Music fans can be quite… devoted shall we say, especially when it comes to advocating for or defending their favourite artist on social media. The recent ‘conflict’ between Damon Albarn and Taylor Swift on Twitter made clear how quickly fans of both artists resolved to insult and attempt to discredit the other. Swift is no stranger to internet conflict, and her response to Albarn’s apparent criticism was, well, akin to her surname. It was comments made by fans of both artists under tweets that caught my attention however, it was almost as if some were defending a close friend or family member. Most of the criticism was directed towards Albarn, with some claiming that he was trying to gain publicity. However, almost every conversation between rival fans devolved into trades of petty insults and scathing reviews of each artist’s music. Every single thread was a minefield of toxicity. What has happened to music fans?
I would like to make an important distinction before I venture any further into this topic, something which most people who discuss this issue have failed to do. Stans are NOT regular fans. That label is now used to describe someone who is simply passionate about an artist’s music, which is not the case. By definition, a stan is an “overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity”. The term is credited to Eminem’s 2001 album, “The Marshall Mathers LP” and the song of the same name which is about an obsessive fan called Stan. Stan culture has been linked to deteriorating mental health in some people, especially during periods of lockdown caused by the pandemic. Dependence on artists grew as opportunities for real social interaction dwindled and eventually became practically non-existent. Some people develop parasocial relationships with a musician, they view a person they have never met as being a close friend. I’m no psychoanalyst, but to me, that seems extraordinarily unhealthy. This obsession also often goes hand in hand with an addiction to social media, which can directly result in self-esteem issues and difficulty when it comes to social interaction.
Unlike the past, when artists were seemingly God-like figures who were above the average person, social media has created a place where people feel they can personally connect with a musician. Don’t get me wrong, fan interaction is objectively positive, but when a person feels they have a personal friendship with someone they have never met, then a serious problem has arisen. This leads me into my final point, and perhaps my most jarring one. What happens when the person who you idolise to the point of obsession makes a mistake or is caught up in a scandal? Your entire world comes crashing down, you get angry, you get bitter. We are in an age of cancel culture, and whether you agree with it or not, it’s here to stay.
In my research for this article, I always came across the same points. ‘Stan culture is unhealthy and obsession causes mental health issues’. No one addressed perhaps the most significant ramification of dependence on a celebrity. If that celebrity goes down, which happens at an alarming rate nowadays, many people are left without purpose. This can lead to issues spiralling out of control. Stan culture can no longer be the butt of the joke. It is passed off by many as simply people being toxic on the internet when in reality it runs so much deeper than that. This is a bold claim, but I believe it has become a mental health issue, which will only get worse if people continue to be ridiculed instead of supported.
Jack Donlon – Music Correspondent