Jul 15

EMINEM – “Stan”

Popular55 comments • 8,712 views

#885, 16th December 2000

emstan “Stan” is a murder ballad. A song – not the first or last such Eminem recorded – about killing a woman. If this seems a strange way to look at it, it’s because the record takes pains to make its murder incidental. Its victim is nameless. We know Stan’s name. We know his brother, Matthew’s. We know Slim, the persona Stan is writing to, and we know Marshall Mathers, the man who replies. We even know a possible name for the child the murdered woman is carrying. We do not know her name. That isn’t where we’re supposed to be looking. The spotlight in the song is on the relationship between two men, star and fan. It’s how Stan would have wanted it.

Still, the murder is not incidental: it’s the climax of the record. All through the song, beautifully layered under the vocals, are background noises. They accompany Eminem’s conversational, half-spoken rapping and the unassuming, mid-tempo beat: literal scribbles in the margin of the track, encroaching thunder and rain. In the third verse, the rain is broken up by the wet swoosh of a car windscreen wiper, and, on cue, a woman screaming. Her death, and Stan’s, are what this track has been leading up to.

The presence of a dead woman in the song makes matters more dramatic, certainly. In some eyes, it might even ennoble proceedings. In a somewhat notorious – and slightly tongue-in-cheek – piece for the Guardian, critic Giles Foden poured praise on Eminem as a poet, specifically making a comparison to the “dark” and “ironic” poetry of Robert Browning. I remember studying Robert Browning in school – a teacher was big on the same poem Foden compares “Stan” to, “My Last Duchess”. It’s dark and ironic because, you see, we gradually realise the narrator killed his last duchess. Eminem and Browning, linked across time by brilliance, irony, bodies.

The screams, when they cut into the soundfield of verse three, are visceral, some of the most unpleasant sounds to appear on any number one. Yet at the same time they’re corny, a bit of gruesome theatre to appease any Slim Shady acolytes who’ve been getting wriggly wondering where the funny stuff is. They’re visceral, I thought at first, because they’re corny – ultimately decorative in just this way. A shot of casual sadism, a dollop of murder to make a psychological study just that bit more hardcore. (Or, with a nod to Foden, more prestigious).

But I realised the murder does more than that. Stan’s nameless girlfriend is a sacrifice the story makes. For what? To prevent “Stan” being a particular kind of tragedy. Imagine the song without the murder: it’s a tale of how art can fill empty lives but can’t always save them, tracking Stan through fandom and obsession and finally self-destruction. But, for all his obvious delusion, you’d never have to stop feeling sorry for the guy, whose sympathy Eminem is skilful enough to make sure you lose only gradually in any case. Without the murder, the centres of the song shift. One of them is the moment where Eminem speeds up Stan’s cadences when he describes cutting himself, the urgency and vividness of Stan’s letter spiking up towards a burst of stresses (”it’s like adRENalin the PAIN is such a SUDden RUSH to ME”). Another is the slurred rambling of Stan relating a half-recalled bullshit urban myth about Phil Collins as he drives himself to his death, the mis-remembered song title the most perfect and somehow heartbreaking touch in a song full of astonishing choices.

I have to think about the song that is, not the one that isn’t, and the central narrative choice – the woman’s murder. It stops Stan being a tragic figure; turns him contemptible, an everyday monster. Why is it so important he becomes that? Partly it’s because the collapse in our sympathy for Stan means we might not lose too much sympathy for Marshall Mathers, the reasonable, reply-writing narrator of the fourth verse. Here’s where there’s some real old school irony, if you want it – Eminem’s carefully manicured, offhand, self-portrait as a busy but generous star, befuddled by but polite and helpful to his obsessive fans.

If listeners sympathised with Stan, Eminem’s dismissal of his self-harm – “I say that shit just clowning dog, how fucked up is you?” – would stand revealed as callous. But because we know Stan really is fucked-up, fucked-up enough to kill someone, Eminem has a shot at seeming wise. The same goes throughout his response. We know Stan is a monster, and because of that the song can treat his obsession as monstrous – most famously, the “we should be together, too” kiss-off line of the second verse, which, because the guy turns out to be a psycho, gives “Stan” a gay-panic overtone Eminem got called out on.

Often in stories, writers use a woman’s casual death as a spur to build the hero’s character. Here, it’s a device that makes clear who the hero isn’t, absolves Eminem by revealing Stan as just another murderous guy. Absolves him of what, though?

