Affective fan experiences of Lady Gaga

Lise Dilling-Hansen

Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

[0.1] Abstract—The fandom of Lady Gaga is, like other fandoms, defined by its affective attachment to the object of fandom. However, if one asks the fans of Gaga why she is more appealing than other stars, they would be likely to highlight the personal investment and attachment of Lady Gaga herself and thus the mutuality of the relation. In order to examine this relation, which is experienced as equal despite being patently unbalanced, I investigate affective states of fandom through the lens of the experience economy on the levels of staging, co-creation, and self-direction in the experience of Lady Gaga and argue that authenticity, interaction, and empowerment are key elements of the fandom in question. Also, I discuss the personal investments of the fans and argue that the unwritten rules and norms of fandoms, as well as the hunt for positive affect, can trigger states of negative affect. The article is based on online as well as off-line ethnography.

[0.2] Keywords—Affect; Experience economy; Online fandom; Social media

Dilling-Hansen, Lise. 2015. "Affective Fan Experiences of Lady Gaga." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 20.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Lady Gaga—with her gender-bending and bodily transgressive performances, as well as her campaigns for LGBT rights and social work with marginalized young people and her recent further engagement with pop art and avant-garde expressions—is an extremely interesting phenomenon to study. However, the relation between the star and her fans constitutes an at least as sensational case in which Gaga not only is "engendering immense loyalty in fans" through her music but also with "the message she inspires and the community she built around it" (Huba 2013, 3).

[1.2] The intense connection between Lady Gaga and her fans highlights the importance of affect in the field of fan studies. Lawrence Grossberg states that affect is what "gives 'color,' 'tone' or 'texture'" to fan experiences (1992, 56–57). Fans' affective states shape the experience of the object of fandom. Following Grossman, affective fandom may be perceived as an empowering investment that can generate energy and passion, thus potentially "creating a site of optimism, invigoration and passion which are necessary conditions for any struggle to change the conditions" (64–65). Matt Hills's notion of a "playful potential" (2002, 91) informs an understanding of fans as transgressing boundaries of real and fantasy, thereby permitting imagination of a mutual relation with the object of fandom. Affect shapes fan experiences and enables potential identity and social change; it also plays a big part in the imaginary work of fans. Other scholars have described the bond between fans and their idols as working in "ever decreasing circles of affective connectivity" (Redmond 2006, 36) and as "a positive, personal, relatively deep, emotional connection" (Duffett 2013b, 2) and have described fandoms as fundamentally "intensely personal and deeply affective" (Anderson 2012, 93).

[1.3] The affective relation between an idol and her fans can fruitfully be examined through the lens of the experience economy and how new systems of value are produced in the consumption of experiences. Boswijk, Thijssen, and Peelen (2007) identify three levels of the experience economy. The first level is described as staged experiences, created for the consumer with an aim of personal enjoyment, whether offering Starbucks coffee or music by Lady Gaga. The second is advanced by a co-created level in which the consumer is invited to take part in the creation of the experience in order to create a more personal and thus more meaningful experience. Finally, the third level is self-direction, which encourages consumers to take matters into their own hands and create value on their own. Affect, then, should here be interpreted as a value investment enjoyed by the fans, and, as Nancy Baym has argued, likewise by the idols, since the "power balances" in the communication between the idol and the fans are being negotiated as a result of the arrival of social media (2012, 296). This affective capital is not to be understood as similar to Margaret Wetherell's concept of emotional capital, in which she suggests that "some affective styles (made up of particular combinations of affective practices) offer some groups an advantage" in systems of labor (2012, 112), but rather like Sara Ahmed's idea of affect as nonimmanent in either objects or signs and thereby "an affect of circulation between objects and signs" (2004, 120), which can be exchanged between the idol and the fans. Enhanced by social media, affect can not only circulate but can also be absorbed and transmitted from one body "directly into another" (Brennan 2004, 3) and can "reverberate in and out of cyberspace, intensified (or muffled) and transformed through digital circulation" (Kunstman 2012, 1).

[1.4] In order to examine the experience of being a Lady Gaga fan further, I focus not only on how the fans are invited into the experiences created by Gaga but also on how social media sites enable inclusion practices for the fans as well as processes of othering (Bennett 2013). Besides being spaces where the fans can experience a temporal and personal closeness with Lady Gaga, the online fan communities are also spaces where the fans can develop close relationships with other fans (Baym 2010) and thus experience an intensification of their Lady Gaga fandom. Investigating the various unwritten rules (Baym 2000) and cultural capitals (Fiske 1992) of the Gaga fandom, I wish to show how fan hierarchies (Zubernis and Larsen 2012) are established online and how the affective investments of the fans not only intensify the positive states of the fandom but also create moments of negative affect for the fans.

