We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the holiday gift baskets from which our interns will receive their only sustenance is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how to meet your favorite musicians without feeling like a complete stooge.
Helen Okolicsanyi writes via Facebook: "How can you not be awkward when you get a chance to meet your favorite musician in person? I never know what to say besides 'Love your music' without sounding like a fangirl."
Let's assume, for the sake of narrowing the discussion, that you're meeting your favorite musicians in a setting where saying hello is expected and encouraged — backstage, at the merch table, in any sort of meet-and-greet setting. This isn't about "When is it OK to approach my favorite musician?" so much as "When I'm given the opportunity to approach my favorite musician, what the hell do I say?"
In quick drive-by situations — passing someone on the street or in a hallway, for example — there's nothing wrong with simply settling on, "Hey, I really love your music. Thank you." That sort of day-brightening affirmation requires no advance planning, no particular social anxiety (the worst you're likely to get is a nod), no invasion of anyone's personal space, no investment of time, and extremely modest stakes. You get a chance to lift the spirits of people who've lifted yours, and in a way that isn't likely to spiral into awkwardness or bar fights.
Most musicians qualify as human beings — and, more specifically, as engines that run on validation from others. While some are naturally shy (and, as with bears and bees, more scared of you than you are of them), it's not often that musicians sit their vans or tour buses grousing about how much they hate it when nice, sincere people approach them with gentle flattery. What may, to you, seem like an exchange in which you burbled like a gawky fangirl will often elicit a simple "Aw, that was nice" from the person you've just met. If complimenting a band you like makes you feel like a fangirl, embrace it! As long as you're a nice person, "Be yourself" is reasonably good advice here.
For anyone you meet — musicians and otherwise — sincere enthusiasm, warm kindness, an ability to read nonverbal cues, and conversational grace can be intoxicating. Treat your favorite musician the way you'd treat anyone whose company you enjoy, and more often than not, both of you will walk away feeling glad you did.