The Mitski And Mac DeMarco Beef Is Proof Artists Need To Take Control Of Their Fans
Fandom should be defined by how much you love someone, not how much you hate someone else.
Last week, Twitter was plunged into a music war after Mac DeMarco was accused of plagiarising Mitski. To be fair, this wasn’t an unreasonable conclusion, given both of their albums have the word ‘Cowboy’ in the title, and both lead singles are called ‘Nobody.’
It also wouldn’t be the first time a white man has stolen art from women of colour and tried to credit it as their own.
Mitski, to her credit, tried to calm the raging masses. “I’m 100 percent sure Mac and I just went fishing in the same part of the collective unconscious,” she tweeted, before assuring fans she wasn’t mad and was laughing about the situation.
“Being on Twitter feels like I went to a restaurant, asked for a burger, they didn’t have it, so I asked for noodles instead, except an angry group appeared and threatened to torch the place for not giving me a burger,” Mitski said of the ordeal.
“It’s terrifying to have a big group of strangers acting on my behalf in ways I’d never act myself, and I don’t even seem to matter in the equation.”
Therein lies the problem within ‘stan’ culture of today: it’s a battleground, and the casualties are high.
The Kids Have Gone Wild
The rivalry between artists — particularly between female pop stars — has forever existed in the pop cultural zeitgeist, even if it is largely exaggerated or even invented. With the advent of social media, those rivalries are now amplified.
Fans can gather together and militarise themselves for the most minuscule of things, with little regard for the welfare of those in their way.
Artists can barely make a move without people thinking it’s a dig at someone else; entire accounts exist are dedicated to “this person just unfollowed this person”. It’s a complete Mean Girls-style mess.
And when they feel their favourite has been disrespected, fans go into attack mode. Of course, pre-Internet this was relegated to talk back radio or dinner conversations. Now, anyone can have direct access to anyone else — as long as they have a Twitter account. Fans can gather together and militarise themselves in minutes for the most minuscule of things, with little regard for the welfare of those in their way.
Take the gone-but-not-forgotten Fifth Harmony, for example. Just like in the golden era of boy bands and girl groups, every fan had their favourite member. But things got very ugly in 2016 when Normani called bandmate Camila Cabello “quirky” in an interview.
Normani was bombarded with a barrage of incredibly racist tweets, including fabricated images of her being lynched, to the point where she announced she was taking a much-needed break from Twitter.
To my fans: pic.twitter.com/7yICp10G5Z
— Normani (@Normani) August 7, 2016
Obviously, this is something Camila never asked for and she jumped, albeit vaguely, to Normani’s defence. “You don’t have to hate on somebody else to support me,” she said. “I don’t appreciate it and it’s not what I’m about…Be kind or move on.”
You don't have to hate on somebody else to support me- I don't appreciate it and it's not what I'm about.. Be kind or move on
— camila (@Camila_Cabello) August 6, 2016
Sometimes It Goes Very Wrong
On top of that, though, some celebrities are completely irresponsible with the power they wield on social media, and will gladly send their fans into battle without a second thought.
In 2017, radio host Ash London copped the wrath of fans of One Direction member, Louis Tomlinson, after she described his facial hair as “ratty” in an off-the-cuff moment on air. Because fans have FBI-level skills of investigation and research, they caught wind of this and tore her to shreds.
She briefly put her profile on private, but that didn’t stop Tomlinson from defending the victim and deterring his fans as Camila or Mitski did. Instead, he replied, writing “Probs best to stay on private a bit longer love!” followed by a middle finger emoji.
He opened the floodgates and disregarded his social responsibility because someone said he had a ratty moustache. He knew full well what his fans were doing and unashamedly egged it on.
Probs best to stay on private for a bit longer love ! 🖕
— Louis Tomlinson (@Louis_Tomlinson) December 12, 2017
Ultimately, It’s Up To Celebrities
Of course, celebrities have the right to defend themselves publicly — but they need to be aware of their social responsibility. We’re living in a post-role model society where we might not care what someone does in their private life, within reason, but how they treat other people publicly is still very much fair game.
Fans are going to flock to defend their favourites regardless, especially when they can remain relatively anonymous. After all, Twitter isn’t exactly great at moderating its platform.
In the pop realm, stans will say anything in hopes of getting their fave’s attention, and Tomlinson completely took advantage of that for some fleeting satisfaction. Mitski and Camila, on the other hand, stopped the fans in their tracks explicitly and told them to check themselves, with the underlying implication that no fan of theirs would act that way.
Online fandom is also wildly unpredictable and completely volatile. You can be iconic one day and cancelled the next. Artists are viewed as monoliths, there to give us bops and bangers — not actual human beings. The ‘why’ becomes irrelevant as we all focus on the ‘what’, and if the ‘what’ doesn’t meet our standard of wokeness, they’re out. It’s a completely flawed system, yet it has tremendous power over the livelihood and careers of any artist.
The ‘why’ becomes irrelevant as we all focus on the ‘what’, and if the ‘what’ doesn’t meet our standard of wokeness, they’re out.
With that in mind, it can be courageous for an artist to stand up to the fans that are effectively keeping their careers alive. They know what the risk is. But the idea that artists need to do whatever their fans want is completely out-dated. It’s a completely symbiotic, deeply special and ultimately fragile relationship, and the lack of respect from one party to another can shatter that connection to pieces. It’s a connection that must be respected, and that can only happen when one party accepts that the other is, well, human.
Celebrities shouldn’t be able to just knowingly launch their fans on another artist because they said something they didn’t like, and having a bunch of tweens do your adult dirty work. But, at the same time, fans can’t be so willing to go to bat that they start swinging before a ball is even thrown their way.
These fans are impressionable, and will jump whenever these blue checkmarks say so. Therefore, it’s up to celebs to keep them in check and keep Stan Twitter, which is otherwise fantastic for meme fodder, as peaceful as possible. Fandom should be defined by how much you love someone, not how much you hate someone else. And while Twitter can humanise celebrities, ignoring the opinion of the celebrity you’re trying to defend dehumanises them completely.
It’s time for all of us to let our faves have their noodles, and eat them too.
Jackson Langford is a freelance music and culture writer from Newcastle. He is actually the most cowboy of them all. He tweets at @jacksonlangford.