No matter what era you grew up in, there’s no denying the influence that pop-culture has over that era, which also influenced you as well, no matter how big or small that was. And this could take many forms, from movies to tv shows, all the way to music. Music has a way of leaving a significant impact on people and the culture of that time, making it not so surprising that over the years, the way that people celebrate their way of being fans of a particular group’s music has also changed, from casually buying music and listening to it from the privacy of one’s home, to bringing people together and celebrating their favorite group’s music in concert. Jessica Leski’s documentary ” I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story” highlights not only how four different women spanning different cultural eras celebrate being fans of the groups that they love, but also shows how the music of their favorite groups have helped them become who they are today.
Jessica Leski’s documentary, “I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story”, focuses on four different women and their fangirl love for their respective groups. There’s 64 year old Susan from Melbourne, who is a big fan of The Beatles, and who watched their concert in Melbourne when they were there many years ago; Sydney based brand strategist Dara, who loves Take That, and in particular, Gary Barlow from the aforementioned group; Pakistani Muslim Sadia, who is a hardcore Backstreet Boys fan; and the youngest of the four, Long Island Directioner Elif, who also experienced her own fifteen seconds of fame when her YouTube reaction videos became viral.
This 2018 documentary film is currently distributed by TriCoast Entertainment and can be found online on platforms such as Amazon, inDemand, DirecTV, Hoopla, Vimeo on Demand, AT&T, FlixFing, Vudu, FANDANGO and Sling/Dish.
The documentary was mostly standard talking head fare, and there were no experts quoted except for the women themselves, because, let’s face it, as fangirls, there are particular things that we are very good experts at. Case in point was Dara talking about what she coins as “The Boyband Theory”, in which she breaks down the different “roles” that each member does play, whether we notice it or not,. This was quite interesting, because, even though Asian groups, and in particular, K-Pop, were not mentioned in this video, the K-pop industry has something like this as well, and is always mentioned in marketing blurbs or in their own self-introductions. While Dara’s Western “Boyband Theory” has the roles such as the mysterious member, the clown, among others; K-pop group members have specific roles (yes, more than one), and sometimes those roles overlap. For example, one can be the leader and the main vocalist or visual, but that’s a whole different class (Kpop 101), in itself.
Each one had their own personal stories to share, from how they themselves fangirl these groups in particular, to how it has helped them in their own little way from their own current careers to how it helped them emotionally, especially when they were going through difficult times. Sometimes, just watching an old video or hearing an old song of theirs helped them keep strong and keep going, as returning to them allowed them to be in a “safe zone” for themselves for those moments. That part allowed them to get a little bit more personal and emotional, and showed viewers that there is a more emotional and raw depth to fangirling and to keep on coming back to the music you love to listen to.
The documentary also allowed them to get self-reflective about their fangirling, from how most of them actually hid their being a fangirl about their groups for most of their lives; to Sadia reflecting about the economic cost of being a fangirl who does buy merchandise and attends most of their concerts and to question to what their limits as a fan should be. Case in point was the Backstreet Boys cruise that she went on, which made her question herself because she realized that she did not like the way she was acted during the cruise- really trying her best to spend every minute within eye sight of her favorite Backstreet Boys member. Fans of any group or musical act can definitely relate to this, from Western to Asian acts, and in particular, in K-pop, where there is a ton of merchandise, and where there is an actual term for fans and anti-fans who go to the extreme (but again, that’s a whole different class in itself).
Aside from highlighting the deep impact that these groups had on their lives, what was also good was that it showcased that even though they have their own respective fandoms, and that they fangirl over them until now in their own way, that their entire lives don’t necessarily revolve around “Planet Boyband”. They can have lives of their own, while still indulging in being a fangirl, regardless of whether that group is still active or has disbanded. While I personally related to Sadia (except I was an ‘NSync fan over Backstreet Boys), I personally felt the most for Elif as she is still struggling to figure out what to do next as her Turkish parents disapprove of her dreams to become a musician even though she does have talent enough to be able to win a half scholarship at her dream university.
All of these elements made the documentary relatable, from gushing over merchandise and memorablilia, to narrating how these groups have made a deeper impact on their lives. If there was something to be improved on, it would probably be the lack of representation of other musical groups, especially Asian or more African-American based groups, but given the time constraint and the amount of focus it gave the four subjects of the documentary, it did not detract from the value that the documentary had.
In the end, “I Used to Be Normal” is a wonderful celebration of being a fan of any musical group that will be relatable to any kind of fangirl out there, regardless of whether you are a huge fan of a musical group or a movie franchise.
Based on my Kpop Haul posts, I am pretty sure that you, dear readers, sort of know my taste in music and Kpop, so now its your turn- what groups are you big fans of (Western or Asian), regardless of whether they are active or not Let me know in the comments below! I’m looking forward to seeing what groups you are all fans of!