2. Methodology

[2.1] The investigation of the fandom of Lady Gaga in this article is based on, first, ongoing online ethnography on Lady Gaga's Twitter profile, the fan forum Gaga Daily (, and the fan Web site Little Monsters (; and, second, off-line ethnography consisting of recorded semistructured interviews with seven fans (one individual interview and two group interviews), unrecorded talks with several fans, and participation and observation at the ArtRave (a release party for Lady Gaga's latest album, Artpop [2013], held in Brooklyn on November 10, 2013), and at the Artpop POP UP (a 3-day gallery event November 11–13, 2013, in New York City). This means, first, that this study only covers a relatively small part of the whole Gaga fandom, and second, that fans constituting the off-line data in this study represent a specific part of the fandom: fans living in or in the environs of New York and thus close to Lady Gaga and who spend time and money following Gaga. The study is thus not representative of average Gaga fandom but rather an insight into a selected part of the fandom. All fans used as informants for this article were informed of my intentions with the interviews and that the data provided would be anonymized.

[2.2] Despite the fact that the off-line data are collected using classical anthropological methods (interviews and observations) and that this study therefore is not autoethnographical, I have found it useful to a small extent to inscribe myself in the third wave of fan studies, which is characterized by a "willingness to embrace the use of the personal in ways that extend beyond the uncritical limitations of the anecdotal or brief autobiographical introductions" (Monaco 2010, 102), and therefore to engage in an immersion in Gaga fandom. This was done as a result of experiencing how fans can be "mistrustful of academics in general" (Zubernis and Larsen 2012, 85). In order to get in contact with fans after the field trip to New York was planned, I wrote an entry on Gaga Daily and Little Monsters in which I described my research project and asked for fans who would be willing to meet up with me in New York (I wrote the respective administrations before I did so) and wrote the same on my profile. I also contacted a list of New York–based fans on Little Monsters through private messages. After a couple of last-minute cancellations, I ended up with only one fan willing to meet me in New York and experienced the same when approaching fans during my days in New York. I therefore started to use myself in the fieldwork, first by keeping track of my own bodily responses during the fieldwork and second by sharing, in my interviews and talks with fans, thoughts of my own experiences of becoming interested in Lady Gaga, listening to her for the first time, being impressed by parts of her social work, and even being touched by performances. My participation in discussions about Lady Gaga meant that I influenced the conversations, but it also encouraged more open conversations. This helped, but the fans still expressed a great deal of suspicion in spite of being very friendly. The fans, then, are not a carefully selected sample but instead are simply the fans who were willing to participate, which again means that the fans presented in this study are not necessarily representative of the average Gaga fandom.

[2.3] The online data are based on observations from August 2013 to February 2014 on two major Lady Gaga fan sites. The first is Gaga Daily, a fan site that was created in 2009 and that has been acknowledged by Lady Gaga, for instance via her occasional visits on the site. This site consists of a news section and a forum with more than 20,000 members with threads either related to Gaga or not. The second site is Little Monsters, a social networking site through which fans can "gather, create, share and inspire," created by Lady Gaga for her fans and launched in 2012. Besides ongoing online observation on Lady Gaga's Twitter profile, I followed the activity around the profile closely on the day before and on the day of the ArtRave party.

[2.4] In my investigations it soon became clear that social media play a huge role in the fandom of Gaga and also that it is impossible to draw a line between the online and off-line fan practices. I therefore follow the scholars of Internet research who have argued that we should not distinguish between virtual and real (Bolter et al. 2007) and that greater advantage will be gained by examining the ways in which online and off-line phenomena influence one another (Orgad 2009) and which, through qualitative Internet research, contribute to studies of the "multiple meanings and experiences that emerge around the internet in a particular context" (boyd 2009, 31).

