When Eminem first coined the term “stan” with his 1998 song of that title, there was no way he could have seen it evolving as it has. What began as the name of his imaginary, psychological thriller-esque, celebrity-obsessed protagonist has become a widely used term that is effectively a synonym for bully, with fierce artist loyalty remaining the major through line.
“Stan” was the third single from Eminem’s third album, The Marshall Mathers LP, considered by many to be a classic of the form to this day. The track, shot through with grotesque, pitch-black humor, relates the story of an overly obsessed fan from the first-person perspective of a series of letters written to Eminem by his fictitious admirer.
Over a haunting sample of “Thank You” by English singer Dido, Stan details the depths of his obsession with Eminem, becoming more and more unhinged as the song progresses. He goes from expressing his admiration to accusing Em of ignoring his letters to recording a suicide note as he drives his car over a bridge with his pregnant girlfriend trapped in the trunk.
In the song’s final verse, the grim irony of Stan’s permanent solution to his temporary problems becomes clear. Eminem, once again in his own voice, explains his reasons for not responding, expresses concern and dismay at Stan’s admission of self-harm, and comes to the realization that the tragic news story he heard in passing was that of Stan’s self-inflicted demise.
The intent of the song, according to Eminem, was to address fans’ and critics’ reception of the cartoonishly violent content of his previous album, The Slim Shady LP. The tone of “Stan” is admonitory rather than hilarious, as some of his previous, darker-tinged content had been. He seemed to be telling his fans to chill out, as obsessive behavior of that sort is clearly unhealthy.
It wasn’t long, however, until “stan” had entered common parlance as a term for an overly invested fanatic of a public figure, becoming so ubiquitous that it was entered into the Oxford Dictionary as an informal noun in 2015, meaning “an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.” It was added to Merriam-Webster this past April.
In 2019, “stan culture” permeates the sphere of social media, as celebrities encourage their fan groups, bestowing them with clever titles like Arianators, Barbz, the Beyhive, Little Monsters, and referring to them as the “Army” or “Navy” (no Marines, yet, thankfully). Stans often take it upon themselves to promote and support their chosen celebrity’s endeavors, helping hashtags go viral, going on all-day streaming binges to overtake the charts, and defend their faves from criticism.