To answer that we have to remember how chippy and defensive “The Real Slim Shady” was behind its bonhomie, how keen Eminem was to promote himself as both a scourge of pop culture and a man besieged, with everyone from “feminist women” to Christina Aguilera trash-talking him, trying to pull him down. At the centre of the criticism was his misogyny and homophobia, the impact on his young fans of songs like the venomous “Kim” or “Bonnie & Clyde 97”, where the trunk murder motif first showed up. “Stan” is born from those traits too. But it’s also just as much a creature of its battling context as “Real Slim Shady” was. A key line – hidden in mid-rant, slurred mockingly by the drunk, desperate Stan – is “see Slim, I ain’t like you”. It’s more heavy irony – Stan has finally become exactly like Slim. But it’s only Slim he’s like – who never could have replied, because he’s not real. If “The Real Slim Shady” was Eminem trolling his critics, “Stan” comes on as him taking them in absolute earnest. He imagines their worst nightmare, the fan so deranged he actually does imitate Slim Shady. He plays the scenario out to its inevitable, horrible end, and then turns to camera and says, look, if anyone did this, it’s because they’re a psycho.

That’s Eminem’s point, one you might recognise from the weary defenses popular culture has to mount, time and again, against its censors. No, Grand Theft Auto doesn’t cause violence. No, heavy metal doesn’t cause suicide. No, Slim Shady isn’t an accessory to murder – Eminem getting his arguments in here before the media can find a real-life case to pin on him. It’s a familiar defense because it’s right. But long before “Stan” was released, a more nuanced criticism grew up alongside these simple-minded parades of direct cause and direct effect. Cultural influence isn’t the thunder and lightning, its the rain, falling steadily, eroding and altering things so gradually. “Stan” is a narrative, made up of authorial choices: one of those choices is to kill a woman to make a point about the men in its story. And as women were pointing out long before “Stan”, the rain of female bodies in so many stories, treated so incidentally, makes normal an idea that they are props, adjuncts to the story of a man. Just as his girlfriend is to Stan, whose motive may be unlikely, but whose crime is all too familiar.

“Stan” ends on a pratfall – Eminem’s “it was – damn!” which tilts the whole track into being a dark shaggy dog story or cautionary tale, if that’s how you want to take it. While he might have been surprised how the song took off, it’s obviously no throwaway. He takes immense care over the performance and its bravura execution. It’s undeniably a hip-hop track, and the hip-hop community picked up on it, taking “stan” into the language as a dismissive marker for fans committed beyond reason. But it also doesn’t sound very much like hip-hop. The tether of Eminem’s flow to the beat is gossamer; he’s using his skills as a rapper but never so you notice he’s rapping. The ancestry of “Stan” includes much rap storytelling but also older country and pop spoken novelties – cornball yarns like Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear”, and the death stories so popular in the 70s. Eminem’s skill lets him be far subtler, of course. The epistolary mode – first time at number one since 1966! – means we don’t need a unifying narrator to dilute the psychodrama, and his mastery of internal rhymes lets Eminem keep control of the rhythm while hardly ever drawing attention to it. I don’t particularly enjoy listening to “Stan” – the final verses are a little too cynical and voyeuristic for me. But every time I do play it I hear something else in Eminem’s performance. In execution, it’s peerless: no other record does what this does.

That performance – and the novelty – quickly made “Stan” Eminem’s most famous track. But it goes deeper, too. The relationship between star and fan has been the centre of pop for decades. It’s the dream of becoming someone else, and maybe becoming yourself through that. An inherently chancy process. Still, anyone from Bowie to Madonna, from Presley to Gary Barlow, might have told the story of their number one fan, and with dozens of different outcomes, most less cruel than “Stan”. Eminem’s fortune is to find that story at the start of a time when the barriers between everyone are thinning – where almost anyone might have an uncomfortable fan, an obsessive enemy, an awkward request or confession landing in their laps at any time. No wonder a song which explores, verse by verse, how much identificaton is too much can still sound uncomfortable.

We are all sometimes Marshall Mathers now? Maybe, but we are just as likely to be Stan, not the murderous Stan but the Stan who has a shitty day and drifts away and puts songs on. Marshall was that guy too, which is why those verses sound human, not just ominous – why “Stan”, like the best ballads, is a song you can hear and hope maybe this time it’ll turn out better. It’s important to Eminem that he dash our sympathies for Stan, but it’s important that not all the song’s tenderness be wrecked alongside them. Which is where the second woman in “Stan” comes in.

Dido’s refrain, threaded through the song like a flyleaf between each chapter, was the first most listeners – to Eminem or anyone – heard of her. It’s sweetly sung, but with a slight reserve, a disengagement from the cold-tea despond of life she’s describing. Her detachment is designed to resolve, in the chorus of “Thank You”, into gratitude: a stock songwriting contrast, not too far in tone from All Saints’ “Black Coffee”. In “Stan”, of course, that chance of resolution is cut off. The only source of release is the picture on the wall, and the cycle begins again. Even though Dido’s voice is a lull and her interludes narcotic, her “not so bad” is the portion given to hope in this bleakest of great hit records. It’s not much. The endless drizzle, the numbed delicacy, and that glimpse of imaginary empathy – these are what precede, and survive, Stan and his girlfriend’s catastrophe. The same anomie, and the same rain, introduce Marshall’s reply as introduced Stan’s first letter. What was accomplished? Nothing.



