20 Years Ago, Eminem’s “Stan” Predicted The Dark Side Of Modern Fandom
Eminem must have been trembling. It was 4 o’clock in the morning sometime last month, and he’d been awakened by a blaring alarm in his Detroit-area home. When he reached the bottom of the staircase, he came face to face with a stranger in his living room. Somehow this 26-year-old had evaded Em’s security detail out front and smashed in the back window with a rock, and now he was inside — not apparently looking to kill, steal, or destroy, just to meet Marshall Mathers. Who knows how many times this kind of thing has happened before without TMZ finding out about it, but we can be certain bizarre and unsettling interactions with fans have been on Eminem’s mind for many years. We know this because of “Stan.”
Twenty years ago this week, Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP, his first album since becoming the most famous rapper in the world. It did not lack for noteworthy tracks. There were MTV-ready reckonings with his newfound notoriety, like “The Real Slim Shady” and “The Way I Am.” There were disturbingly detailed murderous outbursts like “Kill You” and “Kim.” The album was a master class in both rapping and strategic outrage-stoking. But one song in particular stood out as a unique chapter in his discography.
Against a moody Dido sample softer and prettier than his usual beats, Eminem unfurled a narrative about Stan, whose admiration for Eminem evolved into an unhinged obsession. (His name was a portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan.”) Each verse was framed as a fan letter, evolving from complaints about Em’s failure to acknowledge him to a suggestion that they should be a couple. Ultimately, in a twisted tribute to his hero’s horrorcore fantasies, Stan locks his pregnant girlfriend in the truck and drives off a bridge. By the time an understandably busy Eminem writes back with some advice, he’s too late.
“Stan” was a fairly big deal at the time. It climbed to a respectable #51 on the Hot 100. Its video — starring Devon Sawa as Stan and Dido as his pregnant girlfriend — got decent MTV airplay and finished 2000 as TRL’s 35th most popular clip of the year. Eminem performed it with Elton John at the 2001 Grammys in a half-baked attempt to ward off complaints about his homophobic lyrics. Critics loved it. Yet the extent of the song’s legacy wouldn’t become apparent until many years later.
As early as December 2001, when Nas released Stillmatic, “Stan” had entered into the slang lexicon. “You a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a Stan,” he rapped on the nuclear-grade Jay-Z diss track “Ether.” By 2017, the now-lowercased term was in the actual dictionary, defined as “an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.” Yet somewhere in between — as early as 2012, but probably much earlier within the K-pop scene — it had taken on enough of a positive connotation that people willingly began self-identifying as stans. It also sometimes mutates into a verb.
This can manifest as a frivolous display of fleeting devotion, like when any person anywhere behaves in any appealing way and some online observer declares they “have no choice but to stan.” It can be applied to most kinds of dedicated appreciation — “I stan” as shorthand “I’m way into this.” But “stan” now most commonly refers to a hyper-online culture of extreme fandom, many of them with artist-specific monikers like Swifties, Arianators, Beliebers, or, God forbid, Sheerios. All fan groups are prone to exhibiting stan behavior, but it particularly thrives in the pop realm thanks to its vast scale and built-in hero worship. (It’s no coincidence the show is called American Idol.) The Navy, the Army, the BeyHive, the Little Monsters — you’re seemingly not a major pop artist unless a fiercely loyal stan community has coalesced around you and adopted some corny nickname.
Stan communities often skew extremely young, becoming outlets for the kind of intense fanaticism that thrives among adolescents. This can be a good thing: Standom provides a sense of belonging for people who might otherwise be isolated. It can also be very, very bad. Unchecked standom sometimes seems as creepy and dysfunctional as the condition that Eminem rapped about two decades ago — like if the troubled loner from “Stan” the song discovered a whole community of fellow obsessives and they merged into an organized battalion, the dozens of bleach-blonde imitators from Em’s “The Real Slim Shady” video decentralized but mobilized to wreak havoc on all dissenters.
— MYRA 💚 (@forevesr) January 6, 2020
People have been coming together online to celebrate their shared interests as long as the internet has existed. At first, fans cultivated online communities via message boards, email discussion groups, and other walled-off social networks. But the rise of modern stan culture correlates with the rise of social media. Platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr allowed these fan brigades to forge more personal connections with their faves and to spill over into the wider discourse, flexing their collective muscle in service to their idols. Often this means functioning like unpaid online street teams, enthusing about new releases with gifs, memes, and elated rhetoric while flooding social networks with reminders-cum-demands to #StreamRare or whatever. These coordinated campaigns sometimes yield tangible rewards on the charts — just ask Lil Nas X, who built up a large Twitter following as a Nicki Minaj fan account and then marshaled the power of social media to launch his own mega-hit.
