Fan Culture

Every day, I try and listen to at least some music – my aim is an hour a day on average which, during weekdays, I manage quite comfortably. I’ve been an avid music listener ever since I was about 4 or 5 years old, and my tastes have evolved and expanded during that time. I still listen to a-ha, Nik Kershaw and The Alan Parsons Project on occasion, but the plethora of children’s novelty albums I had back then have long since been binned.

Up until a few years ago, I was frequently getting quite frustrated by so-called “fan culture”. In the early 90’s, I couldn’t quite understand what drew so many people, girls mainly, to New Kids on the Block. A few years later, when Take That emerged with pretty-much the same kind of thing, I learned that it didn’t really matter whether the music had any lasting relevance as long as the core demographic were at an emotional crossroads and had lots of disposable income: the deeper you tapped into their emotions, the more you could squeeze out of them through merchandise. Every single seemed to go straight in at No. 1, even though it offered nothing exclusive at the time. What gives?!

I also didn’t understand why people were so invested in something so temporary – NKotB went from mega-stars to has-beens in just a few years and, once their successors hit their peak, the powers-that-be would divide them up too and profit further from fan loyalty through multiple solo albums. Why sell one album to a loyal fan-base when you can sell three or four simultaneously?

What I failed to understand was how everything new was instantly “fantastic” or “the bestest thing ever”. Why were they letting their excitement cloud their critical thinking?

Up until recently, I’d failed to recognise that I too was guilty of all of that – and I had been less than 15 years ago.

In 2004, Marillion released their new album, Marbles. I’d gotten in on the then-obligatory crowd-funding campaign and had just received the album in its exclusive special edition. I’d hailed it a masterpiece on the first play through. I bought the T-shirt, the mug, every variation of the two singles released from it… the works! I’d even joined the fan club. I drove my then-girlfriend (now wife) absolutely mad with it all. I felt my excitement was justified on the grounds that Marillion were not some fly-by-night Boy Band, but a misunderstood group that invested in their art, unfairly dismissed as a relic from the mid-1980’s.

Unlike the way Boy Bands are marketed, there were no other bands to distract me and move on to. When their next album, Somewhere Else came out three years later, my expectations were sky-high. When I heard it, everything crashed – it was like they’d abandoned everything that made Marbles a masterpiece and took too much from the more sombre and inwardly-looking style of Radiohead. I was quite angry with them for doing so, and it would be 8 years before I bought another one of their albums.

But in hindsight, I was being extremely impatient and immature. I was overcompensating for all the annoyance I’d caused my wife by rubbishing the new album on the basis of one, casual listen. I’m now the proud owner of Somewhere Else on double-vinyl and, listening to it today, I can’t see what was so bad about it – it’s best qualities are very subtle and needs a lot more active listening up-front than Marbles did.

I’ve now eased off and become more tolerant – I certainly don’t get annoyed whenever I see cardboard cut-outs of Bieber or One Direction in every other shop window. On the Marillion front: their latest album, FEAR, was the best album I’d heard from them since the mid-1990’s…

… but this time, I didn’t annoy my wife with it!