Comfort. It's the feeling music brings when nothing else will ease the stirring soul. Music will hug when no arms are in reach, a friend who's always there when solace and serenity are needed. Life is full of highs and lows; unfortunate events and victorious circumstances await with each sunrise and music's there through thick and thin. How is it possible not to fall effortlessly in love with the creators when hearts are filled with their creations?
The feelings of passion and devotion that are tied to being a fan begin with just one song. It only takes a single record to feel connected to the artist. We adore them for their contribution to our lives. After all, it’s easy to be entranced when you have a deep appreciation for the art. You buy the CDs, attend the shows, read all the articles and even purchase their clothing to nourish the feeling of closeness between the art and artist. This is what it means to be a fan, discovering art so meaningful that you exchange a few dollars for the priceless feeling this person left you with.
At least, that's what I thought.
Fan is short for fanatic, a word that perfectly captures the extreme enthusiasm felt when discovering a new artist. What can start as casual listening and artistic appreciation has a way of becoming obsessive admiration and hero worship. Eminem’s “Stan” is a fictional story, but the character was based off an overwhelming attachment that crossed the line between idol and worshipping.
The frenzy surrounding certain artists can be cult-like. This isn’t a new concept exclusive to the internet age, but now the frenzy of fans can be seen in a way unlike Beatlemania of the early 1960s. All it takes is a SoundCloud and a social media account to reach fans and cultivate a hive of supporters.
Nineteen-year-old XXXTentacion understands he has listeners who care immensely about him and his music, fans he considers to be cult-esque in size and subordinates. In his interview with No Jumper, and more recently pointed out by Micah Peters in an excellent new piece for The Ringer, XXXTentacion defined the difference between supporters and what he considers to be true fans:
“If you’re gonna be a fan, that’s different than being someone that supports me. If you’re a fan that means you abide by everything that I believe in, and that you support what I do to the fullest extent. … I have a cult fan base; I don’t have a weak ass fan base.”
What XXXTentacion describes isn’t being a fan, it's more cult of followers than cult following. Within his definition is a request to blindly follow and support his every word and action, not just in music but his every belief to the fullest extent. There’s no room for questioning or critical analysis in the XXXTentacion fandom, he only wants fans who will back what he says, thinks and does.
X's request is a dangerous one, especially when the bulk of said following is young and impressionable. Tentacion is a teenager and has attracted the attention of other teens and young adults—he has the youth in a way similar to Tyler, The Creator and Odd Future in their early stages. Even the music is similar in both shock and quality. But X isn’t some kid in his basement preaching against capitalism; there are serious, violent allegations surrounding him. Before I could even pronounce his name, I had seen a picture of a woman beaten black and blue with XXXTentacion as the accused assailant. Next month, he’ll stand trial for aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering—all serious charges for which he pleads innocence. His followers remain in vehement agreement with him, aggressively citing that all of the allegations are meant to keep his star from shining.
Individually, we all will decide our stance on XXXTentacion, but the controversy surrounding him begs the question: What does it mean to be a fan in 2017?
It’s not wise to blindly follow anyone and when I heard XXX's request, it reminded me of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre that took the lives of 918 people. Jim Jones, the radical cult leader of the Peoples Temple, famously called for their revolutionary suicide and poison was ingested by the willing and unwilling. This may seem like an extreme comparison, but Jones and X have cult followings by definition. By relinquishing self-thought, it opens up the possibility to follow and defend any activity and operation. There’s an overzealous energy about X’s fans—their undying support is apparent with just a quick glance at Twitter or Reddit—but what appears online can quickly escalate into something toxic in real life. When you lose yourself in another person, you risk pernicious influence.
"While I, and hopefully most people, would find strangling a pregnant woman to be appreciably more heinous than normal aggravated assault against, say, not a pregnant woman, X has cultivated a massive online following that seems to disagree. There’s a good chance they might even deny he’s done anything wrong. The core of this following tends to find his mounting list of charged transgressions either totally fabricated to impede his success or incidental to the enjoyment of his music. You’re either all in or you’re all out." —Micah Peters, XXXTentacion Doesn’t Deserve the Internet’s Sympathy
Fans will go the distance for their favorite artists. Remember the Drake supporters who called Philadelphia’s District Attorney requesting that Meek Mill's violation of probation lead to incarceration? They were asking to take a man’s freedom over a rap beef. Drake didn’t request such a vile action, but they took the initiative for their fav. It speaks volumes how deeply the shenanigans can run, the lengths to which fans will go for laughs and bragging rights. Chance The Rapper has enough influence to simply ask his large following of fans to assist in getting his single radio spins, and Nicki Minaj doesn’t even have to ask her Barbs to create a streaming cheat code so that her diss songs can chart; their affection for Nicki is so deep that they don't even need a request to commit such a farce. That's when fans become truly fanatical, going the extra mile for their celebrated celebrity out of some sense of community and belonging—doing it in their honor.
Imagine if someone power-hungry was able to build a cult following, using their influence for more than selling tickets and merchandise. Kanye was prepared to call a boycott against Louis Vuitton in 2013, not because of racial profiling or a terrible experience at the New York store, but because he wanted to show the head of LV that he had power and influence. That he could stop sales in his store with a tweet. It's a threat that he didn’t follow through on but raises the question: Could Kanye actually stop business? It’s egotistical to even believe he could, that fans would listen and heed his words if Ye said so. The truth is, he might be right.
Cautious isn’t a word I would use to describe the early era of Odd Future—defiant, vigorous, and vulgar are far more adequate adjectives. But on Tyler’s first album Goblin, he showcased a bit of carefulness, a rare recognition of circumspect. Before “Radical” could begin, The Creator starts the song with a “random disclaimer” asking that listeners not commit any actions said within the record. He had to say it as a form of protection; lyrics like: “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school” carried a risk of being received as a cry of rebellion and not as lyrics soaked in shock value. Young Tyler was offensive yet childish, rebellious but harmless, a misfit who was against conventional thinking and found rap as the perfect medium to share his angst. With a baritone bark, he reached fellow outcasts who heard a speaker worth backing. They wanted to follow in his safe, but rambunctious footsteps. There was a passionate devotion to his every word, song, and lyric, and he was aware OF had become cult-like; so aware that there was fear of what could happen. He wanted to be famous, but he didn't want to lead the Odd Future revolution.
Macklemore’s addiction to lean started because he simply wanted to be like his favorite rapper, Lil Wayne. He saw the double cup, heard the music about the dirtiest Sprite and replicated what he heard and saw. It happens to us all; the only reason I had a fake Bape hoodie in 10th grade was because I was trying to imitate Lil Wayne’s “Hustler Muzik” music video.
Fandom can lead to imitation and also lead to adjusting morals and beliefs—becoming a person you aren’t for someone you idolize—but it shouldn't make that behavior necessary. You can enjoy the music and admire the artist, but still have a voice to call out the bad, the same way your voice allows you to yell the good. There’s a false idea that you can’t be critical of your favorite artist, that you must applaud their every turd as if it glistened like gold. It’s untrue. Being a fan isn’t biased conformity, it's remaining objective and holding them to a higher standard. The person to which you give your money, time and admiration won’t be perfect, so let's not treat them as such.
Morally, we all have to decide what we can and cannot support but we don’t have to comply and defend certain actions because of who committed the act. Being a fan doesn’t mean you stop being a person, and you should never stop thinking for yourself. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid because your favorite artist told you to.
You can be a stan, you can be fanatic, but don’t be a follower.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Carroll, aka @Yoh31