About a third of the way into her book Everything I Need I Get From You, Kaitlyn Tiffany neatly states her thesis: “Before most people were using the Internet for anything, fans were using it for everything.” Her argument centers on the premise that fandom and the Internet are deeply connected, and you cannot fully understand one without the other. The book’s title, linking fandom to life online, is lifted from the lyrics to “I Want to Write You a Song”, a 2015 hit from boy band One Direction.
Although the band figures significantly, this is not a book about One Direction; it is about fandom, the Internet, community, and culture. That Tiffany is a One Direction fan and reflects on her fandom throughout validates her arguments. She is, like an experienced anthropologist, a participant observer in this retelling of how fangirls shaped Internet culture.
She did not enter into the fandom to analyze it as a cultural construct—that subject position would have affected her participation as a One Direction fan. Instead, she readily recounts her acts of fandom, highlighted by her One Direction fan pilgrimage to Los Angeles. That trip, which she documented online in real-time, was focused on locating the highway right-of-way where another devoted fan had once posted a cardboard sign to mark the spot where One Direction member Harry Styles had vomited. Playful or serious, any anthropological study depends significantly on field notes. For Tiffany, the data and narratives derived from field notes are just a keyboard click away in volumes of content on Twitter and Tumblr.
Tiffany’s casual writing style should not lead to an assumption that this is a flighty book about teens and young women—the “fangirls” referenced in Tiffany’s title—and pop music. With her conversational commentary, she checks the boxes on cultural critics from Theodor Adorno to Nancy Baym and Henry Jenkins. Drawing on the existing literature of fandom research, Tiffany takes up the same concerns to address the extremely online generation and how the Internet has changed fandom. She writes that Twitter and Tumblr “debuted as blank slates, and the people who came to them filled them with culture.”
Everything I Need I Get From You‘s narratives of the history of both fandom and the Internet are thorough and readable. Tiffany notes that she does not understand why early online communities had a certain pull for Deadheads but then spends the following several pages recounting that particular history. She explains how people involved in early online communities, like Stewart Brand and John Perry Barlow, were bridges between the counterculture and life online. Barlow, who wrote the lyrics for some of the Grateful Dead’s most beloved songs, went on to create the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Tiffany’s discussion of Grateful Dead fandom transitioning easily to digital spaces is just one piece of evidence to show that fans and their shared affinities created the culture of the Internet.
The discussion of fandom throughout Everything I Need I Get From You addresses the discovery of the teenager as a target market. A new generation of young people post-WWII had more free time and money to spend. Tiffany includes Beatlemania, Star Trek slash fiction, and a wide breadth of fan fiction that initially resisted and then flourished online. In addition to writing about her One Direction fandom, Tiffany offers a warm recounting of her mother’s Bruce Springsteen fandom, reflecting on how his music is woven into her family life.
The chapter titled “Trending” focuses on Twitter, where social media becomes interactive and immediate. The arrival of celebrities on the site is transformative: “As confused politicians, musicians, and movie stars joined the site to share total nonsense or graphic details about the mundanities of living in even a very famous body, the idea of celebrity started to mutate. The unreachable were suddenly right here, at times even closer than we would like.” Parasocial relationships with celebrities shifted dramatically as fans had direct access to the musings of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, or the members of One Direction. Fans circled around their favorites, liking, retweeting, and discussing their content with other fans. Tiffany reports that at the end of 2013, Twitter’s corporate blog announced that three of the five most retweeted posts were from members of One Direction.
Tiffany devotes extensive space to the “Larries”, a group of fans whose primary interest in One Direction is focused on “shipping” (creating an artificial relationship) band members Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. Blending their names yields “Larry Stylinson”, abbreviated as Larry. The takeaway from this discussion is that One Direction fandom once again set a trend, unfortunately, by predating the plethora of online conspiracy theories that social media users must now scroll past or muddle through.
If people online are ever at a loss to understand the enthusiasm of others on social media, Tiffany expertly argues that fanning is the dominant mode of online speech. Fans of a particular band, NFL team, or politician might sprinkle their glowing praise with ugly speech aimed at tearing down their competitors, but even that construct helps to make sense of how fangirls shaped Internet culture. Their influence remains, even if social media users want to take themselves seriously in denying the force of fandom in commerce and culture today.