Everyone born after the ‘80s knows the steep cost of scrolling through the comments section of any music-related YouTube video they enjoy. From trolls to unfiltered creeps, YouTube commenters dependably make your music less pleasurable and your belief in free speech and humanity a little less substantiated.
Yet another instantly recognizable crowd in the comments serves to deteriorate your listening experience further, albeit in a different way: music gatekeepers — otherwise known as “fake fan” police.
This coalition is often represented on YouTube by 1) preteens with the username BiggestBeatlesFan2005 bemoaning their generation’s obsession with Justin Bieber and fixating on the fact that they’re “only 10 but love [insert artist from before 2000]” and 2) those who regularly comment stuff like “All these people here after she worked with Maroon 5 smh fake fans” and “Are you really a fan if you only know his new album????”
I’ll give the preteens a pass. I was kind of like that when I was 10, too. I sought to stand out among my peers in music taste and once attempted to memorize Rolling Stone’s complete list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time,” even though I really did just like Selena Gomez like everyone else and I had no actual right to criticize other 10-year-olds’ music preferences. Then again, I was 10.
But when you’re likely at least a young adult, and you’re out here looking down on people strictly on the basis of their commitment level to an artist you think you know best (but do you really, though?), you might want to rethink your priorities and whether or not you are fit to represent the artist you so cherish.
Unfortunately, music gatekeeping doesn’t take place only in the online world. People lord their expertise of a music genre or artist over others all the time in real life, betraying their own need for validation as a True Fan by doing so. I’ve encountered it here in college, with someone counterintuitively arguing with me about whether I liked Weezer. (Listen: I have listened to every track, every demo, every unreleased single by Weezer available on the World Wide Web and once made eye contact with Rivers Cuomo. But even if I hadn’t, even if I only knew Weezer’s biggest hits, I should still be able to say I like them and enjoy their music in peace.)
Sure, when you really, really love an artist, it’s given that you try to find ways to express the extent of your love for them: wearing their merchandise, posting on social media about them, educating your friends on their amazingness with in-depth analyses of their songs. I completely understand that. That’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s super cool that you found music you like and vibe with! Go you for being passionate enough to learn a ton about an artist; that gives you a better understanding of their music’s message, which is dope!
However, when fans cross the line and become territorial about music, viewing an artist as “theirs” and hesitating to acknowledge others as fellow fans — possessively barring those they arbitrarily deem “fake fans” entry to the fandom — that’s when gatekeeping culture becomes annoying at best, unacceptable at worst. Music shouldn’t be about fulfilling a list of requirements before you can engage with it, and you shouldn’t have to feel compelled to prove your worth before clicking “play” on a song you like or expressing your interest in an artist, regardless of how many other albums by them you know.
So the next time you witness someone who you assume only knows two lines from “Humble” wearing a Kung Fu Kenny shirt, hold off your YouTube-comment-level indignation at their perceived lack of fan credibility. Refrain from aggressively posing questions like “How many Grammy awards has Kendrick won?” and “What are 20 of Kendrick’s best guest verses?”
Instead, ask them this: “When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?”
Contact Yanichka Ariunbold at yanichka ‘at’ stanford.edu.