Fandom Is Forever, But Today It's A Whole New Game
NYLON|February 2016

Fandom is forever, but today it's a whole new game.

Hazel Cills, illustrated by Kelly Shami

“If my eyebrows don’t look good I’m not posting it,” says Michael Benyamin, clad in a Balmain T-shirt (“for H&M!” he clarifies in a Jersey accent) and a black long-haired faux fur jacket, as his friend snaps a photo of us together on a dark Chinatown street. Benyamin strikes myriad poses while I stand like a stone next to him, my Instagram photo shoot game clearly beneath his. Later the best shot will get posted for a following of over 10,000 people and I will become a very tiny part of the Internet celeb’s highly curated brand. Because in taking a photo with Benyamin, I am, sort of, also taking a photo with Lady Gaga.

The 21-year-old Benyamin is better known to his followers as “Maikeeb” (or @maikeeb_kills online), one of Gaga’s most visible and popular fans. Except he’s also so much more than that: He’s a rising stylist, club kid, and fashion plate whose persona was built almost entirely on his admiration of the singer. Benyamin and his ilk are torchbearers of a new kind of fandom: devotees of celebrities who are so visible and admired that they now have fans of their own. In 2015, your love for Harry Styles or Justin Bieber can make you a star, too.

FROM FAN TO FAMOUS

For decades, the divide between fans and their idols was clear; idols made the media and fans consumed it. In the 1950s, if you wanted a picture of your favorite singer you bought a head shot or tore one from a magazine. In the ’60s and ’70s, you might have mailed letters to bands or joined official fan clubs to connect with the artists or like-minded enthusiasts. In the ’90s and early aughts you tuned in to TRL to hear from musicians in real time.

And then, of course, the Internet exploded. Suddenly, people could reach their favorite artists and fellow devotees directly on platforms like Twitter and Instagram; social media also allowed individuals to broadcast their admiration in an unprecedented, public way.

“A fan would become notorious within a fandom, but that didn’t translate outside of [it],” explains psychologist and fandom expert Lynn Zubernis of what it was like in the predigital era. “[Now], the Internet has allowed for bigger fan visibility and fans can get famous outside of just small communities.” Zubernis calls these high-profile superfans BNFs, or “big name fans,” who today can reach astonishing levels of notoriety. Indeed, in the modern world, fans are no longer just consumers of media, but also very successful producers of it— from every bit of blogged fan fiction to all of the viral Vines of a Justin Bieber song cover—and other fans want a piece of this content, too.

THE CELEB SIDEKICK

“If it weren’t for Gaga I would have zero following and zero public persona,” Benyamin tells me. After moving to America from Egypt at age 11, he soon found solace in Gaga’s music as a bullied, gay teen. He eventually began traveling into New York City from his hometown in New Jersey to see her perform and became increasingly entrenched in the Gaga fandom scene. Benyamin finally had a teary-eyed first meeting with the singer after hunting down her hotel post-concert, an encounter which grew into a casual friendship of party-going and hangouts. And then, there was “Yaaas Gaga!”

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