The Rise of Stan Culture In Afrobeats

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19: WizKid performs on stage at The O2 Arena on October 19, 2019 in London, England.

(Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

The Rise of Stan Culture In Afrobeats

From Marlians to Wizkid FC, afrobeats fandoms are contributing to the globalization of the sound—even if some might consider them overly obsessive.

Last month, over half a million people, from 99 countries tuned into No Signal's livestream to join the "clash" between Wizkid and Vybz Kartel. The clash was the most legendary one that the No Signal team had hosted since they started their DJ clashes in April. Afrobeats and dancehall lovers were excited to watch this competition—choosing country affiliations in lighthearted fun. Though people had expected fierce competition, due to both artists being megastars with chart topping hits in their own lanes, no one had expected results like the polls reflected. There was an average of 72,000 votes per round and Wizkid won every round defeating Vybz 10 to nil.

Some people joked that the DJ behind Vybz Kartel's song choices was the reason for the loss; others attributed it to the population of Nigeria. What was clear, however, is that many people had underestimated Wizkid's fandom and Team WizKidFC's mobilization prior to the clash.

Stan culture, an extension of fandom, is not new. In 2000 when it was coined by Eminem, the term referred mostly to an excessive form of celebrity adulation known as Celebrity Worship Syndrome. Since then, the growth of social media democratized "stanning," leading to its colloquial use as a verb but also to refer to a group of loyal hardcore fans who may not necessarily be borderline obsessive.

As editor Melanie Pieda wrote in her piece In Defense of Stan Culture: even though stans come from all corners of the internet, a certain stereotype follows the portrayed image of a stan: a crazed teenage girl who, against her supposed better judgement, spends ridiculous amounts of time fantasizing and gushing over certain celebrities." Fandoms like the "Barbs," the "Beyhive," and "Beliebers" have often dominated the conversations about fandom and stan culture, while more recently, the conversations have expanded to include K-pop fans. Still, as Afrobeats continues to grow globally, the impact of Afrobeats fans is under-appreciated even by artists, who in moments of shortsightedness, have compared their fans to the Hive or Navy, as lacking.

When D'Banj crooned "Kokolets...1..2" back in 2005, he started a movement that would galvanize into Koko Mansion, Koko water, and Koko garri—all extensions of his brand as an artist made possible by capitalizing on his loyal fanbase. D'Banj wasn't the first artist to have diehard fans back in the 2000s, when contemporary African pop music was solidifying its identity as separate from its western influences. There were 2Face's "African Queens" and P-Square's "Omoges" who followed the respective artists from city to city across the continent professing loyalty and adulation. What set D'Banj apart was his ability to capitalize on his growing fandom and provide timely offerings like the Oliver Twist challenge set at a prime time when YouTube started to go mainstream. While most recently, the artist attempted to use his embracing of fans as proof of his love for women amidst recent rape and assault allegations against him.

Since the Kokolets, many Afrobeats artists have sought to give their fan bases identities in an attempt to solidify their legacy. There have been Korede Bello's Belovers,"YBNL Gang" for fans of the rapper Olamide, Davido's "HKN Gang," Yemi Alade's "Warriors," Burna Boy's "Outsiders" and most recently Naira Marley's "Marlians." These artists have fans who enjoy their work and enjoy stan wars, but do not necessarily consider the artist an extension of themselves, as is observed in stans.

Speaking about how stan culture presents itself differently in Afrobeats, A&R manager, Bizzle Osikoya, says "the fans are there but Afrobeats artists have struggled to activate a cult following in these fans. Only person right now with a crazy fanbase is Wizkid FC. You know Wizkid fans will die for him". Bizzle shares fondly that Wizkid fans love him so much that they throw concerts in his absence, slaughtering cows (a celebratory cultural practice popular in many African cultures) to celebrate him in Lagos, Nigeria, selling out merch to prove their loyalty.

Team Wizkid FC or Starboy FC is frequently recognized as the fanbase of all fanbases in Afrobeats. Lang F, the founder of WizkidNews—the fanpage (with close to 2 million followers) credited as being largely responsible for earning Wizkid the No Signal win—says the page is different from others, as it doesn't play into notorious trolling or engage in stan wars with other artist's fanbases like those of Davido and Burna Boy. "There's no fan page like ours," says Lang. "I don't like the word "stan" because we don't do the negative shit We keep it positive. What we do is way more impactful than trolling other artists."

In 2014, while scouring the web, Lang discovered Wizkid via a promo post for his second album Ayo. Upon listening to the entire album, the Cameroonian-American entertainment manager was sold on the Wizkid train and wanted to know as much as he could about this dope artist he had newly discovered. Inspired by his roommate, turned brother who ran a Kanye West fan page, Lang collated all the info he had found on Wizkid into an informational page on instagram. What started out as a passion project turned into a full scale business, ran with two other partners, with a website and twitter page that earn money via campaigns and ads.

Lang attributes this success to consistency and genuine passion and love for both Afrobeats and Wizkid as well as support from women in music journalism like Antoinette Isama and Nora Oluh who are invested in the culture and have supported him by sharing journalism and documenting tips. His following of 1.7 million followers, grown organically, reflects this. It took Lang two years of attentively documenting and curating Wizkid's work to finally meet Wizkid. He believes Wizkid recognized the diligent work he did and has shown him respect and love since then as a result. Since meeting Wiz at the One Africa Music Fest in 2016, Lang has gone on to run campaigns sponsored by Wizkid and his management. He says he owes his career as a talent manager to the fanpage's credibility and success. "Other artists have approached WizkidNews to replicate a fanpage for their brand," says Lang. He now considers WizkidNews more of a music blog, aiming to promote the love of Afrobeats, and says other accounts have even tried to copy their formula.

Ani Precious who runs EverythingBurna, says he was inspired to start a Burna Boy fanpage after seeing that other fan accounts weren't really promoting Burna in a way he felt the artist deserved. He had initially started his fan account in 2015, but lost his account to a suspension and created a new one this past February. He says he hasn't benefited so far from running the page, but would hate for the page to go from an enjoyable hobby to a job. He loves Burnaboy's artistry and hopes that one day, Burna will recognize the page and his work.

Afrobeats artists increasingly understand the importance of fans and a loyal fan group. Speaking fondly of his Marlians, Nigerian rapper Naira Marley says, "the love from my fans is overwhelming". The artist flipped a 2019 arrest that may have been crippling to other artists' career into a big marketing strategy for one of his biggest songs "Soapy" and ignited a growing fandom. Marlians excited to celebrate a rebel , joined in the soapy challenge despite critics. Writer, Seunfunmi Tinubu says "Marlians instantaneously fronted "Soapy" as social commentary. They felt that Naira was speaking out against the EFCC's wrongful arrests and the horrible conditions found in Nigerian prisons….they represent not only the new king of controversy in Nigerian music but the evolution of stan culture in Nigeria itself."

Stan culture has come a long way in Afrobeats. Digitalization has contributed to helping artists create fandoms that feel constantly connected to their "faves" and other fans, whereas in the past stan wars were reduced to localities and friend groups within specific communities, social media makes it so these borders are much laxer. While there are fans who genuinely support and are invested in bolstering artists they love, Osikoya says, there are also opportunists who approach brand management, asking for payment and rewards for the fan pages they run. These people however do not tell the story of fandom within Afrobeats—instead Afrobeats stans have contributed to the globalization of the movement in an unprecedented way.

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