I recently clickbaited my way over to Entertainment Weekly. I don’t even remember why. But once I got there, a photo feature caught my eye. And whattya know: I had to click again.
What got my attention? A gallery of fan photos, compiled for what EW calls “Fanuary.” The gallery shows music fans spanning from 1943 to 2015. From Sinatra to Beyonce, the photos have many things in common: excited fans, some crying from the sheer glee of seeing one of their favorite celebrities up close. People clutching signs for their celebrity of choice, or maybe even dressed up in tribute. Smiles all around, tinged with a bit of disbelief.
I think that’s the point of this particular feature: the sameness of fandom over the years, across music genres and personality types. As you click through, it’s certainly striking to see the commonalities. But I also noticed a big shift over the years, clicking through. As you progress in time you see a big evolution in the way that fans captured these special moments. The fans in the 1943 Frank Sinatra picture hold up pens and paper to get his autograph. You start seeing personal cameras pop up in the 80s, but they’re not very common until the 00’s. By 2003, a gaggle of screaming *Nsync fans holds up a mix of point-and-shoot and disposable cameras. In a 2009 picture of Taylor Swift fans, the crowd is full of point-and-shoots. And by a 2011 One Direction concert, cell phones are prominent in the front row.
The newest images in the gallery look like a sea of cell phones. These days, our cell phones are always at the ready to help us remember, whether or not the moment is truly “worth” capturing. I do think today’s cell phone culture can often take away from the moment, distracting us from what we’re doing, ironically, by “saving” it for later. But: I’m sure the Sinatra fans would have been grateful for a way to visually capture their memories of seeing Sinatra live. And they probably also would have loved posting a picture to Facebook to celebrate their triumphant moment meeting their idol. I have a lot of negative opinions about cell phone cameras, but the power they give us to remember happy moments is undeniable. The ability to take innumerable free photos gives us so much more capacity to record the world around us. Think about how many more photos you take today than you took even 5 years ago. There is a happy medium between people who take selfies every 2 seconds, and using our cell phones to build memories. When I go see my favorite artists, I certainly snap pictures, too. Of course my cell phone camera stinks, so all my pictures come out blurry…. but hey, at least the timestamp helps me remember which blurry celebrity is which, right?