The world of devoted fan, or stan, Twitter was rocked on July 1. That afternoon, a Kendall Jenner update account, a style of fan account dedicated to updating followers on a particular celebrity’s every move, posted a 17 tweet-long thread explaining why the people running it would be moving on. The stans were unstanning.
why we decided to unstan: a thread— Kendall Updates (@knjdaily) July 1, 2017
Following the Jenner sisters’ latest controversy — selling T-shirts with their faces imposed over images of the Notorious BIG and Tupac — the six fans behind @KNJDaily could no longer ignore and condone Jenner’s penchant for unapologetic cultural appropriation. “disclaimer: we are aware we should've stopped giving her a pass a long time ago but at least we came to our senses ok,” the account tweeted before listing 14 examples of Kendall’s problematic behavior.
As @KNJDaily’s thread got widespread publicity, it shed some unexpected light on the sliver of Twitter that belongs to stans, fans who don’t just like or admire their favorite artists, but feel responsible for their successes and, sometimes, even their personal happiness. But more so, it brought attention to the stans of problematic faves on Twitter, from the Miley Cyruses to the Chris Browns.
Even celebrities accused of cultural appropriation and violence against women still have accounts dedicated to promoting and defending them, there at a moment’s notice should their idols commit a misstep. It’s a large community that requires proof of your unwavering identity as a stan. That’s why @KNJDaily’s thread inspired such a huge reaction on stan Twitter, inspiring many fellow stans to tweet them messages of disapproval and some others to directly send them messages of support. The incident highlighted what it can mean for a fan when an idol turns out to not be the role model they once seemed.
Ann, one of the former stans behind @KNJDaily, who declined to give her last name, said she and the other five holders of the account knew that many people didn’t like Jenner. But their mutual love of Kendall’s fashion work outweighed the potential reactions of haters. “We appreciated the fact that she wasn't like her sisters or she wanted to create a career on her own without using her last name,” Ann told The Outline via Skype call.
As complaints of Kendall’s cultural appropriation piled on, the @KNJDaily group remained silent, continuing to post updates on her while, privately, discussing how they should respond, if at all. The pressure to stay silent was heightened by the fact that Kendall followed them, a coveted position on stan Twitter, where some of the most dedicated accounts will include the date they first met or were followed by their favorite celebrity in their profile, like a wedding anniversary or other memorial date.
Being followed by a fave is the kind of acknowledgement stans crave, but one that also holds them accountable in their duties as fans. Ann and her co-stanners were afraid of backlash from Kendall and her other devotees. Still, as soon as soon as @KNJDaily posted the now viral thread, they felt justified in it. “She has young fans that are impressionable and that need to learn about it, not protect her,” Ann said. “I mean, you don't have to protect people that do mistakes because that's not right, even if they are your idol.”
In the old days, fans would find like-minded, similarly obsessed people through fan clubs you could join by mail. But online discussion boards and social media have since expanded super fans’ opportunities to find community. One major difference, though, is that social media has a greater expectation of participation. Thus, the job requirements, so to speak, of stans have grown, especially when it comes to defending their idols from the deluge of backlash such technology allows.
“A fan, their job is more participating in sharing the song, liking the song, whatever. And then a stan is more in-depth,” Miley Cyrus stan Zach Williams told The Outline by phone. “Stan Twitter, it's where there's actual discussion about how successful someone is doing or if someone's improving or their career's going downward. And so when I [say] my job as a fan [is] to dispel misinformation [it] is very true. A lot of times people's personas are manipulated to fit someone else's narrative and fans of all artists always step in.” Williams cited the Beyhive, the community of Beyonce stans, as the most notorious example of a powerful online fanbase that comes out strong for its star.
Young people, especially middle and high schoolers, are the driving energy behind stan Twitter, perhaps because it’s at these ages that you first discover self-expression through the work of others. Your favorite pop star or actor can assume a God-like status because they are giving voice to feelings and experiences you don’t yet know how to name.
Artists with young fanbases are often dismissed and deemed unserious. But that doesn’t negate the very real impacts they have on their young fans’ lives. And for young stans, the stars they worship become bigger than their personas. They are representatives of an important time in their lives when they most needed understanding and felt they got that from their idols.
“I'm really dedicated to her,” said Williams of Cyrus. “She was there when I was like eight or seven. She was really there from the start. The fact that she's still in my life is like incredible to me. And I never want to lose that kind of thing.” Williams began as a Hannah Montana fan and continued to support Cyrus through the different stages of her music career. In 2014, when he met her for the first time, he gave her a shirt that read “R.I.P. Hannah Montana,” which she later wore in public — another enviable badge of approval for a stan. Williams has since met Cyrus again several times.
