For anyone wondering what ‘stanning’ is, it’s a term used to describe someone who is a super-fan of a certain artist, combining the word ‘stalker’ and ‘fan’, originating from the self-obsessed fan described in the Eminem song ‘Stan’. Even though there should be some immediate red flags regarding how healthy this sort of approach to music is, the term has sort of taken a life/of its own. It is used either ironically, as an exaggerated term for a fan, or just a straight up replacement for being a ‘very big fan of’ the music made by a certain artist. Yet trying to explore the term ‘stanning’, even considering how the term has changed, I’ve come across a much larger issue regarding how music is appreciated as an art form. ‘Stanning’ is part of a music culture which obsesses over the artist, not the art itself. Here’s how:
‘Stanning’ creates close-mindedness. In an age where the internet plays a large role within music it has become very easy to close yourself off from people with differing musical opinions. If you really enjoy Kanye West’s music, then you can join a forum of people who also enjoy his music. Seems fine, and of course there is nothing wrong in loving music. Yet this creates an atmosphere that places not just Kanye West’s music, but Kanye West on a pedestal. Everything released by Kanye must be good! It’s Kanye! I am aware that nobody holds this opinion, but it creates issues around discussion. I personally hold very differing views than that of a lot of people regarding Kanye West’s album My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy. I think the album has some extraordinary singles on it yet some awful ones too, and when those bad tracks are five minutes+ long, it’s hard to enjoy the album overall. There are a lot of people who disagree with me, which is expected, yet there are people who take my attack on someone’s music they like as a personal attack on taste. My criticism is not only perceived as an attack on the music but on Kanye himself.
Through ‘Stanning’ we’ve created a ‘cult of personality’. It is a lot easier to admire an artist than it is the art. This is because music is an art form difficult to ground, as it has many moving parts and the importance certain people place on certain parts differs from genre to genre. It is extremely subjective. Yet who makes the music is objective. You can’t argue against the fact that Kanye West is responsible for the creation of MDBTF, that is one of the only certainties about the album. We stop viewing things by a certain artist project by project, but instead view their music holistically. We have created a cult of personality. There are examples that defy this of course. I think the most striking one is In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, as it is an album that is recognised as more important than the artists who made it. I am aware that one question which could be asked at this point is ‘Well, what does it matter? If people are listening to music that is all that should matter?’.
In 2015, the indie folk act Sun Kil Moon released the album Universal Themes. Pitchfork initially had the album reviewed by Ian Cohen, who gave the previous Sun Kil Moon album, Benji, a glowing review. Yet following an incident in which the frontman, Mark Kozelek, called the Pitchfork employee Laura Snapes a ‘bitch’ on stage, they took down the Ian Cohen review and had it reviewed by Mark Richardson who gave the album a 6/10, the lowest rating Pitchfork can give it without panning it. I hope that most of you can see how deeply unprofessional this is, but it comes from a position of judging a piece of music by its musician.
I am extremely aware of just how self-indulgent this article is (which is very ironic considering that is one of my pet peeves regarding MDBTF) and part of this is just Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author theory lighting a fire underneath me. I am also very aware that I am being rather over-dramatic by linking someone innocently saying they really enjoy the music of a certain artist with a complete authorial-centric view of music. Yet I still find the notion of ‘stanning’ absurd. Even the artists that I feel have the most consistently fantastic discographies, Fleet Foxes, Death Grips, I would never say I ‘stan’ them, just because I know that they could release something poor tomorrow. I personally feel that we should pay more attention to music itself has to offer, not the person who made it.