A scene in the film High Fidelity epitomizes the paradox of the superfan. Aging hipster record store owner Rob Gordon (played by aging hipster John Cusack) announces that he will sell three copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band. Rob wants to use his knowledge about an obscure band to impress his friends—it’s his power. At the same time, the only way to demonstrate this is to make the band more popular, therefore diminishing his strength. Directioners are experiencing this painful realization in real time on the Web: All their tweets and Tumblrs have evangelized the band beyond the One Direction Nation, and the band no longer belongs to them.
Rob Gordon and indie music fans everywhere can shed ironic tears for the latest underground favorite to get co-opted by the mainstream—they know there are other bands out there waiting to be discovered. But for most of these young Directioners, One Direction is their first love. It’s telling that although the boys of One Direction are sex symbols, the fans also have a nurturing, almost maternal, relationship to the band. The social Web has given them a feeling of ownership over One Direction, and they feel responsible for the band—and for the other fans that they’ve inadvertently helped to create. They insist that every member is equally valuable and good-looking. “THEY ARE ALL WONDERFUL. One isn’t better than the others. So get over yourself and like all of them, not one. 5 boys, One Band, One Direction,” asserts a Directioner Tumblr. They believe in the intrinsic value of each and every one of One Direction’s songs, and pride themselves on having an encyclopedic knowledge of them. They defend the ethnic identity of half-Pakistani Zayne. They even bravely love the boys’ girlfriends because they seem to make the boys happy: “You can’t call yourself a real Directioner when you hate on the boys girlfriends. Real Directioners love Danielle and Eleanor because they make our boys happy, and we don’t send them hate.” Many Directioners have taken a cue from the band’s playfully affectionate behavior with each other and seek to defuse the homophobic slurs of haters by asserting that they would, in fact, be fine if all the boys weren’t straight. Some, like the Tumblr Niallerlightsupmyworld, declare that indeed, the boys are gay: “If you get mad when someone calls One Direction gay … you’re obviously not a true Directioner. True Directioners know that they’re all gay for each other.”
For Directioners, anything that might harm the band or their relationship to the band is roundly and publicly criticized, and enemy No. 1 is new fans of the band. As @1DOvariesKiller says in her breathless YouTube rant about Directionators who dare to criticize a member of the band, “Go sit. Go sit in your irrelevant-ass corner, where you are banned from this fandom.” Chief among the crimes committed by Directionators is that they discuss the band on Facebook—i.e., not Tumblr, so the wrong social channel. In a Tumblr post “To all Fake Directioners,” a fan berates people who “SPREAD THE GLORIOUS BEAUTY OF 1D AND BEFOUL THEIR BEAUTIFUL NAME BY POSTING THEM ON FACEBOOK” and “SPEAK OF THEM OUTSIDE TUMBLR TO OTHER MORONS. HENCE CREATING A CHAIN OF FAKE DIRECTIONERS.” Of course, Directioners don’t see the irony of complaining in social media about how Directionators use social media—the stakes are simply too high for them. If the boys are somehow lost, they think, they may never find another band to love.
But the tragedy is that it’s already over for Directioners, whose fandom was perfect for a fleeting pop-culture moment, but one that has already passed. Soon everyone in the world will have heard the band, and thanks to the endless tweets, Tumblr posts, and YouTube videos, everyone will also know that Liam has a phobia of spoons and that Louis was just joking when he said that carrot eating was the chief thing he looked for in a girl. As allykilpatrick1598 mourns at the end of her YouTube rant against Directionators, “We never thought they would get this big ... but we have to face it ... It’s not going to be the same from here onwards.”
In an information economy that moves with the speed of a text message, the life cycle of any pop-culture phenomenon is increasingly going to be measured in months and weeks instead of years, turning even the youngest fans into cranky hipsters, snarkily guarding their own cred, creating arbitrary divisions to preserve their status. More and more young fans will close their YouTube missives not with breathless professions of love, but in the way allykilpatrick1598 does: “I have one more word for you Directionators: LEAVE!” These teen girls are among the very first never to have known a world without Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms as a constant source of information, and even more, a constant pressure to broadcast and define yourself—to establish your personal brand—in the most public way. It seems a harbinger of things to come: A future in which we will, at all times and about all things, be either Directioners or Directionators.