The Bay City Rollers was my boyband obsession. Tartan scarves were banned from my primary school because we used to wear them tied to our wrists to show our devotion. My cousin called them the Bay Shitty Rollers, just to annoy me.
Stuart ‘Woody’ Wood was my boy and according to ‘International Boyband Consultant’ Dara, one of the four women featured in this joyous documentary, at 16 he probably would have been the young and innocent one.
Filmmaker Jessica Leski (The Ball) cleverly focuses on four diverse and erudite women to tell the story of their boyband love. Melburnian Susan waited all night outside the Southern Cross Hotel to catch a glimpse of the Beatles, oblivious to the huge crowds amassing behind her. Dara has an ongoing obsession with Take That that she hid from friends and colleagues or downplayed so they wouldn’t think she took it too seriously, only ‘coming out’ in her late 20s. Sadia loves the Backstreet Boys so much that she went on a Backstreet Boys cruise and dreamed of the day Nick Carter would teach her to swim. Elif’s One Direction reaction video of her in hysterics for a full eight minutes while watching a 1D concert DVD went viral on YouTube.
Through a beautifully measured structure, Leski introduces us to the four, with many laughs at the seeming folly of their ardent love. Dara takes us through Boyband Theory 101 and we see Elif in bliss at a 1D concert. What makes this film more than a chance to poke fun at the adolescent follies of our younger selves is its measured exploration of what lies behind fangirl obsessions and why it is so openly derided. It rang true for me.
My eldest daughter went through a One Direction phase and, unlike Dara’s mum, I bought her a ticket to their concert. She and her cousin had VIP tickets down on the floor and, at 14 years old, she got into an unsuccessful scuffle when one of the ‘boys’ threw a water bottle that she caught, only to lose it to a very determined adult in the row behind. Sitting up in the nosebleed section, it was a phenomenon that I’m glad I experienced. In the long wait for the band to come on, the crowd began to sing along to the music over the PA; Brittany, Beyoncé and 10,000+ people performing the Macarena in unison. When the boys came on, the screaming never let up and was so loud it affected the equilibrium in my ears.
For my other daughters, they are currently deeply in love with South Korean idol groups (or K-pop as most people know it). This is a slightly different creature, more amorphous as their love more fluidly encompasses multiple groups. I have learned the lexicon – bias, bias wrecker, golden maknae – and their talk is full of fanfic and the many same-sex and opposite-sex ‘ships’.
It is definitely a safe exploration of emerging desire, as I Used to Be Normal suggests, and no more definitive of their sexuality than it was for Dara. They have husbands in the boybands and ‘wifeus’ in the girlbands. For one daughter it has morphed into a love for all things Korean and she is teaching herself the language, has installed Hangul keyboards on all our devices, and is learning to cook her idol’s favourite dishes.
After my own pre-teen Rollers phase, it was film that became my fangirl crush; Grease, Gallipoli, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (and it’s ‘sequel’ Shock Treatment that only real fans know about). I recreated posters by hand, collaged cut outs from magazines, dreamed of being or marrying many of the characters/actors, attended midnight screenings and knew every word off by heart. I even bought front row seats to multiple performance of The Cobra because Mark Lee (the one no one remembers from Gallipoli) was in it. I swear he looked right at me. I did think, because he’s Australian, I had a real chance of marrying him.
What I Used to Be Normal gives is a sense of validation for a largely female experience that I’m sure most of us hide or treat as an amusing anecdote, a nostalgic joke. The screening ended with a Q&A and Dara taught us all a quintessential boyband choreo move, the ‘pray and throw it away.’ Thank you Jessica Leski and Susan, Dara, Sadia and Elif for letting me reengage and celebrate a part of myself I had forgotten how to value.
Have you seen this film? Who was your band? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.