This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #423: Stan by Eminem.
“Stan” by Eminem is a controversial and difficult song…not gonna lie. In fact, calling it a song is a bit of a misnomer. “Stan” is actually a play that is told in four complete acts. Each verse is a scene or an act. Each scene builds toward a dramatic and disturbing conclusion. “Stan” is controversial because of the unflinching look given to those suffering from mental illness, as well as, how that plays out in terms of domestic violence. There are several versions of this song; each one increasingly more descriptive and graphic. The one that gets played on radio or tv is the most heavily-censored version and, even with that, “Stan” still requires listener/viewer discretion.
In the song, Eminem plays himself. Stan is a character who is a fan of Eminem. As many of you know, the term “fan” is drawn from the word, “fanatic”, which is where the inspiration for this song arose. In each of the first three verses or scenes, Stan writes letters to Eminem. In each scene, Stan seeks to give meaning to his own life by becoming increasingly obsessed over Eminem. This crosses the line into clinical obsession when Stan starts to believe that Eminem is actually part of his life and that they are friends for real. Stan tries to bring Eminem into his world via his letters to him. Unfortunately for Stan, Eminem, like many stars, doesn’t read much of his own fan mail and, as such, doesn’t even know, until it is too late, that Stan is even trying to reach him. From Stan’s perspective, he interprets Eminem’s silence as rejection. This rejection pushes Stan to commit a violent act (murder-suicide) in order to make a final statement that Eminem couldn’t possibly ignore. In the final scene, Eminem grabs several fan letters to read and finally sees one from Stan. He notes the obsessive nature of Stan’s wild claims of friendship and thinks back to a news story about the death of an obsessive fan and then, only then, does Eminem realize that the letter he is holding was from the same obsessed fan from the news and that, maybe, if he had known sooner, he could have prevented three deaths.
Disturbing content aside, for a moment….as a writer, I have to give credit to Eminem for creating a character with such an authentic “voice”. There aren’t any wasted words in these “letters” that Stan writes to Eminem. His words help us to very clearly see inside his troubled mind. Stan’s voice is distinctive and stands out in contrast to the remorsefulness of Eminem’s “own voice” in the final verse. Good dramatic scenes help paint complete portraits of their character’s lives and Eminem does that in “Stan”. As dramatic plays go, this is as tight and concise a script as can be.
Furthermore, Eminem is considered to be one of the best Hip Hop rappers in the world. If you have never listened to him rapping (because of his reputation or because you don’t like Rap) try and push past that and give this song a try. Eminem’s rapping skills are phenomenal all throughout “Stan”. His ability to enunciation crisply and to control his breath while rapping is extremely impressive. Overall, the writing and performing that is on display in “Stan” is second-to-none.
This song is widely hailed as Eminem’s second best song (after, “Lose Yourself” from the movie, “8 Mile”) and has sold millions of copies around the world. “Stan” is ranked as being one of the top Hip Hop songs of all-time. Not only that, the cultural influence of this song is such that the term, “to Stan” someone is now an accepted medical term and can be located in all major dictionaries with the definition being, “to obsessively stalk, harass and/or harm a celebrity or person with whom one seeks to have a relationship when, in fact, no real relationship actually exists.”
Because of the graphic nature of the song, “Stan” has not often been performed on live TV. But, one notable exception took place at the 2001 Grammy Awards. Prior to this show, Eminem had been criticized for the nature of some of his lyrics which, people claimed, were homophobic and misogynistic. Normally, Eminem performs “Stan” with English singer, Dido. Dido sings the bridge verses that help separate the verses dealing with Stan’s letters. But, when Eminem appeared on stage at the Grammy Awards, it wasn’t with Dido but, instead, was with Sir Elton John. Many observers wondered why Elton John (who is openly Gay) would wish to associate himself with someone like Eminem. As it turns out, Elton John and Eminem had been friends for many years and, even more, when Eminem had drug and alcohol addiction issues in his younger days, it was Elton John who acted as his AA sponsor. The two men stay in regular contact. When the controversy surrounding “Stan” began to blow up prior to the airing of The Grammys, Elton John suggested he appear in Dido’s place as moral support. When the song ends and they hug and hold hands together, they were sending a symbolic message that claims about Eminem being homophobic were unfounded. It was a powerful moment in a genre (award shows) where powerful moments don’t always happen.
“Stan” is a technically-brilliant song but, it is a song to be entered into with eyes wide open. As Eminem has said, with regard to the subject matter of many of his songs, sometimes in order to discuss difficult topics, you have to actually write difficult songs and tell difficult stories openly and honestly. “Stan” certainly accomplishes that. One of the reasons I am interested in writing these posts is that I want people to know the real stories behind the songs they like to sing and dance to. In this case, I see far too many folks joking on social media about being a “Kim Kardashian stan” or else, “stan-ing Ryan Reynolds or Chris Hemsworth”. I cringe every time I see this in print. Mental illness and domestic violence are nothing to joke about. They are awful things to experience. “Stan” depicts that sense of awfulness honestly and, as such, it depicts it brutally. Even as I warn you about “Stan”, I do encourage you to watch the Grammy performance with Elton John. The importance of that moment is palpable on screen.
The link to the music video for Stan by Eminem (featuring Sir Elton John) can be found here.
Eminem has a website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.