In 2018, several crazed fans who took extreme measures to defend or criticize celebrities were the talk of social media. Fans of Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj were covered by the HuffPost regarding their offensive and often excessive antics. Grande’s fans sent her ex-fiance Pete Davidson death threats. Lady Gaga’s fans posted fake bad reviews for the film “Venom,” which was released the same weekend as her breakout film “A Star Is Born.” Minaj’s fans sent freelancer Wanna Thompson death threats for criticizing Minaj’s music.
As stans — fans immensely dedicated to artists or fandoms — all of these actions were done in the name of their beloved celebrities, formulating a rather toxic culture that, taken at face value, undermines what fanbases are actually for: to create a community built on self-expression for those who may not feel confident in real life.
The origin of the word “stan” comes from an Eminem song of the same name, written about a fictitious fan who killed his own girlfriend because Eminem wouldn’t return his fan letters. Because of this, stans have become known as a rather obsessive genre of fans. But in modern media, stories of people — typically female fans of a certain age — inappropriately invading artists’ privacy or sending disturbing gifts to others are often the ones being covered. Even though stans come from all corners of the internet, a certain stereotype follows the portrayed image of a stan: a crazed teenage girl who, against her supposed better judgement, spends ridiculous amounts of time fantasizing and gushing over certain celebrities.
In contrast, intense sports fans — a fanbase which consists of mostly males and is known for toxic masculinity — have created a phenomenon known as sports riots, where fans take to the street, setting fires and vandalizing public property. Yet these fans are not followed by the media in the same way that stans of celebrities are. The Washington Post published an article on the science behind sports riots, portraying these fans as typical Americans with a certain niche. The Post also recently published a piece on some fangirls inappropriately obsessing over a character who is a serial killer in the Netflix Original “You.” The different tones in which both of these spectrums of stan culture were portrayed is, of course, in part due to different writing styles and methods of reporting — but they both in part further contribute to the negative portrayal of stans, using a select few examples to give all of stan culture a negative image.
We all remember the first artist or piece of media we fell in love with. For me, it was Paramore. Their frontwoman Hayley Williams’ melodic tone of voice and the band’s ever relatable symphonies about how the world is out to get everyone helped me cope with other issues going on in my life.
As I got older, I started to find other teenage girls who understood my love for this band on social media platforms. Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram created a sense of community which I had never experienced before. As Paramore’s music matured, so did its fanbase. Some of the fans I met years ago are still my friends now.
It’s understandable to see how stan culture has created a bad name for itself. But it’s important to note that at times, there’s sexism underlying the stereotypes of crazed fans that may make teenage girls feel as though their interests aren’t valid. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Harry Styles accurately conveyed the importance of validating teenage girl stans: “How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers and presidents, they kind of keep the world going.”
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, print edition. Email Melanie Pineda at [email protected]