Warning – the following article contains material and topics which some may find ‘triggering’. If you are offended by skinny jeans, quiffs, or hyperactivity, I suggest you don’t read any further.
I’ve been considering this subject for a while now, and I want to make one thing clear from the outset. This post isn’t aimed at anyone in particular. It isn’t meant to be a rant or to make anyone feel bad. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m merely making a case. A confession. An appeal even…
You see, I’m a ‘fan girl’. Always have been, always will be. I have a slightly obsessive personality, and once my passion for a person or a thing has been ignited, I tend to carry that torch forever. The flame of my ardour may diminish a little over time, but it will never be fully extinguished. Generally that’s a good thing. It’s why I have an amazing network of lovely friends, some of whom I have known for twenty years or more. It’s probably why I’ve been in a solid relationship for over a decade. It’s also a useful trait for an author, because it’s pretty hard to write 80,000 words about a given subject unless you are a teensy bit fixated on it.
My tastes are pretty eclectic, especially when it comes to music. These days I listen to all kinds of stuff*, but when I was younger, I was much more preoccupied with seeming cool and alternative. As a young kid, I prided myself on the fact I would rather listen to David Bowie and The Cure than to New Kids on the Block or Bros like many of my peers. At my school, teenagers who weren’t fawning over Take That could be broadly divided into ‘ravers’ and ‘metallers’, meaning basically you either listened to dance music or guitar music. I actively enjoyed being called a ‘greebo’ or ‘a fucking Goth’ by groups of bomber-jacketed youths on the streets of my home town. It was a badge of honour because it meant I was part of a tribe which railed against the mainstream. We were thinkers and artists. They were mindless pill-poppers. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.
In my twenties, I rolled my eyes at kids wearing Nirvana t-shirts. Grunge was my thing. I was there, man. They hadn’t even been born when Cobain checked out. I was subversive. I was the real deal.
But as I get older, I realise that I don’t actually want to be pigeon-holed and I don’t give a damn about being cool. Or age appropriate. Or fulfilling any other arbitrary and self-imposed criteria. I am more than the sum of my parts. Music is my first love, and I’m not just a rock chick or a Goth or an indie kid. I’m all of those things and more besides. I love to sing show tunes. I love to dance badly to Lady Gaga – something I would have been too self-conscious to do in my youth unless I’d imbibed quite a few Newcastle Brown Ales. I don’t even mind that people born post-millennium are buying AC/DC t-shirts from Primark without ever having heard Back in Black…much. I am also increasingly aware that life is short and youth fleeting, so I fully intend to experience as many things that interest me as possible, and I firmly believe that you only regret the things you don’t do.
All of that being said, let me tell you a little story. A few months ago, I attended a music festival in my home town for various reasons too long-winded to go into here. It wasn’t my usual type of gig, and I had very little prior experience of the line-up. But having quaffed a couple of lunch time beers, I noticed that the enfant terribles of X-Factor 2009, Jedward, were playing. They seemed an incongruous billing amongst all the earnest kids with guitars, dad rock cover bands and 70s veterans of disco, but we decided to check them out.
For the record, I’ve never understood the hatred levelled at the boys. I thought they were sweet on X-Factor. I enjoyed their work on Celebrity Juice and laughed at their antics on Celebrity Big Brother. I smile at their quirky, misspelt Tweets. I’ve always felt bad for them on panel shows when comedians much older and more articulate than them have taunted them about their sexuality. But I’d never really considered them too deeply. Their frivolous existence was something I was aware of but it had little bearing on my own life. Fun but not for me. Like Zumba or candy floss.
It was a hot, sunny afternoon. The crowd was sparse to begin with, and as I stood with my friend watching the boys cartwheel and sing along with a much louder guide track, I laughed knowingly at the cheesy lyrics and camp choreography. But with each song, more and more people gathered near the stage and I realised I was grinning from ear to ear and having a genuinely awesome time. On a day where lifting a pint glass to my lips was enough to work up a sweat, those boys danced and leapt and crowd-surfed and bantered their way through a high-octane set of pure pop joy. They were fascinating to watch, moving unthinkingly in sync with each other and clearly loving every moment up there. They were fearless, climbing rigging like spider monkeys, and doing a short acoustic set even though, by his own admission, John had only recently taught himself to play guitar from instructional YouTube videos. They weren’t always in tune or on beat, but they were flirty and cute and surprisingly pithy. By the time they closed with their catchy Eurovision entry, Lipstick, and a cover of All the Small Things I was absolutely won over.
Later that night, the boys posted a picture of the crowd on Twitter, which I duly retweeted, along with a rubbish joke about getting emotional whiplash from having seen both Conor Oberst and Jedward perform within twenty four hours. I guess I thought people would find the juxtaposition amusing. I’d very deliberately gone to see Conor, a well-respected musician, poet, and voice of a generation at a well-known music venue in London, while I’d accidentally witnessed a Jedward concert in a field in Surrey. Within five seconds of hitting ‘Tweet’, someone I’ve never met felt the need to Tweet that Jedward were dicks, and anyone who liked them was also a dick. Now, I’m not actually disputing the fact that I am a dick, but for this person, my dickishness was in direct correlation to my enjoyment of Jedward’s oeuvre. I groaned inwardly at the thought that the boys might see an offhand bit of invective which I’d unwittingly incited, then thought no more of it.
A few days later, it was pointed out to me that the back of my head is clearly visible in a good number of videos filmed by Jedward fans at the festival. I went to look at them, perhaps out of some misplaced fear for my non-existent street cred, and found myself falling very quickly down the rabbit hole that is the twins’ YouTube channel. They document everything with the enthusiasm and wonder of small children. I mean everything. There are countless hours of footage of them riding baggage carousels in airports, singing along to their favourite pop songs, reading out fan mail, brushing their teeth, having a shower, re-enacting scenes from Twilight, dancing in their pants, using a public toilet, eating bananas. Nothing is too trivial for these boys. And yet I found myself glued to my laptop because, while they can seem vapid and silly, they can also be hilarious and their relationship is absolutely fascinating.
