Whether it be Taylor Swift and Harry Styles, or Nirvana and Queen, the music taste of teenage girls is under constant criticism. It is nearly impossible to express a liking for a band or musician without receiving judgment and assumptions, impacting not only adolescent girls' self-esteem but also the music industry. Musicians with primarily female fanbases are undervalued and often dismissed as "not real music" altogether.
Why is this true only for teenage girls? This doesn't happen on such a large scale for other age groups and genders.
The truth is rooted within internalized misogyny and the evolution of modern music.
Why Teenage Girls?
In 1963, a few years after the Beatles debuted, the term "Beatlemania" was created to describe the highly enthusiastic Beatles fans, who were, at the time, primarily teenage girls. Fans obsessed over their music and the four members, screaming at concerts and donning Beatles-themed merchandise, all of which adults had difficulty understanding.
Rock-n-roll was controversial then, sparking disagreements and questions over religion, race, music, and more, but mostly it was just different. Many adults thought it was terrible but dismissed it because it was music for teens; it didn't have to be good. The Los Angeles Times reviewed the Beatles in 1964, writing that "not even their mothers would claim that they sing well. But... they project a certain kittenish charm which drives the immature, shall we say, ape."
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"Beatlemania" also consisted of primarily teenage and young adult girls, often made fun of by the press. Again in 1964, as the Beatles rose to popularity, Paul Johnson wrote, "Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures" in the New Statesman magazine.
He then says that the real successes of the future are simply too busy to listen to the Beatles or go to concerts, implying that anyone who listens to popular music will never be successful. Although Johnson does not mention a specific gender in this quote, it is clear that he means girls by his use of the word "hysteria."
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Many people use hysteria, hysterical, and hysterics to describe teenage girls' infatuation with bands and musicians, from the Beatles to One Direction. Throughout history, hysteria has been used to describe any woman who demonstrates unacceptable traits by societal standards. It is a way to dismiss real problems, both mental and physical, faced by women.
In the context of music, the word hysteria gives an excuse to ignore the taste of teenage girls; it implies that they don't know what is good. Furthermore, in 1964, The Nation magazine claimed that "the reaction [to the Beatles] at Carnegie Hall was not a real response to a real stimulus," then went on to say that the fans of the Beatles were "upper-middle-class young ladies...attempt[ing] a very safe and very private kind of rapture". Although the Beatles were popular, their fanbase was mainly girls, so they were not taken seriously.
What happens when fanbases expand?
Following along with the Beatles' stardom, their fanbase began to expand as they continued to release new, improved music. In 1966, Edward Greenfield from The Guardian reviewed their latest album, Revolver, saying, "The Beatles' whole success, based demonstrably on musical talent, is fair vindication in itself." This statement is preceded by praise and positive descriptions of each song, a strong contrast from the aggressively hostile news articles published a few years earlier.
As their fanbase expanded to people of all ages and genders, the Beatles became more respected and are now considered one of the most influential, legendary bands. Though teenage girls knew all along, it took the appreciation of others --specifically adults and men-- to transform the Beatles from members of a boy band to legendary musicians.
This is not reduced to the Beatles. Many musicians, including Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, now considered legendary, were made famous by teenage girls.
The exclusive criticism of teenage girls
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While criticized for liking popular music, teenage girls don't have many other options that limit criticism. If a girl likes a famous modern band or singer, she is following the crowd. If a girl likes a small, unpopular band, she is trying too hard.
If a girl likes an old band or singer, she isn't a real fan. There is no escape from criticism.
Young girls are made fun of, and the things they love are looked down on; people want to keep them in that box. It has been believed for so long that teenage girls have bad taste. So many people, typically adult men, get defensive when they like similar things. For example, it is a common experience for teenage girls to be quizzed on an older band they like or the logo for a band on their t-shirt, then declared a fake fan if they don't know random trivia.
At this point, it is clear that the problem is not the music or the teenagers, but the opinions of others.
Why is this harmful?
Music, regardless of the type or genre, is so crucial for one reason: it evokes emotion. Whether that emotion is sadness, happiness, peace, or anger, it is real, and it is personal. Invalidating the teenage girl music taste means invalidating those emotions.
One of the most significant examples of this is Taylor Swift. Millions of Taylor Swift fans can be found on nearly every social media app talking about her songs and the emotions they experience from them. Anger, melancholy, relatability, and validation are ignored with a single "they're just break-up songs" or "hysterical, obsessive teenage girls" comment. Even if the emotion is pure excitement, it is incredibly harmful to be invalidated.
Image Credits: Kaboompics from Pixabay
The criticism does not stop with music for this generation of teenage girls. Exaggerated by the extensive use of social media, adolescent girls face criticism for how they dress, what they read and watch, what they do for fun, and nearly everything. This produces self-consciousness in an already tricky developmental age.
At this point, most teenage girls have taken on a "who cares what others think" attitude to enjoy the things they love, but that shouldn't be necessary. Diverse opinions and music criticism are natural and essential parts of the music industry. Still, they shouldn't come at the expense of generalizing entire groups of people and forcing them into invalidated boxes.