You smelt them before you saw them. The kind of excited dampness you only get from spending your sixth night in a row camped outside a variety of regional venues wearing the same pasty-encrusted merch and keeping that promise to never wash the hand your hero shook during their 2016 tour of Outer Mongolia. They were the superfans, a far different breed than the spoilt, dolled-up, VIP ticketed meet-and-greeters who merely allow their parents to slip further into the Wonga abyss to get their Ariana Grande selfie.
The superfans considered fandom a form of military training, their own personal 1917. Only by putting themselves through the discomfort of the average avalanche survivor – risking pneumonia from camping through thunderstorms outside signing sessions, battling front and centre in any stage door squabble, tattooing band signatures into their arm themselves with a rusty badge and only the memory of having their cardboard sign read out in Doncaster as anaesthetic – could they prove their undying devotion.
It looks, however, as if the days of the pop fan death cult are about to come to an end. To avoid the national shame of the Brit Awards this year, I found myself in Paris, where Deezer were hosting an invite-only private gig by Circa Waves and Twin Atlantic. It wasn’t, I was surprised to find on arrival, only open to cultural commentators whose entire column can be swayed for the price of a Eurostar and steak dinner – the superfans were there too, although I could barely recognise them. These superfans were well-rested and un-matted. They smelt only of free bar and incubating coronavirus. They were mostly dry.
The gig, it turned out, was put on for those couple of hundred fans who had streamed the bands’ songs most on Deezer, which is a customer loyalty reward somewhat niftier than one free Haribo for 26 billion nectar points. But it could also finally mark the end of the hardship of the superfan. If this becomes common practice, all of your superfanning can be done from the comfort of your own Styles-den. Rather than congregate overnight in an alleyway outside the NEC recommended by TripAdvisor as Birmingham’s most highly-rated tramp urinal, now you can gain priority access to your favourite band’s gigs by sitting up all night in your home-made altar to Lewis Capaldi and streaming your way to the front.
The event gig element, and free-flowing wine, made ‘T-Shirt Weather’ shine on a wet Wednesday in the 11th arrondissement; this really did feel like what fan worship should involve in 2020. My one concern, though, was that it’s a system open to abuse. What’s to stop those cash-flinging meet-and-greeters from employing an Indonesian click farm to buy themselves instant access to such gigs at a far faster rate than any human could possibly stream or some whizzkid programmer from developing an AI dedicated to playing The Kooks’ ‘Naïve’ on repeat 24/7?
If not properly policed, it’s an idea that could lock the true, ‘analogue’ superfan out of the process altogether, as they already have been from purchasing face-value concert tickets by toutbots. Superfans are renowned for their willingness to undergo black market organ surgery in order to get close to their heroes, so there’s currency in nefarious technological actors snapping up and selling on spaces. And the last thing bands want is to play tiny, private gigs to a load of privileged trust-funders, Brooklyn Beckham and a battalion of bodyguards for the Sultan Of Brunei.
It’s yet another reason why streaming services need to be vigilant in recognising and cutting off manipulative ‘fake’ accounts for the sake of the true fan. Who knows, while they’re at it they might also stop all those alleged streambots manipulating the singles chart into bland irrelevance and killing grassroots music culture faster than a million Brexit visas. Until the online touts cotton on though, the superfan is finally king at last. In future, you won’t prove your dedication to pop stars by showing them the fingers you lost to frostbite while queuing outside a venue three days before a gig, but by getting them to sign your vast reams of data usage printouts and flexing your huge new thumb muscles.