Things that MAKE you: Boy Bands and bullying

Everyone has their story of what ‘made’ them who they are today, usually something that happened during their childhood or teen years,oftentimes related to an individual’s input into their lives or an event that shaped them and their worldview. Much of my formative years were spent fielding spit wads, gum being thrown into my hair and harsh words about how I’d chosen to identify myself: I was a ‘Blockhead’.

Blockhead

I remember sitting in our living room when the video for Please Don’t Go Girl came on. It was a sound like I’d never heard. That high-pitched pre-pubescent sounding voice was like a sea nymph’s song luring in a sailor. It sounds a bit melodramatic but this event actually changed my life. I bought New Kids on the Block’s Hangin’ Tough on vinyl, one of my first albums. I began acquiring merch. I bought each and every teen magazine with any mention of the boy band and created a scrap-book out of the photos and articles. There must be a name for this type of fanatical behaviour, verging on stalker-like.

I went to my first NKOTB concert at the Los Angeles Forum. My sister rented a limo and took me and a friend. We sat one or two rows from the back but it was incredible experience. I left with no voice but a gigantic grin that I couldn’t wipe away. I became ‘that girl’ who always had some merch on my person, preferably my Fan Club jacket adorned with badges.

Sitting in math class one day, my teacher started mocking the band for reasons I can’t recall. That was that. I organised the other fan in the class and we walked out. We refused to attend his classes until he issued a public apology. He did but he laughed his way through it (and in retrospect who could blame him for the dead-seriousness he encountered). I wonder if he remembers that as clearly as I do?

I transferred around that time to a public school, having had my fill of the private school life and wanting to meet friends who lived closer to me. Where I had to endure some teasing from private school peers I opened myself up to a host of tenacious bullying by the unbridled public school kids. The only safety was that there were more of us. We united however when it came to shows and our particular favourite of the boys, there were clashes. A girl whose name I can’t even remember now also claimed to be the #1 fan and also loved Joe. We were mortal enemies. I remember ending up at Dodgers Stadium to see them play and seeing her in the restroom. WHY did she have to be on the same level so nearby? I just couldn’t understand and we both left fuming at each other.

Around that time my focus in music shifted rather awkwardly. I discovered Metallica, Guns n Roses and other long-haired men clad in black and shredded denim. I went from being harassed for being a blockhead to being labelled a Satanist. I took the rage that I’d been storing up for years and let loose on this guy at summer school one day. It was a verbal assault on him that put that accusation to rest forever and he was only ever polite from that point.

For the rest of my high school days I carried around my NKOTB fan club subscription in my back pocket (metaphorically speaking anyways). I wasn’t harassed for that any longer as I wasn’t dressed from head to toe in my gear. During my junior year (or was it senior?) of high school, we caught wind that the guys would return on a smaller scale to promote their much more grown-up album with the release ‘Dirty Dawg’ (yup, that’s not a spelling mistake). They would be coming to the Ventura Theater, a small venue I’d had many alternative music experiences at. A few of us snapped up tickets like a secret society of enthusiasts.

I was giddy. I enjoyed the new sound in spite of it being a far cry from ‘Please Don’t Go Girl’ but friends began dropping like flies. I remember one telling me that she just couldn’t listen to them any more because they weren’t as clean as they had been. I felt like I was in a battle and soldiers were dying. Again, with the melodrama, but after being part of a subculture where we had to stick together it was stark and saddening.

That show. While I wasn’t the screaming pre-teen I had been, it ticked off so many concert experiences I couldn’t enjoy previously for being so far back from the stage. I confess… I still have the shirt I wore that day, unwashed, tucked away in a trunk imbued in the water Donnie poured out on those of us clamoring in the front. Long story short, body guards invited us back to the hotel in LA but my friends chickened out and I was unwilling to go alone. For this I am now grateful so many years on.

When people chuckle or make a comment about NKOTB to this day something in me reels. I think it’s my ‘injustice trigger’ which I feel click whenever anyone makes fun of someone near and dear to me or someone who’s on the vulnerable side. Being a blockhead shaped me. I became a fiercely loyal person, able to stand up against bullying and fight for the oppressed. Now that may sound melodramatic but in my experience of the intensity of the opposition we fans faced I can tell you it’s not. It was in some ways a living hell with so many people threatening us. I’m glad I stuck through it though and I look forward with fondness to the gig tonight at the O2.

I’ll leave you on this sentimental journey with this video. I remember watching it as it aired, hearing the screams and booing at the start (and taking the latter very personally), recording and replaying it. I memorised the dance moves though my execution was sadly lacking. But the song- the song is a great big F-You to all those who were the bullies. I feel a sense of solidarity with it.

And now the games must cease
And to the non-believers I say peace
Stop playin those games.

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Things that MAKE you: Boy Bands and bullying

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