Stan culture is a crazy, toxic and unforgiving world
OPINION: The internet, and social media specifically, have emboldened the most toxic of fans and turned them into cyber-bullying mobs.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
When I was younger, I was a die-hard fan of Michael Jackson. I had his posters all over my wall, including one I kissed every night before bed because, in my mind, he was my husband—or would be when I was old enough.
This was during the ’80s, and as far as icons go, we had Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince, among others. I cite these three because they had huge fan bases at the time that were full of young people that were very loyal to their chosen artist.
At school, we would get into daily debates about who was the bigger artist, who had the best songs and who was the better dancer. It didn’t matter that we never came to any sort of agreement; we lived for the debates as our chance to talk about all the things we loved about our chosen idol.
These debates never led to fights. They never ended up with someone being bullied over who they liked. We didn’t attack people for their point of view, and we definitely didn’t publish their home addresses, stalk their family members or generally menace them because they didn’t like the same artist we did.
Fast forward 30 years and fandom has changed completely, especially with the advent of the internet. Through the power of the internet and social media, fans have now built themselves into legions of rabid mobs that attack anyone who has even the slightest criticism of their favorite artists.
Currently, two particular fan bases come to mind—the Beyhive (Beyoncé fans) and the Barbz (Nicki Minaj fans). There are, of course, others, including the Swifties (fans of Taylor Swift) and the Navy (fans of Rihanna), but the Hive and the Barbz have repeatedly demonstrated themselves to be particularly vicious and cruel when it comes to their favorite performers.
It’s important to note how the term “stan” came into the lexicon in the first place.
On his 2000 album The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem had a song about a fictional fan of his named Stan who took the parasocial relationship he had with Eminem the artist too far. In the song, Stan becomes upset by what he perceives as Eminem ignoring him. After writing several increasingly manic letters to the artist, Stan kills himself and his girlfriend at the end of the song.
While the song is not based on any real person, Eminem has gone on record as saying it is based on his real-life experiences, and he wrote the song as a message to his fans to not take his lyrics seriously.
The word “stan” has been a part of our vocabulary ever since. Initially, it was used jokingly to refer to someone who was really into a celebrity, but over time it has come to mean the worst of the worst.
Recently, there have been multiple instances of the Hive and the Barbz attacking people online over differences in opinion about their favorite artists. The behavior is both alarming and unnerving.
These stans make it impossible to openly express an opinion about their idols without becoming the victim of online harassment. It is an open “secret” that mentioning Nicki or Beyoncé online in anything less than a glowing manner will result in your time on the “Summer Jam Screen.”
Not even Kelis gets a pass from the Hive.
She initially faced the ire of the Beyhive when she spoke out about Beyoncé using a drum interpolation from the song “Milkshake” on her new album Renaissance. Although none of her vocals were used, the artist felt slighted and thought Bey could have given her the courtesy of a phone call to let her know about the sample being used.
The sample became the topic of a much-heated online debate, and Beyoncé eventually removed the sample entirely from her album late last week.
While Bey removed the sample without issuing a statement or saying a word, her fans descended on Kelis once again, telling her to go back to “the ghetto” and calling her irrelevant.
Kelis spoke out about it on her own social media, responding to commenters who sided with her by calling the Hive “a joke” and saying, “It’s got cult written all over it.”
(And honestly, she’s not wrong)
We have reached a point where you could say something as innocuous as “I really like this new album except for song xxx,” and the fans will attack you as if you murdered Tina Lawson on the street. It’s that crazy.
I have often wondered what the artists themselves think of these fans and if it ever occurs to them to speak directly to their fan bases about their dangerous behavior.
Nicki Minaj is seemingly fully aware of how unhinged her fans can be, and she has weaponized them against people before.
As for Beyoncé, it’s hard to tell as she speaks publicly so rarely, but I find it hard to believe she would want her name associated with a group of people who dox others for sport and make the internet an unsafe place for many, including other Black women.
Listen. We all have our favorites. I love avocado toast, Jam Jar wine, pricy Starbucks drinks and Trader Joe’s. I’m not out here threatening and launching online harassment campaigns against people who prefer Peets and Whole Foods.
After all, no one is above critique—not even Beyoncé—and to create a world where you are not allowed to give less than a glowing review to someone’s favorite artist without fear of becoming a target sets a dangerous precedent.
I know that by writing this, I am potentially setting myself up to become a target. I wrote it anyway because it needs to be said.
Stan culture is dangerous, and it needs to be stopped before something deadly happens.
Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.
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