Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.
Featured Article: “How Pop Music Fandom Became Sports, Politics, Religion and All-Out War” by Joe Coscarelli
On social media in 2020, “the stan was ascendant,” reports Joe Coscarelli, a Times culture reporter. How did music fan culture become what it is today? What benefits does it provide us? And what do we need to watch out for?
In this lesson, you’ll learn about the evolution of pop music fandom, from a pleasant communal activity to something “competitive, arcane, sales-obsessed, sometimes pointless, chaotic, adversarial, amusing and a little frightening — all happening almost entirely online.” Then, you will investigate a fandom culture, past or present, and report on it to your class.
Take a close look at the headline of the featured article and the image used to illustrate it above.
Then, respond to the questions below, either with a partner or on your own in writing:
What do you think the featured article is about based on the headline and the illustration?
What do you think the headline and the illustration are trying to communicate about pop music fandom today?
Do you relate to this experience of fandom at all — whether for music, sports, movies, video games or something else? Can you give an example from your life?
What role, if any, does fandom play in your life?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. The article begins with an anecdote from Benjamin Cordero, a high school student and Lady Gaga superfan. Why do you think the author started with his story? What does it illustrate about pop music fandom in 2020?
2. What is a “stan”? Where does the term come from?
3. Mr. Coscarelli writes that Stan Twitter and its social media offshoots have become “sports, politics, religion and all-out war.” Do you agree? Choose one of these comparisons and find the lines where the article compares the two. What example or examples make the case?
4. How has music fan culture evolved along with social media? What are three ways in which fandom today is different from what it was decades ago?
5. In what ways do musicians profit from stan culture?
6. What benefits — mental, emotional and social — do people get from music fandom? What are some of the dangers of stan culture that we should be aware of, according to the article?
7. In your opinion, is stan culture healthy or unhealthy? When do you think it crosses a line from fun to toxic? Why?
What fan culture, from present or past, would you most want to investigate? How could you make sense of it for nonmembers?
Whether you choose the world of pop music, sports, fashion or something else, try to take an unbiased look at how the fan culture operates.
As you explore, collect examples of photos, memes, social media posts or anything else that illustrates what you discover. For example:
How do the stans of this fan culture recognize one another? What in-group lingo, jokes, traditions, rituals and clothing are common among them?
What are some important moments in the history of this group?
How would you explain this fan culture to outsiders?
Over all, do you think this culture is more healthy and fun, or toxic? Why?
Finally, if you are undertaking this investigation as part of a class assignment, report back on what you found — perhaps by creating a digital “gallery of fandom” with your classmates that includes artifacts and descriptions of each subculture. What do they have in common? What sets them apart?
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