1 2 All
  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 10 Jul 2015 #

    that is an extraordinary response to an extraordinary Number 1. Other number 1 songs that have bounced off the performer’s persona include “The Ballad of John and Yoko’ and ‘Ashes to ashes’ and both of those include some implicit barbs at their audiences’ expense but nothing as visceral as this.

  2. 2
    Jonathan on 10 Jul 2015 #

    This marks the beginning of the end of the first and most interesting part of Eminem’s career — as Tom suggests, it’s where he laid out for critics the exact difference between persona and artist, perhaps, self-servingly, a little too cleanly. From here we have his Grammys performance with Elton John (SUBTEXT: don’t dare call me homophobic) and 8 Mile, which served the same purpose as “Stan,” but aimed its message at an even wider audience: cinema-goers. But by explaining Eminem, Mathers neutered himself as an artist: he couldn’t be a monster anymore after he’d shown off his stage make-up this explicitly. Add also that, over the next few years, 9/11 would show America fears far more visceral than a fast-talking white man, and Eminem-signee 50 Cent would introduce a far more threatening cartoon to the top of the pop charts: the violent black man. By the 2004 election, Eminem was recording earnest and plodding anti-Bush screeds and from there it was an inevitable slide into poop jokes and ever-more desperate misogyny and homophobia. “Stan” is great, but after this, Eminem had nowhere to go.

  3. 3
    Andrew Farrell on 10 Jul 2015 #

    I’m actually rather fond of Mosh – though, er, not enough that I didn’t have to look up the title.

  4. 4
    Tim Byron on 10 Jul 2015 #

    This is fantastic, Tom.

    One thing about the unnamed girlfriend: she’s played by Dido in the video, right? And so I think I kind of heard Dido’s gentle melody as the girlfriend’s point of view. They’re either her attempts to calm him, or her misguided feelings about Stan, I guess?

    The unreliable narrator is a favourite of mine – I too had the ‘Last Duchess’ experience in high school, and I own every Randy Newman album. But I think the unreliable narrator requires a reliable author. Randy Newman does come across as that reliable author as does Browning – in Newman, that same gentleness that makes his Toy Story soundtrack songs pleasant/agreeable is also what contrasts with his nasty narrators. You somehow know that Newman disagrees with every word he’s saying.

    Eminem is different to Randy Newman here in that the emotional force in Eminem comes from the clear sense that Eminem is using his unreliable alter egos to vent feelings that he clearly personally feels to some extent (whereas Newman’s emotional force comes from anger at what the narrator represents). So in ‘Stan’, say, you’re never quite sure what’s Eminem and what’s Marshall Mathers. And so attempts to say that the misogyny/homophobia is Eminem’s and not Marshall Mathers’ are unconvincing; I never trust him the way I end up trusting Newman.

    But in interviews, Newman often tells a story about his song ‘Rednecks’ (a 1974 song where he takes on the voice of an Alabama native defending the racist anti-civil-rights George Wallace). He says that a young black fan came to one of his concerts in the US south, and that the fan was terrified by all these white Southerners singing along to that song. Newman was clearly unnerved by this experience – I think it was the first time he realised he was playing with fire (where previously he seemed dubious that anybody was listening at all). I can imagine ‘Stan’ coming from a similar place – Eminem couldn’t have imagined, before his first album, how his songs would be received by some people, and so ‘Stan’ in some ways is a classic disillusioned-by-fame song. As Tom eloquently points out, there are certainly elements of ‘Stan’ that are pretty self-serving in this respect, but the song is well-crafted enough that I, at least, can’t quite look away.

  5. 5
    anto on 10 Jul 2015 #

    My God, the things you remember. When ‘Stan’ came out I was working part-time at a poky gifts and novelties shop which sold lava lamps, magnetic sculptures, decorated toilet seats and other types of tacky shit including David Brent’s beloved Billy the Bass (that dates it, right!) – One mid-week afternoon, around this time, I watched the first showing of the video for ‘Stan’ on MTV which even in it’s censored form was harrowing. I don’t think I was the only viewer who didn’t recognise the Englishwoman with the melancholy voice providing the refrain (that would soon change), but having fought clear of Eminem for quite some time I had to concede he had come up with something astonishing on this occasion.

  6. 6
    anto on 10 Jul 2015 #

    Excellent review.

  7. 7
    mapman132 on 10 Jul 2015 #

    Great review, Tom.

    “Stan” only reached #51 on the Hot 100, probably due to reduced airplay because of its subject matter. It may not have been released as a commercial single either. I seem to remember most of its US exposure came via MTV playing a heavily censored version.

    FWIW, “Thank You” reached #3 the following spring. Dido wasn’t completely unknown in the US as VH-1 had already been playing “Here With Me” in fall 2000.

