In Manchester on Monday, what should have been a joyful evening of music and dancing at Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” concert turned into horrific tragedy. Just as fans were filing out of the arena, many with pink balloons in hand, a young man standing in the ticket area detonated a bomb.
The terror attack claimed at least 22 lives, and left nearly 60 injured. It was the deadliest attack in the U.K. since 2005.
We don’t yet know what the proclaimed motivations of the attacker who terrorized Manchester Arena were ― the 22-year-old man who carried out the attack died in the blast ― but what we do know is that the majority of Ariana Grande’s fans are young women and girls. By all reports, the arena was filled with children, mothers and daughters, teen and tween girls who had traveled to the show in pairs or packs.
Teen girls learn how to express passion and love with abandon in a world that largely devalues, objectifies and mocks them.
Pop concerts like Grande’s provide a space where fandoms thrive. And Grande’s fandom, known affectionately as Arianators, is comprised largely of teen girls and LGBTQ youth. (“SO EXCITED TO SEE U TOMORROW,” 18-year-old Georgina Callendar, the Manchester bombing’s first-identified victim, tweeted at Grande on Sunday.) One can surmise that Monday’s concert-goers, ranging in age by decades, many wearing their idol’s signature cat ears and high pony, went out for a night into a space they believed would bring them (or their children) joy and a chance for unencumbered self-expression. For a few hours, the fans in attendance could sing along, losing themselves in the music and soaking up a bit of Grande’s subtle, transgressive sexuality.
Any terror attack flips the switch from assumed safety to fear, from light to darkness, evoking mourning from around the world. But there is something especially hideous about the targeting, whether intentional or not, of young people ― especially young people leaving a space that was supposed to belong to them, at least for a night.
As the New York Times’ Ceylan Yeginsu, Rory Smith and Stephen Castle wrote of the attack:
The violence is intended to stoke fear and to deliver a message. And it was the message of the Manchester blast that was so chilling: the slaughter of teenagers, the anxiety of parents who had been waiting to take their children home, the frantic search for loved ones amid chaos and sirens.
Teen girls are magical beings. I don’t consider this a political statement, more a statement of fact. And, no, Twitter trolls, this does not mean I believe teens are physically immune to the ravages of a terror attack. It means that teen girls learn how to express passion and love with abandon in a world that largely devalues, objectifies and mocks them. It was depressing but unsurprising that in the hours just after the Manchester bombing, at least one male journalist found it an appropriate moment to show disdain for Grande’s music and her largely girlish fan base on Twitter. (The tweets have since been deleted.)
Teen girls can find joy in drugstore glitter, as well as deeply intimate friendship. They can be smart as hell. They can read up about politics and racial inequality and gender-based violence with just as much enthusiasm as they do about their favorite bands and YouTube stars. And, as Harry Styles articulated in a widely-shared Rolling Stone interview last month, when they find meaning in a musician and their songs, they show up for that artist, again and again and again: “Teenage-girl fans ― they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there.” That artist becomes the recipient of their unbound love.
You see this same love manifesting between teen girls (and boys and adults of all genders) in the wake of the Manchester bombing. In the hours following the attack, there was an outpouring of collective grief and support for victims, their loved ones and Grande herself ― both online and from within Manchester.
Members of other fandoms, from Justin Bieber’s Beliebers to Demi Lovato’s Lovatics to One Direction’s Directioners, each community named after their chosen idol, vowed they’d be there for Arianators.
Twitter, which sometimes feels like nothing more than a cruel cesspool, showed up for Georgina Callendar’s best friend Sophie after she posted a beautiful remembrance of her on Twitter.
“To my beautiful best friend I hope you rest in peace my darling. I love you so much and will always miss you,” she tweeted.
The messages began pouring in.
“I’m so sorry for your loss. I do not know you but I am sending you all my thoughts and endless amounts of my love,” one young woman wrote.
“i know saying sorry won’t help but i really am. u have so many people that are here for u in this time,” tweeted another.
(Strangers tweet their condolences to Callendar’s BFF, below.)
And in Manchester, the community is rallying, as flowers fill the streets near the arena, and blood banks are overwhelmed with donations.
Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca received an email from a 23-year-old who lives in Manchester, which she posted on Twitter just after midnight on Tuesday.
“We in this city have not reacted to this terror attack with vitriol; or with fear,” the author of the email wrote. “Our first reaction has been to take to the streets with water, with supplies, to open our homes to those who are stranded and also, sadly, to guide the families who have lost their children through to the centre of a city they don’t know. If you do choose to write about us, please know that [we] reacted with kindness, empathy and love. Not with hate.”
Nothing can fix the senseless violence and loss of life that occurred in Manchester. There is no making it better, and there is no undoing the trauma and violation that those directly touched by the terror attack ― and those impacted by any terror attack around the world ― experienced.
But what we can do is remember that, like the young women who fill concert halls to dance and laugh and bond, choosing unfettered love and joy whenever possible is the only way forward.