What is a groupie and why does our society love them? The Glasgow Guardian looks into the history of the term and its importance.
I’m freshly seventeen, sitting in a recording studio too small for the number of people that have come along for the session. The drummer is adjusting his set and the guitarist is tuning up. There is a group of girls in the back corner rolling cigarettes and I’ve been told to stay next to them and keep quiet. One of the girls has sleek black hair and a short fringe, I’ve been talking to her already. She’s an artist, 21 years old and moved to the city alone at 17. Her boyfriend’s in the band and she jokingly refers to herself as a groupie. It makes me feel sad. I think she is way cooler than her boyfriend’s band, but I don’t tell her that, instead, I stay quiet and nod occasionally. It feels like, while in this studio, the girls in their corner have lost their sense of individuality and become, simply, groupies to a semi-famous indie band. It strikes me that I might be one of them.
The term groupie originated in the mid 60s, to categorise the groups of young women who followed bands around, with Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones being accredited with the word’s original use. The term means different things to different people; to young girls at the time it often represented a sense of glamour and freedom. It could mean breaking free of restrictive societal norms surrounding sexuality and gender and following the riches and glamour of their favourite band. However, groupie culture also represented the coercion of very young girls, commonly in tandem with using drugs or other substances, taking them away from education or family at an age where they were too young to make informed decisions. With time, the practice of groupiedom as it existed in the 60s died out but the fascination with its culture continued. Popular culture loves a groupie. Songs frequently mention the term. Films such as Almost Famous and Groupie Girl are dedicated to the lifestyle, as well as the fame and independent careers of several of the 60s original groupies like Pamela Des Barres. So, what perpetuates society’s obsession with being a groupie?
Perhaps a sense of freedom or nostalgia for a time period we never got to experience, or one we miss. Perhaps the resurgence of a love for ‘vintage’ and the craving for fame that comes with following a band like that. Maybe it is the representations themselves that perpetuate it. Hollywood can take the reality of being a groupie and turn it into a glamourous and empowering experience with a tragic femme fatale at the centre. Although these aspects of being a groupie might sound great, it doesn’t negate the truth; that groupies were young and often vulnerable women forced them into the shadow of older male stars, begging the question: is it possible to separate the dark truth of the lifestyle from the glamourous image we so often see presented?
Today, one search on TikTok or Instagram shows thousands of young girls who romanticise the lifestyle, wishing that they could be groupies. Is it harmful for these girls to want that lifestyle or merely a teenage fantasy? More importantly, is it possible to reclaim the term to celebrate the women and their aspirations it represented? These are questions that we don’t really have the answers to.
The term itself is almost certainly here to stay, having become so entrenched in our culture that it even has its own dictionary entry. While the fascination might not be leaving anytime soon, it seems that only time will tell if we can change its misogynistic roots into something more positive. Until then there will still be a group of young girls in the corner of a packed recording studio, rolling cigarettes under bated breath.