With the release of Gaga’s comeback effort “Stupid Love”, Twitter denizens and social media users in general are getting a look at a fanbase that has remained dormant since 2013: the Little Monsters. Paws up! It’s not like Gags has been musically absent in the last seven years, but Joanne was utter shit, so we’re ignoring that dead aunt country epitaph.. “Stupid Love” is her first effort since Artpop to tap into the Yaaassss Gaga market that made her successful, so it’s a big year for her. The Gaga stans have had little but ketamine and Kim Petras to tide them over during their long slumber, and while I hesitate to equate any of that proudly twink-heavy horde to bears, their hibernation has come to an end.
But stan culture has evolved since Gaga last commanded such anticipation. ‘Stan LOONA!’ is practically a mating call nowadays. The internet, and by extension the contemporary music industry, is a very different realm compared to just seven years ago. While I don’t think I could say I stan for anyone other than the girl who sung the flute song at the end of the first Shrek movie, I grew up around them, and the internet would be a very different place without their energy. To give a brief roundup for anyone who might not be familiar with the all-powerful term, it simply means ‘overzealous fan of a celebrity’. A lot of people cite Eminem as the source of the term, due to the psychotic fan described in “Stan”, but I am unwilling to give credit, as I am petty. But to stan, as a verb… you are already incredibly familiar with the process. You heard of the Beyhive, arguably the codifier of the stan community? Their power has somewhat faded nowadays, but they possess old magicks that the girls today could only dream of; for even the perception of a shady slight to Beyoncé was all it took for the hive to put an end to Keri Hilson’s fledgling career. They could doxx you within minutes, armed with the greatest weapons of all: no job and an internet router. It was a beautiful time. Bzz bzz.
While the idea of the overzealous music fan is decades old, perhaps first widely noticed in Beatlemania, the Beyhive created its contemporary conception; an army that were willing to singularly revolve their identities around their chosen God, to ensure their continued financial success and cultural relevance. And most importantly, to fight for that artist without exception, etiquette being a surprise and not an obligation. By tying her career so closely to the influence of the Beyhive, Beyoncé took a massive gamble on stan culture and it paid off in a way that quite literally changed pop culture; by relying solely on word of mouth and the influence of her stans, Self Titled solidified the position of the stan as the marketing force, bar none.
While all the girls of new and old had their dedicated fanbases, from Mariah’s Lambily to Rihanna’s Navy, the ascendancy of the Beyhive changed #stanning in a way that the Little Monsters could have only dreamed of. It became more than an obsession, it became a lifestyle. This coincided with many things; the average stan was old enough to hold down a job, at least in theory; the rise of Twitter, the close quarters combat simulator we hold dear; streaming’s usurping of album sales as the primary method of rising the charts, and perhaps most importantly, the ability for influencers to build a platform on the internet without solely grovelling at Youtube’s cloven hooves. The Little Monsters (paws up!) missed this moment by just a year or two. With all these powers combined, as the Planeteers said, the stan became the definitive representation of a pop music fanbase. The Barbz, Nicki Minaj’s stans, are perhaps the most notorious group nowadays: while Beyoncé was the first to truly advocate for the stan, Nicki is perhaps the most active at interacting with her fanbase, molding them, shaping them. The hordes of Hell need a Morningstar to lead them, after all.
And that’s where things start to get interesting, and complicated. This close connection, primarily fostered through Twitter and highly personal content creation apps, is a two way street. The stan, and the cultural mechanisms behind them i.e mass media and participatory culture, are ultimately content creation machines; while one can snark about the extent of their labour, their talent or creativity, they are still a free resource with little to no protection for their words, their art or their impact. They’re a resource of so many millions, but with no real face. This is a rule that, with little exception, remains hard and fast for creatives of the internet as a whole. I’m going to give you an example, the unique interconnection of ‘gay culture’ and stolen black expression. While this is a whole different topic on its own – much more suited for someone other than my white ass – think about the proliferation of ‘gay’ slang, the language typically associated with the stan. Tea, sis! And I oop- Work the house down! Etc. It is not a coincidence that these expressions, typically fostered in black communities, have been plucked and filtered until the 15 year old Lakynn and Mikayla’s of the world are saying them on TikTok, having seen them on RPDR 20 minutes ago.
I’ve been gently mocking the stan throughout this piece. But I understand. This kind of curation isn’t accidental; just as the internet provides a method to interact with the artist, it provides a method for the artist and their backers to see what is making the rounds, and how it can be utilised for their brand. A hot example of this is Doja Cat, my same birthday sibling, perhaps the best meme queen since Nicki became a pop culture sensation. Ever since memories of her youthful homophobia ironically exploded her presence on Twitter, she’s rapidly risen to prominence because she lends herself so easily to knowing mockery (her atrocious wigs, for example). “Cyber Sex” solidified her as a watch-this-space presence, and “Say So” became a trend on TikTok within days. She even included the girl who made the “Say So” dance, whatever that is, in the song’s official video. So she’s aware of how to play the game, how to mine the stans and respond appropriately.
But where this gets complicated is Doja directly borrowing the words and mannerisms of the person who made her famous: @TheQueenNenobiaBKTidalWave, who was the first figure to truly champion her music, even when criticising her. And that criticism, the infamous ‘Doja Cat? She’s trash. I’m not talking about her’ is now emblazoned on Doja’s newest line of merch, despite never once acknowledging that Nenobia was the one who first gave her a platform to begin with. No payment, no acknowledgement, just a little swiping of the labour that built her. It’s an example that any self-identified creative is aware of, that one’s words and influence rarely belong to them. To stan is to offer yourself, even if you’re not aware of it.
It’s a cautionary tale: Twitter & Instagram are not a one way mirror, until they are.