To wave a flag: Identification, #BlackLivesMatter, and populism in Harry Styles fandom

  • Allyson Gross Goldsmiths, University of London
Keywords: Celebrity activism, Ernesto Laclau, Identity, One Direction, Pop music


Scholarship on the influence of celebrity politics often highlights the role of identification in the process of fans' own politicization and centers how a star's politics shift those of their fans. In a series of interviews with fans of musician Harry Styles, this research explores how identification with the singer instead served as the basis for fans' own attempts at shifting Styles's political expression to represent their own values. Drawing on the populist theory of Ernesto Laclau, I argue that Harry Styles fans relate to him as a populist unifier and collective representative of the fandom's values, and mobilize his image for their own political purpose. Rather than passively consuming his music and image, fans rhetorically construct Styles as a collective, popular object through identification with his star image, and they project their own values into the void of his signification. Through an exploration of fans' perception of his values, vague rhetoric, and engagement with #BlackLivesMatter, Harry Styles fans provide a useful new framework through which to explore the populist potential of fandom.