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Sexing Up the Boy Bands

In their own short online stories, fans are re-inventing the personal lives of music icons like N'SYNC and Backstreet Boys with explicit detail, drawing readers and igniting controversy.
 
 
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JC walked him to the door. Suddenly Justin grabbed him and pressed his lips against JC's. JC gasped in surprise and Justin slipped his tongue inside JC's warm mouth. JC kissed him back for a mere second and than pushed him away.

'Justin, no!' JC touched his lips. 'You can't kiss me. I'm with Ryan.'

Justin stared at the floor. 'I'm sorry.' He looked up with tear filled eyes. 'Don't be mad.'

JC reached out and hugged him. 'I'm not mad.'

Justin flashed a tiny smile. 'Thanks.'

Wait a minute! How did Justin, JC and Ryan -- three members of the boy band N'Sync -- become enmeshed in a gay love triangle? Are we reading the pilot of some new reality show? Or a crossover issue of Teen People and Men Who Love Men?

Not quite. The episode above is the creative fantasy of "zero," a writer in a growing online community that lets tens of thousands of mostly young people put a new spin on an old concept -- fan fiction.

Since the 1960s, sci-fi and fantasy readers have been creating fan fiction, taking characters from television and movies and writing them into their own stories. With the advent of the Internet, fan fiction and its sexually charged sub-genre, "slash" literature, skyrocketed into wide popularity. The most well known works of slash chronicle the sexual dramas of some our favorite sci-fi characters: the escapades of Kirk and Spock, the love affair of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, the secret tryst of Skinner and Krycek (also known as Kirk/Spock, Luke/Han or Skinner/Krycek -- hence the genre's name.)

The fan fiction universe has grown to include many sub-genres and unusual concoctions that original fan fiction enthusiasts could never have imagined. The newest of the sub-genres is music group slash -- "band fiction," if you will. Too impatient to wait for the next installment of VH-1's Behind the Music, fans have taken to re-inventing their music icon's personal lives. And in doing so, band fiction writers have stirred up a divisive controversy in the fan fiction community.

The content of band fiction varies greatly. There are stories of band member conflicts, chance meetings with fans, songwriting meetings, family relationships of the bands, record biz goings-on and much more. Quality, too, is inconsistent; for every readable, engaging story, there might be ten other pieces of schlock. Sifting the wheat from the chaff can be a chore.

Several web sites serve as repositories for band fiction. The most impressive of these is FanFiction.net. Their "Music Groups" section indexes stories for around 150 bands, totaling nearly 20,000 writings.

Xing Li, the creator of FanFiction.net, says there is a simple reason why band fiction is so popular. "I believe people write music group fiction simply because they are big fans of these groups."

But for the creators themselves, it's more than just that. It's a way to connect with their heroes -- albeit in an often sadistic way.

"There [is] always this overwhelming desire to strip our heroes' feelings bare, to lay it all open for us to see," says slash writer Allaire Mikháil, "to see them hurting, crying, sobbing, clinging to each other for support; to see them break down and show their emotions to the world, cracking the tough facade, stop the teasing, the banter, the macho behavior, and bring out the agony."

Another writer, identifying herself only as Stacy, relishes the fantasy life that slash brings her. "Slash forces you to open your mind, and really think about what these people would be going through in such a life altering experience. And as someone who's never had the experience, it's all the more profound."

But band fiction represents a significant change in the fan fiction universe, because instead of creating fantasies around fantastical characters, band fiction features characters who actually exist. Many feel that Real People Slash (RPS) is creepy at best, and unethical at worst. When made-up stories about real celebrities -- in a way, rumors posing as literature -- are passed to thousands upon thousands of readers via the Web, that creepiness is multiplied.

The issue of RPS is much debated in the fan fiction community. Writing on a fan fiction discussion board, one author named Ghost says, "If you write real person slash, you should not be surprised when the lawsuit smacks you in the face for defamation of character, slander, libel or anything else an attorney can come up with. An ethical person wouldn't even distribute such things. A lie is a lie is a lie."

RPS faithful paint a rosier picture of the work they do, saying that no harm is intended.

"These fictions are at the core completely fiction and never pretend to be the truth," counters Xing Li. "The stories are created in good fun ... I do not see an ethics issue."

Web site Citizens Against Bad Slash (CABS) -- a group of fan fiction veterans that bill themselves as the authority on quality fanfic -- has also embraced the controversial RPS.

"We have taken heat for becoming pro-RPS," says the CABS administrator, who calls herself Jane Doe. "This stuff is as literate as regular slash, and since I don't really care about the virtues of Justin Timberlake, I can't bring myself to lose sleep over how he's portrayed."

