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Supporting Mental Health Through Online Music Fandoms

Updated Friday, 15 December 2023

What are online fandoms? What are the benefits of joining one – and how to make it happen? Read and watch this personal exploration of online music fandoms by Dr. Lauren O'Hagan.

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What are music fandoms?

Dr Rosemary Lucy Hill, a Senior Lecturer in Media and Popular Culture, describes music fandoms as an 'imaginary community' – a place made up of 'a communion of equals separate from mainstream society.' In this context, music fandom is not about buying CDs or attending concerts, but rather an intense response to music and an emotional attachment to the artist. In short, it emphasises the personal aspects of being a fan. Through interactions on social media, music fandom becomes an intimate experience and private music activities in the home turn into social music activities in a public space.

How do online fandoms differ from the music fandoms of the past?

Music fandoms have their origins in the mid-19th century when a cult of celebrity grew around figures like Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. However, today they are more accessible than ever before thanks to the internet. Forums, social media and blogs enable fans all across the world to share content and interact with one another.

Contrary to popular belief, these online fandoms have been found to offer a safe space for women in particular to explore their identities and thoughts non-judgementally. They also have many benefits for those who suffer from mental health conditions, particularly anxiety and depression.

Can online fandoms support mental health?

In this recorded conversation, Dr. Lauren O'Hagan and Dr. Michael Lydon discuss the ways in which it's possible to support mental health through online music fandoms. Relying on Dr. O'Hagan's experience and research, they outline the ways in which music, belonging and connection work to create a positive online experience.

Word document Download the video transcript 120.5 KB

What are the benefits of being in an online fandom?

1. Online fandoms offer a sense of belonging

Online music fandoms are a place to connect with others who have similar interests. Being part of a group infrastructure can give members purpose, build their self-confidence and help them develop a deeper understanding of self. Feeling part of a tribe also offers security and has been shown to improve self-esteem.

2. Joining an online fandom encourages social participation

Online music fandoms transcend physical distance and encourage interactions with people all over the world that you might not otherwise have a chance to meet. Their international nature breaks down barriers by introducing members to diversity. They also help minimise feelings of loneliness because there is always somebody available to talk.

3. Self-expression is key in online fandoms

Online music fandoms offer a safe space where members can be themselves in ways that they may not feel able to in the real world. Being ‘different’ is welcomed and even celebrated, and members have the freedom to express their thoughts, feelings and values authentically. This can build a strong foundation for lasting friendships.

4. Do online fandoms promote creativity?

Online music fandoms can bring out your creative side as you develop new content and engage in a wide range of activities that are shared or even co-created within the community, such as writing poetry and fan fiction, making artwork, editing videos and performing music. This can give members an opportunity to develop new skills or rediscover old interests.

5. Being in an online fandom should be fun!

Online music fandoms help members momentarily escape from the stresses and challenges of daily life. They can bring out your inner child as you participate in games, quizzes and competitions or share feelings of excitement around new releases or concerts with others. Laughter is a huge part of being in the community, with members often developing their own in-jokes and in-language based on shared experiences.

6. Knowledge exchange in online fandoms

A key component of online music fandoms is learning from one another. Members actively take time to develop their own expertise and share it with others through content. This content forms part of a large information hub that others can draw upon. Older fans also take on mentorship roles with newer fans, offering advice and recommendations to them, which can help build a sense of self-worth.

7. Learning opportunities for altruism in an online fandom

Online music fandoms can act as informal support networks. As friendships grow, members feel a sense of concern for the wellbeing of others and regularly ‘check in’ on those who have gone quiet or may not be feeling their best. Members can also co-create wellbeing resources, such as Spotify playlists, or may even feel able to open up about personal issues and, in return, receive supportive messages from peers.

8. Does joining an online fandom lead to empowerment?

Being part of an online music fandom can be empowering and give members greater agency. Through the fandom, you can gain strength and resilience, define yourself on your own terms and get to know yourself better. This process of self-reflection and emotional growth can help you gain better control over your own life and ultimately improve offline relationships.

Further reading (and listening)

Books referenced in the podcast:

Mangaoang, Á., O'Flynn, J., & Ó Briain, L. (Eds.). (2020). Made in Ireland: Studies in Popular Music (1st ed.). Routledge.

McLaughlin, N., & McLoone, M. (2012). Rock and Popular Music in Ireland: Before and after U2. Irish Academic Press.

McAvoy, M. (2016). Cork Rock: From Rory Gallagher To The Sultans Of Ping.

Smyth, G. (2005). Noisy Island: A Short History of Irish Popular Music.

Related articles by Lauren O'Hagan: 

Music for Mental Health: An Autoethnography of the Rory Gallagher Instagram Fan Community. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (Early access).DOI:

'Rory played the greens, not the blues': expressions of Irishness on the Rory Gallagher YouTube channel, Irish Studies Review,

Fashioning the 'People’s Guitarist' The Mythologization of Rory Gallagher in the International Music Press, Rock Music Studies,

'It’s always nice to head for home': Music-Making, Sense of Place, and Corkonian Identity in the Rory Gallagher Irish Tour ’74 Documentary, Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland,

'Rory Gallagher's Leprechaun Boogie': Irish Stereotyping in the International Music Press, Review of Irish Studies in Europe (RISE),

'My Musical Armor': Exploring Metalhead Identity through the Battle Jacket, Rock Music Studies,

'A Million Miles Away' by Rory Gallagher - listen online

'Easy Come, Easy Go' by Rory Gallagher - listen online

'Shin Kicker' by Rory Gallagher - listen online

Rewriting Rory - click to read the blog


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