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Understanding K-pop Stans, Stan Culture and What Makes Them so Powerful

Jun 22, 2020


What does it mean to be a “Stan”? The month of June has been a massive show of force for K-pop stans, as well as an entree to much of America as to what a “stan” actually is. A quick definition: Stan = stalker + fan (see: Eminem’s song, “Stan”); a highly devoted fan, often exhibiting traits of a parasocial relationship with a celebrity. 

Lets’ recap the last three weeks of K-pop stan influence.

On May 31, K-pop stans mobilized to overwhelm and basically shut down a newly released Dallas Police Department iWatch app over concerns that protestor images would be shared and lead to punishment. They flooded the app with submissions of fancams (video closeups filmed by audience members during a live performance of their favorite K-pop group) thus accomplishing two things — standing up to authority and celebrating their fandom.

On June 3, they turned their attention to the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag. The goal was to make noise to drown out any racist messaging with postings like: “Ignore whatever the f**k this is… #WhiteLivesMatter Enjoy this black pink clip.”

Their latest move targeted the Trump rally in Tulsa, Okla., which received more than a million ticket requests but — at 6,200 attendees — was not able to fill the 19,000 rally venue. Using both Twitter and TikTok to spread the word, the fandom encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to register for the free rally tickets, not show, and delete their posts within 24-48 hours. Some comments posted afterward appeared to be from teenagers, not yet legal to vote, celebrating their opportunity to affect the election despite their age.

The key ingredients of the power that this stan group is wielding is simple: social platform usage + a shared passion and/or ideology + hyperactive engagement and willingness to act. These are the general ingredients for most “factions”, groups of highly engaged and ideologically aligned groups intent on spreading their perspectives and beliefs.

In our work, we see factions span the full spectrum of passions and views, from K-pop stans, to 2nd Amendment Rights Activists, and Hipster Mamma Lifestyle Bloggers, to Fringe Trolls. They not only have the power to affect protests and rallies, but also brands and businesses.

More definitions :

  • Stanning is the act of coming out to enthusiastically support a favorite celebrity online.
  • A stan community will often coordinate actions with and encourage actions from other individuals stanning for the same celebrity.
  • Stan culture comprises a shared vernacular (including terms like OOMF, shade, tea, wig, sis, skinny, skinny legend, bop, fat, flop, locals, normies, etc.). This vernacular often overlaps significantly with (or appropriates from) African-American online culture and LGBTQ online culture. In fact, a major component of stan culture includes gay men stanning for (often stereotypically hyper-feminine) female artists like Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé. (And, before the internet, Judy Garland and Madonna.)

Stan culture describes an online phenomenon in which communities of stalker fans, or stans, engage in overly enthusiastic support of a favorite celebrity online (called “stanning”), including at times vehement, coordinated attacks against detractors and critics. Stan culture has been accused of being fundamentally unhealthy, causing key celebrities (typically women) to shut down social media accounts, and committing fraud in order to support their favorite artists financially or in social standing. Stan community tactics overlap with those common to trolling communities in 4chan/8chan/Reddit, but also include tactics unique to stan culture (see below).

Tactics Used By Stan Factions

Brigading (attack): Stans often use brigading to attack critics of their favorite artist. For example, supporters of Michael Jackson have used brigading to amplify attacks on the reputation and credibility of MJ accusers like Wade Robson, as well as calls for “muting” public figures who have taken the side of Jackson’s accusers (like Oprah Winfrey) or boycotting businesses for declining to play his music in their establishments due to the allegations.