From our Obsession
We’ve never been as connected, or as isolated.
When I join a video conference early one morning to discuss all things BTS with Ikran Dahir, I message her on Twitter to make sure now is still a good time. The BuzzFeed reporter is already nine minutes late and I assume it’s because she’s six hours ahead of me in London and wrapping up her day. Instead, she responds: “sorry i forgot this was korean midnight so bts r up to something,” suggesting she was monitoring potential activity from one of the world’s biggest K-pop bands.
Dahir runs @JiminGlobal, a Twitter account dedicated to BTS band member Park Jimin. The account has more than 105,000 followers. Before that, she and her sister had started another BTS-fixated account, @BANGTANUK, after they realized there was no other UK fan account for the group at the time. Dahir has since recruited other fans to take over the UK account; she had connected with them through their shared love for BTS.
From the articles she’s written to the online accounts she’s been a part of, it goes without saying that Dahir is a stan.
What is a stan?
The phrase, which can be used as a noun (she’s a stan) or a verb (she stans for him), was inspired by the Eminem song Stan, about an obsessive fan who writes increasingly disturbed letters to his rapper idol. The term describes an extremely or excessively passionate and devoted fan—and in the 20 years since the song charted, it has come to refer often times to someone who openly displays their adoration on social media.
As the word becomes more popular, it’s being used more freely, sometimes describing moderate fandom for celebrities. But other times, the practice can be compared to a full-time gig.
Unpaid labor with huge rewards
One stan, who runs two Tumblr pages dedicated to the DJ Calvin Harris, credits social media for her success in documenting the life of a pretty private music figure. Crone, as she is known online, describes herself as 71 years old and suffering from a chronic illness. She looks at her stanning for Harris as something of a part-time job and has grown a following of fans who depend on her to keep them informed. “Since 2016, his life has been my daily amusement. My obsession keeps my mind sharp and my blog gives my life a purpose, however trivial it might be,” she says.
Like most stans, Crone’s admiration for her celebrity obsession is deep-rooted. Her interest in the electronic dance music producer developed when she stumbled into Tumblr during the Tayvin era (the ship name for Harris and the musician Taylor Swift). “I felt like a virtual anthropologist studying the tribal behavior of rival gangs of Swifties,” Crone says “It was fascinating. I arrived with prejudices—disliking Taylor and loving Calvin like he was my youngest child.” When Harris and Swift called their relationship off, Swift stans (the aforementioned Swifties) attacked Harris on social media, prompting Crone to start a blog to defend him. “Since then, it’s become a hobby like digital scrapbooking.”
Before digital scrapbooking, Crone partook in classical scrapbooking, documenting The Beatles in the 1960s, during the height of Beatlemania. In a five-inch-thick, three-ring binder, she gathered articles and magazine photos of the British band. The process was nowhere near as simple and inexpensive as it is today. “Fans were hopelessly dependent on print publications,” Crone tells me. “I found a bookstore in downtown Atlanta that carried every magazine in the world and made a monthly trek on the bus to get them.” She’d always purchase more than one copy of each issue she wanted so she wouldn’t lose valuable text and photographs on the backside of any page she cut out.
The internet allows for faster connections not just to fan material, but to communities of fellow fans. Crone says she has forged close virtual friendships with nearly a dozen followers drawn to her updates about Harris. “It is intensely cool to give grandmotherly advice to a young person on the other side of the planet,” she says. “I’ve also discovered middle-aged Calvin fans who privately confess their interest in our fave and say my advanced age makes them feel better about their virtual love affair with a younger man.”
Leisure pursuit to business operation
If you follow news about Beyoncé Knowles, you’ve probably heard of her army of ultra-protective stans, collectively known as The BeyHive. If you have pre-teens or teenagers, you might be familiar with Beliebers (Justin Bieber stans), and Selenators (Selena Gomez stans).
What many of us might confuse as a fun hobby is actually a role driven by complex intentions, whether it be career advancement for the artist being stanned or the chance to build awareness for other fans.
Music journalist Nicholas Liddle describes a stan as “someone who not only loves their artist, but will do anything, and everything to make sure their artist continues to succeed, grow, and live their best life.” He runs @QueenRadioB1, a fan handle with nearly 19,000 followers across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, where he focuses on promoting and showcasing the rapper Nicki Minaj. Liddle, who is 22, started listening to Minaj’s music in middle school—an older brother introduced him— and he quickly was drawn to the artist’s fierce flow and rhymes. “I began keeping up with any news regarding her and would even skip class and act like I was going to the restroom, just to sneak into the computer labs to read more about her and listen to her music,” Liddle says.