All controversy aside, band fiction continues to draw in readers and aspiring writers. CABS is a good place to start for the new fan fiction writer. They have writer guidelines and a place to have works in progress critiqued. Their reference page, "The Art and Ethics of Boy Band RPS," has become a manifesto of sorts for band fiction. To quote from it: "Sure, there's an appalling amount of subliterate teeny codswallop out there, when it comes to 'real person' fanfic. Sometimes, it's superb."

While depicting real people in fictional situations may make some uncomfortable, others will be put off by how sexually explicit band fiction can be. Indeed, the majority of RPS is homoerotic pornography. Typical band slash plots revolve around the hidden love of two band members -- instead of Luke and Han, we're treated to sexual encounters between John and Paul or Mick and Keith. Though a very small amount of heterosexual band slash does exist, slash lit traditionalists look down on it with disdain.

For the uninitiated, band slash can be a jarring experience. Imagining one's musical heroes in such situations might seem ridiculous, especially with bands whose machismo is just as important to their image as their music (think Metallica or Kid Rock). In the case of one Metallica slash, lead singer James Hetfield and guitarist Kirk Hammett discover a new twist in their relationship. A fan named Renegade penned this slash entitled "Love with a Friend":

... Kirk watched him from across the stage. Watched James walk with those long legs. His short blond hair clinging to the back of his neck with sweat. His bare back just glistening, being able to see the muscles tense and un-tense perfectly as he walked ... Kirk swallowed hard. What the fuck was happening to him?! He groaned when he looked down and realized that he was really fucking aroused by just watching James walk! This had definitely never happened before!! He closed his eyes and wished he were somewhere else. This couldn't be happening!
    -- from "Love with a Friend," by Renegade

But without a doubt, the most slashed musicians are boy bands. N'SYNC and Backstreet Boys top the list on FanFiction.net, with about 14,000 submissions between the two. It seems that their brand of sensitive- but-sexless, male-but-safe pop music translates nicely into homoerotic fantasy. And for boy bands' predominantly female audience, slash can be a perfect way to re-imagine their idols as sensitive, emotional men, reinforcing the image they portray in their music videos.

This Backstreet Boys slash is standard boy band RPS:

"Oh, Nick!" -- Brian gasped.

"Yes!" -- Nick shouted. Never in his life he had had so much pleasure. Never in his life he had been that hard. Never in his life he wanted something so bad as what they were having now.

This was the most erotical experience both Brian and Nick had ever gone through.

"Nick, take off your boxers, I wanna feel you." -- Brian pleaded and Nick obeyed.
    -- by Luciana Littrell

Though it might seem on the surface like playful, raunchy fluff, these stories also hint at a deeper desire -- the attempt to humanize musicians who otherwise seem like inaccessible gods. In place of their carefully crafted images, the musicians of RPS are infused with non- musical desires, deep emotions and fallibility. Often these themes are extracted from the songs themselves. Other writings are based on tabloid news and rumors. It's all fantasy and much of it is hacked together (Aaliyah likes Usher, but he's dating Alicia Keys. What is she gonna do?), but here and there you can find a well written one.

One story pits the members of Journey in the Vietnam war. It seemed particularly engaging, if only for sadistic reasons. It's Journey meets Platoon:

Neal Schon stood looking at the army officer like he had three heads. "Me?"

"Just come over here," the man sighed impatiently, taking Neal's paper. "So, Mr. Schon, passed the physical huh? Welcome to the United States Army, where we like to make many lives a living hell." The man stamped his paper and handed it back to him. "You get your uniform over there and then you'll go to bunk number twelve in room 10. Have a nice day!"

"Nice, huh," Neal said as he walked slowly to the room he was assigned to. He came to room 10, found his bed, and sat heavily on it. The army wasn't a place for him. He'd rather be home playing his guitar or playing football with his buddies. He sighed, getting up to unpack his things.
    -- by Kristin G

The enormous amounts of band fiction being churned out suggests that maybe fans are more interested in what's "Behind the Music" than the actual music itself. Just by watching MTV or VH-1, one can know all about the career of Def Leppard and not own a single LP -- and maybe that's the point. Fans want more and more behind the scenes coverage and they want musicians who are heroes -- even if they have to make up the stories themselves. Band fiction is satisfying that demand faster than VH-1 ever could.

To read more excellent slash visit Yahoo's fan fiction directory page ( http://dir.yahoo.com/Entertainment/Music/Fan_Fiction/), and the Slash Fan Fiction Ring ( http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Cafe/3040/slash.html).

Omar J. Pahati is the associate editor of AlterNet.