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An elegy to the fan party

Jul. 22, 2019
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It’s 10 PM in the somber suburbs of Cavite, and 14-year-old me is walking home with a smile you couldn’t wipe off my face if you tried. I couldn’t help but already draft in my head the journal entry I was going to write once I get home: “This is what I want to do every day. If I could be a professional fangirl, I would.”

Of course, present-day me would cringe at this sentiment years later, but I can’t deny how true it was in that moment. I was still high from Finally A 5SOS Album Launch, an album launch-slash-fan party for 5 Seconds of Summer’s debut record, where almost 300 fans were in attendance. Among them were old friends, new fans, and many, many familiar faces—this was my third fan party after all, and I couldn’t help but feel like an old-timer in this subculture we all had carved for ourselves. 

Where I’m from, fangirling is serious business. Each fandom had a street team not too dissimilar from your high school student council, except a thousand times cooler because they organize events like this and are recognized by the labels of the very artists they revere. And sure, every fandom had fan parties, but of course nothing was as colossal as One Direction and 5SOS’, whose aficionados more often than not overlapped. 

You need not look further than Finally A 5SOS Album Launch to observe the power of the fan party. My friends and I took a two-hour bus ride to the city in the wee hours of the morning to secure a good spot in line, but even then we still ended up behind a hundred or so people, all donning flannels and/or 5SOS merchandise. The venue was still closed, so while waiting we were given name tags with a drawing of our sunshine (our favorite band member) where our Twitter username was to be written. 

The air was thick with anticipation even before the doors opened. Internet friends were meeting for the first time, and friend groups were befriending lone attendees at the queue. I remember thinking it was as if my Stan Twitter timeline had come alive; and sure enough, when the venue opened and the first few notes of “She Looks So Perfect” echoed from inside, everyone began screaming incomprehensibly in what I can only describe as IRL keyboard-smashing. Lyrics weren’t sung so much as they were shouted, and hello’s weren’t said so much as shrieked—we were so, so, so excited.

We bought the album upon entrance and were gifted freebies that made attendance to fan parties so enticing; among them were pens and notebooks marked with the iconic tally logo, and a party hat, because it was July and apparently we were also celebrating the birthdays of two of the band members.  

Everyone then beelined to the merch tables, where shirts identical to ones worn by the band themselves and keychains and necklaces printed with song lyrics were up for grabs. There is no bigger spender on this planet than a teenager at a fan party, so the tables were half-empty even before the event kicked off. Yes, ma, it is that serious.

My best friend (right) and I (left) matching with each other and with 5SOS vocalist Luke Hemmings

These events were like a smaller music festival, or a bigger birthday party. We would all sit on the floor, and local artists would come and cover songs we all dreamed to hear live. We would play games and laugh at each other, and atop the stage was not the band itself, but their cardboard counterpart—which was more than enough for us at the time.

The event would last until late afternoon, and when it was over we would all head home with hoarse voices and full hearts. This party was particularly special because 5SOS themselves sent a video to us promising they’d come visit us soon; in return we sent them videos of us singing along to their singles, signaling that we couldn’t wait for that promise to be fulfilled.

Even then I couldn’t help but feel like I’d come a long way. My first fan party was back in 2012, with the release of One Direction’s Take Me Home—an event so apt to be my first, because it did feel like discovering home. 1D was my thing back then, you know? And for the first time I felt like I had someplace where I could truly be myself: unabashed, unashamed, and 1D AF.  

Tiny 12-year-old me, all smiles beside an equally tiny Harry Styles

I wore my best outfit and carried around a huge messenger bag containing all of the memorabilia I had then—every CD and every photocard. I met up with my first internet friend, who wasn’t a fan-party virgin like I was, and was instantly smitten by the culture. “We have to do this again,” I kept telling her. She just smiled, because we knew there was no way we wouldn’t—this was only the beginning for the boyband after all, so this was only the beginning for us too. 

An afternoon of singing and a string of party games later, I met up with my parents at the train station carrying a new backpack. Inside were stickers, a new MP3 player, and 1D’s memoir Dare to Dream, all of which I’d won from a game. I think that was when we collectively realized—oh, fan parties are serious serious. 

