Beatles tourists © Mark McNulty
Since the early 1960s the Beatles and their music have appealed to audiences all over the world. The vast majority of these audiences would not describe themselves as Beatles fans, so the appeal of the band is much broader than that. Nevertheless, focusing on fans can help to illustrate the Beatles' global appeal.
Before the Beatles adoring fans were nothing new. US audiences especially had screamed at major stars such as Frank Sinatra since the 1940s. With the Beatles adulation by fans reached a new level of intensity. For the first time a term was coined by the mass media to describe this reaction: 'Beatlemania'. The most familiar images of Beatlemania promoted by the mass media were of young girls screaming at the Beatles as they performed live on stage.
The Beatles' first film 'A Hard Day's Night' (1964) depicts the elaborate disguises and complicated travel arrangements the band would use to try to elude fans who turned up wherever they appeared. On occasion the shouts and sobs of teenage girls drowned out the performance and even made it difficult for the group to hear their own music. Even after the Beatles stopped touring ardent crowds stood for hours outside the gates of London's Abbey Road recording studios waiting to catch a glimpse of the band. In a tribute to their devotion George Harrison included a song about them, 'Apple Scruffs', on his first solo album 'All Things Must Pass' (1970).
But the global appeal of the Beatles cannot be summed up by media images of young screaming female fans. In fact these images illustrate how popular music fans have tended to be reported on in stereotypical and often negative ways. Beatle fans were a lot more diverse than these images suggest and generally not quite so hysterical.
Beatles fans in New York, 1964. National Museums Liverpool Collections
This is certainly true today, as suggested by the 1996 Beatles fan convention in Liverpool described by Cohen (2007). The convention attracted equal numbers of male and female fans. These fans were strikingly mixed in terms of nationality and age and also their activities and interests as fans. Some said that they 'lived and breathed the Beatles every day' and planned much of their lives around Beatles-related activities and events. Val from Swansea, for example, booked annual holidays for herself and her family that were designed to coincide with the date and location of live concerts by members of the Beatles, or musicians closely connected to the Beatles. But others described themselves as not 'real' fans at all, or as just casual fans because their interest in the Beatles was not that intense.
These fans attended the convention in order to indulge their interest in the Beatles and engage in discussions about the band and their music. They also wanted to meet and interact with other fans and establish and maintain friendships and social networks. Many of them continued to communicate with each other in between conventions. They exchanged news and gossip through printed Beatles fanzines and newsletters, letter-writing and the internet. They met up at other Beatles conventions and at Beatles-related concerts and social gatherings.
Most of the fans insisted that what appealed to them most about the Beatles was their music. These fans provided detailed accounts of what that music meant to them and how it had affected them as they were growing up. Most also described their fandom as a normal and active part of their everyday lives. They were clearly well aware of popular and often negative stereotypes of fans and tried to distance themselves from them. In fact some refused to be labelled as fans because they felt that the way that fandom was generally perceived did not match their own experience (Cohen, 2007).
Similarly, Daniel Cavicchi, a music scholar and also a Bruce Springsteen fan, writes:
"I am concerned about views of music fandom promoted by media critics and cultural studies scholars which seem to have little to do with my own experience. Many media critics consider fans abnormal or dangerous; however, I have found that my fandom for various musical performers has instead gotten me through many tough times over the years and has been the source of many friendships, including my relationship with my wife." (Cavicchi, 1998: 16)
Today, the many Beatles fans who can't attend conventions, or don't want to, can express their fandom in other ways. Some participate in internet fan groups dedicated to all aspects of Beatle fandom. There are currently more than 1,800 of these groups in operation.