believe it or not, be quite a sensible human being, but put me in a crowd of sweaty pop fans and I’m practically ready to sign away my identity and/or life savings to a booty-popping Beyoncé cult. That’s the transformative power of mass devotion. That’s just how fandom works.

“Pop culture fans are now indistinguishable from religious zealots, except for the fact that you can actually prove the existence of a famous person.”

Fandom is, arguably, the most important economic and social force around. This is where we’re at now, as a society: making major commercial power-players of teenage girls and pop groupies.

It feels filthy and new, but don’t try to blame the millennials for this. Or even Gen Y. Baby Boomers clambered onto the bonnets of cars with Beatles inside, too – we’ve seen the footage.

Even Shakespeare had groupies. Socrates had junkies, Mozart had zealots and Hitler, of course, capitalised on precisely this pleasant feeling of mass devotion.

It’s not about Harry Styles’ pheromones. It’s about human nature. Pop culture fans are now indistinguishable from religious zealots, except for the fact that you can actually prove the existence of a famous person.

At 23, Taylor Swift just became the youngest woman on Forbes’ Most Powerful Women list, with a sweet $200 million to her name. Talent aside, Taylor’s success is entirely fan-made. She has a uniquely shrewd way of supporting and, yes, manipulating her vast fanbase. For T-Swizzle, identifying with her fans (and, I believe, genuinely caring for them) is extremely lucrative. She knows how to enchant the masses.

Beyonce reclining

Beyoncé contemplates the potent might of mass devotion. Photo: Columbia Records.

But it’s important for us to understand that feeling I had when Beyoncé was flying through the air 20 metres in front of me. It doesn’t matter whether your fan manual (‘fanual’, if you will) is the Bible, the Torah or Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. Faith, en masse, has the power to move markets and start wars. It has the power to elevate individuals to godlike prominence, and then destroy them (think Britney Spears circa 2007).

But if you think Taylor, Beyoncé or the One Direction boys hold the power here, you haven’t quite got it yet. The fans have the power. They’ve always had the power. There’s nothing more powerful, or more terrifying, than the combined might of people who share an idol or a cause. Together, ordinary people have the ability to make or break careers, issue death threats, destroy lives, demand a public lynching or create unfathomable wealth for arbitrarily selected stars.

For better or much, much worse, that feeling in my heart/loins during Beyoncé’s concert is the most potent force of human nature. Underestimate it at your own risk.

@kateileaver

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Written by Kate Leaver

Wandering Australian journalist, professional-level Harry Potter fan, occasional funny person, gelato enthusiast. Still worried about the state of Britney Spears' mental health.