March 23, 2022

Your Favorite Celebrity Is Not Coming to Save You

As artists speak out or remain silent on issues directly affecting their fans, how does it impact the relationship with their biggest stakeholder?

Denisha Kuhlor

Happy Thursday! Thanks for opening the sixteenth edition of the Stan newsletter. A newsletter exploring fans and their bidirectional relationships with the artists that they love. As always suggestions and feedback are always appreciated. You can shoot me an email at

For this weeks edition of Stan we are going to explore evolving fan expectations when it comes to artists speaking out on world issues. I will also delve into the expectations musicians put on their peers to speak up and the fan-provoked consequences for artists who choose to remain silent on such issues. While I will reference a lot of "matters" or "areas" where celebrities can stand up the main focus of this article will be analyzing the recent actions of artists and whether they have spoken out or stayed silent as people all over the world stand up to address the inhumane treatment of black people in the United States. Fans expect and are very much keeping score to understand where an artist falls.

Music has always been inherently political. From songs like "Strange Fruit", "Alright", or "Mad" music has long been a way to document and share the nuanced experiences of people all around the world. Consequently, music has always been "apolitical" as well. There are countless songs in each genre where one glance at the lyrics will remind you that nothing and I mean NOTHING was said. The difference now is that the framework in which fans adopt to evaluate artists that they are deciding to support is completely different.

Silence as a Strategy

Artists choosing not to speak out about issues directly effecting their fans is not new. In fact many artists have been rather vocal about their choice not to share their views on many topics. Most notably, Taylor Swift. In her recent Netflix documentary "Miss America' viewers got to watch Taylor Swift grapple with the decision to speak out and show her allegiance for a specific candidate during a local election. After deciding that she wanted to speak out, Taylor then had to convince her team as well as they struggled with the impact it might have to her as a business. The latter part is why many artists adopt a policy of being silent in favor of prioritizing their bottom line. No matter what they say on an issue that is perceived as "divisive" they will ultimately lose fans resulting in a decreased bottom line. As Michael Jordan famously said when asked to support the Democratic candidate in the 1990 race for the North Carolina senate seat "Republicans buy sneakers too". For a long time not publicly stating your stance meant artists were able to enjoy the benefits of having fans on both sides of any issue. Fans are no longer okay with this. They now require that the artists they support draw lines in the sand because a pre-requisite for their fandom is understanding where they fall.

Entitlement vs. Accountability

"You can control your actions but you can not control how someone reacts."

Many celebrities have chosen not to speak out about the issues at hand but rather respond to the attention and criticism that happens when they choose not to say anything at all. Every celebrity has the power to choose what they want to post but often forget fans also possess that same choice to which artists they choose to support. In my last article I touched on the shift in the music industry that occurred when artists went from being industry picked to audience picked. Since more and more artists are propelled to commercial success as a direct result of the efforts of their most engaged fans those fans feel obligated to hold them accountable. When an artist chooses not to speak they lose the confidence of their fans as it sends a message that they value the commercial benefits that come with being politically correct rather than staying true to themselves and what they believe in. Engaged fans are an artists biggest stakeholder so while many artists rationalize their decision to remain silent by thinking they can simply replace them, it is not that simple.

The only thing worse than a lost Stan is a lost Stan with the energy and passion to convince other people why they should not support you (the artist) as well. As more fans realize the power they have in propelling an artist to commercial success they have no problem cancelling artists because they are confident in their ability to simply propel another artist that is more aligned with their values.

The audience picked vs. industry picked shift has grown in parallel to the shift in audience composition for artists. For an artist to sustain and grow their careers they must focus on building an audience of engaged fans that becomes Stan's first and then shift to expanding their audience with casual, less engaged fans.

Based on this graphic an artists decision to stay silent in the past would have been greatly rewarded. Said artist would not upset the majority of their audience (casual listeners) and as a result would continue to grow their reach (leading to more $$). This is no longer the dynamic, artists acquire highly passionate and engaged fans from the beginning and the only way to do so is going beyond the music. I have briefly touched on how for Stans championing an artist is not just a promotion of their music but the decision to exemplify elements of an artists lifestyle that they ascribe to. Whether that is their fashion, ancillary interests, business goals, etc. It goes way beyond music.

It is in the artists statement and follow up actions (or lack thereof) where the fan to artist relationship is tested. When evaluating standom there are four major relationships at play.

1)The artist to fan relationship,

2)The fan to artist relationship

3)The fan to fan relationship w/ artist participation

4)The fan to fan relationship w/o artist participation

Much to an artists dismay, fandoms can exist in absence of the artist that brought the fandom together in the first place. Evaluating how fandoms behave once they renounce their allegiance to an artist or the artist has passed away is an article for another day but I do want to highlight the unique ways fandoms who feel aligned and on the same page with their artist have used their fandom to promote important information at this time.

  1. Rihanna

Rihanna announced yesterday in solidarity with Blackout Tuesday that all her businesses would be taking a day off and not selling merchandise or conducting business activities. Her fandom creatively created click bait twitter threads designed to help inform people and share information. The threads centered around frequent topics of gossip regarding Rihanna including "How Jay-Z Ruined Rihanna and Beyonce's Friendship", "Rihanna Getting Ready, and "How Rihanna and Hasaan Jameel split". Folks that clicked the thread were then greeted with tweets sharing the petition for George Floyd, The George Floyd memorial fund, and countless other ways that people could contribute to the movement.

  1. Kpop Stans

This is one of my favorite Stan moments of the year so far. The power, the organization, the influence. You love to see it. In solidarity with the movement K-pop stans (one of the most advanced and passionate music fandoms in history) have been using their passion in another way.

You can read more about this here.

The Artist as the Participant Not the Focus

What is most critical for artists at this time is to become a participant not the focus of any efforts to contribute to the movement. Leveraging the influence they have amassed to educate, inform, and donate. Time and time again J. Cole has done this. Numerous other protestors documented J. Coles participation during the Ferguson protests so no one was surprised by his presence at protests as of late.

I welcome the documentation and tracking of celebrity actions and think it is only going to be tracked in more detail in the future. Dan Runcie at Trapital has assembled a great document detailing celebrities responses which you can view here.

Is your favorite celebrity coming to save you? No. That does not mean they can not and should not try.

My Headphones - Free by Goodie Mob


Denisha (@denishakuhlor)

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