Stan Culture: In Defense Of The Fangirl

Screaming. Crying. Throwing up. These hyperbolic actions often appear with the image of the stereotypical fangirl: a young, often teenage, often girl whose hysterics have made her excessive to those outside of the fandoms she belongs in. The word “Stan” gets its origin from Eminem’s song of the same name combining “stalk” and “fan”, but […]

Screaming. Crying. Throwing up. These hyperbolic actions often appear with the image of the stereotypical fangirl: a young, often teenage, often girl whose hysterics have made her excessive to those outside of the fandoms she belongs in.

The word “Stan” gets its origin from Eminem’s song of the same name combining “stalk” and “fan”, but the concept of a “stan” has existed for years. “Stan” and “fangirl” are used interchangeably, but they are never interchanged with a regular fan. In an interview with CBS, Taylor Swift claimed that there were different vocabularies for men and women: “A man is allowed to ‘react’; a woman can only ‘over-react.’” 

Her words reign true for female and male fans. Female fans receive the label “fangirl”, and with it, they receive the connotations that the word has developed over the years: obsessed and excessive. The image that comes to mind is a screaming girl crying over her chosen idol. There is no counterpart for a male fan — they get to enjoy whatever they want without labels that deem them hysterical. 

Beatlemania was a term coined to describe Beatles fans and their behavior towards the boy band from Liverpool. The phenomenon created a lot of noise, literally and metaphorically. The band recalls not being able to play over the screams from the audience, and only the Beatles’ female fanbase garnered a lot of attention for the hysteria. The wild screams paints a picture of these girls as manic as the name suggests. 

What’s truly odd is how popular the Beatles are now. Everyone has a favorite Beatles song and knows at least ten without realizing it, and the some of the middle-aged male fans of today would laugh at the girls of Beatlemania without acknowledging that their screams and support aided to the fact that the Beatles grew to be so popular within their first years as a group.

Within their first years of success the band 5 Seconds of Summer garnered so much success with the help of their younger female fanbase, desperately trying to steer away from a boy band label because boy bands are associated with younger female audiences and younger female audiences aren’t taken seriously. Despite their commercial success, artists like One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer don’t have as much merit in the music industry for the music itself. And it’s because of their audience, the same stans who were able to make them so famous in the first place. 

Stans can determine whether or not an artist can sell out an arena, and instead of being appreciated for their time and connections, they are belittled and condescended to. Part of One Direction getting to keep such high favor with their stans was because they saw their value. In an interview with Billboard, Harry Styles said “Teenage-girl fans — they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.” 

Taylor Swift had a surge in popularity following the release of her fifth album, 1989, and another spike after her release of folklore because mainstream audiences realized that it was “okay” to like her. To me it is no surprise that after being informed of what internalized misogyny was, there was a correlation to Taylor Swift’s acceptance into mainstream audiences’ good graces. Suddenly they acclaimed her for songwriting and lyrics as if she hadn’t been putting out consistent albums for years. The world caught up with the millions of girls who were already aware of Taylor’s abilities. 

The fact is teenage girls are the tastemakers of the industry. They have the time and energy to stream their favorite artists. They tweet at radio stations and advocate on behalf of their idols to get more air time. They vote at fan award shows. Teenage girls are often ahead of the curve within the music industry even today and their power is stronger than just knowing their idol’s blood type (Harry’s is B+ by the way).

A tweet on Stan Twitter reads “when i was a 1d stan, i used to get frustrated being viewed as ‘crazy fangirls’ bc sports fans acting the same way were ‘passionate.’ now that i’m into a sport, i’m still viewed as a ‘crazy fangirl’. it’s never been about what I’m a fan of. it’s always been about being a girl”.

The primary demographic for sports fans is men. Many of these men can rattle off baseball statistics of their favorite players. Many spend hundreds of dollars on seats to watch a game. They yell when their team wins. They yell when their team loses. And many of these men are older than teenage stans. 

