James P. Freeman: Those scary 'stans' of pop music

Eminem, who boosted the 'stan' sentiment with his song "Stan'' in 2000.

Eminem, who boosted the 'stan' sentiment with his song "Stan'' in 2000.

Gentle reader, are you consumed — in thought, word or deed — by your favorite actor, athlete or rock star? If yes, you’re considered a “stan.”

In today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, stan is a fitting portmanteau of stalker and fan (derived from fanatic or the Latin adjective, fanaticus). According to en.oxforddictionaries.com, it is defined as “an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.” And given modernity’s looseness with language and linguistics, the word may be used as a noun (i.e., “Kylie Jenner has millions of stans”) or a verb (i.e. “millions stan for Kendall Jenner”).

Many point to the song “Stan” by rapper Eminem (released as a single in 2000), about the warped idolatry of a disturbed fan of the Slim Shady himself, as giving popularity to the stan sentiment. Still others point to rapper Nas who, in 2001’s “Ether,” intentionally used the word for what became its popular connotation.

We’ve come a long way from the delirium of Frank Sinatra’s rabid 1940s “Bobby Soxers,” perhaps the earliest stans.

There was “Beatlemania” in the 1960s. Later, in the 1980s, young Madonna enthusiasts were known as “Wannabes.” Before the death of Jerry Garcia, in 1995, for decades legions of loyalists (“Deadheads”) lived a lifestyle synonymous with members of The Grateful Dead. Now we have “Sheerios” (Ed Sheeran), “Finaddicts” (for fans of the Jaws franchise), “Llamas” (Cowboy Junkies), and “Streepers” (Meryl Streep). And closer to home: “Red Sox Nation” (Boston Red Sox).

Social media — Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit — have given rise to a weird mass intimacy (“like me” and “follow us;” “hearted”) between object (celebrity) and subject (stan). And vice versa.

This twisted relationship has spawned the professional fan. Part mystic. Part hysteric. Part parasitic.

And the new digital symbiosis practically requires that stans don the same clothes, drink the same Armand de Brignac, and download the deep-cut track. But don’t dare disagree or think differently. Or become a detractor. Just ask Wanna Thompson.

The New York Times recently reported that she incurred the wrath of the stans of Nicki Minaj (known as, appropriately, “Barbz”) and the artist herself (via a practice known as celebrity “clap back” — she has 20.2 million Twitter followers) when Thompson (a freelance writer with a mere 14,000 followers at the time) wondered if the singer would “put out mature content?” That simple question produced a hailstorm of scorn and derision toward Thompson.

It’s fun to imagine what stans’ reaction would be today if John Lennon posted on Snapchat that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus now.”

James P. Freeman, a former banker, is a New England-based columnist. This piece first ran in Inside Sources.