Although Minaj doesn’t follow any of Liddle’s fan accounts, the two have had a handful of virtual encounters. Liddle tells me the rapper has retweeted the fan page several times, liked its tweets. She also follows his personal Twitter account.
Liddle was once chosen to participate in a fan call during Minaj’s radio show, giving him an opportunity to tell her personally about his fan accounts. His devotion earned him a $900 Fendi T-shirt and a personalized letter from the artist, he says. “She thanked me for being a fan and it really just felt so special knowing that someone who has reached legend-status and has such huge platforms truly sees the time we dedicate to her,” Liddle says. “Knowing that she knows I exist is still just the most surreal thing to me.”
Some stans for musicians throw streaming parties, which they use to move their favorite artists up the music charts. De’Vonte Watson, a Barb (Nicki Minaj stan), tells me he’s organized three different online streaming parties for Tusa, a song by Karol G featuring Minaj. The parties included more than 600 people and helped the track climb the charts. It racked up more than 200 million streams globally in its first month, went eight times Latin Platinum in the US, reached diamond status in Mexico, and was the first song by two lead female artists to debut at No.1 on Hot Latin Songs. “Nicki will continue to rise because The Barbs are one of the most dedicated fan bases in Stanland, and that’s something that can’t be bought,” Watson says.
Not all stanning is good stanning
Since the rise of social media, a lack of boundaries and barriers between public figures and fans has caused some psychologists to label stanning as a psychological disorder, and a condition to be cautious of.
In 2014, a study found that people who rank high on celebrity-worship scales often suffer from psychosocial issues like concerns about body image, a proneness to cosmetic surgery, and poor judgement of interpersonal boundaries, and they tend to suffer from depression, anxiety, and social dysfunction. The same study also found that stans may display narcissistic characteristics, stalking behavior, and dissociation.
In the 2000 music video for the song Stan, we see a fictionalized version of a devoted Eminem fan who sends handwritten letters to the rapper, attends all his concerts, and alters his physical appearance to mirror the musician’s. When Eminem is slow to respond to the fan mail, Stan commits suicide out of frustration and a feeling of abandonment. The storyline is extreme for sure, but it offers legitimate commentary on unhealthy obsessiveness and on the idea of feeling entitled to have contact with someone who actually has no relationship with us.
And then there are the non-fictional cases of stanning that have led to problematic, and in some cases tragic, situations, from the stalker who swore that Michael Jackson impregnated her, to the fan club president who gunned down Tejano singer Selena, to the celebrity cyberstalking enabled or aided by social media.
The infatuation has sometimes become so impulsive that stans have threatened the lives of strangers on social media for criticizing the object of their fixation. After criticizing Minaj’s lyricism, writer Wanna Thompson was bombarded with messages from public and anonymous accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, including hate mail and even death threats. Some Minaj stans contacted her by phone and email to register their complaints.
I was curious to know how Liddle, the Minaj stan, reacted to the situation. Surprisingly, he said he chose to stay out of it. “I didn’t feel like my opinion mattered and saw that several other people had already expressed my sentiments,” he said. “I have learned by being on stan Twitter that not everything needs a reaction. However, if I feel I need to, I will drag and drag until I can’t say anything else.”
Omar Novela, a fan of the Kpop girl group LOONA and an administrator for the group’s Twitter fan page, @Reorbit, has mixed feelings about how the word stan is used and doesn’t personally connect to it. “A lot of people still think stan means ‘stalker fan’ but that’s not the meaning of the word in 2020, and it hasn’t been for a long time,” he says. “The word for ‘stalker fan’ is simply a stalker.”
Novela says there’s a clear line between loving a celebrity or music group and being obsessed to the point of hunting down their address or hotel room number—and he can’t relate to that level of obsession.
Dahir, the BTS stan, draws similar distinctions between levels of stanning. “I’ve always felt that anything fans do for their faves is always, no matter what, rooted in their love for that person or group. But as always, in any form of stanning be it music, football or politics, it can be unhealthy, especially in instances when you stan without remembering that famous people are humans first.”