  8. 8
    Steve Mannion on 10 Jul 2015 #

    A timely entry as with Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ video appearing last week I thought of ‘Stan’ as the closest precedent in terms of depicting cruelty on an innocent woman (I can’t think of any videos between the two pivoting on similar although there probably are some). The two videos are going about it very differently but the rain keeps falling.

  9. 9
    weej on 10 Jul 2015 #

    Great review, you’ve really put a lot of thought into this one and wringed a lot extra out of a track that felt overscrutinized at the time.

    My first encounter with ‘Stan’ was at the indie disco we attended out of habit. The DJ came on the microphone to say we should buy it and make it the Christmas number one. It just sounded like an undancable dirge, not what we wanted to hear on a night out at all. Later it was everywhere, of course, and I warmed to it a bit, but always found it to be one of those things that’s not quite as clever as it thinks it is – I agree that it’s well-put-together, but ultimately the point he’s making is a bit of a trite one, and his breaking out of his character is revealing in all the wrong ways.

    One interesting fact – the nameless girlfriend in the video is played by none other than Dido herself – but the scenes with her are disturbing enough that they were cut from most TV edits of the video. Understandably she was reluctant to film these scenes, but later relented – I have to wonder how Eminem or the video director persuaded her to be tied up and have her mouth covered with duct tape.

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 10 Jul 2015 #

    It begins darkly, oppressively with thunder and the pattering of rain like The Cure’s “The Same DeepWater As You”. In come the strains of “Thank You” by Dido filtered through tinny speakers, to givethe effect the song is playing on the radio in the background. Is this the first example of a diegetic sample we’ve encountered on Popular? Its physical release is a little after the release of “Stan”, placing the events in the here and now of 2000. Then the TY sample is presented to us in high-fidelity
    and will punctuate every verse as a de facto chorus. Alongside, the beat kicks in and the sound of felt-tip pen moving across notepad paper. “Dear Slim…”

    Of course, the video expands on the scene-setting as protagonist/antagonist Stan Mitchell’s heavily pregnant, yet nameless girlfriend (played by Dido Armstrong) lies restlessly in bed, presumably woken by the storm outside. Meanwhile in the bathroom, Stan (played by Devon Sawa) is pouring bleach into his hair to emulate his idol. As his girlfriend bangs on the bathroom door calling “Stanley…Stanley…” (some foreshadowing here) he becomes more irate “I told you not to call me that!” and eventually retreats into his basement, with walls covered in pictures of Eminem.

    It’s an emotional and existential breakdown told through the medium of letters from hereon in. First verse, came proof of his devotion: “I got a room full of all your posters and pictures, man” proof that he was invested from the start; “I got that underground shit you did with Skam” proof he’s gone beyond the call of duty; “I got a tattoo of your name across my chest” and he intends to name his daughter Bonnie, presumably after “Bonnie & Clyde 97”, then he refers to Shady’s uncle Ronnie’s suicide, which foreshadows what’s to come. Eminem sets up Stan as a kind of obsessive uber-fan, who invests all his time and money (what little he makes) on Slim Shady, at the expense of Stan’s girlfriend and unborn child.

    Second verse ups the ante as Stan vents his frustration at not receiving a reply to his previous letters: “I think it’s fucked up you don’t answer fans” and goes on to tell Shady about his self-harm and the lack of a father figure in his life. Then he talks about his little brother Matthew being an even bigger fan than him, they both waited outside a gig “in the blistering cold” for his autograph “…but you said “no””. The video suggests that was not Eminem’s intention as he’s manhandled away from the fans, including Stan and Matthew by security. He ends, still in conciliatory mood “…sincerely yours. P.S. we should be together too.” (Personally, I don’t see this desire as anything more than kinship based around Stan & Slim’s mutual disregard for the world at large. A partnership to dance among the ashes of the
    world they just burnt together. Misanthropic partners in crime, so to speak.) Marshall’s later response to this would suggest the Gay Panic reading that Tom mentions.

    As the first verse of TY loops again, Stan’s girlfriend is seen in the basement holding a photo where her image has been replaced by that of Eminem. Stan discovers her and in a fit of rage, ties her up and puts her in the boot of his car.

