If you want to see a community full of a narrow jargon and low intellectual and rational capability, there are few better communities to watch than stans of various musicians. As someone who spends too much of my limited time and attention on music charts, something that has been the case at least since my teenage years, it is greatly amusing as well as somewhat depressing to watch groups of fans of various artists insult each other online, especially on Twitter, and fascinating to see the very narrow range of language that is used by these fans to talk to people from other fandoms. Of course, for those who are not aware of the lingo, perhaps it is worth explaining it to you as we take a look into life among the stans who, like me, are followers of Chart Data’s amazing twitter feed .
It is worthwhile first to discuss what a stan is and how it got that name. The name stan to describe semi-literate fans of given musicians comes from the song “Stan” by Eminem, where he described an obsessed fan whose regard for him eventually went sour after Eminem, a busy man, was unable to return his letters and calls. The term was originally meant pejoratively, but like many insults it was soon claimed as a badge of pride by people who proudly claim to stan a particular artist. There are a few communities that are particularly active online, like the Bees who support Beyonce, the Clique that supports Twenty-One Pilots, and the Swifties who cheer on Taylor Swift, among others.
It is noteworthy just how limited a language stans engage in when talking to each other. A song that does not do well is a flop, but one that does well tanks. An artist that achieves as milestone will typically elicit the reply of “legend,” whether or not the person has been performing for a long time. A song that someone approves of is a bop. If a song receives charting success because of promotion, there will be claims of “payola” attached to the song’s charting. If a particular artist has a lot of charting success, such as a #1 hit or an album bomb that results from streaming allowing most or all of an album’s tracks to hit the Hot 100 the week it debuts, fans will often say that the artist with charting success “ended” someone else. While fans are somewhat limited in the verbiage they use to discuss matters of taste in music with other fans, they are generally creative about the insults they use to describe other artists, showing how a world in which artists often respect and collaborate with each other is one in which fans often show a great deal of hostility.
One wonders why this is the case. There are 100 spots on the Hot 100 chart (somewhat obviously enough). Even the biggest album bombs in history have only led to 25 or so songs charting by the same artist simultaneously on a best case scenario. More often an album will have eight to fifteen songs charting at once, with one or two of them receiving enough promotion to stay on the charts for a long while to challenge for the year end chart (which generally requires that a song end up with somewhere near 200,000 points), which either requires the song to have massive weeks of dominance at the top of the chart or a somewhat long chart run of acquiring points little by little each week. To put this in perspective, a #1 hit as dominant as “Old Town Road” has earned around 100,000 points each of the weeks it has been #1, while a song in the top 10 may get between 20,000 and 30,000 points, or maybe more, depending on how strong the chart is that week. Any song that spends a couple months in and around the top 10 is going to have enough points to make it, but a song like “You Say” by Lauren Daigle took around thirty weeks or so to get enough points to clinch a spot on the 2019 Year End chart because most of those weeks were fairly low and the song only peaked at #29. In such circumstances where many songs debut high and quickly fall and where many other songs never get very big but stay around long enough due to streaming and radio play to become hits, it is hard to say that anyone “ends” anyone else.
In such a world, what is it that draws the attention of stans? For one, charts are a competitive business because they are ordinal in nature. Regardless of how close two songs are in competition, one of them is going to be #1 and one is going to be #2, and the same is true for albums and artists in their own rankings, and the fans of the #1 act will gloat about their success and the fans of the #2 act will complain about payola, and say that a minor album track would have been a hit if it had promotion. Of course that is the case, but a music label does not have the money nor the manpower to promote a dozen tracks by an artist at a time. So fans lament that album tracks could have become hits, insult fans of other artists who are engaged in the same business of seeking success and praise for their music in the same or different genres, and often act in rather hypocritical and self-serving ways that are based on a partisan fervor that makes even less sense than these things do on a regular basis (which is little sense enough).
And what is the significance of all this? Most of the songs that are talked about are ones that few people care about now, and that even fewer people will care about in a week or a month, much less a year. Even the biggest songs on the music chart often have a shockingly little ability to hold a place in the memory of all but the most devoted of fans. What remains is the bad blood that exists within people who should by all rights be friends, namely people who are passionate about ephemeral pop music and the seldom lasting careers of the people who make it. As is the case far too often in life, what should be an opportunity for fellowship and unity becomes yet another place for people to bicker and condemn and criticize others for having different opinions and tastes, even when they have shared passions.