Being a stan is something you either are or you aren’t. The term was coined by Eminem in his 2001 hit "Stan", about a fan so obsessed with his idol he (spoilers) drives his car off a bridge, killing himself and his pregnant girlfriend. It's since been adopted by pop fan bases to identify themselves as dedicated, ride or die fans who live and breathe for their idol, rather than casual fans whose lives aren’t consumed by what their fave is doing at every moment and who certainly wouldn’t cry over how perfect their latest single or movie is.
Although the term may not have existed before 2001, stans have certainly been around forever. From Beatlemania to Trekkies to Brennemaniacs (stans of the actress Amy Brenneman), where there’s entertainment, there are stans.
For me, I came into my standom in the late '90s when I was a mere tween, and honestly, it’s nearly 20 years later and not much has changed. My favourite singer is still my one true queen, Britney Spears. My favourite show is still Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My favourite movie is still Titanic, so much so that I just bought tickets to see it at the outdoor cinema for my 32nd birthday in a few weeks. My favourite actor is still Leonardo DiCaprio and I still believe with my whole, entire heart that Kirsten Dunst and Amy Adams deserve Oscars. The late '90s were honestly just a great time for pop culture, ya know?
It’s Britney, bitch
When Britney Jean Spears burst onto the scene in 1998, she made an indelible mark on both pop culture and my heart. When her debut single, “...Baby One More Time”, was released, my friends and I – then in Year 8 and new to high school – rushed to Spotlight to purchase baby pink fluff that we could attach to our hair ties in order to mimic our new idol. When she released “Oops!…I Did It Again” the following year, our weekly trips to the mall would inevitably find us at Sanity music’s listening stations. We’d blast “Oops!” in our headphones at multiple stations (“hit play on ‘three’! One… two… three!” – to ensure we were listening in sync with one another. Important stuff!) while dancing, singing, laughing, yelling and generally behaving like the most obnoxious 14-year-olds in history. We lived and breathed for the teen queen, who was serving us pop perfection with hit after hit. My sincerest apologies to those poor, poor retail workers – please know I worked in retail for many years after this and karma has served me well.
But being a stan is more than just loving your favourite artist’s songs, it’s an investment of time, energy, finances and emotion that hooks you so deeply you don’t really remember what your life was like before you became obsessed with them. It provides you a community of like-minded individuals who share your passion and can become your close friends, with whom you share in-jokes that only your fandom understands. From joining message boards before Facebook and Twitter existed, I now have friends around the world who I’ve known for more than a decade; people I’ve met up with in the real world, people I’ve gone to concerts with, people I’ve shared some of my darkest secrets with after long hours on MSN that began talking about Britney and drifted into friendship.
Over the years, my love for Britney has worked its way into pretty much every aspect of my life. She’s in my work, she’s on my clothes, she’s all over my social media, and from time to time when there’s a new viral video of someone dancing to one of her songs, an acquaintance I barely know will reach out to me saying something along the lines of: “You’ve probably seen this already, but…” My love for Britney is so apparent that it has seeped into my personality, and when you become the first point of call in the mind of someone you went to high school with for news about your fave, THAT is what being a stan is.
The same is true for my love for Titanic and its beautiful, shining star, one Leonardo DiCaprio. I don’t remember what it’s like to NOT love Leo.
The year was 1997, and my mum had taken me to see the blockbuster, which would remain the highest-grossing film of all time until 2009 when Avatar – another James Cameron film, but truly nobody’s favourite film – knocked it off the top spot. As I sat in Adelaide’s then-new Marion Megaplex, watching Jack Dawson peek up at Rose (Kate Winslet) from under his beautiful hair in the biggest cinema screen in the city, I fell in love. Leomania, which had been brewing in the schoolyard for a while after the release of Romeo + Juliet the year before, hit me like a tonne of bricks that to this day I have never been able to climb out from under.
At the height of my obsession, a friend of my parents’ had picked up a pirated, camcorder copy of the film in Bali (perhaps the most '90s sentence in this whole piece?). Split over two VHS tapes of even s****ier quality than a regular video, I borrowed their copy and watched at least an hour of the film everyday for MONTHS until the film was finally officially released on video. I’d pre-ordered it at Target and made my mum promise to “go and line up to get it for me” while I was at school (which I realise in hindsight she probably did not do, as that is not how pre-ordering works). I also begged the owners of my local video store to give me their giant cardboard stand advertising the film when they were done with it, which they did. Although far too large for my bedroom, I kept it behind my pink inflatable and uncomfortable “sofa”, next to my bedside table with my pink lava lamp on it. It was all very late '90s and honestly I feel like it was pretty much a chic vibe that I’d happily go back to?
Although my love for the leader of '90s Hollywood’s Pussy Posse has settled over the years into a love similar to that you have for an old, dear friend (who you would marry), when there’s a new Leo film out, of course I’m going to go see it. I still own that Titanic VHS I got on release day, and I’ve since bought Titanic on DVD and in 3D – the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray – despite not owning a 3D television or having any plans to ever purchase one. And while we’re on the topic of bad investments, I also purchased the Blu-ray of The Great Gatsby even though I didn’t like it very much, because sometimes being a completist and a stan really clouds your judgement on smart purchases. Basically anything Leo does, I’m all in, to the point of bursting into tears when he finally won his Oscar:
I feel extremely lucky to have been blessed with great entertainment for my age at the time. I rewatched Buffy this year after Pretty Little Liars finally wrapped up it’s godawful seven-year run (yes, I watched every single episode). I felt the relief wash over me as I realised I’d never have to endure another season of terrible writing that never allowed any of the characters to grow, thereby denying its fans the opportunity to grow up with it. Problematic as Joss Whedon may be, and dated as Buffy is in parts, I’ve been able to re-watch this show every few years since it ended and find something new to take from it every time.
I’ve been able to watch Britney overcome the worst period of her life and come out on top (#buyGloryoniTunes), something that has provided me inspiration in my own struggles with chronic pain and mental health. I’ve been able to re-watch the films of my favourite actors and laugh and cry as much as I did when I watched them 20 years ago, and keep up with their careers over the decades as they’ve continued to release great and exciting new projects. Basically? It’s good to be a stan and the '90s will live on forever.
Stream The Nineties now at SBS On Demand: