One of the cornerstones of fandom is a desire for connection with the object of one's appreciation, from sports to anime to, of course, music. It's a very human desire—a need, even—to want to get closer to people who we think understand us, and it makes perfect sense that we'd want to close the gap between us and those who create art that resonates deeply within our bones. The Medicis may have become shorthand for patronage when they cozied up to their favorite Renaissance artists, but that thirst for recognition, for a real relationship with their idols, has long been recognized as the preeminent domain of diehard music fans.
It's a desire that transcends age or genre, too. While 60s schoolgirls screamed for the Beatles in the hopes that Paul would look their way, front row punks still crawl over one another like puppies to grab their favorite singer's hand or scream into the mic, modern-day metalheads roar back at their favorite singers and fight over tossed drumsticks, and boy band fans hold up signs as they weep and sing along to every word. Music business types know all about that thirst, which is why it's so common to see bands tack on a "VIP" meet-and-greet option to their presale tickets. To the serious fan, that chance to meet one's idols, to shake their hands, get an autograph, snap a photo, or give them a hug (or steal a kiss) is often worth the price of entry, no matter how exorbitant that price nearly always is. I've seen grown men and women burst into tears upon meeting Phil Anselmo and Crowbar's Kirk Windstein, and can only imagine the effect someone like Beyonce' has upon her legions of acolytes. On a more DIY level, those moments spent chatting by the merch table or at the bar after a show serve the same function, especially when fans know that the potential exists for those sweaty conversations to blossom into full-on friendships.
The more access is granted, the more fans want. It's an interesting time to be an artist—a time when empires can rise and fall on the back of social media prowess, when Twitter, Instagram, et al have brought formerly untouchable rock stars and divas down to almost-mortal level, as artists offer fans a peek behind the curtain and into their personal lives. The level of actual interaction varies; DJ Khaled's Snapchat is the stuff of legends, Vince Staples loves a good Twitter chat, King Diamond checks his Facebook fan page religiously, and Taylor Swift haunts Tumblr, while there's next to no chance a Instagram commenter will earn an e-nod from Mariah Carey, Blake Shelton, or Jay-Z. The tantalizing possibility is there, though, and fuels that desire. No longer restricted to handwritten signs or raised fists in the front row, fans are able to interact with their favorites on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope—the possibilities are nearly endless, and artists now operate under an unspoken obligation to engage with them as much as possible, to continue building up their fanbase and keep their current ones happy. We're at a point where social media no longer feels like enough, as fans' hunger for access intensifies and their sense of entitlement grows. This development has led to a wave of industry initiatives (some band-led, some obviously the result of countless marketing meetings) to up the ante and give fans the chance to get up close and personal with their idols.
And so, the music cruise industrial complex was born. What started off as a novel, inventive idea has become par for the course; everyone and their dog has a music-themed cruise now, all promising unprecedented levels of access to the kind of hardcore fans who are willing to fork over the hefty ticket price. Formerly the province of Baby Boomers and 80s cover bands, the Caribbean has found itself overrun with every stripe of music fan, all hungry for themed cocktails and photo ops. Nu-metal has-beens, country crooners, 90s nostalgia acts, corpsepainted black metallers melting in the sun—there really is something for everyone in the floating concert market, even the world's biggest Train fan. While it's doubtful that you'll get a personal invite to knock back some brewskies with Kid Rock or Paramore, it's surprisingly easy to temporarily befriend smaller bands and crew members alike on comparatively less mainstream offerings like 70000 Tons of Metal or ShipRocked. In my experience, music cruises are fun as hell—really, it's pretty impossible to snark on a multi-day Caribbean cruise populated by bands you like and other excited fans, especially when Motorhead is playing—and it seems like they're here to stay.
For fans who crave even more intimacy, several bands with intense followings have decided to offer an even cozier option. This past summer, 30 Seconds to Mars held its inaugural Camp Mars wilderness retreat in Malibu, which offered fans ""hiking, climbing, yoga, cooking classes, raising the flag and camp fire sing-a-longs," and—theoretically—a chance to get close to Oscar-winning frontman Jared Leto. Tickets are already on sale for the 2016 edition, starting at $999. On the less mainstream side, djent overlords Periphery recently launched a presale for their 2016 Periphery Summer Jam, which will invite fans to hang out, participate in songwriting sessions, and take music lessons from the band members at a beautiful resort in New York's Catskills. Perks include a chance to "interact with the band socially at mealtimes, bonfires, and when getting your asses kicked at video game competitions," and the cheapest option (sleeping in a tent) will run you a cool $1,099. It'll be interesting to see if this kind of experience fizzles out, or becomes a larger trend—but given the unexpected success of the music cruise, my money's on the latter.
And, of course, if you've got deep pockets and are really gunning to hang out with someone famous, there is one more option: to literally buy the pop star or band of your choice, and make them play a private concert for you. This option can range from merely expensive to downright unconscionable (Nicki Minaj has both made one bar mitzvah boy happier than he'll ever be again, and palled around with a corrupt, ruthless Angolan dictator) and really depends more on your bank account than anything else. Rich people and big companies book huge stars for private concerts and parties all the time; you don't stop being a fan just because you've got a ton of money. Problems do arise with this option, though if you're a tyrannical head of state who would like to buy a pop star to entertain your regime, you've got plenty of options: Beyonce', Mariah Carey, Kanye, 50 Cent, Lionel Ritchie, Black Sabbath, Elton John, Julio Iglesias, Sting, Jennifer Lopez, Nelly Furtado, and Usher have all done it, and they seem to be doing just fine!
Barring all that, fans are still able to do what they've always done and will always do—buy the record, wear the T-shirt, go to the show, and sing along. It's not the flashiest or most glamorous way to express one's fandom, but it's definitely the most cost-effective. After all, the most important currency in this exchange is emotional—our love, for their music. That love runs deep and true, whether it's running to Hinds, to Heems, or to Hate Eternal, and this newfound feeling of closeness had created amazingly passionate fans, which is a beautiful thing. Less attractive are the increasing numbers of hardcore fans—stans, even—who support any and everything that issues forth from their idols, to the extent that they find it reasonable to attack naysayers from anonymous Twitter accounts with sharpened claws, insults, blackmail, and death threats. Those rosy-colored glasses have a way of neutering or outright shutting down criticism, which—despite fans' protective urges—doesn't do anyone any good. If aggressive fans keep churning the bucket with angry tweets and steely-eyed insistence that that crap new Kanye song was THE BEST EVER, the cream will eventually stop rising to the top, and there won't be any artists worth loving left. If everyone is good, no one is great.
All of this complicates the simple act of listening to music—enjoying it, relating to it, feeling its words and chords reverberate through your consciousness and seep into your soul (or lack thereof, depending on which aural poison you pick). Loving a band is a straightforward act; liking things is fun, and it's very possible to do it without asking for anything extra. As much as we adore our icons and worship our heroes and want to shake the hands that wrought our favorite riffs, all of that stuff shouldn't take precedence over the most crucial thing. Fandom is intense, and important, but really—the music should be enough.
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey; follow her on Twitter.