    Third verse has Stan speaking into a tape recorder as he’s driving. “Dear Mr. I’m-too-good-to-call-orwrite-my-fans…”
    Stan’s anger is plain for all to see, fuelled by “1000 downers” and “a fifth of vodka”
    he drunkenly describes the scenario of the mythical drowning man from Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight”, using it to compare their own non-existent relationship. Then he posits the depth of Eminem’s guilt after Stan has gone “…I hope your conscience eats at you and you can’t breathe without me”, before
    the sound of his still unnamed girlfriend kicking against the back seat from inside the trunk, accompanied by muffled screams “Shut up, bitch, I’m tryin’ to talk! Hey Slim, that’s my girlfriend screaming in the trunk But I didn’t slit her throat, I just tied her up”. It’s the casual disregard of the women in Shady’s life that chimes strongest with Stan. His inability to accept responsibility for his life choices has driven him to these extremes, and the only one to blame for this is Shady, the surrogate
    father/ the older brother he never had. All his displaced resentment is directed at Shady. His poor pregnant girlfriend is merely collateral damage. I couldn’t ever imagine Eminem getting a pass for this in 2015. Inevitably, Stan loses control of the car at the bridge and crashes, pregnant girlfriend and all, into the river.

    Final verse is a loop-closing, box-ticking epilogue. And it’s Marshall, not his hot-headed alter-ego Slim who reads Stan’s previous letters and refers back to points that Stan had made, answering each in turn “What’s this shit you said about you like to cut your wrists too? I say that shit just clownin’, dog. C’mon, how fucked up is you? You got some issues Stan, I think you need some counselling. I really
    think you and your girlfriend need each other or maybe you just need to treat her better.” And as he continues to relate to Stan about a man who crashed his car into the river with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk, the penny drops “…damn!” The video takes the story further with Matthew at Stan’s funeral removing his hood to reveal his own bleach blonde hair to his horrified mother, thus setting the scene for a chronologically correct revenge sequel that opens “The Marshall Mathers II
    Album” in 2013. Unfortunately, “Bad guy” never troubled the UK chart, as artistically at least, it attempts to be an Empire Strikes Back to “Stan’s” A New Hope.

    Call it Horrorcore, call it Death Rock, call it a murder ballad, call it misogynistic, call it misanthropic and exploitative, but it’s still as close as we get to a fully immersive cinematic pop record on Popular, maybe more so than “Wuthering Heights”. Oh, it’s ugly and in places, utterly, utterly brutal. No other record IMO comes close to skewering that odd dichotomy that is the relationship between Artist and Fan, stretching the dynamic to absolute breaking point.(10)

    And here’s my claim to fame; I included “Stan” in a request to Jo Whiley’s National Anthems. The other 2 records were “Elektrobank” and “Unfinished Sympathy”. I sent the request via email, using my Sky Digital set-top box. This was before I owned a computer and was unsure of proper email etiquette. As a result, about a week after I sent the email, Jo read out the request and played the 3 tracks from “Simon, somewhere in email-land”. I didn’t care, I got my 15 minutes of, at that time, “perfect” radio.

  11. 11
    Phil on 10 Jul 2015 #

    It is a very odd sample – doesn’t really work as the voice of Stan or the gf. The idea that it conveys a subliminal message of acceptance- we keep putting up with this awful, sexist, violent crap because it’s not so bad, not so bad – is intriguing and troubling. Either way it’s a weird career move for old Florian Ralphe St Jean le Baptiste de la Salle Ou-de-Lallie Ou-de-Lallie Ou-de-Lallie Aie. (Excellent review, Tom.)

  12. 12
    Tom on 10 Jul 2015 #

    Great comments so far – thanks.

    One reason I didn’t cite the video – let alone “Bad Guy” is that it interferes with my own quite unsupported headcanon that Matthew doesn’t actually exist – he’s a projection by Stan to get Eminem’s sympathy, and shift and excuse the more extreme elements of his fandom (“he likes you more than I do!”). Of course it probably works better with him – you get the sense of a cycle of idolisation set to continue…

  13. 13
    Mark M on 10 Jul 2015 #

    1) Top, top piece of writing by Tom there.

    2) I should have been able to contribute something here, having written a The Story Behind The Song one-pager for Q about Stan some time in the mid-00s, but, alas, I have neither the article nor (more pertinently) the notes.

    What do remember is that I interviewed (by email, possibly) crate-digging legend The 45 King, who came up with the loop. The story doing the rounds seems to be that he heard the snatch of Thank You in a trailer for Sliding Doors – but this is slightly problematic in that songs from the actual soundtrack often don’t crop up in trailers for some reason. It’s certainly not in the cinema trailer I can find online. Which raises the possibility that The 45 King actually found the track by watching all or some of Sliding Doors (on VHS?)…* (Unless maybe it was trailer for a cable TV showing of the film). Ah, I wish I still had those emails.

    3) Stan, along maybe with My Name Is…, is as much of Eminem as I can tolerate.

    *If so, for some reason he passed over Dodgy’s Good Enough…

  14. 14
    enitharmon on 10 Jul 2015 #

    Great review, Tom. Good call on Browning too, though I know it wasn’t originallty your call. But surely the Browning model isn’t the cold, cynical Duke of Ferrara but the unnamed psychotic killer of Porphyria’s Love?