Here are two groups of people, passionate about something enough to dedicate time to their interest and often money. They have created an emotional bond to what they love. And yet one group suffers a title of crazy and obsessive and the other “just got too excited”.

Being a stan is not the only time a girl will be made fun of for what she likes. There is a list of things that teenage girls cannot do without getting made fun of and mocked. Mainstream music is basic, and if you claim to stan any artist, you risk being called obsessive. Indie music and the so-called underground scene has resurfaced as what has become popular. But god forbid someone recognize the song you posted to your story. And if your music is truly niche or different from others, you’re pretentious and obnoxious. Everything gets picked apart, and with an obsession to define ourselves with what we consume, you have a small window to define yourself with what will make you seem cool or effortless or chic, but not too much. Love what you want, listen to what you want, but don’t love it too much or instead of being passionate, you’ll be deemed crazy.

Many have tried to label themselves in an effort to avoid the generalizations from others. There’s the “Clean girl” and “that girl” and a “chill girl” and “granola” and “emo” and “manic pixie dream girl”. These girls seek out these aesthetics because in aligning themselves to an identity with what makes them happy, they will hopefully set themselves apart as different, and at the same time, offer them enough relatability without being “like everyone else”. But it’s like putting on makeup and insisting you aren’t wearing it for men when the idea that you have to change your appearance has been ingrained in your head as the norm. A label is a label. A box is a box. 

Fangirls are different — the label is a badge of honor within fandoms. It’s a dedication to the idea that you are willing to support something bigger than yourself. That you have someone to be passionate about and that you have a community to share that feeling with. But as you leave this bubble of catchy lyrics and famous pop stars, you find people using this label to patronize your love as immature or obsessive. 

The goal of the fangirl label is to know so much that you absolve yourself of the notion of being basic, and with the label, you absorb the ”obsessive”’ title and spit out pride in your dedication.

Imagine the hurdle that comes with labeling yourself a fangirl because Harry Styles’ music helped you with overcoming whatever struggles you have only for people to generalize all of your love for him as stalkerish and excessive or based on your concern for his looks. 

Despite my defense of the fangirl, there are exceptions. There are stories of girls following artists home, leaking phone numbers and addresses, harassing other fans, and so many other toxic behaviors that exist. And there isn’t defense of this behavior. But there is something to be said about grouping a girl who buys merchandise and posters for her room with the same girl who leaked a phone number. Every girl who aligns herself with a fandom gets lumped together with the outliers and must subject herself to being called crazy. The majority of stans are normal people caring in a way that is not understandable to most. Love of an artist must be done in moderation.

I know so many people around me aren’t overtly mean to teenage girls and their interests. But even now, when I claim to be a stan of so many popular people and things, I still find myself hiding them away to impress others and judging people as if I am not the exact same. I have things in my closet that match Harry styles’ wardrobe. I have CDs and merchandise and magazines and I follow update accounts. And yet when meeting new people, I don’t immediately tell them that I love Harry Styles or Niall Horan, worried they may see me as the obsessive stereotype. 

I constantly think about how I am perceived. When I listen to Charli XCX, I say that I am doing so in an ironic way, but it “does not reflect my music taste” because God forbid I love pop music unabashedly. I’ll tell you I love Fiona Apple and Caamp so you think I’m interesting instead of frivolous. 

And yet, I can write an article defending the fangirl and I can understand that stan culture is nothing to be ashamed about, and yet I still try to tailor what I listen to based on who I’m trying to impress. I figured I should write this for some music snob, insisting his music is the best at scoffing at teenage girls. But instead I write for myself and for other teenage girls who are trying to believe what they hear. Because until I, an Ethel Cain “American Teenager”, can tell people I love Harry Styles without the caveat that I’m not “one of those crazy Harries who went to ten shows” the stigmatization remains. Until I can stop listening to Taylor Swift on a private session on Spotify in order to curate a niche Spotify wrapped, the stigma remains. 

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