Who knew Harry Styles was so woke? Recently, the pop star was asked about his work's popularity among young women, and whether he felt their investment in pop music made him a less serious artist. Styles emphatically defended his fans as vital trend setters and future innovators.
"Teenage girls kind of keep the world going. They don't lie — if they like you, they're there. They don't act too cool. They like you, and they tell you, which is sick."
Styles' rejection of the trivialising language we tend to use to describe women's passions is rare. And that's actually quite odd, considering that female fans have been discovering and curating our best-loved cultural objects for a very long time. From generation-defining obsessions, like the Beatles and Twilight, to Silicon Valley's most profitable exports, including Snapchat and Instagram, female "early adopters" predict market movements that ultimately dominate the mainstream — not to mention the ones that make serious money.
So why do we love to hate on the female fans who've acted as our most fearless pop culture interpreters since well before the British Invasion? Strong Opinions Loosely Held host Elisa Kreisinger spoke with Dr. Francesca Coppa, an expert on media, and Amanda Hess, a David Carr Fellow at the New York Times, to learn more about the unique, and transgressively bold, ways that young women have become our top trend translators. Catch their full discussion above.
For Dr. Coppa, a professor of English Literature at Muhlenberg College, has written extensively about the relationship tangling young women and social media, it's the female fan's often-irrepressible enthusiasm that sets her apart — and that makes her an easy target for her critics.
"The key thing is that teenage girls make pop culture interesting. You can kind of love a thing into greatness. And women made the Beatles more interesting than they were. The investment, the love, the interest, makes the thing better than it is. So why isn't the teenage girl seen as collaborating with the culture? She's telling the maker how to understand what they've made."
If a female fan's contagious infatuation with pop culture is her best asset, it's also the thing that makes her most vulnerable. It's not hard to imagine hostility towards a young woman who knows more about that game-changing new app or Brooklyn's favourite Indie band than her male counterparts. Female early adopters use their taste to reclaim authority in a world eager to dismiss their voice as "hysterical" or "silly," among the many other ways people tend to denigrate teenagers' canny sense of what's cool but a bit unsettling.
"[Young women] can't vote, they don't have any money, but they can create culture," Hess notes. "It's like the one realm they can find power and influence in." And of course, early adopters' expertise gets even more complicated when their viral inventions, from the selfie to the phrase "on fleek," are monetised or appropriated by the mainstream that doubted their credibility to begin with.
Feel like joining the conversation? Check out this week's episode of Strong Opinions Loosely Held to hear more how young women are playing an increasingly active role shaping cultural zeitgeists.