[2.5] The various statements of the fans have been read first on a discursive level in order to investigate how notions of, for instance, the bad fan are created. The statements are then subjected to content analysis as expressions of affective bodily states. Affect has been addressed from various academic standpoints and with various focuses—for instance, how affect can be used as a political tool to manipulate voters (Thrift 2008), how affect can describe queer struggles (Sedgwick 2003), and how consumer culture depends on affective ideas and beliefs to spread contagiously from customer to customer (Gibbs 2010)—but is generally investigated as bodily responses and the capacity of the body to become affected and to affect others (Clough 2007). Affect has often been described as lying between physical drives and emotion, and as semi- or preconscious bodily responses in the meeting between the subject and the world surrounding the subject (Massumi 2009; Thrift 2008). Although I sympathize with this group of affect scholars who argue that rather than being preconscious, affect is discursively inscribed into existing social structures—as Judith Butler does when she argues that "we can only claim affect as our own on the condition that we have already been inscribed in a circuit of social affect" (2010, 50)—I find it useful in this article to apply the preconscious affective approach, as this distinction enables a reading of affect in its "qualified and semiotically inserted state" as emotion (Massumi 2002). The affective responses in the bodies of Lady Gaga fans are traceable in their verbalization and thus cognitive impression of the precognitive experiences.

3. Personal engagement and invested passion

[3.1] Lady Gaga is a huge part of the lives of all the fans that I interviewed: she appears on their CD player, on their cell phones, all over their rooms, and she was described as "always there" and "definitely family" (as expressed by fan 1); the ultimate dream for most of them is to become friends with her. Some saw her as "human God" (fan 5) or an artistic "mentor" (fan 2) while one stated that he/she would love to have Gaga as a mother. In other words, the playful potential is definitely brought into play in Gaga fandom, and the performances of Lady Gaga enable the fans to imagine a mutual relation with her. In order to understand the connection to Lady Gaga, the fans were asked to talk about why Gaga means so much to them and in what way.

[3.2] The fans emphasized the realness and genuineness as crucial elements of the experience of being a Gaga fan: "She's not posing, it's just something she does" (fan 6), and "Gaga is there to show you that she is not perfect, that she's a human being" (fan 1), and "for example she was like really serious about the 'don't ask, don't tell,' she wasn't just like 'oooh I'm supporting' with money" (fan 6). It is generally important for the fans that Gaga invests more than money in them: "Most people would be like 'go buy my album'" (fan 2). A competition was announced in February 2014, in which the fans could win a private dinner with Gaga and her family by donating money to the Born This Way Foundation and thus support social work for marginalized youth. When donating money, one is presented with the following options: Fan: $10, Supporter: $25, Monster: $50, Ambassador: $100, Super Star: $200, Monster VIP: $600, and Super Monster: $2,000. This was accepted enthusiastically by most of the fans. However, it also created a lot of frustration, for instance among the fans on Little Monsters who wondered, "So if we don't have $50 it means we are not a Little Monster?…I feel a little sad about the way the amount you donate is labeled as what type of fan you are" (February 25, 2014), "the winner will probably be a wealthy little monster who have met Gaga 100 times" (February 25, 2014), and "read through all the comments here and you will see the wave of sadness those that are not financially well off are feeling" (February 26, 2014). Even though money is unavoidable in most fan practices, it is generally important to the fans that what is invested in the relation between them and Lady Gaga goes beyond what one can buy or earn. That Gaga invested time in the fans was emphasized as important: "She just takes the time because she cares" (fan 3) and gave the fans the feeling that "she really cares for us" (fan 4). In addition, investing energy in them on a more personal level is also very important for the fans: "She fights for her fans, for equality, and for acceptance" and "she's just a voice for those who can't speak for themselves" (fan 1), and "we all see how she lives for us" (fan 7). The fact that Gaga herself has been through various personal problems was also emphasized as a crucial to the fans: "When you see her and she sings about it and talks about it, she's sharing it with millions of people. And she knows we all go through it. And you start crying because you realize that things can get better" (fan 7). The staged level of the Gaga experience is characterized by an authenticity—here referring to experiencing something as real and genuine and therefore not to whether the experience is actually real—and personal investment by Gaga, and what makes a difference to the fans is the extra effort that Gaga seems to put into her performativity by spending time on the fans, caring about the fans, and laying bare her personal struggles for the fans. The realness of the staged experience clearly has an impact on the fans, and the word passion came up many times when the fans tried to explain how they experienced Gaga: "It hits you…like there's so much passion in what she writes" and "she's a very passionate person and you feel that passion when she's singing" (fan 6). The fans also stated that they had a great deal to say about this matter but often weren't able to put it in words. This suggests a level of something indescribable and thus precognitive in the experience of Gaga. The passion or affect in the performativity of Lady Gaga circulates from the body of Gaga to the bodies of the fans and is absorbed as bodily responses, which take semiotic shape when the fans describe how it hits or is felt.

