Hysterical, Screaming Girl Fans: An Analysis

Since I got a Facebook account, which is called “Annie Rich”, and by the way, please be my friend if you are on Facebook because my low number of friends is embarrassing, I’ve taken my YouTubing to an even higher plane, because I follow all these 60s and 70s pages or whatever they are and I click on almost every music link they send out. Which is a lot.

I was watching a clip of  The Beatles’ version of “You Really Got Me”, which prompted me to watch the original Smokey Robinson version. I realized with a sinking feeling that Smokey’s version was much better. I say “sinking feeling” because I am a Beatles fan and don’t like to diss them in any way, but I speak only the truth, and the truth is that they sucked all the soul and sexiness out of the song.  You’ll see what I mean if you watch this…it just doesn’t get any smoother than Smokey Robinson. Unless it is Sam Cooke, then sometimes it does. I love the lyrics in this song – what a perfect anthem for obsession! You treat me badly; I love you madly. Oh, the humanity…

You may have noted that this clip has a lot of hysterical girl-screaming in the background, as do a lot of live performances from the early years of rock and roll.  Somewhat understandable what with Smooth Smokey and his thinly veiled “tight hold” references, but still. The crying. The sweating, flushed faces. The high-pitched, panicky screaming. The peeing in the pants. The fainting. I mean, what was up with all that, right?

Here’s a good example from an Elvis concert in 1957. This one hits close to home because these are Mississippi girls – the concert was just up the road in Elvis’s home town of Tupelo.

Now for some Beatlemania…

You may ask, “So Marie, why did girls act like that? And why don’t they do this anymore?’ And I could give an answer to these questions, and would gladly do so, but it would take us into the deep, murky waters of psychology and sociology. I’m sure this must have been studied and analyzed by someone, somewhere, but the things that showed up in my Google search didn’t really answer the question to my satisfaction, so what the hell. Let’s go there.

I could just be lazy and shy, say “sexual repression”, link another song and be done, but it’s much more complex than that and deserves a closer look.  There were a number of causal factors that led to the girl-fan-hysteria that was so widespread during the era – the main one probably being an increasing awareness and awakening of female sexuality on the heels of  1953’s The Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which alerted the world to the fact that women are in fact, sexual beings. It was a real shocker, apparently, and the report was roundly criticized and condemned, but you better believe the news leaked out. It was academic trickle down to the common man. And woman. But at the same time, if you recall, there were extremely strict social parameters of sexual behavior for women – to be labelled a slut was the kiss of death. Thus, we had a powder keg situation – an increasing awareness and understanding of female sexuality combined with music that spurred it on, but tightly controlled by strict social mores and expectations and religious beliefs. Girls, if they wanted to be good and nice and not get a bad rep, had to push all those feelings down deep, which of course meant that they came out in unusual, unexpected ways – like having a weird melt down at a concert where songs with vaguely sexual lyrics were being performed by cute boys, for example.

Over time, the powder keg was slowly defused. The birth control pill. More access to education and careers. 1971’s Our Bodies, Ourselves, which continued to increase knowledge and understanding of female sexuality. Societal attitudes toward women and the rules regarding their behavior started to change, ever so slowly, but steadily. By the time I started going to rock concerts in the late 70s, there was no more hysteria among the girls – those days were over. Of course, there was plenty of drooling over Paul Rodgers and so forth, but it was a more normal level of idolatry. Not hysteria. Nobody fainted, for example.

There are other explanations, naturally, such as the effect of music on the brain and the nervous system, group dynamics, female emotional tendencies, etc. But if that’s all it was, why doesn’t this happen today? No, those elements, while I’m sure they were contributing factors, are incomplete as explanations. It was a phenomenon specific to the times in which it occurred and it’s not likely to happen again, which is a good thing. I would hate to go to a concert ruined by a bunch of out 0f control, pitifully repressed females.  Oh, that high-pitched screeching! Terrible.  But I’m still proud to be a woman. From 1962, with change blowin’ in the wind…tell ’em about it, Peggy…

Questions? Comments? Please Share!

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10 Comments

Filed under Art and Literature, Music, Sociology, Uncategorized, Women

10 responses to “Hysterical, Screaming Girl Fans: An Analysis

  1. I have often wondered the same. I can only think it was the novelty of the situation. Unfortunately the closest we get today are the Justin Beiber fans. Well, that’s okay, let them deal with a bunch of hysterical young girls. We don’t need them at the rock concerts!

    • I don’t think the Beibs concerts and their ilk evoke quite the same response. True, the girls are excited and screaming, but not peeing and passing out. As much. LOL

      • No, that’s true. I think it’s the closest anything comes in modern times though!

      • Agreed. That’s the closest. But those fan-girls are waaaaay different beings than their grandmas who went to the Beatles concerts were. Worse off in some ways, of course, but in many ways, much better off.

  2. Vicki

    I always wondered about those screaming, crying, PEEING & fainting young girls! Even as a small child I felt pity for those poor girls. They all seemed just so very desperate. As to those Mississippi girls, I believe they were more repressed, more shamed than their Northern or West Coast counterparts. Even during the late 60’s & early 70’s, here in the Deep South, the emphasis on being a “good girl” was hardcore. The expectation was that you would wait until marriage. That makes for some very repressed women. As to the Beiber fever, I have no clue.
    Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  3. Hi Vicki, glad you liked it! I was one of those Mississippi girls myself, though I came into womanhood as all that crap was breaking down, thankfully!

  4. As a guy I’m not equipped physically or emotionally to respond to your post from a woman’s perspective, however as a boy from the sixties this is another train of thought that I better write quick before I forget it.
    I remember when the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan’s Television show that I was on pins and needles as I waited all week week for a chance to to watch and hear a couple of songs on a crappy Black & White TV that had very poor reception and for those few minutes that they played I was totally glued to the TV and nothing was gonna stop me from watching them.
    Fast forward to today and I can watch just about anything that has ever happened in music history on YouTube and God help me if I can stay awake some nights as I watch them. I guess big things really aren’t so big anymore if they happen everyday.

    Nice post Rusty.

    • A very good point! The girls weren’t the only ones thrilled to see their bands; fella were too. It’s just that the girls took it to such an absurd, embarrassing level. Lol.

  5. Fascinating piece, Marie. All the responses add to the conversation too.
    I’m sure there have been serious sociological studies on this and I won’t embarrass myself by floating some poorly thought out pseudo-psych theories, but here are a couple of observations…
    Firstly, as you say, the social culture of the time. Beatlemania extended the almost as frantic ‘bobby soxer’ idolatry of the 50s. Partially that extension was backwards to younger girls. It’s worth remembering that a very large proportion of those screamers were PRE-pubescent, giving the whole thing a transitional, yearning, developmentally aspirational thrust.
    Secondly, stimulation for teens and pre-teens was very very limited then, especially for girls. So given the appropriate stimulus and a (relatively) safe environment, here was an unexpected chance to ‘let rip’.
    Finally, I’d love to read a feminist analysis of the phenomenon. Both archetypes and stereotypes seem to be at play here.
    Thanks for posting such an engaging piece.

    • Great points, Bruce. I’m sure there must be some real studies on this phenomenon. In fact, I think I’ll do a little research through my college library. I’ll let you know if I find anything.

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