Catching up with…Simone Driessen

Simone Driessen is a PhD candidate and Lecturer at IBCoM. After graduating from Media & Journalistiek (Master Media Studies, ESHCC), she applied for the ERMeCC research project POPID: Popular Music Heritage, Cultural Memory and Cultural Identity. This project explores the relationship between popular music and contemporary renderings of cultural identity and local and national cultural heritage. She is currently focusing on finishing up her PhD research, which is about popular music and fandom: “Why are we still addicted to music from our past?”

An example of what Simone investigated is people’s attraction to reunion parties, such as ‘80’s or ‘90’s parties. “I’m looking at people between 25-40 years old who for some reason attend these reunion concerts and literally have the time of their life there. Why do you do that? Why are you interested in attending such a reunion/ party featuring that music? But most of all, what does that music mean to you? Why do you still enjoy it? Because we know that it is sometimes not very good (qualitatively dubious?) music. They actually do not have the brightest lyrics, for instance. However, there is sort of a feeling that comes with it, and I am interested in what we experience at such an evening, or in such a fandom of an act that has been with us since the nineties.”

Audience experience: boy bands

Simone worked as a music journalist before, but never got the chance to talk to the audience much as she was mostly writing reviews and interviewing the artists. “I was very interested in the other side of music too – as in, how do you as an audience member actually experience such a concert, or how do you experience a band, and what do they mean to you? Because music does play a very large role in many people’s lives.”

The big role music has in the lives of many fans of music becomes very clear in her research on the Backstreet Boys. Fans of this once extremely popular boy band are very fascinating to Simone. “It’s something that is generally thought of as something you should like as a 12 year old, but not as a 32 year old. For some of them, their whole life still revolves around the Backstreet Boys. Some fans that I interviewed went on a cruise with the boy band in Miami - they actually flew to Florida to visit these guys and be on a boat with them for 3 days along with 3000 other girls. This costs an awful lot of money, but to these fans it was an investment worth it.”

Simone thinks it could be the feeling of nostalgia as well as a form of identity formation that explains this phenomenon. “It has a lot of potential in different meanings for the fans, but I would say for some it’s just escapism from their everyday life, and for some it’s really looking back to a period when they found their lives better and easier.”

Another example Simone has come across in her research is The Big Reunion Concerts. These concerts stem from a TV show called The Big Reunion, which brought together bands such as Five and Atomic Kitten. “People from many different countries in Europe flew to the UK to attend these concerts. People somehow care enough about these bands to actually witness it. Maybe some of them did not have a chance to go the first time around, as they were very young when these bands first became popular. If they missed them back then, at least now they had the opportunity to go and see their favourite boy band from that time.”

But how about Simone herself? “If we’re talking about boy bands, I was a Boyzone fan. They were the less popular in the boy band era I guess. Which is actually really funny, because while doing these boyband studies, I found another PhD colleague in the UK who also had a crush on Boyzone in her youth, so together we wrote an article about our love for the band and how it developed over time. It’s funny to take that personal experience into academia as well.”

Combining PhD and teaching

Simone plans to finish her PhD by December. In the meantime, she is teaching International and Global Communications to IBCoM’s BA-2 students. “I’ll be a bit distracted from my PhD due to teaching, but it’s good. It gives me time to think about my research from new perspectives.”

In her teaching, Simone tries to squeeze in interdisciplinary elements of fan studies, media studies, and cultural studies into her teaching. “The beauty of teaching such a variety of courses is that you actually learn to see your research from different angles through these courses.” Besides gaining multiple perspectives through teaching, she also learns from the students within IBCoM. “I actually really like it that no group is the same. And within the group, no person is the same. I think it’s really great to actually study and also teach in a programme that has and puts to use these distinctive characteristics of people.”

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