Last week, I wrote about Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine’s assertion that there are no chart-topping bands anymore, and that there is little interest in young artists’ view to group up.
The response to the piece was quite interesting and all over the place. Some said, yes, so long as one person with one laptop can make an album, drop it on Soundcloud, and gain a serious fanbase from it, what do they have to gain from joining a band?
Others said, “There are plenty of bands. You just have to look.” This is true, but it’s also true that if the measure is of “success,” if you have to look for a band rather than that band being crammed down your throat by eager record labels, playlist creators, and television appearances, that itself undermines the counterargument.
One response I got stuck with me, though. “What about the Stans?”
A little context. A fan loves your music, promotes you to their friends, buys your recordings, and goes to your shows.
A superfan, like Deadheads, for example, would have spent the entire summer in a caravan, following the Grateful Dead from show to show for an entire tour. They might have even gotten baked with Jerry Garcia at one point or another.
An obsessed fan has devoted a considerable part of their lives to the artist of their choice and may have invaded said artist’s personal space at one point or another. Their connection has lapsed uncomfortably into a mania.
A Stan could kill you.
That’s not hyperbole. Stan culture has found fans sending death threats to those who would simply suggest an artist’s latest product is not as great as the previous. There are reports of Stans “SWATting” critics, meaning they have called law enforcement agents on a target, alleging severe legal infractions or bomb threats, when actually the only offense was a negative review of the latest BTS single.
And if the parasocial relationship the person has built in their mind with their famous subject starts to come undone – perhaps there’s no recognition of a Tweet or Instagram post devoted to their adored – violence could be leveled at them. That’s in fact where the term gets its name from: “Stan,” the Eminem song from 2000 about an obsessed and murderous stalker.
The responder who asked the question, “What about the Stans,” asked it as a rejoinder to someone else saying that new music fans will “soon reject crap and come back to real music.” (We’ll not delve too deep into this, as “real music” is a double-edged term that can also imply “the music I personally think is good.”) He continued, “They will soon return to recognizing quality.”
Stan culture is not about quality, per se. It is about loyalty. If you have ever wondered why a specific celebrity has decided to record a song and it isn’t very good, and yet it succeeds, this is why. The same celebrity starts a clothing line and the styles are fairly ugly but sells a lot, that’s why. Specialty food items, custom sunglasses, unique ballcap, it doesn’t matter. They will buy because it is not about the products themselves, but the demonstration of devotion that buying them illustrates.
At the beginning of 2020, the unstoppable phenomenon Justin Bieber released a song titled “Yummy.” It was roundly mocked by critics, both those usually favorable to him as well as those typically negative. The chart numbers for the track were good enough, getting the track up to the Top Ten, despite the drubbing, but that wasn’t enough for The Bieb.
A super fan started a campaign to get Bieber’s most-devoted to play “Yummy” in constant loops on Spotify and iTunes, using multiple units, to drive up the stream counts for the track. Asking fans to request a song is nothing new. What this person was asking was for these fans to play the song even if they’re not listening. Just let it run in the background, or turn the volume down altogether, but drive those numbers. Bieber did not discourage the effort. He reposted it. The unspoken part of this is that if one can leverage the manic devotion of one’s Stans, the result is a success. Never mind that this win was achieved through a con-job. It has nothing to do with whether the song is good or not. It has nothing to do with whether it is even a song or not. It’s about proving you are worthy to remain in the tribe.