“Old Town Road” felt like the best possible outcome for standom’s potential as a grassroots promotional machine: a genuinely fun, innovative novelty song building up so much populist support that the music industry establishment had no choice but to embrace it. It can be cute and even touching when stans breathe new life into older, disrespected works by their faves, as when Mariah Carey’s supporters (the “Lambily”) banded together to propel her flop 2001 Glitter soundtrack to the top of the iTunes album chart. But stan enthusiasm tends to take a darker turn when someone falls short of absolute obeisance. Writers critiquing artists with vigilant fan bases, like BTS or Camila Cabello, can always count on their mentions filling up with accusations of bias and calls to “do your research.” The rancor can be much more severe when an artist personally incites their stans against a particular reviewer — sometimes indirectly, as when Lizzo and Lana Del Rey expressed displeasure with respected critics whose takes were more nuanced than “YAS QUEEN.”
Nicki Minaj exhibited #Queen behaviour when she hopped in my DMs and insulted me numerous times over an innocent music opinion while her fans continue to harass me and DM me death threats. This is NOT okay. pic.twitter.com/bJI9TVvJV7
— W (@WannasWorld) July 1, 2018
But those were widely circulated reviews at prestigious outlets like Pitchfork and NPR. Two summers ago, Nicki Minaj stooped far lower, stoking her stans’ ire against a freelance writer with a modest social media following as punishment for the crime of tweeting some constructive criticism. “You know how dope it would be if Nicki put out mature content?” Wanna Thompson wrote at the time. “No silly shit. Just reflecting on past relationships, being a boss, hardships, etc. She’s touching 40 soon, a new direction is needed.” Minaj’s stans, known as the Barbz, discovered the tweet and began pillorying Thompson. When they brought her tweet to their queen’s attention, Minaj responded publicly by posting a list of her allegedly mature songs and privately by calling Thompson “ugly” and “jealous” in a direct message. Thompson told the New York Times the encounter left her “physically drained,” “mentally depleted,” and considering therapy.
Last year, Minaj’s pal Ariana Grande lashed out generally at bloggers after reading negative appraisals of her Coachella performance with Justin Bieber. Toronto-based writer Roslyn Talusan pushed back against Grande on Twitter: “you fucking realize bloggers/writers are creators, right? just because we don’t sing or dance shitty choreo or culturally appropriate for profit doesn’t make our craft any less valid. suck on my balls.” Grande’s subjects than subjected Talusan to harassment, doxxing, and even death threats. Stans also sometimes campaign to “cancel” a celebrity who has clashed with their dear leader, hence the proliferation of hashtags like #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty whenever one artist runs afoul of another’s stans. In a hilarious and terrifying instance of community infighting, one such movement even sought to suppress “multis,” aka people who stan more than one artist, with the #multisareoverparty hashtag. It’s like being forced to choose between Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC, but with added public shaming.
— Al Shipley (@alshipley) May 11, 2020
Such cases of online mob justice and other cultish behavior recently prompted Billboard to ask psychologists whether participating in stan culture was indicative of poor mental health. The consensus was that there’s nothing inherently wrong with shared affinity groups, but fandom can easily become a context for more disconcerting obsessive behavior. The internet only enables and accelerates this impulse: prioritizing the loudest voices, blurring the borders between reality and fantasy, giving people the courage to treat other people in ways they’d never dare attempt in person. “Everything in life can have good [or] bad attributes associated with it,” YouTuber and noted Beyoncé stan Kalen Allen told Billboard. “Call yourself what you want. I think it’s more important to evaluate what it means to be a stan, and define what makes a good or bad stan.”
It’s easier than ever to find meaning and purpose as part of the chorus of yes-people that swarms around every celebrity, blindly defending their honor at every turn. But as with seemingly all online discourse, it’s harder than ever to view this phenomenon in a positive light. Theoretically there are far worse ways to be radicalized online. Hopefully most teenage stans develop healthier relational patterns as they age into adulthood. Ideally stan communities will keep developing measures to self-police against abusive behavior and superstars will learn to wield their power responsibly.
But who can be optimistic about all this when stan behavior keeps escalating in bizarre new ways? Last week, Doja Cat and Nicki Minaj’s “Say So” remix was battling Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s “Savage” remix for #1 on the Hot 100. This had the potential to be Minaj’s first #1 hit after several close calls, and her Barbz were impatient for the news — so impatient that one of them allegedly published the address of the person who runs a popular chart news Twitter account @chartdata, instructing Nicki zealots in the area to pull up to the house and demand the information immediately. News of Doja and Nicki’s triumph broke shortly afterwards, and Twitter chatter suggested the home was vacant and for sale. Still, the scenario suggested a chilling reality: Nowadays, stars with security details like Eminem aren’t the only ones who must fear obsessive fans showing up in their living rooms.
