When I was a teenager, my existence revolved around my favorite bands and the pedestals that I put them on. I spent countless hours poring over music videos, Myspace updates (yes, I’m old) and tour announcements endlessly, scouring every relevant magazine I could get my hands on with religious fervor, all to make sure I never missed a show. Calling the fervor “religious” is not me being hyperbolic. Instead, it is me being honest in how I characterize the devotion, the obsession, the love I felt for the bands that shaped my young life. Whether or not they “saved” me is a matter of perspective—but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that they gave my young, angry, unfocused life stunning clarity and purpose. They were a light at the end of the tunnel, an oasis in the desert that is being a teenager, and I was singularly unable to distinguish between the musicians responsible for that light and the music itself. In short, I was in love.
My experience is not a unique one. For as long as humans have been creating it, music has played a major role in many of our lives. In the 20th century, and increasingly as we head into the second decade of the 21st, that role has become a pivotal one. Ever since artists like Elvis Presley and the Beatles came onto the scene for the Baby Boomers, musicians big and small have been granted a celebrity persona that was previously reserved for royalty, actors and the like.
The result of that elevation of status—and the advent of social media—is a new phenomenon that could not have occurred even two generations ago. Artists are accessible now in ways that they never were before. We grow up with the bands we love, memorizing every minute detail we can get our hands on—how they speak, keeping tabs on their love lives, their favorite snacks—anything that gets put online by them or those around them becomes fodder for the increasingly insatiable passion that their (often young) fans hold in their hearts. So-called “fandoms” devour everything about their favorite bands and artists, whether they’re playing an opening slot on the Warped Tour or are headlining arenas. The virtual barriers have disappeared and with that, we have a new area of human interaction to explore. What happens when those lines get blurred, and fans and their idols actually connect?
My love for my favorite bands was a chaste one—whether for a lack of opportunity (I was painfully shy—an awkward, gangly thing) or not I will never know for sure. This isn’t always the case, as shown in painful, unavoidable clarity by the recent rash of allegations against musicians in the Warped Tour scene for inappropriate conduct (and worse) with underage girls. That, while one obvious dark side to this story, is undoubtedly a worst-case scenario, but an important one when considering things like whether or not touring musicians should be using hookup apps like Tinder or looking for love and sex in their workplace—a workplace, by the way, that is largely occupied by underage girls with fake IDs and the lack of life experience to know better—and who are looking at their idols with the same blind love/lust/devotion that I felt when I was that age.
In a recent interview, actor Harrison Ford said that he tries to treat his fan interactions as interactions with customers. When framed this way, it certainly outlines the potential conflict of interest in romance between fans and their idols nicely. If you view the music as the product that it is, and the musicians as the entrepreneurs that they are, and the fans as the consumers that they are, then logic follows that it is a probably a bad idea to mix the two. But in reality, it is never that simple when humanity is involved.
There is no technical reason why a fan and their idol could not genuinely fall in love. There is no right or wrong way to meet legal, consenting romantic partners, and it is reasonable to think that two people could be drawn to each other despite the pre-existing condition of one of those people being a fan, who was previously hyper-aware of the other’s existence.
The major and most easily recognized pitfall for a fan when pursuing romance with a favorite musician is the easy slide from starry-eyed idol worship into coercion and manipulation or abuse. (The other side of that, regarding unwanted advances from fans, can range from feeling momentarily uncomfortable or actually being sexually assaulted onstage, which notably happened to both Brianna Collins of Tigers Jaw and Pity Sex’s Britty Drake during a show in Brooklyn, New York, in June 2014.) For musicians, there can be a lot of unacknowledged (or just unnoticed) gray area when it comes to obtaining consent and verifying ages, particularly for male musicians with largely female fanbases. Someone has to take responsibility for making sure both parties in the relationship ought to be in that relationship in the first place, and it stands to reason that it would often be safer, smarter and even kinder on the part of most musicians in these encounters to simply walk away. The idol will always hold the power in the idol-fan encounters, which is why it is ideally up to them to decide if pursuing each relationship is a good idea or not.
So what does a healthy relationship look like between a musician and a fan-turned-partner? At the end of the day, the same components are required as with any healthy relationship. The relationship has to be between two people who are completely capable of consent. When fans date their idols, there will always be an element of mixing business with pleasure, but as long as both parties involved are on the same page, there’s no reason it can’t work. So really, the question anyone involved has to ask themselves is simply whether or not it’s worth it. That’s not a question that can be universally answered. At the end of the day, my best advice is to tread lightly when considering a favored musician or fan as a romantic or sexual partner, and to treat fellow human beings with respect. If you can do those two seemingly simple things, everybody wins. S
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
“I think this is a very slippery slope. It all depends on how the musician views his or her fans and how in touch with their own ego they are. You can have a mutual and consensual relationship between a fan and a musician but it would be the exception to the norm. There is already too much of a power dynamic in the musician’s favor that makes the relationship unbalanced, and it is easy to misuse that position and manipulate someone. On the same hand, if the fan doesn’t believe in the power dynamic then that might change the relationship, but then I would have to question whether to call the person a fan. I would also question whether or not a fan forgoing this is idea of a power dynamic on their own accord and whether it is really just being naive to the actual relationship.
Of course there are more casual fans who don’t view the musician as being on a pedestal but that isn’t exactly what we are discussing in this hypothetical situation. A fan is short for fanatic. A fan is someone who inherently views a difference between themselves and the artist. I know the people I am a fan of I view in a different regard than those who I have casual interest. If you go into a relationship where there is an imbalance of respect, it is very easy for someone to get hurt. The musician has to understand they are entering into a situation where they do have some sort of power and need to understand that dynamic is in play. If both parties can be realistic and communicate on the dynamics at play, then it could be successful. However, if there is no communication and mutual respect then it is a bad idea.”
BUDDY NIELSEN, SENSES FAIL
“I don’t believe a long-lasting, sustainable romantic relationship could work between a fan and their favorite artist. The fan would just be projecting a fantasy onto the musician. When a romantic partner is idealized in such a way, eventually violence—in an emotional sense—will arise as soon as the other does or says something outside that fantasy.”
XRISTOS KATSAROS, BILLIONS & BILLIONS
“Well, as far as sexual relationships are concerned, I’m positive those work and do happen often, where both parties are DTF and don’t expect anything beyond that. As for romance, it’s important for fans to remain grounded about artists being actual human beings with flaws and baggage just like every other human on the planet, and for the artist being willing to simply treat a fan like another human being instead of letting an overinflated ego get in the way. We’re not aliens… Although we do dress and act that way from time to time.”
DAPHNE GREEN, STATUES OF CATS
“There’s a huge power difference between a fan and a musician that can create room for manipulation and taking advantage of a person, so it’s important to be cautious. I do think it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with a musician—they’re not exempt from being able to have a relationship because of their career choice. With any relationship, you just have to choose your partner wisely and know what comes with the territory. Long-distance relationships are difficult as-is, but when you throw being on the road, being exposed to thousands of adoring fans and temptation, it gets more complicated. It would be ideal if the whole ‘sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll’ rockstar mentality were disestablished but it is very real, and so you need to be careful.”
AUTUMN LAVIS, ACTIVIST
A version of this story was originally published in Substream #50.