what it’s like to run the world’s biggest stan accounts

Teenagers are running some of the most-followed pop accounts online. Here’s how they do it.

by Douglas Greenwood
31 July 2019, 10:11am

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Hobbies: we all have them. Some people like sports. They like waking up in the morning and heading to the gym or going for a spot of Bikram Yoga. Others like to fill their spare time by going to the movies or going to “the mall”. But what would it be like to spend your spare time in subservience to a superstar? One that might not even know your name? This is the life led by those running the world’s most popular stan accounts.

To navigate the internet in 2019 requires a savvy understanding of several things, not least the new wave of online lingo, as well as the vast amount of putrid far-right vitriol that spreads uncensored throughout it. But above all, there’s the irrefutable fact that stan accounts have established a monopoly on internet-bred cultural reportage. In the world of entertainment news, even the biggest magazines and news sites can be quick, but when it comes to the world of BTS, Harry Styles, Charli XCX, Timothée Chalamet, Nicki Minaj -- heck, just about any fawned-over pop cultural entity -- the stan accounts are bound to beat them all to it.

They are gigantic. The BTS Army’s most prolific unofficial Twitter account boasts 3.9 million followers; its US counterpart has 500,000 and doubles up as a non-profit organisation (in the past, they tell me, they’ve “collected funds for UNICEF at KTown Night Market and ARMYCON”). Outside of the famously dedicated K-Pop sphere, you’ll find Harry Styles stan accounts, like the uber-popular The Styles Pics (290k followers) and Harry Styles Daily (98k followers) chronicling the heartthrob’s every move. These accounts act are the ultimate sources for everything about stars, no matter how elusive they might be trying to be, and their power is in their numbers. The Styles Pics, for example, has achieved the near-impossible task of crowdsourcing every fan sighting of Harry. Want to know where an artist is in the world? Don’t check their Instagram, check their stan account instead.

Such a dedicated approach to the world of pop culture must be overwhelming, especially when you’re expected to pick up on every morsel of information to feed a needy fanbase. For the admin of @FCKYEAHCHARLI -- a Charli XCX stan account with a 15.7k-strong following (Charli included) -- it’s the first thing they think of when they wake up in the morning. “I check my notifications then my Tweetdeck, where I have separated tabs to see Charli’s mentions, her mentions by verified users and any tweet that contains the word “Charli”, basically,” the admin, who would rather remain anonymous, tells me. “Then I check YouTube, Facebook, Google News and Instagram to see if anything new or update-worthy has been posted there.” He checks in on this around ten times throughout the day, between classes and on his way to work. “It's definitely shaped our lifestyle,” the founders of the massive US BTS ARMY concur, as they elaborate on their process of gathering all of the latest BTS facts. “We're always with our phones to the point where our friends and family have come to accept us as a package deal! But we've learned so much about the music industry. Our dedication and passion for the group and their message has us putting the same amount of energy into this as we would our day jobs.”

"We’ve learned to put quality and credibility over anything else, so being first with incorrect information isn’t our goal.”

For the team behind Harry Styles Updates, it involves a quartet of stans from across the globe to make sure every speck of gold in the Harry Styles universe is picked up on: 24-year-old Carla from Costa Rica, 22-year-old Brit Jamie, and 19-year-olds Kathleen and Nadine from the US are all involved. “We work in a team and coordinate who’s online at what times so someone can always be keeping an eye out in case a picture or article comes out,” they tell me via Twitter DM. “We research on Twitter and Instagram and make sure we have the correct sources for all the content we have and so can we deliver reliable information to the fans and make sure the content doesn’t come for sketchy sources that we’d rather not publish on our account.”

The greatest criticism of stan accounts -- places that are often reduced to hotbeds of hysteria -- is that they lack the veracity of a verified news source. The Harry Styles Updates team know that, and so invest time in fact-checking. “We’ve learned to put quality and credibility over anything else, so being first with incorrect information isn’t our goal,” they say. “Unfortunately, we are in a fandom that tends to believe things easily and we know that’s harmful for Harry at the end of the day. The last thing we want to do is affect him.”

In a socio-political landscape that demands the most famous people on earth prop up their plush careers with a weighty and selfless message, stan accounts are the ones who pick up on those stances and help them assimilate into fanbases in a more direct manner. BTS’s message of making a difference in the world was something the founders of the US BTS ARMY wanted to embrace. As noted earlier, they compiled the paperwork to become a non-profit organisation and have raised money for charity in the ARMY’s name. “For the future, we hope to establish our own annual projects to inspire ARMY to grow and help others,” they tell us. And as much are you’re likely to see a cute selfie of Harry with a fan on a stan account feed, you might also come across a campaign to write letters to Styles himself, informing him of the importance of freeing Palestine. They’re not the frivolous outlets many perceive them to be.

For these people, running stan accounts is less of a hobby and more of an imperative part of their everyday lives; professing their love and admiration for an artist is a deep-rooted part of them. While it’s not a full-time job for most (Jordan Miller, the founder of BreatheHeavy.com, Britney Spears’s biggest fansite, is one of the few who’s spun their hobby into an actual business), it clearly often feels like one.

But the benefit is two-fold: for fans, it acts as a source to keep up with the lives of the artists they love, but for the artists themselves, it can become an important connection to their base, without them having to put their own time and resources into it -- clearly a valuable proposition. When Harry Styles Updates was temporarily banned last year (breaches of copyright, usually through re-posting artists’ Instagram stories or tour videos, are common), Harry’s management reached out to Twitter and revived it. “It was definitely surreal because his team is very low-key and private but they managed to help us so we are very grateful for them,” the page’s admins say.

The relationship between @FCKYEAHCHARLI and the pop juggernaut they admire is far more direct. “At the end of the day I’m still a fan, but knowing [Charli] trusts me and always checks my page to know what’s going on is something I’m really proud of,” they team says. “She DMs me when she needs something, or just replies with cute messages. It’s really gratifying to have a relationship like that with your favourite artist.” When they posted an April Fools tweet claiming they were going to shut down earlier this year, Charli bounced back almost instantly with a tweet: “Omg what nooo???” she said. “Where will I get all the most accurate updates on what’s going on in my own life??????”

For everybody -- both artist and stan, it seems -- these accounts act as a middle-man between a popstar and the press, a sort of pro-bono publicity machine for the world’s biggest stars. Sure, almost all of the content might be skewed to paint these stars in a deifying light, but you can’t argue with the fact that what stan accounts deliver is a wildly comprehensive, colourful and, at times, altruistic insight into pop culture. If you want proof that pop icons are the new religion, look to Twitter. The infatuated congregations that gather there are some of the most loyal you’ll ever find.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Charlie XCX
Stan Culture