‘Truly yours, your biggest fan’: Nicki Minaj, Her Barbz, & Stan Culture

Although not having a following doesn’t equate to making unworthy art, the entertainment world is only a shell of itself without its consumers, and a lot of these “fan armies” are taking away from one of the most critical aspects of this world by attacking those with opposing opinions on their favorite celebs. If a respectfully executed criticism is received by Nicki Minaj and her fans, what happens to those who are not as eloquent when it comes to their opinions or those who are downright anti-Nicki?

With the promiscuity of Lil’ Kim and eccentricity of Lady Gaga, the brusqueness of Remy Ma and a silver tongue much like that of fellow rapper Cardi B, Nicki presents a larger-than-life persona to her audiences to accompany a discography that is equally as colorful. The Barbz, her army of “stans,” or devoted superfans, are known for their swift and spiteful responses to non-supporters, musical rivals such as the ones mentioned, or even critical fans dishing out the tough love they believe the artist may want or need — at the command of the rapper herself.

Using the word “stan” to encompass any type of enthusiastic fan of a celebrity, we throw it around very loosely these days. The Beyhive, Rihanna’s Navy, the Barbz — are all names of some of the strongest groups of stans — or fans — the social media community has encountered. The latter of that list has been involved in a lot of back-and-forth online banter as of late for various reasons, but one encounter stood out starting at the end of June and running into the beginning of July.

A writer (and a self-proclaimed Nicki Minaj fan) from Toronto, Wanna Thompson, made a tweet critiquing the rapper’s subject matter and made mere suggestions on what she would want to see from her in the future: a new, more mature direction musically. Constructive critiques are what we expect to see when we open up the Twitter app, especially from bloggers in the culture and entertainment worlds. But after giving her critique, the Barbz came out of the woodwork in large numbers. In addition to the curses and threats coming from the fan end, Wanna received a less-than-kind message from Nicki herself.

Nicki’s reaction to Wanna’s innocent tweet was a public show of her insecurities getting the best of her. As an entertainer, you put out work with the understanding that some will love it, some will hate it, and people all across the spectrum will make their opinions known. Taking the time to send a lengthy, uncivil message to an avid listener making a mere suggestion makes it clear to everyone that Nicki herself feels that something is missing from her craft. She wasn’t only trying to convince Wanna that she’s ‘rich, famous, intelligent, and pretty,’ she was trying to convince herself. Even in the wickedest of situations, there’s always a “why?” involved. What is the cause behind the overcompensation that Nicki has been displaying since her debut?

In this country, it’s common for black women to find some way to prove — sometimes to a fault — their success and their worthiness of it, no matter the field they’re in. Some do it by tossing away healthy hair choices and tucking away their colloquialisms in front of their non-black peers, essentially rejecting their background in order to prove that they are where they are supposed to be. In Nicki’s case, she throws her fame, money, and sex appeal in the faces of listeners. Don’t get me wrong, flaunting success and other prize points is not bad in itself; you should give yourself credit if you’ve worked hard to get somewhere. But as with everything, there’s a way to go about it which people like Nicki have not yet mastered. We’ve all felt at some point in time that our own authenticity isn’t enough for us to get by and for good reason. The world has shown us consistently that it isn’t just that. As many of our parents and mentors have told us growing up, we have to work twice as hard to get half as far.

We’ve seen the amount of control Nicki has over her Barbz multiple times in recent years. All she has to do is snap her fingers, send out a tweet, and the storm is over with. Seeing the extent she allowed her fans to go to “defend her honor” says a lot about her and her character, After years of promoting anti-bullying causes, and being one of the faces of female empowerment, you would think Nicki would take different steps to address Wanna’s tweet, if she felt the absolute need to address it at all. But as it goes, power and responsibility go hand in hand, and when death threats and foul wishes are being thrown around like it’s going out of style, it’s clear that not enough restraint is being exercised by artists or their more extreme fans.

We all have our “faves” and a lot of us don’t do much more than buy their creations, engage with their content, and uplift them in whichever other small ways we see fit. But when you look at the origin of the “stan” term, it means something very different from a simple supporter.

Coming from the 2000 Eminem song of the same name, “Stan” was the name of a fictional fan of the rapper whose adoration went too far. In the song, “Stan” sends a multitude of letters to his idol, and after getting no response, drives himself and his pregnant girlfriend into a river, killing them both, and leaving an audio tape of the act behind. This behavior seems way too erratic for everyday fans to duplicate, but the passion — and borderline unhealthy obsession — “Stan” felt for his favorite rapper is the same vein of passion his namesakes are putting behind their respective celebrities.

Stans have been given a bad rep because of a handful of bad apples, but the culture can be a beautiful thing. It gives entertainers a network of die-hard supporters, which gives them the ability to fuel their careers. As previously mentioned, the entertainment world works like an ecosystem. Artists put out content, fans watch and listen, and that allows the artists to continue the cycle. But boundaries are necessary when it comes to seeking support from fans. I believe that as such major influences on these large groups of often impressionable young people, artists have a responsibility to nip any acts of harassment in the bud. When incidents like Wanna’s occur, it shouldn’t be met with silence by the celebrity — or even worse: egged on, whether in public or private. Letting these situations get out of hand reaps negative results across the board; those on the receiving end of the blows have their well-being put at risk, the celebrities receive negative press, and the fans themselves slowly chip away at their compassion and self-respect with every attack they carry out.

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