[3.3] In connection with the People's Choice Awards 2014, where Gaga's fans were nominated as the best followers, one fan tweeted to Lady Gaga "I don't care if we're people's choice as long as we're YOUR choice <3." Gaga then tweeted back, "Too bad I can't choose you, life already chose us to belong together. I am you, you are me, we are each other" (January 2014). What is remarkable here is, first, that Gaga tweets back, and second, that Gaga affirms the fantasies of belonging together among the fans, which is one of her regular styles of communication. This leads to the level of co-creation in the Gaga experience.

[3.4] The level of co-creation is present in all fandoms, for instance as what Jenkins (1992) calls poaching activities and other fan activities that mean, as he later states, that "spectator culture becomes participatory culture" (Jenkins 2006, 60). Many of the fans I interviewed emphasized interaction as very important in their fandom, in which their participation is met with responses from Gaga: "How she interacts with us is something not many others do" (fan 3). There are numerous examples of co-creation projects started by Gaga, but one is the creation of Little Monsters, where the fans were encouraged to send an e-mail and request to be "the first to experience a new community only for Little Monsters" and subsequently to send feedback in order to be part of the creation of this site. Another example worth mentioning is Lady Gaga's hiring of two of her fans: a moderator of Gaga Daily and a fan whose fan art was discovered by Gaga on Twitter. On the use of the site today, one fan noted: "She'll log in, she'll comment and talk to us and she'll see what we are up to. And that's really different" (fan 3). Gaga also comments on and talks with the fans on Twitter and via the interactive app created in connection with the release of her latest album Artpop (2013). Part of the level of co-creation in the world of Lady Gaga consists of Gaga inviting her fans into the production process, but the co-creation activity, which is highlighted the most by the fans, revolves around Gaga taking part in the lives of her fans. The imagining of a mutual relation with the object of fandom is enabled by Gaga's fulfilling the fantasy of the idol responding. Lady Gaga is not only being watched by the fans but is also reciprocating the awareness. With a chorus repeating, "We could, we could belong together (ARTPOP)" on the title song of the latest album, and responding to Katy Perry's recent statement on not being "a crazy 'I'm gonna die for my fans' type" ("Unbreakable Katy Perry" 2014) with "I would fucking die for my fans" at a concert in Las Vegas on August 1, 2014, Lady Gaga levels with her fans and appears to, like the fans, invest personally in the relation between them. This level of co-creation enables the fans to feel more like a part of the Gaga experience, which thus becomes more of a personal experience. The fans are not only enjoying performed authenticity by Lady Gaga but also are experiencing a mutual emotional engagement in their fandom of Gaga.

[3.5] When I asked the fans how they differed from other fans, they showed awareness of sharing love and passion like other fan bases, but what they emphasized as making them different is what one fan described as self-empowerment. Some of this self-empowerment has to do with creativity and artistic inspiration. The fact that "she's always saying go for your dreams, be who you are" (fan 2) was greatly appreciated by the fans, and the fans agreed that "you don't really hear that a lot from other artists" (fan 2). This encouragement to believe in yourself and what you do gives rise to action among the fans: "She really put the creativity out in us" (fan 3) and "I don't really see other fans make art, because your idol makes you" (fan 4). Being artistic and creative refers here to the production of fan art but also to the artistic work of the fans which is not related to the world of Gaga: for instance, playing an instrument, writing their own songs, and the like. On a more personal level, Gaga also activated the fans: "Her messages created me as I am today. She simply just brought out the inner me" (fan 7); "I never really took bullying and I think that was because of the way I was raised by Lady Gaga" (fan 6); "I try to set an example for honesty like she does" (fan 1); "she inspires people, to inspire other people" and "she gives you the motivation to help others" (fan 7). Similarly, the changed behavior of the fans does not only count in the fan environment; intentions of treating others and themselves better are also applied to the personal life of the fans, which is not directly linked to the fan community. Contrary to the level of co-creation in the Lady Gaga experience where the fans are also activated and integrated into the construction of the experience, this level has to do with activities motivated and encouraged by Lady Gaga but also carried out in their lives outside the fandom. The passion, which seems to be central in this fandom, is not only located in the fans but also transfers from (fan) body to body: "People don't just worship, they also take all this good energy, this passion and energy and do other things with their lives" and "that passion can spread and motivate people to find something they want to be passionate about" (fan 6). What we see here is an example of Ahmed's (2004) notion of affects of circulation and of how affective fandom can function as an empowering investment and generate energy, passion, and social change for the fans. The performativity of Lady Gaga encourages the fans to self-direct the experience of Gaga and thus to embed the fandom into other parts of their lives.

