So this is embarrassing to admit, but, when I was a tween, I was obsessed with Bush. THE BAND! THE BAND! I adored the lead singer, Gavin Rossdale, and I assumed that one day the stars would align and I would marry him. (The stars made me gay instead.) I spent hours on the dial-up internet inhaling Bush-related content and I harboured a grudge against Gwen Stefani, because she was with Gavin, living my dream. What I didn’t do, however, was send Stefani any online threats. Mainly because 1) that would be unhinged; and 2) the internet was very slow and it wasn’t easy to instantly harass people online.
Fast-forward a million years and the internet is now one big harassment machine. Fans, tweenage and older, can become unhealthy fanatics very easily. See, for example, the drama between the fanbases of the model Hailey Bieber and the singer Selena Gomez. This saga is too inane to properly explain, but, in brief, the two women have been pitted against each other by their fans because they each dated Justin Bieber (to whom the model is now married). This fake feud was amplified when Gomez joined TikTok, because social media algorithms love pushing divisive content that drives engagement.
Gomez fans have been attacking Bieber so relentlessly that the poor woman has repeatedly begged people to leave her alone. Gomez has also asked her fans to stop, to no avail. Earlier this month crowds at a Justin Bieber concert chanted “Fuck Hailey Bieber” when he went on stage. It doesn’t matter how rich and famous you are: relentless harassment is unbearable.
It’s not just Bieber who has found herself hounded as a result of toxic fandom. Being a critic today should come with hazard pay; say the wrong thing about someone’s fave and you can quickly find yourself the victim of a vicious pile-on. In December, for example, the co-director of Everything Everywhere All at Once had to plead with fans to stop criticising the New York Times’ film critics for leaving the movie off their Top 10 lists.
Rabid fandom isn’t all bad: in some instances it has been channelled constructively. See, for example, Taylor Swift fans taking legal action alleging anti-competitive practices in Ticketmaster’s ticket-selling process. Or Britney Spears fans working to end her conservatorship. Still, there is a very dark side to modern fandom. More than ever, fame comes at a price.