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

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What does it mean to be a “stan”? Though the description reaches back to the year 2000 (see: Eminem’s song, “Stan”), those who identify as stans have gained more visibility over the past couple of years. For instance, June 2020 was 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 ; a highly devoted fan, often exhibiting traits of a parasocial relationship with a celebrity. 

Let’s be clear about one thing though: the impact of celebrity fandom extends well beyond ticket sales, an individual’s fame, or the digital content that goes viral. In the case of stans, the devotion towards the person, organization, or belief that binds these people together and encourages them to act can, and often does, result in the widespread collateral damage of people, groups, and businesses. 

In this article, we’re going to show you just how widespread that impact can be, why businesses in particular need to be aware of stans, and how knowledge of stan momentum and trends can help you prepare (and even mitigate) the potential fallout.

How K-pop Stans Strengthened Stan Influence in the U.S.

Before we go any further, lets’ recap a three week period of K-pop stan influence in 2020 that brought stan culture to the forefront of the global political and cultural zeitgeist, ultimately making it what it is today.

On May 31, 2020, 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.

Then, on June 3rd that year, 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.”

Ending things with a bang, they then targeted the Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 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 Kpop 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.

Stan Groups Employ Familiar, Digitally-Fueled Tactics to Wield Power

The key ingredients of the power that the K-pop stan group (now followed by other stan communities) 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, Hipster Mamma Lifestyle Bloggers, and Fringe Trolls. They not only have the power to affect protests and rallies, but also brands and businesses, which we’ll dig into more soon.

More definitions :

Here are some other definitions that are helpful to know when talking about stans:

  • 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.

When businesses take a stance based on their ethics, they’re likely to offend or upset at least some people, regardless of how harmless or logical/practical that stance might seem. Most businesses understand the potential, likely minor implications when taking a stance with the perceived majority. What most businesses might not recognize, however, is how a small but powerful group of people, such as a stan community, can make bigger than expected waves by spreading narratives that impact a brand’s bottom line.