The similarities between most boybands are obvious, starting with The Beatles. They fulfill certain archetypes attractive to young women, they sing about love and its obstacles, and they even sometimes know how to play actual instruments. The boyband is a tried and true formula, having come full circle with the short-lived international phenomenon that was One Direction. Their fanbases mostly consist of heterosexual women. These are the preconceived notions I held about this once-household phenomenon. What director Jessica Leski does in her documentary feature I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story is put a microscope to these notions, and from that, a new understanding about the psychological and artistic implications of boybands is created.
The film follows four musically-obsessed women, each dedicated to a different group of musical men. One starts the film at age 16, and she’s in love with One Direction. Another, slightly older at 25, is obsessed with The Backstreet Boys, and another is 33, obsessed with another band from that era of pop culture, Take That. Finally, our oldest focus of the film (and my personal favorite due to her musical tastes), we have a woman who grew up in the midst of Beatlemania. Each give their own perspective on their love for this specific brand of music, and the ways that this Love has both hindered and helped their quest for personal and professional fulfillment.
This is perhaps the most surprising documentary I have seen in some time. If this film had not been selected for viewing at HIFF this year, I would never have sought this film out. Plainly put, I have never been a fan of any modern boyband, and I think that mostly has to do with two factors. For one, I grew up outside of their heyday of the mid-to-late twentieth century, and I was also not their target demographic. I have always loved The Beatles, though, and they are well-represented in this film. Even as I write this, I am currently listening to my newest musical obsession from their near-perfect catalogue, Across the Universe, from their final studio album Let it Be.
Now, as that same timeless song rings through my ears, I tell you this: seek out this film. Even as someone who has never particularly enjoyed this brand of music, I can say that this film was thoroughly entertaining in about every way. It was funny, it was somber (even sad at times), it was full of hope, and most importantly, it did not talk down to anyone on either side of this heated aisle of debate. The film is also surprisingly introspective, as many of these women have had the opportunity to think just about how much their obsessions have affected their lives, for better or worse. Some attribute them to their discovery of their own sexuality, some to their coping through depression and suicide attempts, and some to their growing passions for songwriting and instrument-playing. All know on some level it is unhealthy, but just like candy, what’s wrong with a bit of unhealthy consumption every now and then?