I JUST MET MILEY CYRUS A FOURTH TIME AND SHE POSTED IT ON HER INSTAGRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM pic.twitter.com/DIGj6Bop31— Zach Williams (@zacheese1) November 29, 2015
A similar personal connection at a young age is what inspired high schooler Alia to become a Kendall Jenner stan. Alia says she became a Kendall fan after she started watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians at 8 years old. She says she was in and out of the hospital at the time and struggling with depression from her medical problems. But she credits Kendall’s appearances on the show with keeping her spirits up.
“I started my account to show her support and to thank her for helping me in some ways,” wrote Alia in an email. Her account, @KNJVS, now has over 28,600 followers, and Kendall is one of them. “Every time I'm sad or I have problems I message her, and she always gives me the best advices and cheer me up. She's a lovely person really, she's adorable and she deserves the world. It's sad that people dont see it, She's a really great woman and she inspires me and for that i'll never unstan her.”
Williams and Alia both are fierce defenders of the stars they’ve dedicated themselves to, inspired by the first-hand experiences they believe have shown them their faves’ true colors and, perhaps more than that, made them feel seen. “She has proved herself as a person who really is interested in improving the greater good, I think I'll always be loyal to her. I know she has the world's best intentions in mind,” said Williams.
Of course, it’s easier to defend someone who feigns cultural ignorance than one who has committed an act of violence. Chris Brown has made headlines several times for threatening and abusing women, the most publicized incident being in 2009, when he assaulted then-girlfriend Rihanna. Still, there are dozens of accounts, collectively known as Team Breezy, dedicated to sharing updates about the star and defending him against relentless public criticism.
Other stars — such as Kodak Black, who has allegedly sexually and physically abused multiple women, and R. Kelly, who has been a known serial abuser of young black women and girls for decades — also have loyal stan accounts dedicated to promoting and defending them. None of the Brown, Black, or Kelly stan accounts I reached out to responded to my requests for interviews and comment. So I took my questions to Agerenesh “Aggi” Ashagre and Kayla Thomas, hosts of the stan culture podcast “Fan of a Fan.”
“We talked about [this on] our episode ‘All Your Faves are Problematic.’ And we touched on how it has to do a lot with personal growth,” said Thomas on a Skype call with The Outline. “It's not always just what you'd accept from your favorite artists, but these are sometimes things that you'd accept in real life as well. And so a lot of times it just comes from you having to grow up and say, ‘OK I wouldn't accept this behavior from anyone [in my life], I shouldn't really accept it from Chris Brown either.”
Thomas said she was once a “huge Chris Brown fan.” The mindset of defending him was something she had to grow out of, but she acknowledges that not everyone can do that. “Some people are just so enamored with their fave that they can't do any wrong. And also some people learn to separate the art from the artist and they have no problem with defending them because they can sing really well.”
Ashagre, too, once stanned a problematic fave: Taylor Swift. Eventually, she became disenchanted with Swift’s brand of feminism, which Ashagre, as a black woman, couldn’t see herself in. And though Swift’s music played a big part in getting her through her teen years, Ashagre eventually found empowerment through the work of artists like SZA, Beyoncé, and Solange. But unstanning wasn’t easy.
“Sometimes you have to realize that you may be the one that's problematic as well and it's like coming to terms with that and then figuring out what you want to do with it. Not a lot of people take the time to do that,” said Ashagre. “And especially if you spent a lot of time with a certain artist to the point where they mean something to you, like whatever they're doing genuinely helped you through a certain period of your life, it feels like a breakup to come to terms with that and then put that phase of your life behind you. So definitely personal growth is the key to getting through that. And at the end of the day some people just won't ever get to that because they are stuck in their ways and they're scared. It's definitely a scary thing to have to deal with.”
@KNJDaily’s viral thread made visible the kind of detachment from adolescent obsessions many people go through as we get older, our interests change, and our understanding of the world grows deeper. Let he who has never had a problematic fave cast the first stone. Does youthful ignorance excuse stans defending abusers like R. Kelly, Chris Brown, and Kodak Black? Absolutely not. But I find hope in knowing that once a stan does not mean always a stan, especially if you are young.
“I'm at an age where it's completely acceptable to still be interested in the current pop music industry, especially because I'm trying to get involved in it. So if I unstanned it would be to focus on myself and my own career goals. But right now she has only helped me to where I want to go,” said Williams. “She wore my shirt, you know, that opened up the opportunity for me to create an entire design business. And that I'm forever grateful for.”