Post-popular music, mnemic communities, and intermediary fandoms: Challenging general approaches to fan culture?

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In Fan Cultures (2002), I attempted to produce what amounted to a general theory of media fandom, tackling issues of fan identity and community. But this approach (see also Sandvoss 2005) potentially neglects the specificity of types of fan object/experience. With this self-critique in mind, I will consider three illustrative ways in which popular music fandom cannot readily be aligned with ‘fan studies’ more generally, given that this has typically been dominated by screen media debates.

Firstly, film and TV texts cease to be produced if they fall below thresholds of industry success and ‘popularity’; popular music is less prone to this sort of cut-off point. As a result, what might be termed post-popular music fandom can be analysed, whereby life-long fandom (Stevenson 2009) is enacted in relation to once-mainstream but still active artists. Secondly, whereas film and TV fandoms have been theorised as ‘interpretative communities’ (Jenkins 1992), fan relationships to popular music may be significantly less interpretative in character, and this too calls for specific theorisation, e.g. via work on mnemic objects (Bollas 1992). And thirdly, pop music fandom cannot always be reduced to fan-artist relationships (despite excellent studies such as Cavicchi 1998; Echard 2005; Fast 2001; McDonald 2009). Music fans may also relate to a range of industrial co-producers and intermediaries such as labels, music producers (Warner 2003), and (re)mixers (Zak 2001), even within a “cloud” or web 2.0 model of the music industry (Wikström 2009). Screen media fandoms do not possess entirely analogous “productive consumer literacies” (Laughey 2006) despite the presence of auteur/network brands.

I will thus argue that popular music fandom calls for a series of specific theorisations which go beyond, and qualify, approaches taken elsewhere in ‘fan studies’ (Harrington, Gray, and Sandvoss 2007). Theorising post-popular music fans, mnemic community, and the music industry’s intermediary fandoms might all offer specific routes to opening out and complicating general theories of fan culture.

Dr Matt Hills, Cardiff University