The term originated from rapper Eminem’s 2000 hit of the same name, merging the words “stalker” and “fan”. It has quickly evolved into a label young fans on social media proudly use, denoting the prestige their obsession with a figure in pop culture comes with. The term is common on all social media platforms, especially on Twitter, where fans devote accounts solely to their favorite idols.
Stan culture is prevalent not only online among social media users, but all across the MVHS community. Freshman Arjan Madan proudly stans Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta) and has been an avid fan of hers since 2010. He was first introduced to her through a summer camp counselor who showed him a couple of her performances.
“Later that year, my parents got me a copy of her second EP,” Madan said. “I heard every track and I realized that she’s not the type of artist where just her singles were amazing, but every song was very well written.”
THE RISE OF K-POP
Madan isn’t the only one introduced to his idols by counselors or teachers. Freshman Stephanie Sevilla first learned about K-pop, or Korean pop music, through her sixth grade history teacher, who played the music video for “Growl” by K-pop group EXO. She describes how she was intrigued by the video, and has been stanning K-pop groups and bands since then.
“I’m also interested in dancing, and [K-pop stars] are really good dancers,” Sevilla said. “The entertainment and the singing is really amazing, and their chemistry as a group together is really, really nice to watch, and everything about K-pop just makes me have to stan.”
Similar to Sevilla, freshman Parinita Saha started listening to K-pop through her sister. Nights of loud music from her sister’s room led 10-year-old Saha to wonder what exactly the genre was. She expresses her frustration over a typical response that elicits from the people who she tells about her liking for K-pop — how do you listen to songs in a language you don’t understand?
“Someone can like music [whether] they understand it or not,” Sevilla said. “It’s just how you interpret it, and I mean, you always have subtitles. It’s just a really good experience because I also learned a lot through their music and the meaning of their music, which is really inspirational.”
The history of K-pop, or Korean pop, started back in 1885, when missionary Henry Appenzeller taught American and British folk songs to schoolchildren, replacing the original English lyrics with Korean ones. After Korea was partitioned into North and South divisions after World War 2, western and Korean culture began to mix, eventually leading to the prevalence and prominence of Kpop supporters in the western world. Since then, popular K-pop groups have risen to fame, such as BTS, NCT, Seventeen, Blackpink, and more.
Sevilla and Madan both have noticed that the fan bases they are a part of are uplifting communities for the individual fan and the artist. Sevilla recollects a time where her father and another parent bonded over their daughters’ shared interest of K-pop. Especially with the increased use of social media amongst teenagers, Madan believes that they help form connections that wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for the fanbase.
“I think what’s so cool about platforms like Twitter or social media in general for fans, is that you have this other sense of this community, the community being devotion to Lady Gaga,” Madan said. “I have a friend from Brazil, I have friends from India, Russia, it’s all over the world.”
According to Psychology Today, a reason why internet friends are generally easier to make is due to the lack of face to face interaction, as many, subconsciously, account factors like physical attractiveness when it comes to making friends. Furthermore, it helps individuals lacking social skills, or with social anxiety, to connect to others more easily. On their stan twitter, an individual often presents the platform with their best persona, picking and choosing their most attractive traits to display.
Senior Keerthi Pushparaj believes that the anonymity associated with having a stan twitter account, one solely for the artist and not linked to her personal life, has proved to be some sort of an escape from her daily life.
“Stan Twitter is honestly very, very weird,” Pushparaj said. “Some of the stuff that goes on is honestly pretty scary but it’s also really entertaining. I try to stay away from social media just because it’s such a huge time suck for me. But it’s something that I’ve come to find entertaining, and it’s something that I can enjoy.”
With an obsession of cancel culture, Madan has noticed a trend where many individuals on stan twitter will bandwagon and hate on other fan bases or artists, which he believes takes away from the intended experience of the social media platform.
“Stan twitter, you’ve probably heard it. It’s very messy,” Madan said. “Unfortunately, there’s not much separation when it comes to twitter because a lot of these fanbases disagree and the artists will be competing.”
But stanning in 2019 has grown beyond just donning a particular artist’s merchandise or attending concerts, Saha recounts incidents she has heard of people overstepping boundaries and invading the private space of artists.
“Most of the times what people would do, they would sneak into their artists rooms and find private information then sell it to other people [which is] really not right,” Saha said. “You’re saying you stan them and you love them, but you’re still willing to sell their private information. To me, when you stan someone, you should also respect their private space and what they do.”
