Fandom is strange. As anyone who’s been to a concert or bought an album before knows, there are differing levels of appreciation for an artist’s work. Fans of different bands often couldn’t be farther from each other. This is sort of a given—the crowd makeup at a Taylor Swift concert is going to be vastly different from that of an MF Doom show.
What I’m thinking about are message board fans—people who like a band enough to register on an Internet forum and talk about that band with other fans. Generally, these people have extensive if not complete knowledge of a band’s discography, and opinions upon opinions regarding their best work. These boards are filled with casual fans and super fans alike, and their interactions and candor vary greatly depending on the artist in question. Let’s consider the forum crawlers of two different bands: Interpol and The Smashing Pumpkins.
The official Interpol message board is dedicated. These people take everything so seriously. Slights against band members, inquiries into their personal lives, and even non-aggressive criticism are not tolerated, and the band is treated with a reverence bordering deity worship. Former bass player Carlos Dengler has a bizarre fangirl following, a cabal whose constituents were left “gutted” and “despondent” after Dengler quit the band in May. Interpol, for these people, is not merely a way of life but life itself. It’s a very strange fanbase, and not one you would necessarily expect from the band based on their sparse and mysterious sound. Interpol’s reserved and minimal public presence has led to an entirely too self-serious fanbase with no sense of humor.
Netphoria, a Smashing Pumpkins fansite not affiliated with the band or Billy Corgan, is much less uptight but in many ways far more depressing. Unlike Interpol, who are less than 10 years past their last good album, Billy Corgan hasn’t made a great album since 1995. His heyday is kaput, and Netphoria’s posters are painfully aware of this. Most members are scathingly sardonic and cynical, treating Corgan with little respect and often mocking his latest press release or inane Twitter post. Although these are ostensibly Smashing Pumpkins fans, it seems like most of them still visit the board only out of habit, or for the fun of watching Corgan’s life spiral into obscurity and self-parody. No member of the Pumpkins is respected; they are all freely roasted and toasted without restraint.
The difference in the candor of these two boards is important in understanding the bands they focus on. Interpol, who have always parsed their words well and kept their mouths shut for the most part, have a feverish fanbase that respect the band members and think they can do no wrong. Corgan, on the other hand, is known both for his loud mouth and his middling post-90s output. He’s not worthy of respect, the same man who was once the voice of his generation, and then disappointed his fans and alienated everyone else with bad music and weird antics. These boards are a lesson in personal branding and aesthetic: playing it close to the vest and maintaining a sense of mystery will bring fans to defend you; start to suck and complain, and your ass is raked over the coals.