The shot opens on a teenage girl screaming and crying as she aimlessly walks through her bedroom. She’s evidently heartbroken. Eventually, she loses the will to stand and slowly crumbles to her bed. Finally, the camera zooms in for the close-up shot, showing a young girl’s face, flooded with tears, feeling the full wrath of betrayal. Will she ever trust anyone again? That’s an actual video from Vine user, Deanne Umbay, reacting to the news of Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction.
On March 25, Malik announced he was leaving the boy-band to live a normal, twenty-two-year-old life. One Direction fans, however, did not take the news lightly. Fans across the world posted videos similar to Umbay’s depicting their pain. Others took to social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook to express their outrage.
There were also some more extreme reactions. One Vine user posted a video of herself placing a noose around her neck. Somewhat similarly, some fans created “In Memory of Zayn” Facebook pages, with video collages of his “best moments” in the band, ultimately treating the event as a death. These pages were accommodated by images of fans lighting candles and placing them by photos of Malik, commemorating his time in the spotlight.
While the news of Malik’s departure may very well be devastating for some One Direction fans, a greater topic at hand may be what the various reactions say about fandom in today’s society.
One Direction has about 8.3 million Instagram followers and about 24 million Twitter followers. However, they are not alone, as other artists such as Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, share similar numbers. The use of social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram have somewhat changed the fandom scene today, as they seemingly provide the most personal details about a celebrity or artist.
This more personal connection may prove to be dangerous for both fans and artists alike. For instance, Zayn Malik’s girlfriend, Perrie Edwards, who is also a member of UK based girl-band Little Mix, was bombarded on Twitter by One Direction fans shortly after the news of Malik’s departure was announced. Some fans blatantly blamed Edwards for Malik’s decision and others demanded she quit her band, as it would be the only “fair” thing to do.
Other fans got a little more personal with their accusations, calling her the “new Yoko Ono” and comparing Malik’s departure to the Beatles’ break-up of the early 1970s.
“X Factor” UK judge Louis Walsh, who played an integral part during both One Direction’s and Little Mix’s respective seasons on the reality competition show, hinted during an interview with RTE Radio One that there may be some truth to the Perrie Edwards claims, saying, “What I found in the past is as things get on, and as they get girlfriends, the girlfriends are whispering things in their ears and saying like ‘You should be a solo star,” he said, “That’s usually the problem.”
Fordham University Communication and Media Studies professor Jennifer Clark addressed the Yoko Ono comparisons by saying, “I can imagine that, unlike Ono, Edwards hasn’t been attacked with the same level of virulent racism that Ono was,” Clark said in an email interview, “That said, I’m sure there are other class and gender policing at work.”
Professor Clark suggested that Edwards, like Ono, may be a scapegoat for the fans. “To paint the male star as passive or helplessly enthralled by some terrible woman is a sadly inaccurate and a very patriarchal notion that exploit gender archetypes,” she said. “The economics of stardom won’t allow Lennon or Malik to be ‘unfaithful’ to fans — it would be too abrupt of a shift in persona that has been built so carefully over the years through marketing, careful establishment of the persona by publicity, agents, ancillary industries that depend upon the persona to function as coherent and relatively one-dimensional.”
While asking Ken Beck of Universal Music Group’s Eagle Rock Entertainment about his thoughts on social media’s contribution to fandom, Beck said that social media, absolutely had an impact.
“I mean they’re getting the information faster, but I just think there’s this desire to comment on it and regurgitate it faster without really digesting the news. It’s just this heightened noise about news pieces like this that just get blown out of proportion,” he said.
Beck also suggested that the development of Meerkat, a new social media website much like Twitter and Instagram, will further fan involvement in a celebrity’s life. “So much of the artist’s personal lives captured and shared with their fans — that has never happened before to my knowledge.”
Clark, however, suggested that social media might not be as much to blame as it may appear, and that extreme measures of fandom have always existed. “Silent film star Rudolph Valentino died young — which signified a particularly acute tragedy for fans,” she said. “There were stories that fans committed suicide. Riots broke out. Fans committed all sorts of crimes as an expression of their grief. This was 1926, silent-era film.”
Professor Clark further clarified that fandom itself could be the issue of a more pressing discussion. “Fandom has long been regarded as a conduit for psychological and/or ideological needs,” she said. “Fandom allows otherwise-impermissible reactions, desires anxieties to find expression — particularly for social groups.”
Zana Najjar, FCLC ’16, who also runs a One Direction Tumblr page with about 7000 fans, agreed that a few of the reactions were overblown. “You have girls who have had them in their lives for five years now,” she said. “When you grow so attached to something it’s hard not to get a bit dramatic.”
Najjar said she did believe, however, that social media has possibly exaggerated the band’s dedicated fandom. “Before [social media pages], it was all about the music,” she said. “You didn’t know much about the person who created it but now it’s almost essential. Who they follow, what they tweet, the pictures they post all indicate the type of person they are. And that makes people feel like they know them on some level even if they really don’t.”
Unlike many upset fans, Najjar was optimistic about the band’s future music, and that they would continue as they were before, except without Malik.
With or without a new member, the band says it will continue to tour and release new music, but the absence of Malik is sure to prove to have some kind of effect on One Direction. Whether it leads to a minor or major change in the band’s artistry, it seems, in some way or another, without Zayn Malik the band will be heading in a new direction.