Released: 17th September
Seen: 28th September (Copy provided by TriCoast)
When I was going through school, the main boy bands that everyone talked about were N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys. It’s weird to think about now but back then you had to pick a side, there was a boy band war where everyone would clearly pick a side and stick to it. You would know instantly who was on what side of this totally real war that was totally important. I still have memories of hearing Backstreet Boys playing all the time, Backstreet’s Back was the first song of theirs I ever heard which constantly made me wonder where they had been before they came back (I was not a smart person, to the shock of nobody). It was a big thing but I was in the exact age range to understand what was going on, even if I wasn’t a part of it. Then I became an adult right around the time One Direction was getting big and had no idea what the deal was… if only there was some kind of documentary to spell out what the heck was going on. Oh wait, there is… now, anyway.
I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story follows four women of various ages who are all superfans of various boy bands (One Direction, Backstreet Boys, Take That and The Beatles). As we go between all of their stories of their fandom it’s slowly explained how every generation seems to have its own version of the boyband and each generation of teenage girls tends to leap on the boybandwagon. We not only see the hyper reactions, from Beatlemania to a One Direction meet and greet, but we explore what each boyband meant to each person we meet. Not only why they liked their music or which music video is their favourite (Spoilers, it’s going to be the one where the guys are wet or shirtless… for obvious reasons) but we also get to explore how the love of that boyband would change the lives of these women. We explore how their families take it, how it impacted their future relationships and in some cases how it drove wedges between them and their families.
What leaps out about this movie is how it’s very eager to keep reminding people about how similar all these reactions are. Every person interviewed has video of them screaming at a concert, they all have a story about how they swear one of the boys in the band looked at them, they all have stories about their parents not getting it. It’s all the same, everyone’s journey with these boybands is all pretty similar and that kind of hammers in the point of the movie… that these fans are normal, they just have a particularly beloved band that people outside their target demographic don’t get.
The key to making this entire film work is the one person who was a fan of The Beatles, that’s where everything just clicks into place because we all accept being a fan of The Beatles now. It’s almost required to like The Beatles if you’re into any kind of music, we call them geniuses and talk about how truly revolutionary and important their music is but if you break down their early work that got them noticed, many of the things that they did were very similar to what One Direction did. They sang the same love songs to the same generic girl who could be the listener, they all looked cute and innocent, they used the same chords, it’s the same band but in a different time and with different technology… but we all love The Beatles and we’re all able to admit that a lot of us didn’t have kind things to say about One Direction. This film kind of makes that point well by just showing the reactions side by side, the screaming fans are all the same and there’s something sweet about it.
It’s really nice seeing how these people’s lives were changed by the music they loved. One of the women interviewed talks about how she used to write a Backstreet Boys newsletter and that got her into writing, her current profession. Another one talks about the love of One Direction getting her into music and learning an instrument. We see how their fantasies led them to take chances, or in one particularly funny case kept them from learning a basic life skill because they were waiting for a member of the boyband they loved to teach them. A lot of these fantasies are expressed by animations that look like drawings in a schoolgirl’s diary and it’s just a nice little detail that really helps sell this movie as a glimpse into this culture that pops up into the mainstream every few years with each new boyband.
I’ll admit, I was one of those who looked down on the One Direction fans because I just didn’t get it… and this movie kind of made me have to sit here and go “Wait, what they’re doing is no more insane than that time I flew to England to go to a Buffy convention”. Turns out, we’re all a fangirl for something and this film shines a light on that. We all obsess over a piece of pop culture at some point in our lives, it’s part of what makes us human and I Used To Be Normal really does just make the audience put itself in the shoes of these fangirls and lets us see our own obsessions in them. So, maybe I can’t make it up to the One Direction fans I laughed at when they cried because Zayn left the band but this film makes me know that I won’t treat the current BTS fangirls the same way. A great little documentary that I highly recommend.