They are, it’s thought, the most impassioned teenage fans since time began. Or since Twitter began. Which, if you are a Directioner, is more or less the same thing. Witness their onslaught against men’s mag GQ after the members of boy band One Direction were on five separate covers of its September issue. A volley of abusive tweets followed. Apparently the Directioners disliked the cut of GQ’s jib. “I swear you’ve messed with the wrong people,” ranted one tweet.
In case you are innocent of the phenomenon, a Directioner is (typically) a girl aged between 13 and 17, who has One Direction so wholly in their sights that nothing else is worth acknowledging. Twitter is their chosen mode of communication and they use it to share information about the band throughout their waking moments. They invent fictional situations between them and their idols. They stalk them around the world. They are truly besotted.
To understand them better, documentary-maker Daisy Asquith thought it might be interesting to follow a few of them. “They were really happy to let me in,” she says. “And so I became a 16-year-old for three months. It gave me an idea why girls would choose to wait for 21 hours in the freezing rain outside a venue, only to meet their idols for two minutes. Or maybe, not at all.”
I ask Asquith if this is all that new. Surely One Direction is simply the latest in a long line of boy bands – from the Beatles via the Bay City Rollers, Bros, Take That etc – who have made teenage girls scream. But she believes following One Direction is quite different from the old days, when the only way of letting your idol know you existed was to write a letter to some PO Box address in Smash Hits.
Twitter allows you to really get in touch. The five boys in One Direction all have many, many followers. Harry Styles, some would say the main object of desire, has more than 14,600,000. And it’s a two-way thing; his Twitter profile reads “Hiiiiiii. Cute as a B***** every single one of you.” Easy to imagine a besotted 14-year-old thinking that applies to her. “The fans do sometimes get replies from the boys in the band,” Asquith says. “It’s earth-shatteringly exciting. I think that’s what makes it so addictive. They have this proximity to the band that teenage fans have never had before. The ‘Hunt’, as they call it, is also exciting. If one of the band is seen in a restaurant in Manchester, someone will tweet that. And the fans will be there in 15 minutes.”
Does Asquith, herself a mother of two children, not worry when she reads tweets threatening suicide if Harry, or Louis, does not answer/come for coffee/play Manchester?
“I think there is a bunch of drama queens in the fanbase,” she says, “who are bound to threaten to kill themselves.” Which makes it OK? Has anyone ever attempted suicide? As far as she is aware, no. “A lot of the girls I spoke to are not silly or crazy. They are very knowing about their activities on Twitter. To them, putting every single thought online is entirely normal.”
Apparently parents are fine about the fact their daughters have become obsessives. “Some of them are relieved that their daughters are not going off with ‘real’ boys. In a sense, their fanaticism is delaying adulthood, because it is fantasy, and therefore it is safe.
“The psychology of teenage girls and how they spend their love and choose to place it is very interesting. I was working out why they need to be in this gang, and what they get out of it. I think it is about not being with the boys so much as being with each other.”
The band had a lacklustre start, only coming third in The X Factor in 2010. The Directioners did the rest. “Girls started to follow them on Twitter, created this huge Twitter crowd. Because of the fan base, Simon Cowell signed them up. So Directioners have a real sense of ownership.” Is Asquith a fan herself? “I know the lyrics to every song. They have an important place in pop culture. It’s difficult being a teenage girl. These have empowered themselves by connecting with each other, and creating a band.”
Yet the young women I saw on the film did not seem particularly empowered. For all the GQ grandstanding, these girls seemed vulnerable. Dismissive of their own potential, they were focused on turning a quintet of nice-looking young men into multi-millionaires. Maybe finding empowered teenagers with their own ambitions and plans is just not such obvious television material as filming weeping teenagers running down a hotel corridor.