Can’t help ‘Beliebing:’ Fandom and pop stars

Can’t help ‘Beliebing:’ Fandom and pop stars

Emrah Güler ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Can’t help ‘Beliebing:’ Fandom and pop stars

Turkey proudly boasts its own organized group of fanatics who call themselves the “Turkish Beliebers,” who will not go down without a fight. AFP Photo

It was one of the top buzz words of 2010 in English, along with “hashtag” and “unfriend.” The New York Times’ columnist for “On Language” offered a definition of the word that actually predates 2010. A “Belieber,” wrote Zimmer [is] “a fanatical devotee of the pop singer Justin Bieber.”

Then there is another term, simplistic yet still a unifying force across the globe: “Bieber Fever.” This one is something that starts out as a harmless crush which eventually turns into something unyielding, addictive, and at times, downright dangerous.

Examples of typical “Bieber Fever” behavior include pushing the young pop sensation’s mother to the ground, throwing a water bottle across his face while he’s on stage, and sending death threats to anyone who’s had an inkling of bad blood with Bieber, from Kim Kardashian to those who’d apparently had snatched the Grammy for Best New Artist from the Bieber, Esperanza Spalding.

Turkey proudly boasts its own organized group of fanatics who call themselves the “Turkish Beliebers,” who will not go down without a fight, and as evidenced last week, they deserve applause for true “Bieber Fever” behavior.

The Canadian pop star was in Turkey last week to give a concert in Istanbul. The media had a field day thanks to both the obnoxious behavior of the singer himself as he refused to go through passport control and the hysterical pre-teen Beliebers at the airport and at his hotel, whose footage made the rounds in social media.

The recorded existence of Turkish Beliebers

But the recorded existence of Turkish Beliebers goes back to a year ago when a group of fans kick-started a social media campaign for the star to give a concert in Turkey. The Turkish Beliebers, in an unprecedented show of true fandom in Turkey, gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square with banners and posters, screaming their unadulterated love and demanding Justin Bieber give a concert in Turkey.

Not much later, Bieber himself sent out a tweet to his 25 million followers, “I love you Turkish Beliebers.” Thirty-one thousand retweets and 14,000 favorites showed that there was a true Belieber base here in Turkey, and a future show was not out of the question.

Turkish Beliebers’ dream came true, and soon after the announcement of the concert in February the show was sold out. The concert was not short of Bieber Fever when fans started throwing toys across the stage, leading Bieber to leave the stage and refuse to come back if the Beliebers continued their frantic display of fandom.

Émile Durkheim, the French sociologist and the father of social sciences, identified religion a century ago as the ultimate source of unity and solidarity. He wrote about “collective effervescence,” that social buzz generated when groups gather to exalt in epic rituals, and the tribal yearning for totems. When Durkheim asserted that the totem gives believers a physical representation of that need for identity and unity, he had no clue that a century later that “totem” would be replaced by a self-important teen star, and “believers” with, well, “Beliebers.”

The fanatic behavior of fans of pop stars and the tribal craze exhibited in concerts are nothing new for a Western culture going back to the Beatles and Elvis. But for a culture where, until a few decades back, people listened to music in their homes or occasionally in night clubs for some of the older fans, fandom was a more private practice with posters on the walls being the highest display of appreciation.

Bras vs. toys

This all changed in the early 1990s when Turkey went through drastic cultural changes with its liberalization policies, adopting a more western lifestyle. TV channels devoted to music videos emerged, veteran singers like Sezen Aksu and Nilüfer began making videos for the first time, and new pop stars were manufactured for an emerging new taste in music.

The 1990s was the decade when a more organized, bolder, and sexually-charged fan culture made its entrance into Turkey’s pop culture. Thanks to concerts held in stadiums for the first time, and a pop star of global stature, fandom would rocket to unprecedented epic proportions.

That pop star was Tarkan. With his shirt wide open to his belly button and hips gyrating unabashedly to arabesk rhythms, he soon became Turkey’s first male object of desire, both for women and men. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Tarkan from the late 1990s, “One night, I was singing a ballad and I was kneeling. All of a sudden, I saw a bra fall on stage, then two, then three. And soon the scene was full of all kinds and colors of underwear. Red, white, black... I didn’t believe it. I didn’t really take it seriously, and asked the audience, ‘A few more bras, please’.”

Take this Justin Bieber, all kinds and colors of underwear compared to toys on stage. Tarkan set the stage for the dozens of male pop stars who would not be afraid to adopt a sexual, and a slightly traditionally feminine, public persona. A quick surf on the fan sites and Facebook pages of heartthrobs like Murat Boz, Sinan Akçıl and Keremcem, as well as a search on Twitter, show a much different version of the traditional and conservative Turkish girl. Nearly half of these messages have sexual undertones, like “I’ll eat you alive” or “come take my bra… and more,” it’s almost impossible to believe that these teens and pre-teens are from Turkey. Or rather, impossible to Beliebe.