The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem is one of the best-selling rap albums ever and easily one of the greatest collections of songs ever put together for a record. But ‘Stan’ sticks out in particular, more so in 2020 than 2000, not because it’s a quality song (it’s still one of Eminem’s signature tracks) but because how it eerily foreshadowed the birth of toxic behaviour among fandoms and fan culture.
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Over course of seven intense minutes, ‘Stan’ depicts the story of Stan, a fan who really loves Eminem and is obsessed with the rapper in ridiculously unhealthy ways, tacking countless photos and press cuttings to his walls and writing seriously creepy letters in hopes that his idol will reply.
Eminem does ultimately reply to Stan, but by then it’s already too late as Stan had already gone way over-the-top in trying to get the rapper’s attention by locking his girlfriend in the boot of his car and driving off a bridge.
At the time of its release, ‘Stan’ was seen as a brutal and scathing (yet utterly brilliant) takedown of unruly fan behaviour and etiquette. Looking back at ‘Stan’ and its music video in 2020, not only has the song stood the test of time, one can’t help but see the eerie parallels between Eminem’s single and how certain fandoms act these days.
Given how Eminem had his own stalker encounters over the years, even as recently as 2020, it’s clear the rapper realised something about the eventual rise toxic fandoms and fan culture way back in 2000.
Eminem somehow articulated it all with unwavering accuracy the sort of unsavoury celebrity worship and overzealous devotion demonstrated by unruly fans that’s become part of the cultural lexicon and something we almost take as normal in 2020 (even though we shouldn’t).
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been toxic behaviour or that every fan is problematic in the years before ‘Stan’. Becoming a ‘stan’ of something invites a sense of community among those who share a common interest. But at the same time, this sort of behaviour can fall on the opposite end of the spectrum and be very bad.
Fans can cross the line and do things that bring harm upon themselves, others, and the artists they ‘stan’, and the senseless devotion expressed by these people sinks into a negative feedback loop that make it impossible for them to see what they’re doing is messed up. Not unlike the sort of stuff Eminem rapped on ‘Stan’ back in 2000 actually.
Like how The Simpsons unintentionally predicted events well ahead of time, it’s almost certain that Eminem never intended for “Stan” to be as big as it did or to become the label used to describe an increasingly worrying subset of fan culture.
It is almost a certainty that ‘stan’ culture would’ve happened regardless if Eminem rapped about the topic on The Marshall Mathers LP. But as it so happens, the real Slim Shady dropped ‘Stan’ at the perfect place and time in to become the culture touchstone for things to come years later.
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