    This was new to me, I’ve just listened to it for the first time, intrigued by the comment I provoked on the previous entry. I’ve previously perceived Eminem to be a bit of a joke and so avoided him but I have to say I liked Stan. I liked Stan a lot, all the more so for its literary pedigree.

    Is this the first epistolatory number one? I can’t recall another off the top of my head.

  15. 15
    enitharmon on 10 Jul 2015 #

    Oh, I’ve just listened/watched again and I’m minded to say that this is a shoo-in 10. Perhaps it’s the crime-writer in me. Certainly if you’d told me as recently as a week ago that I’d want to offer a 10 from the 2000s I’d have laughed, and if you’d told me it would be Eminem I’d have choked on my haddock and chips. Never let it be said I don’t give anything a chance.

  16. 16
    Phil on 10 Jul 2015 #

    It’s Only Obvious After You’ve Heard It Dept: https://mobile.twitter.com/Herring1967/status/518168405749538816

  17. 17
    Ronnie on 10 Jul 2015 #

    “And there’s a million of us just like me, who cuss like me, who just don’t give a fuck like me, who dress like me, walk, talk and act like me…”

    I want to repeat a point I heard from Andrew Unterberger’s similarly impressive analysis (https://intensities.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/10-years-100-songs-7-dear-mr-im-too-good-to-call-or-write-my-fans/): Em makes one major change to the Dido sample, and that’s that it changes the bass notes in the final measure to a minor key. This one tiny change alters the entire chorus from hopeful to clinically depressed.

    Rap Genius also points out that even while angrily rejecting and lashing out his former idol, Stan remains a stan to the end — committing a murder inspired by a similar murder in an Eminem record, and quoting one of his biggest hits.

  18. 18
    Tommy Mack on 10 Jul 2015 #

    Isn’t there another future Eminem song where he talks about murdering his fans, then there’s a shotgun blast as Dre shouts ‘fuck you, Stan’. I can’t have imagined that.

  19. 19
    Kinitawowi on 10 Jul 2015 #

    I give it props for addressing the line between the artist and the fans; over the last dozen or so years I’ve seen plenty of entitled shits on various fora moaning that their wonderboy du jour didn’t give them the time of day at X concert / event / meet-and-greet / whatever and declaring that the celeb owes their fans because it’s the fans’ fault they’re even a celebrity in the first place, so how much of a celebrity does a fan own?

    Stan wants it all. First the celeb’s mind (“I hope you get this man, hit me back,
    just to chat”), then the body (“P.S. We should be together too”) and finally the soul (“I hope your conscience EATS AT YOU and you can’t BREATHE without me!”), and never mind his pregnant girlfriend.

    The flipside is Marshall; how much does a celeb owe their fans? Or more importantly, how responsible is a celeb for careless use of their fame? Is Mathers responsible for Stan slitting his wrists, when he’s “just clowning”? Is “just clowning” about suicide remotely acceptable in the first place? (And don’t think we’ve seen the last of that particular chestnut…)

    This track ends up reminding me of the plight of Sarah McLachlan, subject of stalking by a crazy and obsessive fan; Possession was inspired by his increasingly deranged letters, until he attempted to sue her for plagiarising them for the song in what was immediately recognised as a nuisance suit brought with the sole goal of getting close to her in a courtroom. He committed suicide before the case ever got that far.

    This song is about the perennial tug of war between an artist and an increasingly desperate and rabid fanbase, with more access to their artist than they’ve ever had before; the journey to the modern age, when you can know an entire life of a celebrity by their Twitter output, with barely a publicist in the way to stop the odd dubious line sneaking out.

    The verdict on the song depends on who you side with, I suppose. I’m with the celeb – Stan is the aforementioned entitled shit taken to the most ludicrous extreme. But for all this song’s posturing, its treatment of women – first as incubators, then as second-best sounding boards, then as murderable surrogates for a deranged mind, never identifed – Stan still gets a reply. If I was Mathers, I’d have started returning these letters to sender somewhere around “Sometimes I even cut myself to see how much it bleeds”. By the end Stan has become a dangerous, murderous monster, his inner loathing turned outward… and still Marshall takes responsibility. That final “Damn”, the decision that this could all have been avoided if Marshall had given himself over to Stan sooner… in that perennial tug of war, the song finally sides with Stan.

    The entitled, obsessive, deranged, woman-dismissing, murder-suicide-ing monster.


  20. 20
    AMZ1981 on 10 Jul 2015 #

    It’s hard to think of a number one record that has so much to discuss.

    Firstly there’s a few points that are too easily forgotten. Firstly that Eminem did not go straight from The Real Slim Shady to Stan; between the two he released The Way I Am which only got to a relatively modest number 8 (his smallest hit as a lead artist in the pre download era). The Way I Am is notable for being the first single to drop the brattish delivery – it’s a straightforward rant against the frustrations that come with fame with relatively little in the way of wordplay and hooks.