Some fans go as far as videotaping their favorite idol or celebrities every move in a paparazzi-like manner. Particularly in the K-pop arena, “fansites”, who are essentially paparazzi for specific groups and members, go as far as to taking the same flights as idols and following them around during vacation.
This stalker-like behavior also translates to fans showing up at their idols’ homes or mobbing the hotels where they are staying. Many social media influencers and YouTubers, such as Julien Solomita, have shared countless accounts of fans showing up at the doorsteps of their homes asking for pictures and autographs.
Adoring someone without overstepping boundaries is what Madan describes as a typical stan, but going beyond that, becoming obsessed with their personal lives is something that he frowns upon. Saha agrees with him and says that such “fans” should not be given the title of being a stan of an artist.
“There are definitely a lot of crazy fans out there,” Saha said. “But in my perspective, I really think you can’t call those people fans. Because fans are people who love their idols [and] like their music, not people who are crazy over them and are willing to go to any extent to claim that they’re their fans.
The Absorption Addiction model developed by a group of psychologists in the early 2000s suggest that “pretend” relationships with celebrities are seen as an escape from many real-life qualms, as it’s less demanding than a real, physical relationship. In many cases it helps the fan–or stan– derive intense pleasure and a sense of fulfilment. The idols on screen, through their music or personality, may seem like the ideal partner to a stan. Due to the nature of this one-sided “relationship”, they can’t necessarily face rejection or hate from these artists.
Stan culture, psychologically speaking, can actually save lives, as it helps the brain relieve stress and anxiety. People who stan artists have literally developed an addiction, according to this model, and fall deeper into the lives of their artists due to the pleasure the brain craves and associates with stanning.
According to reporters from Kpopmap, many K-pop idols are under dating bans, to present themselves as available and pure to their general audience. In 2018, K-pop idols E-dawn and Hyuna were discovered to be dating by their management, Cube Entertainment. The two were then kicked out of their company.
To Saha, this inevitably allows for more obsessive stanning of an individual’s idol, as it gives them hope that the “relationship” has potential to be reciprocated. She hopes that these fans understand that their idols may not necessarily be the same person on and off screen, as they have to present the best versions of themselves to their fans, which may often be artificial.
“What people don’t understand and fail to accept is that they’re not always perfect and they are also humans,” Saha said. “Yes, you can idolize them, but to think that they’re perfect and [claim that] you know that they’re a certain way may not always be true, because they might be a totally different person behind cameras.”
The first concert experience is also one that is greatly cherished, stored within the depths of the memory bank, and Sevilla is no different. She attended a BTS concert, which she believes served as a platform to connect with others sharing the same interests, and was a night that helped her understand her idols better.
“It’s like an entire stadium full of [people] similar to you,” Sevilla said. “And it’s like, such a surreal thing, because you’re used to seeing them on TV, and they live in Korea, so seeing them come to America and perform songs for you live is really cool. So it was kind of stressful, because it was like, there are a lot of people and it’s really crazy.”
On the other hand, Pushparaj says that becoming more familiar with her artists through stanning them and Twitter, has helped her erase her previously negative outlook on the lives of celebrities.
“I was honestly very critical of celebrities, in general,” Pushparaj said. “They’re like in the public eye and I never necessarily gave them hate [but] I just couldn’t be bothered. I was still somewhat judgmental and almost not forgiving. But after getting on Twitter, everyone there’s very, very supportive of each other and the people that they are fans of. I realized that people are human, but humans make mistakes and that they should be forgiven.”
Saha truly believes that her idols, especially BTS, have had an overall positive impact on her. With a discography filled with songs breaking stigmas of tabooed topics like mental illness and discrimination, they have steadily spread their message of positivity across the world, and have risen to be UN Goodwill Ambassadors.
“Over the years, their music [and BTS themselves] has taught me a lot,” Saha said. The main thing that affects me the most is their message to love yourself. It’s just really impactful because their music is is really meaningful and it really impacts more lives than you think it does. They’re just amazing people.”
At the end of the day, stan culture can be viewed in one of two ways: it can be seen as a toxic cesspool that breeds screaming fans who stalk and unhealthily obsess over celebrities just to fulfill empty hopes of love, or it can be seen as a way to foster communities built on mutual love and respect for those in the limelight.