By Jorri Roberts
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Chances are if you’re a living, breathing person, you like the Beatles. Whether you only know and enjoy the songs you’ve heard of theirs on the radio, went through a phase during which you listened to them nonstop, or even consider them one of your favorite bands, it seems pretty difficult to find a homo sapien who at least doesn’t appreciate them.
But what about those girls who screamed, bounced, and nearly fainted with delight when the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and reacted with the same rabid enthusiasm to every subsequent instance of the band’s presence? The proof is in the footage—made up almost entirely of teenage and young adult women, the crowd seems to collectively swoon and shriek at even the slightest glimpse of a Beatle’s face. Famously dubbed “Beatlemania”, this dramatic reaction is strange, unsettling, even, to watch; the naked hysterics and frenzied passion ripping through the crowd may very well appear foreign to us now.
That is, unless you’re a fan of the Jonas Brothers, One Direction, Justin Bieber, or even Lady Gaga.
Although mania for musicians continues today, it started even earlier than the Beatles’ arrival in the USA—girls used to go crazy for Elvis Presley, whose suggestive hip-swinging worried parents everywhere, and even Frank Sinatra got his fair share of “fangirls” during his heyday in the ’40s.
However, the Beatles fans took this fervor to new heights, oftentimes requiring police to subdue them as they squealed and chased the four Liverpudlians. The band even parodied this crowd hysteria in their film A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the movie beginning with a scene in which the boys run from their female (and some male) fans in a slapstick burlesque of their reality.
For anyone who wasn’t a member of the heaving, screaming mass associated with Beatlemania, or even those observing similar effects on Jonas Brothers and One Direction fans nowadays, one simple word may be on their tongues: why? What is it about these boys, barely men, that seems to cause these girls to nearly lose their minds with electric excitement and blind adoration? What on earth could apparently reduce these women to collectively sniveling puddles of hormones and adrenaline?
A few factors, possibly.
First, it’s important to look at the gender divide here. We may call this shared behavior hysteria, and we observe that it seems to happen much more commonly in young, oftentimes teenage, women. The words hysteria and hysterical are derived from the Greek and Latin for “of the womb,” suggesting a distinctly feminine set of behaviors.
Hell, Victorian women used to be “treated” for hysteria, and if you know a thing or two about history, you already know what that means. Thus, hysteria, which was once a medical diagnosis of outwardly feminine and latently sexual proportions, has evolved in our modern context to incorporate the feminine basis of the “condition” but ignore—at least on the surface—the sexual connotations. These sexual implications, however, may be one of the keys to unlocking the reason for this fanaticism.
To be frank, the Beatles were cute. So were Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, along with Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers, and the boys of One Direction today. As it’s been noted, these fanbases equate mostly to teenage and young adult women, typically ranging from ages twelve to sixteen—is it a coincidence that girls at this age are often just starting or are already in the full throes of puberty? It’s more than likely that this emergence of hormones leads to an expression of sexual desire—the “older” aspect—coupled with seemingly childish behavior—the “younger” aspect—like crying, screaming, and chasing. Hence, the confusion and turbulence of puberty is conveyed in the fans’ obsessive conduct.
It’s also possible that a mob mentality influences these young women when they encounter the boys of their dreams. It might be hard not to get caught up in the seething mass of hysterically crying girls around you, because when in Rome, right?
The “crowd effect” appears to come out in full force in similarly congested situations, such as riots and parties. Though termed as “herd behavior” in some official academic circles across economics and psychology, the principle can be best described in layman’s terms for how one may feel drunker at a party than alone. While subjective, the same can be said even if they consume the same amount of alcohol in both situations, due to the atmosphere and energy of the party.
Likewise, the adoration and exhilaration that fans feel may be amplified by their overcrowded surroundings. Thus, important factors in musician mania might include both the psychology of the young female as well as the psychology of the crowd.
Even though this hysteria may seem like it’s targeted towards and even reserved for young, good-looking male musicians and bands, the modern wildcard at least in modern pop is none other than Lady Gaga. Gaga’s fans, famously calling themselves her “Little Monsters” in cult-like fashion, show signs of similar hysteria as they wait for hours to meet her, cry at the sight of her, and even replicate her outfits for concerts.
As a very public champion of human rights—particularly gay rights—and advocate of acceptance for all, it seems like no wonder that Gaga has obsessive fans who range in age, race, and gender. In this way, it’s important to note that she’s an artist who triggers hysterical behavior from fans, but not only from young girls. It may be her embracing stance on human rights, her sheer cult of personality, or her music itself; whatever it is, she stands out from other modern artists as a) a musician who elicits fanaticism akin to the Beatles and b) elicits it from all types of fans. Because of this, it’s difficult to group her in with the aforementioned artists, although a similar mania is absolutely present in her fans.
Gaga may not be the first female pop star to become a gay icon, but hardly have any of her predecessors (Madonna, Cher, etc.) ever achieved a ‘mania’ among their queer fans relative to how teens in the ‘60s felt about Paul McCartney.
Whether it’s caused by puberty kicking in, the influence of a mob mentality, or some other cosmic hysterical force maniacal fanaticism for musicians continues to persist even today. In this sense, it looks like Beatlemania has not “bitten the dust;” instead, it just changes its face every few years.