Anatomy of A Fando

“I can relate to what you’re saying in your songs. So when I have a shitty day, I drift away and put em’ on cause I don’t really got shit else so that shit helps when I’m depressed. I even got a tattoo of your name across my chest.”

In Eminem’s 2000 hit song “Stan” he raps from the point of view of a stalker fan (Stan) who spirals into a homicidal rage when his favorite artist doesn’t respond to his sloppily-written letters. The song portrays Stan as a disturbed man whose unhealthy obsession with Eminem leads to his demise.

But, in the nearly two decades since the songs release, artist-fan relations have greatly changed. The term “stan,” once meant to mock diehard fans, has been rebranded and is now proudly brandished in the bios of millions of social media accounts. Stan is no longer a troubled young man cutting out pictures of his favorite rapper and pasting them over his girlfriend’s face. Now, stans run elaborate streaming schemes, create video edits and amass huge followings on social media, all in the name of celebrating their idols.

What is a Fandom?

Music fandoms are communities of individuals who enjoy a particular artist, this is an umbrella term that can apply to all fans. A stan is someone who identifies with an artist’s message and pledges their intense and unwavering loyalty. Fandoms that are composed of more stans than casual, passive supporters have propelled their chosen artist to success on numerous occasions.

One thing artists like BTS, Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj all have in common is that they have expansive fan bases that are actively keeping their images clean and their music relevant, around the clock.

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Having a large following has its perks. Last month, Taylor Swift published a tweet to her 85.3 million followers that included three photos of lengthy notes detailing her feud with Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun, the owners of most of her back catalog, who she accused of trying to prevent her from performing her old hits at the 2019 American Music Awards. She captioned the post, “Don’t know what else to do.” She wrote,

“Neither of these men had a hand in the writing of those songs. They did nothing to create the relationship I have with my fans. So this is where I’m asking for your help. Please let Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun know how you feel about this. Scooter also managers several artists who I really believe care about other artists and their work. Please ask them for their help with this.”

Her fans quickly answered her call to action, starting the hashtag #IStandWithTaylor which quickly started trending nationwide. When she couldn’t reach an agreement with the men, she weaponized her fan base knowing the thousands of people, and consumers, backing her wouldn’t go unnoticed. Later that month, Taylor got what she wanted. She performed a medley of her hits in front of a roaring crowd at the awards show. This is a textbook example of the influence a music fandom can have in the digital age.

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Who is in a Fandom?

Several stereotypes about fans exist, particularly in pop music. One long-lasting trope is that of the crazed teenage fan-girl who is obsessed with boy bands. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Harry Styles, a former member of the successful band One Direction, was asked if he was worried about proving his credibility to an older audience now that he has launched a solo career. He responded,

“Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music — short for popular, right? — have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That’s not up to you to say. Music is something that’s always changing. There’s no goalposts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going.”

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In this statement, Styles validated his fan base, which is primarily composed of young women and also questions the suggestion that attaining a different, older demographics’ approval would elevate his artistry. While they may account for a large portion of the fandoms, teenage girls aren’t the only ones stanning male pop artists. Pop connoisseurs come in many forms.

For instance, Nicole, a former “Directioner,” is now a self-proclaimed BTS stan. She runs a Twitter account for the South Korean K-Pop group with thousands of followers who are a part of the BTS fandom known as the “ARMY.” The account, @ResearchBTS, provides fans with daily facts, statistics and general news about the boy band. Nicole explained that she started the account while researching for her Ph.D. She said, initially, she created the account to keep

“A personal digital log of the BTS-related worldwide trends that appear on Twitter (some of my research analyzes the way fans create these trends). I thought it would be more “fun” to track things this way, as opposed to just typing it out on an excel sheet. I didn’t think about how ARMYs would see this. The more they shared, the more followers I started gaining. Over time, I realized there was something special here.”

In addition to her research background in fan studies and social network analysis, Nicole has worked in public relations for the past nine years. She says the “ARMY” is better at publicizing and promoting BTS than some professionals in her field. The strength of the fandom became apparent in 2017 when the group ended Justin Bieber’s six-year streak as Billboard’s Top Social Artist after garnering 300 million votes on Twitter. This was a sweeping achievement for the K-Pop group as it solidified their global presence in the industry. Winning this award introduced the group to many new listeners and potential fans, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the fandom.

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When asked to explain the “ARMY’s” reach, Nicole said,

“They’re so organized, strategic, and creative. It’s all driven by their passion, dedication, and remarkable grassroots efforts, which are so difficult to achieve for most brands and businesses that are looking for the same level of engagement.”

She found in her research that having a fandom like the ARMY is essential to an artist’s success in the music industry. She stated,

“These are the types of fans who work harder to keep their artists relevant and help them accomplish goals that the majority will likely never achieve. The dedication of fandoms is what separates them from the everyday ‘fan,’ which can be as simple as people who casually listen to specific artists, but don’t experience the added level of commitment and devotion to them.”

“Fans, in general, are definitely essential to an artist’s success — but fandoms take the success to new heights.”

Nicole’s analytical approach to standom illustrates the different motivations that can be found in any fandom. As society becomes increasingly connected and social norms continue to evolve, more people than ever have been drawn to these groups. While fandoms serve a communal function, they have also proven to be a force on the inner workings of the music industry. These groups are made up of diverse and complex networks of people who share, at least, one thing in common, a love for their respective artists.

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