Forget One Directioners, Take That fans are the maddest in town. Lucy Oates infiltrates the sub-cult to report from its secret world (she’s actually just one of them)
A few years ago, the headline 'The Take That effect: How middle-aged fans go mad when the ageing boy band comes to town' caught my eye. Why? Because I myself have witnessed the “drunken falls”, “alcohol poisoning”, “all-day drinking sessions” and “misbehavior” a fair few times. As an out-and-proud Take That fan, I too have queued with the masses to have an evening of unrivalled entertainment in some of the country's biggest stadiums. I've met many women who have gone on every single date of the same tour, women who camp overnight to get the best spots, women who have travelled half way across the world to see a show they have seen many times before. Oh, and a couple of men. It's hard to understand why, until you think that perhaps they were simply too drunk to remember it the first time.
So what are the worst things I've seen? At a 2013 Robbie Williams gig, the woman in front of me proudly stated that she was wearing an adult nappy, so she wouldn't need to leave her spot when the abundance of cider she had drunk made it to the other end, so to speak. That's not as bad as the woman who deliberately wet herself to avoid missing any of the show. Last year, two women got verbally and physically abusive, saying they'd punch anyone who got in front of them. They had been drinking straight vodka for four hours. I've seen grown women cry when they haven't made the front row (sleep-deprived from queuing since the night before), and a middle-aged lady be carried out from the third row by her partner, as she'd just projectile vomited. Then there was the utterly harmless, but quite baffling lady with a six-inch tattoo of Robbie's face on her bicep. Apparently her husband didn't mind.
But what of the fanaticism itself? Since Beatlemania right through to Directioners, we're used to teenage girls throwing themselves at their idols, whipping themselves into a frenzy, sobbing in the front row. But middle-aged women wearing Robbie Williams' face on their T-Shirt? That's something a whole lot more incomprehensible. What reduces a happily married lady into a quivering mess at the sight of a man band?
US academic Joli Jensen observed in 1992 that:
fandom is seen as a psychological symptom of a presumed social dysfunction... Once fans are characterised as a deviant, they can be treated as disreputable, even dangerous 'others'.
What we, and the media, may be failing to appreciate in these mass outpourings of adoration is the sense of community and collectivity. No matter your class, your salary, your marital situation, at these concerts you are surrounded by people who share a common passion. This sense of belonging, combined with a rush of endorphins makes it easier to understand this phenomenon.
It's the classist, sexist remarks that I'm most concerned about. Turn on your TV on any given weekend, and you'll witness men abandoning their inhibitions cheering on their football team, often having enjoyed a few drinks too many. Football hooliganism has been a problem in this country every weekend for decades – so much so, that nowadays the media only reports extreme cases of violence or racism. Yet when normal, hardworking mothers, wives, aunts or grandmothers have one night out every other year as an escape from reality, the media goes wild. We all need to feel part of a community, and also need an escape, whether it's a book club, a hockey team or going out with friends on a Friday night.
These concerts give a sense of community, and they are truly excellent and mostly wholesome entertainment (if you don't believe me, read the reviews). The media articles that appeared after the Take That concerts in Manchester reeked of snobbery, and even sexism. It simply isn't proper for a woman to let loose and have a day off being a mother. So is there really anything wrong with going out and having a good time? For some, that's a night watching Timon of Athens at the theatre. For others, it's having a few drinks, throwing themselves at Gary Barlow and forgetting their responsibilities for a night they'll Never Forget. And that's ok with me.
Author: Lucy Oates