[3.6] The fandom of Lady Gaga is not experienced as split into three levels. However, examining fan experiences on these levels provides an insight into the different ways in which value production and affective attachment and investment occurs, as performed realness transmitting affect to its fans, as mutual affective investment in the relation, and as passion and energy empowering the fans to change themselves and others. The passion shared and invested by Gaga is crucial to the fans and encourages them to invest further in the fandom on a personal level. Also the sensation of self-empowerment causes the fans to share their passion with other fans, which, often enhanced by social media, is spread, transmitted, and circulated in the fan communities.

[3.7] The fans did not distinguish between their online and off-line fandom. However, it is evident that social media plays a big role in the fandom of Lady Gaga and in the occurrence of affective responses. In order to understand the fan inclusion in the Lady Gaga experience further, the following will examine how social media sites enable not only a closer interaction between the fans and Lady Gaga and among the fans but also how inclusion practices and processes of exclusion take place within the social hierarchies in the online fan communities.

4. Can we build a Twitter country now?

[4.1] When investigating the field of celebrity performativity and fandom today, it is inevitable to come across the use of social media—not only concerning the activities of the fans but also at least to the same degree concerning the media use of the celebrities. For some artists, like Justin Bieber and South Korean singer Psy, fame depends completely on visibility, spreading, and hyping, facilitated by social media. In April 2008, Lady Gaga released her first single, "Just Dance." Two weeks before the release, Gaga created a profile on the online social networking and microblogging service Twitter, and in the same week of the release, Gaga also joined the online social networking service Facebook. The singer was not discovered via social media sites, and her breakthrough was thus not reliant on online media hype. However, it is beyond any doubt that from the outset, the career of Lady Gaga has been intertwined with and embedded in an ongoing parallel performance online as well as off-line. In 2010 Lady Gaga was the first artist to reach 10 million likes on Facebook (Axon 2010), and in 2011 she was the first artist to reach the magic number on Twitter (Becker 2011).

[4.2] When she reached 21 million Twitter followers in March 2012, Gaga tweeted "Wow 21,000,000 monsters. Can we build a Twitter Country now and all go live there." This wish turned out to be not far from reality. For many Gaga fans, having a Twitter profile is a must. Facebook is considered a copy/paste of Twitter for the fans I talked to, and although many of them had a profile on Gaga Daily and/or Little Monsters, Twitter was undoubtedly the most popular medium. Twitter was considered to be the best way to be updated about Gaga, both because this is the media platform on which Gaga is most active and because it is used by the fans to arrange meetings and exchange information and rumors. Twitter is known for its "high speed of information dissemination" and "the significant influence…as a driver of web traffic" (Bruns and Stieglitz 2013, 161) and therefore as a "real-time social network" (Deller 2011). With its immediacy and post frequency, it is the most obvious media platform on which to follow Lady Gaga if one wants to stay up to date and not miss any communication from Gaga. The tweeting and retweeting of Lady Gaga, as Lucy Bennett has shown in her study of Gaga fans, also enables the fans to experience Gaga as being like them, being "a 'human being' engaged in everyday events" (2014, 113) and a sense of being "directly spoken to, despite this large audience" (116). The Twitter communication of Gaga is highly linked to closeness both personally and timewise.

[4.3] Fans of boy band One Direction reported that they use Twitter in the hope of being recognized by their idol and also hoping to meet new friends. The latter, one Directioner argues, became a lot easier after being followed by a band member (Kerr 2013). The same unwritten social rule is also valid in Gaga fandom, which is evident in statements from my interviews like the following: "I met them [other fans] after I met her" and "now that I got to meet her for the first time, everything changed like I have more friends" (fan 1). In their online socialization, the fans either find each other through Twitter and become friends or meet in real life and then connect via Twitter. Two of the fans I talked to even reported that in spite of living in and attending an art school in New York City, they found it difficult to find other fans without social media. Nancy Baym has concluded in her research that "'online' relationships turn into 'offline' ones much less often than 'offline' friendships turn into 'online' ones" (2010, 132), but because of the high level of fan interactivity and interest in meeting each other off-line, this does not seem to be the case in this specific fandom. And although Baym argues that Twitter should be not considered a single community (2010, 78) and although Twitter relations have been described as "pseudo-intimacy" (Zubernis and Larsen 2012, 150), I argue that Gaga fan activities constitute a community within Twitter. Besides being a place through which they make and stay in contact with friends, it is also a place that several of the fans referred to as "one big family" in which they instantly can get support and where "they're just there all the time… they're always thinking of her, that they're always together" (fan 1).