Justin Bieber finally made it back to #1 on the Hot 100, and all it took was an Ariana Grande collab for charity and perhaps some good old fashioned chart chicanery. Bieber’s “Yummy” was memorably blocked by Roddy Ricch this past winter, and no subsequent Changes single came close to challenging for #1. But “Stuck With U,” the Scooter Braun clients’ quarantine-themed duet, enters atop the chart this week, becoming Bieber’s sixth #1 and Grande’s third. It’s also the third #1 debut for each artist and Braun’s first #1 as a writer. According to Billboard, “Stuck With U” is the first track since Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie’s “ME!” last year to surpass 100,000 in weekly sales, a figure that may or may not be related to Amazon offering to donate $5 for every “Stuck With U” purchase just hours before the statistical window closed.
6ix9ine, whose post-prison comeback single “GOOBA” debuts at #3 this week, would have you believe Bieber and Grande bought their way to a #1. Maybe, maybe not, but “GOOBA” wouldn’t have topped the chart either way because last week’s #1, Doja Cat and Nicki Minaj’s “Say So,” is above it at #2. “GOOBA” thus ties 6ix9ine’s career chart peak “FEFE,” which also topped out at #3. The rest of the top 10 comprises the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s “Savage,” Drake’s “Toosie Slide,” Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” (at a new #8 peak), Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” and Post Malone’s “Circles,” which spends its record-extending 37th week in the top 10.
Over on the Billboard 200, Nav scores his second straight #1 album with a career-best 135,000 equivalent album units and 73,000 in sales for Good Intentions. Per Billboard, almost all of those album sales derived from more than 100(!) available merchandise bundles. Debuting at #2 is Kehlani’s fantastic It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, which moved 83,000 units and 25,000 in sales, also mostly via bundling. It’s the highest chart placement and biggest one-week total of her career. (Her previous peak was 58,000 units and a #3 peak for 2017’s SweetSexySavage.)
Following releases from Drake and Lil Baby in this week’s ranking comes a #5 debut for Lil Durk. With 57,000 units, Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 boasts Durk’s best one-week tally as well. DaBaby is at #6, and then Bad Bunny’s surprise album Las Que No Iban A Salir — the urbano star’s second LP of the year — debuts at #7 with 42,000 units. Former chart-toppers Lil Uzi Vert, the Weeknd, and Post Malone round out the top 10. Meanwhile, the Kenny Chesney album that beat Drake for #1 last week plummets all the way to #38.
Katy Perry – “Daisies”
I can’t dispute the unnamed Stereogum staffer who identified this sound as a return to Perry’s Christian rock roots, but I also grew up on Christian rock, so to me this goes.
Thomas Rhett & Kane Brown – “On Me” (Feat. Ava Max)
These three are betting the Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha song was no one-off success story. I’d guess they’re not wrong! The song is garbage, but I do enjoy the socially distant video, and I never thought I’d hear Thomas Rhett passionately crooning through pitch-shifted Auto-Tune.
Jonas Brothers – “X” (Feat. KAROL G)
What’s less believable: that the Jonas Brothers made a digital rumba song, or that it’s actually listenable?
Kygo – “Lose Somebody” (Feat. OneRepublic)
In a cruel twist, this maudlin EDM ballad boasts a hook so impeccable it may never leave my head.
X Ambassadors, K.Flay, & grandson – “Zen”
This is basically a Cake song. Fuck.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- The Chainsmokers, who are working on their fourth album, will host the Virtual DisDance Festival on SiriusXM’s BPM channel this weekend. [USA Today]
- Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas make out in the new Residente music video. [ET]
- Brendon Urie, Jimmy Fallon, and the Roots covered “Under Pressure” with pots and pans and stuff. [YouTube]
- Ariana Grande has a collab with Doja Cat in the can. [Refinery29]
- In other Doja news, she performed her #1 hit “Say So” from home on The Voice. [YouTube]
- Keith Urban played a surprise drive-in concert for medical workers near Nashville. [Tennesseean]
- Katy Perry did “Daisies” on the season finale of American Idol. [YouTube]
- Harry Styles’ new video for “Watermelon Sugar” is dedicated to touching and was obviously shot before anyone was familiar with the phrase “social distancing.” [YouTube]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
Goldie Hawn’s quarantine fitness putting us all to shame. pic.twitter.com/KUJ5c6kHpV
— Mr. Spock 🖖 (Commentary) (@SpockResists) May 13, 2020
HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME
i did not make 27 remixes to the same song to be disrespected like this https://t.co/h8x9ma6cUQ
— nope (@LilNasX) May 12, 2020
OK, WE’RE REALLY GOING HOME THIS TIME
U don’t even need to know Doja cat to appreciate this meme, quality content 🔥 pic.twitter.com/YEtM4PKxMD
— ƉΣƘ (@TheDekonMan) May 12, 2020