CMU Approved

Approved: Malcolm McLean – Freak Like Me: Confessions Of A 90s Pop Groupie

By | Published on Thursday 17 October 2019

Malcolm McLean - Freak Like Me

Trying to get inside the mind of pop music fans is a key focus for many in the music industry, and as online fandom splits into sub-groups of sub-groups of sub-groups it can seem increasingly perplexing. Malcolm McLean’s new memoir of his time as a teenage superfan around the turn of the millennium offers a fascinating, funny and often unexpected journey through several shifts in pop, as he views the changing world through a life of pop fandom.

After seeking solace from school bullying in pop music, that fandom tipped into obsession as a young teenager when Eternal’s Kelle Bryan called him at home to say thank you for a fan letter. This led to the first of many trips to the ‘Top Of The Pops’ studio, seeking (and often finding) further interactions with pop stars.

While for many it was the advent of social media that broke down the barriers between stars and fans, McLean and an enterprising community of like-minded friends found themselves on first name terms with many of their favourite music makers pre the digital revolution.

Hanging out outside rehearsal studios, in airport terminals and by stage doors, they became familiar faces to those people who would have seemed untouchable to most. Perhaps most impressive is that McLean and co managed to blag their way into the BRIT Awards not once but three times, using fake passes created in Microsoft Paint.

As their confidence in connecting with pop stars grew, they found themselves tracking down said stars’ homes and, perhaps most unexpectedly, being welcomed when they got there. Or at least chatted to outside. In some cases the benefits certainly became two-way, with stars whose careers were somewhat on the wane being more than happy to give up their time in order to ensure eager fans would still be in attendance at live and TV appearances.

And there are plenty of stars on the wane as this book proceeds. Although McLean’s story only covers a few years, he still witnesses first-hand the rise and fall of several groups, including Eternal, B*Witched and The Spice Girls. He also sees the rise-to-fall cycle shorten as the new era of TV talent shows arrives, starting with ITV’s ‘Popstars’, which spawned Hear’Say, an outfit that found themselves on the way down before they’d even had a chance to get used to being on the way up.

As well as a plentiful amount of 90s nostalgia, McLean’s story is one of self-discovery, as he finds a place to develop away from the rigours of school, grappling with his sexuality throughout. As he reaches his late teens and begins to enter adulthood, things begin to change again. Where once he and his friends seemed like a bunch of cheeky kids seeking to connect with their pop idols, as they grew older both they and the stars they followed began to notice something less comfortable about their interactions.

By the time McLean realises it’s time to move on he’s a more confident and self-assured person all round. Although few reach the level of obsession he did, his story does highlight some important aspects of childhood fandom and how it helps people develop a sense of who they really are. And while certain aspects of that process may be different today, as things have moved ever more online, there are many parts of this story that remain relevant in 2019.

Read an excerpt from ‘Freak Like Me’ here, and buy the book on Amazon here.

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