[4.4] Twitter as a communication platform has many limitations, but the online activities of the Gaga fans enable them to create a feeling of a family-like community, with an online liveness (Deller 2011) in which they experience things simultaneously. The fan experience is expanded and intensified by social media since it enables the fans to create personal bonds with other fans and exercise their fandom in a shared room and to experience a temporal and personal closeness with Lady Gaga online as the possibility of meeting and being seen or heard by Gaga comes a step closer.

5. Disempowerment and othering

[5.1] On Twitter and other online fan communities, people can develop meaningful personal relationships online that can make important contributions to their lives (Baym 2010). However, fan communities are also embedded in a system of appreciation, comparisons, and acknowledgment, and thus require an investment of cultural capital, a value of knowledge that is created via exchange and circulation between people—for instance, via enunciative productivity, an adoption of the specific semiotic system of the fan environment (Fiske 1992). Like other social groups, fan spaces "tend to be hierarchical, with various routes 'to the top'" (Zubernis and Larsen 2012, 30). So fan identities are created via ongoing individual performative work (Butler 1990) and through processes of identification work involving either inclusion or exclusion in social relationships with other fans (Jenkins 2008). Through this social interaction, social norms are being constituted, routinized, and incorporated into online fan practices as unwritten guidelines on the basis of which users can act (Baym 2000).

[5.2] The fans whom I talked to highlighted many of the same positive qualities of being a fan of Lady Gaga, and all agreed that the fan community offers personal support, friends, and a family. However, their statements and the collected online data also indicate sets of unwritten rules in the fandom. First, experience and knowledge proved to be important. I observed newer fans on Gaga Daily getting responses like the following: "Omg the new members *laughing emote*"; "not to be rude, but where have you been for the past 3.5 months *rolling eyes emote *"; "Gurl get out of here with your 1 post telling us what to do" and "Why are u posting something that happened a few days ago?" Imitating the personal values of Gaga was central too; Lady Gaga frequently turns to various online media platforms to remind her fans that being a little monster means being positive and kind. For instance, she stated, "Any monster that is using hateful language and spreading negativity is not standing truly by me" on Little Monsters (August 7, 2013). This created a discussion thread on Gaga Daily, with many people arguing that the fans who created this negativity are not behaving as fans should: "Most people doing it are Madonna stans pretending to be gaga fans or trolls." But in another thread (January 2014) a fan pointed out to the other fans that "it's like you pointing out people who need to leave the fanbase." Although a couple of fans agreed with this proposal, the majority took exception to it. This "attempting to police other fans" (Zubernis and Larsen 2012, 127) pointed out by the one fan seems to take place regularly on Gaga Daily—for instance, in a thread where a fan states that that it will be an unpopular thread but asks people to keep an open mind and then argues that the new album of Miley Cyrus, Bangerz (2013), is better than Artpop because Bangerz contains more hits than Artpop (November 2013). This created reactions like "stopped reading there because you're obviously delusional & not worth my time bye" and "I think it's time to leave this forum if you really dislike the current Gagz so much." The fan posting this thread has posted several thousand contributions to the forum and has thus supported this fan community for some time. But suggesting that the newest Gaga release could be topped by another album placed the fan on the edge of the community. Also off-line, the policing and self-policing is taking place; however the fans I interviewed were more reluctant to criticize other fans. One fan stated in an interview: "I don't wanna talk junk about little monsters" (fan 4), while another fan asked me to turn off the recorder before stating that not all fans are nice. The fans also discussed whether or not it is okay to disturb Lady Gaga and her family in their private time: "I try not to bother them as much because she is a human" and "We don't [disturb Gaga when she's at her parents' restaurant]. And you know, you gain respect from Joe [Gaga's father] especially" (fan 1). The fans seem be to impelled to act like good fans because of the (potential) satisfaction of being acknowledged in the fan community and of receiving respect from Gaga and her family. The importance of behaving in a way that Gaga would appreciate is also present on Twitter, as this example shows: one fan had been tweeting "spamming Gaga"; "everyday I go on Gaga's account to see if it says 'follows you.'" However, when another fan tweeted, "It's so easy to get her to follow you if you try harder" with an @ to both the first fan and to Lady Gaga, which made the post possible for Lady Gaga to see, the first fan replied, "I don't care that deeply + I don't like spamming her." Being a real fan, for these fans, means living in a Gaga panopticon, where every statement is carefully considered when you're potentially being watched, and the fear of being defined as a bad fan means that the fan behavior depends on who's watching.

