Pop has always had a weird relationship with its obsessive fans. While every pop star knew they needed an adoring, music-buying public, they were often afraid of them, too. Zayn Malik once revealed that a fan hid in a bin for four hours to get into One Direction’s backstage area. Aston from JLS remembered how security had to intercept a fan who’d hidden in his suitcase, hoping to be delivered to his hotel room. The Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night is entirely based around running away from screaming crowds.
But now, in 2018, fans are in control. Mumford & Sons’ video for Guiding Light puts a crowd of fans front and centre (and you know that they’re proper fans – no one looks embarrassed to be there). The 1975’s Tootimetootimetootime video is also full of fans, while in Drake’s God’s Plan video, he tracks down his followers and hands out $1m worth of money, tuition fees and groceries. Little Mix even named their new album LM5, after what their fans were calling it online. It’s probably a good thing that they didn’t announce it as a competition beforehand, as it would probably have ended up being called #empowerment or Mixy McMixface.
Allowing the fans to “take over” is not a new trick. Björk asked fans to choose the tracklisting for her 2002 Greatest Hits album and everyone remembers that Feeder video for Just a Day, made up of enthusiastic kids playing air guitar along to the track. But those instances seemed less about giving fans the power, more like “everyone at the record company gets Friday off as the fans have done the job for us”.
Things are a lot less likely to go the way that the fans want when it costs anyone money. In 2006, Beyoncé’s Beyhive started a petition to reshoot her Déjà Vu video as it was “an underwhelming representation of the talent and quality of previous music-video projects of Ms Beyoncé”. It was ignored. But now, the power of the fans is so great, they could probably petition Bey and Jay to conceive their fourth child on video and the pair would shrug and think: “Well, those £110 tour tickets aren’t going to buy themselves.” In 2018, fans can listen to any artist in three taps of their phone, so pop stars need to engage to make sure that it’s them. The Beatles could run away from screaming fans because they weren’t being cast in big-name fashion campaigns based on their amount of Instagram followers. Selena Gomez isn’t so lucky.
So where will this weird power reversal end? The UK abandoning voting for governments in favour of picking the 1975’s next single? Bey calling up to offer help with the big shop at the weekend because you went to see her gig? If you streamed Scorpion more than 10 times, maybe check your bins. Drake could be hiding in there waiting to give you a handful of cash.