    Secondly The Marshall Mathers EP had been released in May. It only grabbed two unconnected weeks at the top in July (Richard Ashcroft splitting them) but stayed near the top for the rest of the year to wind up the third biggest selling long player of 2000. So Stan was available to anybody who could afford to buy albums and was already being talked up as a game changer. In hindsight it’s slightly odd that they waited until Christmas to release it as a single as it could have had considerable impact at any time of the year.

    Stan itself is a record I admire rather than like. It’s a powerful tale and captures the difficulties that can arise in the relationship between artist and fan. The problem I have is that it suffers slightly from being shoehorned into a song; the closing Dear Stan part is the most clumsy.

    Which takes me on to Dido.

    A glance at Wikipedia tells me that No Angel had an even more complex history than I thought. It was initially released in America only in May 1999 and didn’t gain a European release until October 2000, largely due to the interest generated by Stan. Obviously Dido was then best known as the sister of Rollo from Faithless and the album was building a reputation as an icy, dance edged pop record. Christmas Day 2000 saw me at my Aunt and Uncle’s house with my cousins (19 and 15 at the time) playing this record and I remember being favourably impressed.

    The album would be re-issued in February 2001 with slightly different artwork and, as most of know, went supernova. However when I finally got around to buying it myself I was bitterly disappointed and could only assume it worked better as background music. There was another factor of course which I touched on when David Gray came up in discussion around Fill Me In and which I’ll return to when a 2005 bunny regarding beauty comes along; namely that what sounds good under the radar loses its magic when everybody is snapping it up at Sainsburys with the weekly shop.

    No Angel produced three singles, two of which are actually passable in isolation (Here With Me and Hunter). The third (second in sequence) was Thank You from which the Stan sample is taken. Despite the fact it was available on a number one album and had been a hit once before (albeit with somebody talking over it) it made number three. The sampled intro is far and away the best bit for me; the chorus descending into cloying banality that belies its origin as a theme from a romantic comedy.

    Dido’s second album would repeat the success of her first, despite the fact that she was now a byword for dreary housewives choice music. That album, Life For Rent, would produce her one indisputedly great song; the amazing White Flag which came desperately close to giving her a bunny in her own right. She has subsequently only released an album every five years and has not sustained the success that Stan gifted her.

  21. 21
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Jul 2015 #

    It’s a very clever record, I grant that. (And more than anything else – it’s pleasing to see The 45 King, who I wonder may have spent more weeks at no 100 in the chart than anyone else, with the inimitable and its way rather lost cult classic “The 900 Number” – strike it big here too – pulling a discreet veil over the rather naff hit”Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked)” remake of that which ensued, already 20 years earlier than this) .

    It’s a fantastically cynical record, too – the change in tone of the rap from increasing mania to smug “normality” in the reply that constitutes the final verse – well one would have to have a heart of stone, and/or be a consummate actor to pull it off. I think Peter Cook would have done so (there is something slightly, just slightly, Derek and Clive about this record, and indeed more of Eminem’s career than should reasonably the case. Jump, you fucker, jump, indeed). Definitely more Peter Cook than Browning, anyway.

    Theatrical? Yes. Constructed with an intricacy and skill that was never to be seen again (hmm…maybe very recently, it might have been, in his very belated return to form) on an Eminem record – the samples, the structure – the fact that the way the “Thank You” sample is corrupted to be quite at home here means we can overlook the tons of utter self-absorbed self-pitying dreck that Dido heaped upon the ears of listeners for several years afterwards, with the standard “one outstanding track on each album, and lots and lots and lots and lots of inane rubbish” afterwards must count for something too.

    But still, my appraisal of this is rather too intellectual, not emotional. Perhaps the coldness, the playing-games-with-psychopathy is the point. It’s a song I can (with repeated and close listening) appreciate? But love, or want to hear? Hardly. There is insufficient tragedy – in the sense of allowing us to gain an understanding the relationship between the singer and his girlfriend – to allow us to grieve for her – or to even get any sense of who she is, what substance she has. Why is she a third wheel in Stan’s relationship with Eminem? Why is she unnamed? There is surely more to the story than a desire to recreate the scenario of another song by the rapper….Is this just bog standard – albeit taken to murderous extremes – misogyny . There are far better murder ballads than this.

    So, I still don’t know what to make of this, really. Hovering on the 5/6 borderline for me I think, but with elements that are much higher, much better, than that might suggest.

  22. 22
    JoeWiz on 11 Jul 2015 #

    A great piece for one of the most brutal number ones of all. This is a stunning, stunning song, I heard it for the first time on the Evening Session one night and it stopped me in my tracks.
    There’s so much power here, a constant rumbling of forboding that builds as the song goes on. It’s almost impossible not to listen until the end those first few times you hear it. Not many songs could do that in 2000.
    Eminem never got close to this again, although much of his most recent album is more than worthy, it’s tone is heavily borrowed from its parent album- but this was unquestionably the real deal.
    As for Dido, there’s a moment in the recent Amy Winehouse doc (which everyone on here should she immediately) where Winehouse in being told her music reminds her of Dido by a bland interviewer. Amy’s reaction sums up my feelings perfectly.