[5.3] Besides using a young language with abbreviations like wtf, omg, and tbh and using many emoticons, the online Gaga community has its own enunciative productivity, which is constantly changing and negotiated. When the song "Fashion!" leaked from Artpop, the word slay, which is repeated throughout the song, became extremely common among her fans: "omg Gaga slays this outfit" and the like. Other codes are not as easily integrated, as for instance the word yaaasss, which was created by one of the well-known fans, spread online, and is often used to express excitement about Gaga. This was well received by many fans and integrated into their Gaga vocabulary, but it has also been rejected by many, possibly because the trend was started by a fan and not by Lady Gaga herself. The negotiation of terms even led to an othering (Bennett 2013) of the fan, with statements like "he thinks saying YAAAAZZZ emphasizes he started a fan 'trend' and boosts his fat ego even more" and "he's full of himself like I said and thinks he's a fan leader or something." This term is thus still being negotiated as part of the code.

[5.4] The "promise of intimacy and authenticity" (Ihleman 2013, 346) and "the potential of getting to know the idol and therefore become more of an insider than the other fans" (350) are also significant to the Gaga fans, and meeting her does undoubtedly result in a privileged position in the fan hierarchy. It is important to add that meeting Gaga online or getting a retweet or a follow by Lady Gaga is equally important to the fans. When interviewing some of the fans, I asked if they tried to get Gaga to follow them on Twitter. The answers were clear: "Yeah, I try all the time. Sometimes I'll just have Gaga spam" (fan 5) and "I was trying to see if she would come here [the POP UP event] and I asked her like 10 times" (fan 3). Although a connection to Gaga is the most optimal, the fans who somehow are closer to Gaga are also acquaintances of interest for the other fans, and as one fan stated in an interview: "A lot of fans are fans of other fans" (fan 1). Meeting Gaga is for many of the fans the ultimate goal, and one fan therefore sought advice on Gaga Daily on how to meet Gaga. The fan interestingly states her credentials as a fan in her advice, seeking to clarify the seriousness of the request: "I went to the artRave, I can rattle off literally any fact about Gaga, basically every spare dollar of my cash goes to her, it's not like I'm some random non-genuine fan." The answers on how to find Gaga then included becoming one of the "Twitter monsters who follow her everywhere." This group was also referred to as the "stalker group, yasssing 24/7." Many of the other replies agreed that a certain group of fans who connect via Twitter and spend a lot of time locating Gaga is too much—"There IS a difference between being a fan and meeting your idol…and stalking"—and that "harming and harassing Gaga" is a wrong way to get her attention. Even though one fan argued back that "it's not that they stalk her, it's that they have connection," the general stance was that this kind of behavior was going too far in the attempt to meet Gaga. What we see here is another example of othering and exclusion in Gaga fandom, but it is also a demonstration that the affective investments in Gaga fandom are not measured on a never-ending curve but can also lead to exclusion.

[5.5] The intention of this section is by no means to inscribe Lady Gaga fans into the "controversies over the years casting fandom in a poor light" (Duffett 2013a, 300) but to show that the pleasure of being a Gaga fan and experiencing the closeness that this fandom offers can in its hunt for acknowledgment and recognition lead to uncomfortable states of being. The relation to Lady Gaga and to other fans can empower the fans beyond what they can express in words, but it can also exclude them from social relations and can disempower them through the processes of self-policing. This leads to the last point I want to make.

