My relationship with Tegan and Sara is complex and rooted deeply in my heart. I love them. They helped me crack open a corner of my queer life I didn’t even know existed. I have listened to their albums over and over, watched hours’ worth of videos of their concert banter late into the night, read the entire Autostraddle archive about them. I am one of thousands of their fans like this. You are likely a fan like this.
Their new short documentary in Rolling Stone, “Dear Tegan and Sara: Inside The Band’s Bond With Fans,” addresses the evolution of their relationship with their fans: from their early days playing for friends in coffee shops and dive bars, to their recent mega success sharing the stage with Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Macklemore.
“We didn’t just sign a record deal and then have success,” Tegan said, looking back on the band’s early days, when they played coffee shops and bars and sold their own merch. They spent many years having the time and space to build strong relationships with their fan base, which several fans described in the documentary:
“Your music made me feel like there was somewhere to be, like there was somewhere to feel something.”
“I think it’s important – not just for youth but for others of us – to look up to.”
In 2013, as Heartthrob climbed the charts and “Closer” blasted on Top-40 radio, the Quin Twins went on tour with Katy Perry, and performed with Taylor Swift, and then Macklemore. The fan base of the earlier years raised its collective eyebrows and let its disapproval be heard, accusing them of selling out and leaving their loyal fans behind.
As for me, I wasn’t a fan until Heartthrob came out, at which point I also started to appreciate the back catalogue. Because of this, I’ve always held a particular admiration for the way Heartthrob came into the world, and a fascination with the long road Tegan and Sara walked to get there. I am at a point in my life and my career where I gain a ton of inspiration from artists who became successful by working hard at their craft, getting better, and evolving over time. Instead of wringing their hands in this documentary and saying, You think we sold out? Welp, sorry you feel that way, they come out strong and confident. They are entirely unapologetic for the success they have achieved, while still being understanding of the place where the disapproval voiced by many in their old fan base comes from. As Tegan says,
“This is the only industry that I can think of where people are criticized for success. …We’re still the same old Tegan and Sara… Why would anyone, as a fan, criticize us for being successful? While it might have seemed like we were selling out what we were really doing was stepping up.”
I love that she says this. I have plenty to criticize about Tegan and Sara, but none of it is about them performing for 15,000 people instead of fifteen. What I respect and admire most about them is how upfront they are about their ambition. They work hard for what they want, and they’re pretty transparent about what that means to them. We should be thrilled to see them stepping up, because it means we get to ask for more from them. I hope, as they continue to solidify their success, we see more from them speaking out on LGBT issues less familiar to mainstream audiences than marriage. I hope we see them elevate other queer musicians and artists. I hope we, as fans, hold them accountable to using their platform that they’ve worked to build for the benefit of our communities. I hope we hear more incredible music to cry to. I hope we hear more incredible music to dance to.