My second one would come a year later, this time with an event called Boys of Summer, celebrating the summer releases of 5SOS, The Vamps, R5, and Rixton. My best friend, who was somehow unaffected by the 1D fever, gladly joined me for this one. We met up at five in the morning, riding the train wearing 5SOS hoodies and smiles too big to hide. This was her first, and I couldn’t wait to welcome her to this utopia, where the atmosphere was tinged with elation and the floor was shaky with fervor.  

My best friend’s first piece of 5SOS merch! That was a classic. 

Every release—major or not—had its respective fan party. A year later the same band would release their Amnesia EP, and of course my friends and I were in attendance, even if that meant having to skip school and, since I had a foot injury at the time, limping my way there. It coincided with the release of the superhero-themed “Don’t Stop” music video, so we were encouraged to attend in costume. Donning capes we’d DIY-ed the night before, we sang, danced (albeit slowly—I only had one fully functioning foot at the time, after all), and had the time of our lives.

Our capes were puns based on our names, and we called ourselves “Health-3 Living”

That same month, 1D released Four, and I was there, alone, but not really—we always joked that you could never really go to a fan party alone because we were all one huge friend group. Girls in onesies gave out free hugs, people would share that they flew from distant cities just to attend, and our forearms were stained with smudged handwriting of everyone’s Twitter usernames.  

”Every corner calling out your name; trying to find you but I just don’t know; where do broken hearts go?” our favorite boys asked in one of their new songs. 

“Here!” we answered in unison.

We were back at it three months later with the release of LIVESOS, even taking on younger fans and helping them lie to their parents and teaching them how to ride the train. And apparently, some of us even made it on TV. 

The summer of 2015 came, and it was time for the biggest fan party yet—THREEnity Summer Blast, which brought together fans of 1D, 5SOS, and The Vamps in one huge party that ended with everyone throwing around color bombs as our favorite songs blasted in the background.  

Girls with powder-stained skin smiled at us on the train back home as they spotted the orange and green on our shirts and shoes. It was indescribable, feeling like you’re one with hundreds of strangers. It was weirdly comforting, especially as a teenager. Here was a love so much bigger than ourselves, than all of us, that brought us all together in a place of pure acceptance. I owe a lot to fandom and fan parties. While none of us realized this was going to be our last one ever, it was fitting to have this as the final note. THREEnity was explosive, a celebration filled with color and sound so emblematic of the last few years—they were everything. 

Looking back I can’t remember exactly what it was we did at these parties aside from scream and dance—maybe that’s all we did, but maybe it didn’t matter. It only mattered that we found people who understood us and felt the same. Because looking back I can’t remember what the emcees were saying, or what prizes they were giving away, but I do remember the night before the Amnesia EP launch, when we were shopping for makeshift capes and sitting on the floor with markers. I remember getting lost every time the venue was in a part of the city we’d never been to before and we’d always choose to walk and explore. I remember helping my new friends sneak pictures with the Louis Tomlinson standee after we were told we weren’t allowed to take photos yet. I remember friends—God, so many of them. 

I can’t pinpoint the reason why we stopped going to fan parties, or what the last one was. I think it fizzled out when 1D took a break and suddenly there were no new releases to party about. Maybe we just outgrew it. I’m hoping it’s the former, because I still do miss it, you know? You could outgrow the bands, but you can’t deny that you found a home in them, and in everything they brought you.

Sometimes I’d find myself wearing an old 5SOS shirt I’d bought at a fan party and chuckle to myself. “What a relic,” I’d whisper. What a reminder of my past self. Of my past self who was more insecure, more detached, who didn’t feel loved anywhere but there, didn’t feel like she belonged except when she screamed along to the lyrics she knew by heart. Of my past self who felt like she was living a double life, who felt the need to water herself down and could only be true to herself in these semi-frequent outings, every shriek a collection of suppressed passion she couldn’t possibly express anywhere else. Maybe that’s why I stopped going to fan parties. I don’t need a double life anymore; maybe I don’t have to water myself down anymore. 

But that said, I still can’t help but miss the past and how simple it was. I miss my friends. Nostalgia is sharp and jagged and lodged in my throat. Growth is painful, and most days I don’t want to do it anymore. But I am comforted by the fact that I’m the kind of person who can love something so much I wish I could do it every day, and even professionally. 

The hosts of THREEnity yelled “Go!” and everyone threw their color bombs skyward, belting out the chorus of 5SOS’ then-newest single, which I am singing along to now, four years later: “We are the leaders of the not-coming-backs; but we’re alright though.”