6. Negative affect

[6.1] "WE SHOULD TELL PEOPLE WHAT WE'RE GOING THROUGH!" a girl next to me screamed in a high-pitched voice. People around us joined in: "This is SO ridiculous"; "we have been sitting here for fucking hours"; and "I'm done." Some began crying and some left the queue. We were standing in line for the release party, the ArtRave, of Lady Gaga's new album Artpop and hoping to be let in, in spite of a guest limit of 1,800 people. Grusin argues that we seek positive affect and thus avoid negative affect (2010, 109–10), as do Zubernis and Larsen in their argument that fan activities are, "all temporary frustrations aside, an essentially pleasurable experience" (2012, 71). Gaga fandom is undoubtedly about achieving positive affect; however, the temporary frustrations sometimes seem to be many and strong in Lady Gaga fandom. It had been reported that Gaga would reveal the party location on Twitter during the day, but in the days before ArtRave, people discovered that some fans had received an invitation or had been given one by Gaga when they managed to meet her. The panic began to spread, and those who hadn't got tickets reported on Twitter that they were "desperately looking for the #artRAVE location"; they asked Gaga "why have u forsaken us?" and tweeted bodily reactions like "beyond stressing and freaking out about this weekend"; "so nervous my stomach is in knots. Feel like I'm gonna hurl"; "Uhg I feel so shitty. Just need to sleep"; "If only someone could feel my heart, it's insane how fast it's beating"; "Can't even eat"; and "I can't deal with the stress and the anxiety I'm having from not knowing anything." I could follow the reactions of the fans on Twitter minute by minute but could also detect streams of restlessness and panic in my own fast-beating heart, red cheeks, legs that couldn't stay still, and a knot in my stomach. During the day of the event, a group of people, including me, discovered that one fan who had a ticket had checked in at a pier and stood waiting there for something to happen, and we therefore went there to wait too. After hours of waiting, we were then told that no one would be allowed to enter the party without an invitation. This resulted in a wave of cries, tears, and anger. Luckily 20 or 30 fans and I waited until the very end and were finally let in, but many fans decided to give up and were very upset. Although the bodily responses I experienced myself were not as strong as those of the fans, the frustration of not getting an update and the dejection caused by waiting on a very cold pier for about 9 hours without access to food or toilets with very little chance of being let in to the party was clear.

[6.2] During my first fan interview in New York, which took place at Lady Gaga's parents' restaurant, my informant was of course talking to me but was at the same time constantly checking the cell phone, looking at or talking to other fans inside the restaurant, fans outside, Gaga's parents, and the staff of the restaurant. This revealed the state of stress linked with being constantly up to date and thus not missing anything. When I later went to Gaga's apartment to wait with the fans, the atmosphere was not unequivocally positive: the fans talked about how tired and cold they were and about how hard a week it was going to be with all the waiting (since Gaga was in town the whole week). The fieldwork in New York emphasized not only how high is the level of affect invested in this fandom but also that Gaga fandom sometimes includes experiences of very negative affects.

[6.3] From the point of view of experience economy, I have shown how affect can be read as a value invested and enjoyed on different levels by both the fans of Lady Gaga and, according to the sensations of the fans, also by Gaga herself. The affect, or passion and energy, expressed in the performativity of Lady Gaga circulates from the body of Gaga to the bodies of the fans and is experienced as touching sincerity, mutual affective investment in the close and personal relationship, and identity changing self-empowerment. Social media platforms intensify the affective experience of being a Gaga fan, but the hunt for being accepted as a fan and being seen by Lady Gaga can also lead to social exclusion and disempowerment among the fans. The passion that is shared by Gaga and the closeness that is provided through her online and off-line performativity make the fans invest affectively in the fandom. However, this experience of feeling close but not quite there and the hunt for positive affect that is reachable in this inner circle can also trigger various states of negative affect in the Lady Gaga experience. Being invited into as close a relation with Lady Gaga as a fan-celebrity relation allows but often without getting as close as the fans want to (for instance, being followed back on Twitter or meeting Gaga in person) does not seem to change the way in which the fans view Lady Gaga. At the ArtRave the fans directed their anger toward the guards, and in terms of the online relation with Gaga the fans seem to have an understanding of her not being able to reach all of them. The negative states of the Gaga fandom, then, do not point to Lady Gaga as a negative idol for the fans but rather to the guards, media platforms, and other obstacles standing in the way of the meeting that they could be experiencing.

[6.4] "To see with my own eyes how nice she is to her fans is what makes it all worth it, to be completely honest" (fan 1) was the conclusion of one fan. Affective states of fandom do bring sites of optimism and invigoration but can also—especially with the proximity that social media brings—cause despair. But to the fans of Gaga, the states of negative affect are worth it. One could even argue that the many hours of waiting, the energy spent, and the tears cried bring the fans closer to Gaga, as these downsides of fandom make the autograph, the eye contact, or the picture appear as payoff and thus equivalently intense as the moments of despair. As this study of Lady Gaga fans has shown, the levels of affect invested in fandoms can be very high, but in order to understand them fully, we need to pay attention to the negative affective states too. I encourage further investigation of different states of affect in fandoms in order to understand the complexity of this intense personal dedication.

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