Are Fandoms and Stans a Bad Thing?
Stan = obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.
The other day while I was in Manchester with my boyfriend, we’d just left a shop where I’d been asked ‘which groups do you stan?’ by a staff member trying to help me. This to my boyfriend was the worst thing he’d heard someone say so far that day and launched us into a three-hour debate over whether being a ‘stan’ or using the word ‘stan’ to refer to a super fan is a bad thing or not, and whether fandoms should be using phrases such as ‘I stan them’ or asking other people ‘who do you stan’.
In this blog I investigate and attempt to rationalise my fandom and where I am in terms of “Stan culture”. If you have no idea about my use of the term ‘Stan’, I am going to take you on a voyage of fandom and the mirky world (to some) of Stans and Sasaengs.
Fandoms and ‘stans’ are they a bad thing?
Fandom is defined as a subculture composed of fans characterised by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. While 'stan' has two definitions the first one being an overzealous or obsessive fan of a celebrity and the second relates to K-pop stans who are described as enthusiastic and active fans or ardent fans.
Personally speaking, I'm a part of ardent K-pop fans. I involve myself in conversations online as well as activities such as voting to boost my chosen groups or idols. I wouldn't consider myself overzealous or obsessive, I own posters and photocards that I hideaway to protect (we all do this…don’t we?). It may be a tiny obsession, but I don't go overboard.
The walls of my room aren't plastered with every photo I can get my hands on, but my phone is filled with memes and funny photos of the idols I adore. But, if I said to anyone that I was a stan of these groups, or even a fan, I'd then end up being judged and have many negative words attached to me.
The reason being, ‘Stan culture’ is seen as problematic in the west, as there are no official subcategories of stans like there is in Korea. This means all of us western stans end up being viewed negatively. But, is it that much of a bad thing? Or just preconceived ideas that we refuse to part with?
Often when those in the know discuss about stan or super fans, the first thing that pops in your head is of a young girl crying at the concert of her beloved celebrity. Or maybe you are one of the few who first think of stalker fans?
Overall, I think most stans can be roughly categorised into three groups:
- Unrealistic stans, the obsessed and overzealous ones that have tunnel vision and see their celebrity as an angel, not a human
- Realistic stans, these although devoted to their chosen celebrity acknowledge they're human beings and hold them accountable for their actions and are quite often ardent fans
- Sasaengs, this is a Korean term for the group of stans who are obsessive stalkers that either toe the line or dive headfirst into criminal acts to interact with or get noticed by their celebrity
Out of the three groups, the only one I'd tell you is a huge problem are the sasaengs; they seem to have no morals. Sasaengs see what they want, and they go to get it at any cost. An example of sasaengs being obsessive stalkers happened in 2020. Roughly a week after the new K-pop boy group Enhypen were announced they were on a private schedule at Gimpo airport in Seoul, a group of sasaengs mobbed the newly formed group, who at the time were aged between 15 and 19. The reported facts of what transpired in that fateful day are a bit foggy, because of the unconfirmed reports and multiple sources of information, which could not be corroborated. But the day took a sinister turn resulting in:
- All 7 members were pushed around
- Niki (aged 15 at the time) was separated from the staff and other members
- Jake (aged 18 at the time) was shoved over
- Sasaengs leaked the flight details of the group including seat numbers
- Sasaengs also booked and boarded the same flight as the group
The company the group belongs to, Belift labs, later released a letter detailing fan etiquette and what would happen if this wasn't followed. To read it in full the link is below. But to sum it up, the letter detailed the basic respect that should be displayed by fans on a whole. Considering the traditional culture of Koreans is influenced by Confucian principles, the letter amplified the basics of harmony and respect. It also commanded sasaengs to not encroach on the private spaces of the artists, for example their dorms, and went as far as to clearly mandate not stalking or interfere with their working schedule. On balance, there are many more stans, who whilst they are as enthusiastic of the genre of music, that do not condone this type of behaviour. They certainly would not take part in it.
A fandom honestly couldn't exist without stans, yes sometimes fans interact with each other, and they become friends that contact each other with every new music release. But, fandoms are like closed communities situated in LA only less difficult to get into and access. They act as a safe space to connect people across the world to all talk about and share their thoughts on their obsessions.
Although fandoms are closely linked to musicians and the K-pop world, they are not a new phenomenon and as long as humans have a desire to belong or believe in a higher power, they are here to stay. Here are some fandom examples:
- Youtuber Jake Paul has a fandom called Jakepaulers
- Actor James Dean, his fandom is called Deaners
- Singer Adele has a fandom called Daydreamers
- The TV show game of thrones has a fandom called thronies
And then there are the obvious ones relating to the K-pop world such as:
- BTS has Army
- Blackpink has Blink
- Stray kids have Stay
- Tomorrow x Together has MOA
Other obvious culture fandoms include football teams, for example UK popular football team Arsenal has its army of ‘Gooners’ and in other popular culture or subculture mods. Taking its direction and steer from a specific moment in time and reflecting the clothes and manner of the day.
