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Mark Duffett (ed.), Popular Music and Society “Fandom” issue

Tom Attah
p. 320-322
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Popular Music and Society, vol. 36, n° 3

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1Most, if not all students and scholars of popular music are also fans. For Cornel Sandvoss (2005), the term “fandom” stands for “the regular, emotionally involved consumption of a given popular narrative or text in the form of books, television shows, films or music, as well as popular texts in a broader sense such as sports teams and popular icons and stars ranging from athletes and musicians to actors.” Throughout this wide-ranging special edition of Popular Music and Society, this definition of fans and their constituted worlds is enhanced, explored, extended and applied as a scholarly framework by the seven featured authors.

2Initial critiques of mass culture presented a very specific view of dedicated music fans. From the 20th century treatises of Theodor Adorno (2005 [1938]) and the Frankfurt School to Paul Johnson’s New Statesman polemic (1964 [2006]), consumers of commodity culture were represented as passive, alienated consumers fascinated by simplistic cultural forms. A more complex assessment of fans as politically autonomous individuals began to develop from the end of the 1960s in the post-Sergeant Pepper era, as popular music became regarded less as a commodity and more as a legitimate art form (Cloonan, 2005).

3Mediatised music has evolved over the last three decades through promotional video, dedicated television channels and digital distribution methods. Allied to this, the consequent expansion in fan-bases beyond previous cultural and generational boundaries has encouraged a series of parallel scholarly investigations and re-evaluations of the cohesion and concerns of fan communities. Drawing on John Fiske’s notions of the “active audience,” Henry Jenkins (1992) presented fans as active in the creation of meaning beyond originating texts. In addition, Jenkins’ scholarly work concerning how and why people become fans and their subsequent trajectories through a wider socio-political communities foreshadowed a developing view of fans as fully-aware, communal and creative. Contributors to Linda Lewis’ influential collection The Adoring Audience (1992) also advanced perceptions of transgressive and culturally discriminating cultural agents.

4More recently, popular music fandom has been researched from feminist and cognitive psychological perspectives, but has perhaps lacked focus on specific fan practices in the pursuit of perpetuating their communities. Whilst there is enlightening work on the fandoms of specific rock musicians (Cavicchi 1998; Doss 1999) and considered contribution to debates on televisual media fandom (Hills 2002) there is arguably space for further specific research and dedicated investigation in the field of popular music “fan studies.”

5In his introduction to this journal, “Directions in Music Fan Research: Undiscovered Territories and Hard Problems,” Mark Duffett highlights several of the ongoing issues within fandom research. Contrasting the image of “insanity and immaturity,” attached to many fandoms with the reality that fans are “active, communal, intelligent and politicized,” Duffett exposes the argument that “when we study fandom, we study an exoticized other who is also us.” From this point, topics of assumed and conferred identity, inter-personal and parasocial relationships and the changing nature of cultural capital in a time of digital communications technology are cleverly and cleanly interrogated, problematise and discussed.

6Peter Smith & Ian Inglis’ “A Long Strange Trip: The Continuing World of European Deadheads” examines the development and constitution of the geographically dispersed European rock fandom for American rock band The Grateful Dead. The authors’ rigorous and concise method offers insights not only into the fandom’s use of technology to cohere and perpetuate itself, but also offers a well-drawn illustration of the fandom life-cycle from “discovery of the fan object,” to adapting attitudes through maturity, and finally posthumous considerations.

7Rebecca Williams’ “‘Anyone who Calls Muse a Twilight Band will be Shot on Sight’: Music, Distinction, and the ‘Interloping Fan’ in the Twilight Franchise,” explores issues of intertextuality and inter-fandom movement. The author’s thoughtful application of theories of distinction highlights the critical function of age, gender and knowledge hierarchies in policing the boundaries of hitherto unrelated fan communities as they interact and coalesce online.