  23. 23
    flahr on 11 Jul 2015 #

    For a long time I refused to listen to any other Eminem because I didn’t think it could match this. It chimes very well with my sort of innate suspicion of fandom and, indeed, Caring About Things in general (recall, comments passim ad nauseam, that I didn’t actually ‘get into’ music until a while after what would conventionally be the age of maximal devotion, and I have pretty much held a kneejerk cynicism towards such whimsical phantoms as the ability to feel joy or delight through most of my life), being as it is a ready made ‘see where liking things gets you?’ cautionary tale. But aside from that – the music is wintry and thrilling (I’d never noticed that one of Dido’s lines is ‘my tea’s gone cold’ – I think I was hearing it as about ‘tears’ – perhaps that is a little too bathetic now that I know it…), the lyric is expertly constructed and its rhythm ducks and weaves with professional skill. A startling, stark record. 9/10 – 9.

    Great post and thread, by the way. I am particularly delighted to see Rosie so fond of it, especially thinking that Tom’s description of this as a ballad reminded me of the ballad discussion previously. I have a vague memory that my mum also likes this.

  24. 24
    Tom on 11 Jul 2015 #

    Rosie – glad you liked it! The (only?) other epistolary number one – and it’s only one letter so I dunno if it counts – is “Paperback Writer” of course: similar levels of self delusion and entitlement as “Stan”, turned to gentler ends.

  25. 25
    wichitalineman on 11 Jul 2015 #

    Another obsessive fan letter/song, though a lot gentler, is Bobbie Gentry’s You’re Number One Fan – with Bobbie writing solely from the perspective of the fan, but it was almost certainly taken from her own experiences: “In closing may I say sincerely you’re my ideal man. God bless you and keep you from your number one fan”.

  26. 26
    enitharmon on 11 Jul 2015 #

    AMZ1981 @20 – I had a look to see if I had any Dido in my collection and I have: Here With Me and Life For Rent (the song not the whole album). I rather like the latter so I guess that makes me a sad housewife and gets me blackballed from the Cool Club ;)

  27. 27
    enitharmon on 11 Jul 2015 #

    There’s also echoes of All About Eve here (the film not the band; that would take us into even murkier corners I believe). Nobody gets killed in AAE but the consequences are arguably even more devastating. The idea of Eminem as Bette Davis appeals to me enormously!

    Another thought related to this: this seems to me to be the first song in our journey that is inseparable from its video. Other points of view are available.

  28. 28
    Steve Mannion on 11 Jul 2015 #

    I first saw Dido performing with Faithless and wondered why she hadn’t been more visible in their videos (I don’t think she appeared in one until ‘One Step Too Far’ which came after the ‘No Angel’ success and so she could command a ‘featuring’ credit rather than being considered one of the band). Like both Adele and Amy there was an often amusing disconnect between how they sang and how they spoke. I remember her ‘performance’ in the ‘Stan’ video as being so bad however that I don’t even want to rewatch to see how much she’s putting on a softer English accent for the US market – how did Stan end up with her anyway…?

    Surprised re the 45 King connection too (I wonder if he liked ‘Play’, ‘White Ladder’ and ‘The Man Who’ as much as ‘No Angel’…) – in the pre-Discogs era I didn’t check producer credits much and like many assumed this was another Dre effort.

  29. 29
    Shiny Dave on 11 Jul 2015 #

    Every year since this record came out, I’ve had suicidal impulses, none of which have quite led to an attempt – the closest was one that came quite by accident – but any of which easily could. Additionally, for most of that time, I’ve been legitimately terrified of thunderstorms – I have sensory hypersensitivity at the best of times, flashing light and sudden loud noises are frightening, and when two houses within 300m of where I lived at the time were struck in a 10 September 2004 storm – I vividly remember not only the noise and the flash, but the flickering dawn light afterwards, which I thought was a fire from a plane crash (there’s a reason I’ve noted the exact date here) and the panic from that particular thought.

    Unsurprisingly in that context, I can’t listen to this all the way through, and so as far as I’m concerned this is unmarkable. The review isn’t, though – it’s a nailed-on 10 for you, Tom!

  30. 30
    AMZ1981 on 11 Jul 2015 #

    Enitharmon@26 I have both No Angel and Life For Rent having bought the first in the expectation I might like it (as noted in my comment) and the second to get at one truly fantastic song (and showing my age by the fact I had to do that – today I’d just download the song).

    I was going to write more about the `supermarket era` of the early 2000s of which Dido (among others) was a big beneficiary but it would take too long.

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page