Almost famous

Can cheerleaders have cheerleaders?

Chris Khan sits front and center at home football games to make sure he can see them in action. He hangs out with them on Thursday — and sometimes Friday — nights. He even spends three hours a week at their practices, getting them water and providing emotional support.

“Even cheerleaders need someone to cheer them on,” said Khan, a McCormick senior.

Khan doesn’t deny his close affiliation with the squad. He is, unashamedly, a groupie.

At Northwestern he’s in some good company. NU groupies range from doe-eyed a cappella fans screaming at every concert to some who knows their way around fraternity kitchens as well as members themselves.

Aashia Bade, a psychology major, said groupies exist, in part, because of a social psychology theory called “basking in reflective glory.”

“It’s where you not only identify with the group but you also think by hanging out with them you will be associated with them,” said Bade, a Weinberg senior.

Some students say the rise to groupie status begins with a simple friendship. A connection to one group member leads to a relationship with the entire group.

Nikki Yarnell, a Music junior, said she started attending the a cappella group Freshman 15’s concerts during her freshman year, before the group had gained mainstream campus status. When her close friend became a member of the group, she became even more involved.

“I felt like I was starting to get to know the group through him,” Yarnell said.

Now she has all their CDs and attends every concert — sometimes more than one performance. Group members depend on her for music advice and moral support, and she provides it for them, just as she would for any friend.

Because of their closeness to members of the group, some groupies are hesitant to adapt the “groupie” title.

Jenny Kim, a Weinberg sophomore, was wary of calling herself a groupie of the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon, despite the fact that she says she spends two to three nights a week with the group and frequents every social event they organize. What started as one friendship has now become 15 to 20 close connections, she said.

“‘Groupie’ has such a negative connotation,” Kim said. “When I think of the word ‘groupie,’ I think of someone who will follow said group to their death.”

But not all groupies feel stigmatized by the title. Though Freshman 15 boasts a large and devoted female following, Yarnell said that for her, being a Freshman 15 groupie involves more than a boy-band type fascination with the group.

She says she takes personal joy in seeing her friends evolve into the popular campus icons they are today.

“It’s been really exciting to watch them from go from being this no-name group to being an establishment on campus,” Yarnell said.

Some groupies say their experience is well worth the time they invest in the group. Spending so much time with a group gives groupies a sense of belonging, they add.

Certainly Chris Khan is one of them.

“They’re like my family away from home,” Khan said of the cheerleaders. “They give you a sense of family here on campus.”

Many group members say the reward of fanship is mutual.

Eli Goodman, a Weinberg sophomore and Freshman 15 member, said both networks of groupies — the big fan base and the smaller support network — help make the group successful. Until this year, two NU graduates regularly attended one of Freshman 15’s three weekly practices and brought the members candy.

“We’re really appreciative of them and find it so touching how devoted they are,” Goodman said. “They’re more just sort of our best friends who happen to support our music. They’re friends first, groupies second.”

Reach Corrie Driebusch at

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Francesca Jarosz at [email protected].