8Lady Gaga is the focus of two submissions to the journal. Craig Jennex’s thorough and considered “Diva Worship and the Sonic Search for Queer Utopia,” addresses the historiographical continuum of homosexual diva-fandom and its performative connotations in modern identity formation, whilst Melissa A. Click, Hyunji Lee & Holly Willson Holladay investigate the empowering nature of Lady Gaga’s online fandom – specifically, her interaction with her “little monsters,” through micro-blogging site Twitter. “Making Monsters: Lady Gaga, Fan Identification, and Social Media’ also asserts the importance of imaginary social relationships in the creation and maintenance of fan communities.

9Siv B. Lie’s “‘His Soul Was Wandering and Holy’: Employing and Contesting Religious Terminology in Django Fandom,” assesses fans-as-fanatics, and reflects pragmatically on the pejorative portrayal of gypsy-jazz fans as a social group presented in the 2005 documentary film Djangomania! Finally, B. Lee Cooper’s Forum Essay: “My Music, Not Yours: Ravings of a Rock-and-Roll Fanatic,” moves beyond the surface of its impassioned and provocative polemic against a certain baby-boomer canonization of rock’s back catalogue and valorisation of the “always anointed Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones,” at the expense of their African-American rock and roll forebears. Through the example of US novelty and nonsense songs, Cooper highlights issues concerning musicological ontology, perceived cultural worth and the dangers of a short-sighted, exclusive or revisionist view of the rich panoply of popular music history.

10Each of the writers here does well to step out of the long shadow of Adornian notions of popular music fans, raising and addressing polysemic questions of identity, consumption and community. The seven pieces consistently cite the work of fandom scholars Matt Hills, Carl Sandvoss and Daniel Cavicchi, offering readers a well-informed overview of their central ideas and providing a bridge into the major texts in the research field. This special edition of Popular Music and Society recognizes an emerging area of study in a hyper-mediatised and remediating age. In a cultural environment where digital access and perceived intimacy are prominent in the constitution of artists by their fans, this collection of essays summarizes current thinking and research and offers many stimulating, well-argued and clearly-drawn perspectives for future scholarship.

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Adorno Theodor (2001 [1938]), « On The Fetish-Character of Music and the Regression of Listening » in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, New York: Routledge, 29-60.

Cavicchi Daniel (1998), Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning Among Springsteen Fans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cloonan Martin (2005), « What is Popular Music Studies? Some Observations », British Journal of Music Education n° 22, 1: 77-93.

Doss Erika (1999), Elvis Culture: Fans, Faith and Image. Kansas: University of Kansas Press.

Hills Matt (2002), Fan Cultures. London: Routledge.

Johnson Paul (2006 [1964]) « The Menace of Beatlism », in Read the Beatles, edited by June Skinner Sawyers, London: Penguin, 51-55.

Jenkins Henry (1992), Textual Poachers: Television fans & Participatory Culture, New York: Routledge.

Lewis Lisa (ed.) (1992), The Adoring Audience, London: Routledge.

Sandvoss Cornel (2005), Fans: the Mirror of Consumption, Cambridge, Polity Press.

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Tom Attah, « Mark Duffett (ed.), Popular Music and Society “Fandom” issue »Volume !, 10 : 1 | 2013, 320-322.

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Tom Attah, « Mark Duffett (ed.), Popular Music and Society “Fandom” issue »Volume ! [En ligne], 10 : 1 | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 décembre 2013, consulté le 23 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Tom Attah

Tom Attah est doctorant à l’université de Salford. Sa thèse examine les effets de la médiation technologique dans le blues. Il se produit en solo comme guitariste et chanteur, ainsi qu’en duo acoustique et avec un groupe électrique. L’œuvre solo acoustique inclut des compositions blues originales et s’est produit dans des festivals majeurs en Europe, dont le Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, le Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival, Blues Autour Du Zinc ainsi que sur de nombreuses radios locales et internationales. Tom est « Associate Lecturer » à l’université de Salford, « Visiting Lecturer » à University College Falmouth et Queens University of Canada. Son travail sur le blues inclut des ateliers, des séminaires, des conférences et des récitals dans le monde scolaire et associatif.

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