The fandom names of K-pop groups and idols are created by the groups themselves and are announced a couple of months after their debut. This differs from the fandoms of Jake Paul, Adele, and James Dean. It appears these fandoms gained their name through their means rather than their celebrity naming them. In the most part the cultural motion, the conversation of the fandom as a collective often leads to the naming convention of K-pop.
I feel the naming of fandom by those they are supporting is more personal. We take ownership of the culture; it is more personal, but quite often these fandom names have reasonings behind them. It could be something as simple as what the celebrity likes. Equally, they can have deep meanings behind them, for example, Stray Kids. The groups' slogan is 'You make stray kids stay' and they named their fandom ‘Stay’. Through the naming of their fandom ‘Stay’, they're acknowledging the work their stans and fans do to help them continue pursuing their dreams.
So, although the individual types of people within a fandom, the actual fandom itself as a collective is positive and innocent, with the exception (who I will not be naming) of a few who collectively are way too protective of their celebrities.
Why is it considered bad to be a stan?
I've only been listening to K-POP for five months, in the world of K-pop, I'm still a baby fan, despite the short amount of time I've been involved in this world I quickly learned just how much to generalise those who listen to and work in the K-pop industry.
I've had countless conversations where I've had to explain that the photo card that lives in my phone isn't Jungkook. As much as I should be able to recognise him, I don't think I’d be able to pick Jungkook out of a crowd, because I'm not a part of the masses that love BTS. Instead, the idol on my phone is Felix from Stray Kids, who looks nothing like Jungkook.
Every time this has been said I've been met with a wave of a hand and 'they're all the same anyway'. They very much aren't the same people but that's going off-topic. In those five months, my family have dismissed my growing love for this music genre and the people that come with it, they may be right in a few months I may stop loving these groups and this music.
They stan a K-pop group. The attackers? They vary, sometimes it’s other fandoms, sometimes it’s just people who have nothing better to do with their lives. But regardless of who it is the one thing I’m learning is that fandoms aren’t toxic and bad it’s the people outside those individual fandoms that abuse and put down those within fandoms for little to no reason.
So why is being a stan good?
Again, this is based on what I've witnessed and experienced in five months. I began listening to K-pop because of a TV show where K-pop groups battle to be crowned the king of K-pop, all very cliché, but it was amazing and during that, I learned a lot. Currently, I'm working as a Junior Content Producer Apprentice and have been for a little over a month. Before I’d even applied to this job, I'd learned about how specific social channels worked in terms of views and post rankings, of course, they weren't as specific as what I'm learning now, however for an account run by multiple people, who from what I've gathered from comments on posts are mostly still in education, is astonishing.
They've researched and analysed data available to them to work out how to get the views on the latest YouTube channel to go up within the first 24 hours, it's not a simple watch the video there's a lot more to it. There are accounts dedicated to translations so international fans can understand what their idols are saying etc. Being a stan you learn so much to help your idols and to understand them such as:
- Basic office skills like professional email etiquette
- Learning a new language if you’re an international fan
- The organisation, mass votes, or streams
- Teamwork skills, again mass votes and streams
- Communication skills, talking to others in the fandom there’s a range of English-speaking abilities
Not only do you gain skills from being a part of a fandom, but you also gain relationships, you develop connections with other stans and fans. Group chats, there's got to be millions of them containing stans from across the world. Longer standing friendships, people you meet at concerts and fan signs, etc. You become friends over a mutual love for the celebrity. I couldn't count the number of friendships I've seen come off two stans and years later, they're still going strong even if they can't see each other often.
What do you think? Is being a stan bad or good?
From the information I've read up on while writing this, I believe there's no simple answer to it. As much as being a stan benefits people, and no matter how unproblematic your fandom is you'll never escape the stereotypes. Minorities have been trying to squash stereotypes for years and yet they still heavily influence most of the world. So, I think whether it's good or bad is down to you. Me personally? I'd like to think it's a good thing if you are responsible, that you are aware of your actions and how they'll impact the celebrity or the rest of the fandom. If you aren't a sasaeng and you are aware these people you idolise are still humans, that they make mistakes too and need to be held accountable, there's no reason to hide it.
In some countries as I'm writing this in the third week of August, I've been seeing stans that are preparing to go back to school remove their favourite photocards from their phone case and strip the belongings they'll be taking to the school of anything remotely relating to an idol or K-pop group, out of fear of how people would react towards them if they knew they were a stan.
I find it upsetting that these stans must feel as though they should hide. So, next time you go-to joke to someone about them being a stan or a part of a fandom please stop and think, ‘Is what you’re saying going to make the stan want to hide what makes them happy?’. Please keep in mind that for so many of these stans the fandom and the subject of the fandom saved them and gave them somewhere they feel like they belong. Don’t take that away from them.
I am a stan, I am a fan, and I am proud.
Lauren Mycock, Cohort 32, Content Producer at PAL Media