As it happens, I’m in the midst of writing a book about a pair of mystical twins with an unusually close relationship and a tragic secret. My main characters are loosely based on two sets of extraordinary real life twins, all of whom died without ever having been filmed interacting. Mad as it seems, watching Jedward brain-farting on Twitcam or taking a bath together in the Big Brother house has become an invaluable research tool for me, helping me put flesh on the bones of my own beloved twins. Their physicality, the way they can communicate without speaking, the way they refer to themselves as a single unit – ‘what if we cut ourself?’ John asks when being taught how to shave by another Big Brother housemate – all of this detail is solid gold to a writer. Being able to witness their living, breathing behaviour rather than relying on biographies, anecdotes and dry documentaries is exciting and inspirational.
So as a writer with an obsessive streak in the midst of writing a story about twins, I have been mainlining John and Edward. In their early twenties now, and five years after they first appeared on our TVs, they are starting to take more creative control over their career and trying to stay relevant to a fan base which is growing up too. They are a little calmer, a bit sexier, styling themselves as the rather beautiful young men they are instead of the shock-headed caricatures they started out as. They still share candid photos, often of each other asleep, seemingly unaware or unconcerned that their intimate nature could be construed as strange. I find them utterly compelling.
It’s easy to say you hate Jedward. It’s a knee jerk reaction, sanctioned by Simon Cowell on national television when he publically called them ‘vile little creatures’ in front of millions at just seventeen years old. But think about that for minute. What actually is there to loathe? Their vocals aren’t the strongest, granted. Their hair was daft and their outfits flamboyant. They speak too softly and too quickly, often talking over each other in interviews, and with an affected transatlantic twang colouring their Dublin accents. They have seemingly no inhibitions, but are also squeaky clean. Tee-total and virginal, a touch of the Peter Pan complex about them, they are the ‘high on life’ types we all roll our eyes at as we pour ourselves another glass of wine. Perhaps their refusal to conform and grow up is unnerving for some. It’s hard to imagine them being able to form lasting attachments outside of their insular relationship.
But this is what I think. They work extremely hard. They have three albums under their matching belts and a fourth of self-penned tracks on the way. They film and edit pretty much all of their own music videos and promote them on social media like champs. They have represented their country two years running at Eurovision. They do panto every year. They model. They have presented various shows including three series of the rather fabulous Jedward’s Big Adventure (seriously, that shit is educational). They are endlessly patient and kind to their fans. They do a lot of charity work. They run marathons. According to my sources, they are easy to work with – punctual, polite, professional and focused. They are grateful for everything they have. They live each and every day to the full. And they adore each other unconditionally. I kind of equate being mean to them with kicking a puppy who just wants you to tickle its tummy for doing a trick.
Still friends, family, co-workers, and internet chums alike are shocked by my affection for the Grimes Twins. The fairly universal reaction is something along the lines of ‘but I thought you were cooler than that!’ I have literally no clue how anyone who has seen me sing Toto at karaoke or knows I flew all the way to Italy three years running just to hug the cast of Supernatural could think for one second that I have a shred of dignity or fucks left to give, and yet being a Jedhead takes the cake. But let’s look at the evidence, shall we? I have always been fascinated by identical twins (hence I am writing a novel about them). I like pretty boys and a bit of cheeky pop. I am also partial to co-dependant and excessive bromances (looking at you, Sam and Dean Winchester!) So what part of me enjoying Jedward is surprising?
If that wasn’t enough, their energy is contagious and makes me want to claim back my fitness after years of desk jobs and a sedentary, stimulant-ridden lifestyle. Just as I can be moved to tears by the lyrics and raw vocal performance of a Conor Oberst song, I find shaking my ass to Everyday Superstar can instantly lift my mood and get me through a gruelling half hour on the treadmill with a smile on my face. Our reactions to music and art in general are purely visceral. The heart wants what it wants, and disparate forms are not mutually exclusive. While it’s easy to dismiss the artistic merits of One Direction and Katy Perry in favour of ‘real musicians’, and their fans as bovine and unimaginative, I would argue that it’s pretty hard to drunk dance to The National with your mum at a wedding or do a spin class to Leonard Cohen. And actually, while we’re at it, if you think it takes no talent or hard work to write a catchy pop song, produce it and then perform it endlessly in front of an audience of thousands while dancing and smiling – be my guest. Pics or it didn’t happen.
I suppose my point is it’s both futile and churlish to knock a couple of lads with a passion for performing, a strong work ethic, and some solid pop gems in their repertoire. Not your bag? Ignore. But I am proud to say love Jedward and if that colours your view of me, so be it.
As long as no one gets hurt in the pursuit of it, I don’t believe pleasure should ever be a source of shame or guilt, and you should certainly never be sorry for having wide-ranging tastes! Curiosity is healthy. Why is cynicism our default setting now? Who decreed that those two Irish lads should be universally sneered at while other more credible but infinitely objectionable artists are lauded? Why can’t we just admit we like dancing to Dolly Parton and The Proclaimers instead of paying through the nose to do it ironically in overpriced nightclubs? Why have I seen grown men hiding copies of Fifty Shades in the dust jackets of political thrillers? Why do we suppress our tears in sappy movies?
I am a complex creature, the product of a million different experiences and influences, and I will not apologise for a single facet of myself. And neither should you. Let’s own our peculiar proclivities.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Pop Rocket to board….
*Except Jazz. Jazz can fuck right off.