I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story review – tears, squeals and boundless devotion

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Four generations of superfan discuss their teenage obsession, from the Beatles to One Direction, in a sensitive documentary

Unless you’ve experienced boyband fandom, it can be difficult to square the contrivance of commercial PG pop acts with the overwhelming, boundless, alchemic devotion felt by their teenage fans. The cultural default is to deride, dismiss and pathologise teenage girls undone by fandom (see, a century before boybands, Lisztomania). In sharp contrast is I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story, Australian film-maker Jessica Leski’s generous, observational documentary of boyband obsession across four pop generations.

The film takes its title from a tearful lament by then 16-year-old Elif, a One Direction superfan in New York, in a viral YouTube video of her melting into tears/panic/excitement at the idea of meeting the band’s Niall Horan. At school and in the clip, Elif is chastised (by herself among others) for her deeply unchill display of feeling. But the 90-minute documentary subtly skewers that idea of normal. Leski smartly understands that fandom is not so much a condition as a portal for universal teenage emotions: a transformative experience of coming into your own, of feeling alive and seen.

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