Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber might have the bigger following when it comes to stans but rapper Eminem was first. The provocative rapper was probably not aware of the linguistic and later on digital impact his hit song “Stan” would have when it topped the charts back in 2001. More than a decade later the word stan has become more than just a name for a fictitious psychotic fan in a music video. It´s the term used to describe fans or fandom topped with that little spice of creepy obsession. So, let´s dive into the background of the word on everybody’s lips.
What is a stan?
To say that stan simply means fan would be ignoring the rich and unique history of a word that has made an incredible pop cultural journey to now finally end up in the prestigious Oxford Living Dictionary. Described as “A section of Twitter that is comprised of cult-like-fandoms that worship popular artists or artist group.” In The Urban Dictionary, stan is said to be a combination of stalker and fan. Since the early 2000´s stan has crossed both genres, borders, cultures and ages, becoming a popular term in the digital lingo used on not only on Twitter but also Tik Tok, Instagram and Youtube.
The rise of social media has not only given brands and celebrities a new way of coming closer to their fans but rather fans a 24/7 access to their idols. A sort of friendship based more on perception than reality. Something some people call Celebrity Worship Syndrome. Whether it´s drag queens promoting the next episode of RuPaul´s Drag Race or the K-pop band Black Pink selling concert tickets, the influence is there. And what better way to influence people then to become their “friend”?
One could say that it´s this colorful fantasy shared by Harry Style obsessed teens as well as drag loving gays, that has given the word stan a double meaning. Nowadays it describes more than just a fan, it´s a verb that on the one hand expresses loyalty as well as an insult describing a blind obsession.
Being a stan doesn’t only mean being in a state of mind, it means knowing a certain lingo. And the world of stans are full of words and expressions unknown to the unfamiliar majority. Funny, quirky, bitchy, sassy, the stan glossary is as varied as there are stans around the world. From the lgbt+ culture´s colorful use of “sis”, “ma’am” and “flawless” to the more political use of “woke” and “fragile”. The stan lingo is linguistic buffet where the ones wanting access to the stan universe better gorge on the daily to keep up to date.
You might have noticed it yourself scrolling through Twitter or Youtube. The notorious trolling from fans arguing about who´s favorite artist was first with a certain trend or style. Lady Gaga or Ava Max? Madonna or Kylie? Nicki Minaj or Cardi B? Conflicts if not started by the artists themselves then by their stans.
In an article from 2013 the journalist Madeline Davis writes about the obsessed fans holding their idols hostage on social media. Instead of hanging outside whatever mansion that celebrity might have, fans can now tweet, text or like them directly from across the world.
“There have always been crazy fans who've engaged in horrifying behavior to get the attention of whoever they're fanning over (can you back me up on this, Jodie Foster?), but, as previously mentioned, never have they had the illusion of the constant pathways of interaction that exists now.”, she writes.
And sure enough even big influencers such as Jeffree Star, James Charles and Shane Dawson seem to be at the mercy of their stans with the next cancelling around the corner. If not from their own than certainly from other stans. And the beauty community might be the best example of the toxic “standom”, especially on Youtube where the interaction with fans as well as haters is more direct than anywhere else with comments, likes and dislikes.
Something that became apparent when the so called “Dramageddon” ignited between the already mentioned trio as well as beauty guru Tati Westbrook. In what could only be compared to a telenovela the tides of stans hammered the like and dislike button of their idol´s nemesis as video after video brought forth new allegations of betrayal, deceit and malicious intent.
The drama became so intense that not even the Youtube-execs could ignore it, introducing new rules on how to interact with content. They even went so far to ask Tati Westbrook to unpublish the video where she accused James Charles of being a predator, based on rumors instigated by Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson… allegedly.
Or global community?
But are stans just a bad example of digital obsession or a misunderstood group of fans bonding over cultural and geographical borders? Of course it can be both ways. The majority of fans whether they call themselves Arianators (for Ariana Grande) or Bardigangers (for Cardi B) are normal people sharing a common passion for a certain artist and their music.
It´s a sense of community that can be channeled into greater things than just mass liking a new music video. An example of this was when K-pop stans flooded the hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter in an attempt to support the Black Lives Matter movement. The stunt that was wildly shared among stans attracted thousands of participants making the event top news in many countries.
So the toxic aspect of stans on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok is something that can be seen in any other group whether it be incels, gamers or the make up community. A certain few giving the majority a bad reputation. As the problem seems to become undeniably obvious for companies such as Twitter and Youtube more and more regulations are set in to place to ensure a safe environment for their users.