The Groupchat: Fandom & Stan Culture
Niall: Apologies to our readers and contributors for the hiatus but we’re back once again to talk about ‘bad’ fans; specifically, is there such a thing as a bad fan? I’ve no idea where this particular conversation may go but I do have suggestions/predictions. We might discuss the consequences of ‘stan’ culture and blind loyalty (e.g. me and Kanye), we could identify which very dedicated fan-bases baffle us (e.g. me and Mac Demarco) or we could just air out our grievances about ‘bad’ fans at gigs, y’know the ones who can’t leave their phone in their pocket or who came to the show to just to chat and catch up?
Richeal: There are so many flavours of bad fan but the ‘attack anyone who is on the wrong side of a controversy involving your idol’ kind stands out to me at the moment because of the Ariana Grande/ Princess Nokia scandal. I was watching the live performance of ‘Mine’ by Princess Nokia, which is now the first search result when you look for Princess Nokia on YouTube, and all of Ariana’s fans are in the comments section laying their worst insults on Princess Nokia. Besides being straight up shitty behaviour, how on earth do they think this is helpful to Ariana Grande, who probably just wants this controversy to disappear ASAP? Having her fans tear into another female artist, who’s built her image successfully around advocating for intersectional feminism, looks really bad in a cultural landscape pushing for women to lift one another up.
Muireann: There’s a definite mob mentality associated with the more extreme pockets of fans. My younger sister is a K-pop fan and when I asked her opinion of ‘bad fans’ she could rally off multiple stories of constant toxic ‘fan wars’ that exist within that fandom. She also raised an interesting point, which is that she often sees groups of fans, white girls like herself, that obsess over their ‘k-pop idols’ to the extent that it looks like, or even explicitly becomes, a fetishisation of Asian culture. On the other hand, it’s just as likely within her fandom that fans will come out in force against their own musical heroes, as it is that they blindly support them, as is common in K-pop when groups make socio-political blunders, like wearing dreadlocks or casually referencing Hiroshima. This insight into current teenage stan culture perhaps sheds some light on why there are so many ‘bad fans’. It’s difficult to love an artist while also navigating this world of rapidly changing morals and trials by social media.
Niall: I think this brings up some of the deeper problems with stan culture, where coming to an artist’s defence often descends into hate speech, particularly when women are the perceived to be the ones unnecessarily attacking an artist. Richeal, your example reminded me of the controversy around the Rita Ora track ‘Girls’ from last year, that also featured Cardi B, Charli XCX and Bebe Rexha. Long story short, the artists on the song were accused of appropriating and exploiting the experiences of lesbian women by Hayley Kiyoko, another artist who identifies as a gay woman. In response, ‘stan Twitter’ unearthed some posts Kiyoko wrote when she was 18 in an attempt to stir up enough controversy to have her ‘cancelled’. I think you can draw a parallel between the hypocrisy of Ariana’s fans and those active in this example, who only support a progressive agenda when it suits the narrative of their favourite artist.
Richeal: I think the extremities of stan culture are demonstrative of a major way in which music fan culture differs from fan culture around film, literature, and even say… politics. I find it much more difficult to think of comparable examples where fans of actors or writers will fall in line with their exact agendas. I guess one theory I have is that maybe music fans find it more difficult to separate the artist from the art given the intensely personal nature of music. Wherever you stand in the ‘cancelling disgraced artists’ debate it’s undeniable that it’s much easier to continue to enjoy Kevin Spacey’s performance in House of Cards when I can see his acting as a technical skill he possesses which is entirely distinct from his character as a person. I’m not making the statement that acting and writing can ever be fully separated from personal experience but music definitely stands out as something which is inherently about the experiences, emotions and beliefs of the artist. Maybe fans defend their favourite musicians with such belligerence because a close relationship with their art requires a close relationship to their personal identity?
Muireann: For the sake of playing devil’s advocate (not that he needs anymore), I would see Richeal’s last point about aggressive loyalty stemming from the strong relationship that fans form with their favourite artists as a possible reason to excuse some stan culture’s missteps; most of these ‘bad fans’ probably find their only source of solace and companionship within these communities. What’s more – on the grand scale of stans, the incidents that we’re describing don’t measure up as quite that bad. As far as I know, the word ‘stan’ comes from an amalgamation of stalker and fan, while also referencing the Eminem song about an obsessed fan killing himself and his pregnant girlfriend because Eminem didn’t reply to his fan mail.
Matthew: Stan culture as a whole is a horrible mess that I’m both unwilling, and afraid to look too deep into, for fear that it’ll permanently corrupt my brain and turn me into an incoherent wreck. Have a browse of any popular Twitter thread, even one with absolutely no relevance to music, and you’ll find dozens of k-pop reaction gifs, hordes of Ariana-avatared superfans and repeated howls of ‘SKSKSKSKSKSK’. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying someone’s content, but it just about verges on unhealthy when it becomes your entire online identity. I’m guilty of stanning myself – Yung Lean is a saint who can do no wrong in my eyes – but the lengths these people go to can be utterly ridiculous. Social media seems to have been a catalyst for this – it’s far easier to proclaim how you’d literally die for your fave when you have some degree of anonymity.
Niall: Maybe it’s then worth teasing out what makes a fan ‘good’. There’s the monetary aspect of support, which we don’t associate with stan culture as those kinds of artists are generally extremely successful. From my point-of-view, a good fan supports the music they connect with beyond the monthly Spotify subscription (as far as their resources permit obviously)- they go to the show, buy some merch and use Bandcamp whenever possible. In terms of what I’m going to call ‘irl conduct’, a good fan recognises that their artists are just that, real human artists capable of making mistakes. However, when those mistakes do happen, a good fan doesn’t turn a blind eye- our loyalty can’t be blind.
Matthew: I’d argue that the typical stan can’t necessarily be described as a good fan when they’re obnoxious to the point of actually turning people off the artists they love. In my eyes being a good fan is essentially what Niall said above – acceptance that the targets of your perhaps misguided affection aren’t some godlike entities, but they’re human beings who can fuck up, sometimes terribly. The rise of cancel culture means that artists will be torn apart, sometimes justifiably, for past wrongdoing, but willingness to support someone who has actively grown and changed for the better is something we need more of.
By Niall O’Shaughnessy – Music Editor, Richeal Ni Laoghaire, Muireann O’Shea and Matthew Derwin.