At what point does stanning become harassment? It's hard to draw the line, but a good case study is Charli XCX. The alt popstar's legion of followers, many of them openly queer and extremely Twitter savvy, are equal parts adoring and demanding. They're infamous for requesting that she release songs from discarded projects, and asking her to say "gay rights!" on camera. No one was surprised when they started turning up at meet and greets with poppers, asking her to autograph them in silver sharpie.
The first indication that Charli herself wasn't necessarily on board with these antics came in mid-October, when 20-year-old college student Peter presented his favorite artist with an odd request: that she pose with his dead mom's ashes backstage. The musician warily agreed, the photos went viral, and soon other fans were one-upping Peter's stunt. Two weeks later, one of them asked Charli to autograph his anal douche. At this point, she understandably took to Twitter and told angels to tone it down.
In a new interview with i-D, as well as more recent tweets, Charli has indicated she has no hard feelings about stans bringing weird objects to her recent shows. But Peter, AKA @ratdad666, is still contending with thousands of new haters. The incident spotlights a persistent tension in contemporary fandoms, where social media has broken down barriers between followers and idols and created what's arguably a false sense of intimacy.
After a whirlwind couple of weeks, Peter agreed to chat with PAPER about the bizarre series of meet and greet photos that got us here.
First of all, sorry for your loss.
I appreciate that. My mom died June 14th, so it was about three and a half months ago. That said, she was sick for four years, she had cancer, so it was something that I knew was coming and something I prepared for. But I'm definitely someone who uses humor to cope, and that was very much something that I intended here.
There are two reasons why I asked Charli to take the picture. One, I wanted to do something with my mom. I wanted to spend time with her, bring her along with me. I keep her ashes just on my keys, they're with me at all times, so I thought it would be a fun opportunity to continue her legacy in a sense. And also I just thought it would be silly. I'm someone who uses humor to cope a lot, and I thought it would be a funny thing, Charli with my mom, but it's not my mom, it's just this keychain that has some of her ashes in it.
Was your mom a Charli fan?
My mom was really supportive of anything I liked, but I wouldn't necessarily say she herself was a Charli fan. But like, she definitely jammed to a couple of the songs. She really liked "Vroom Vroom," she had taste, you know?
It sounds like she would have wanted to be there.
I honestly wouldn't have done it if I didn't think it was something that she would have gotten a kick out of. My mom has a similar sense of humor, mine's maybe a little darker, I guess? But I did it because I thought she would think it was funny, and because I thought it was funny. And because it connected us more, even though she's gone.
From your perspective, what happened in the moment when you met Charli?
The way it works, you get in line for meet and greet, we got there at like 9AM, to be one of the first 50 people in line. I was with two friends, we hung out until it was time for the meet and greet. I rehearsed what I was going to say, because I didn't want to seem stupid or cruel or something. I said, "My mom passed about two months ago," which was wrong, it was three, but I wasn't thinking. And I said, "Your music has helped me party through a lot of that pain," which is very true. And she said, "Oh my God I'm so sorry," and I said it was fine, and I asked if I could take the photo. She was definitely surprised, her eyes got really wide, but then she was like, "Sure, okay." So we took a regular meet and greet photo, just her and I, then a photo of her handing me my keys, then the one that everyone has seen of her standing there with my mom's ashes on the keychain. The guy taking the photos was having a bit of a problem using the new iPhone, so I had a little longer with her than I would say most other people did. Then I thanked her for her time and said, "Release 'Good Girls,'" which is an unreleased Charli song that I really love, and I waited for my friends to finish their meet and greet, and we went to the concert. Before the music started I tweeted the photo, and it started doing numbers.
What had happened specifically is that the Fuck Yes Charli account, which is the most popular fan page, was retweeting meet and greet pictures from the show. Then someone retweeted it and said, "Y'all be putting this girl through it." That's when it went really viral.
Is that when the backlash began?
Well, I thought that the initial tweet was funny. It seemed lighthearted enough. But then definitely people started to be really mad and say that I crossed a line, that I wasn't being considerate or whatever it was. Then later that night or the next day Charli liked my tweet, which I took to mean that she wasn't super bothered. At the time, she was definitely shocked and surprised, because I imagine no one else has asked her to take a photo with their dead mom. So, I think possibly I surprised her, it was an unexpected moment. But she didn't seem horribly bothered. I actually met her once before at a meet and greet, and it was a very similar experience. At a meet and greet, when you're meeting all these people and you're tired from a day of partying, she wasn't over the moon enthused but she wasn't that way with anyone, you know?
Meet and greets are tough for any artist.
Truly, I really didn't do it for a viral moment. It was not even on my mind that people would lose their minds over this. I wanted to do something with my mom and have a good laugh. So that's where my head space was, and I'm really sorry that it's turned into such a thing. If I'd known that people would bring her a douche, I don't think I would have tweeted my picture. I don't regret asking her, because it means something to me to have this photo, but I definitely think unintentionally I started this mess. And I feel bad about that. But I also think people are just being really fucking unkind. And are lacking a lot of compassion because they don't really understand the scenario. In the i-D article released today, Charli says you can see in her eyes that she's afraid. And I feel for her, I didn't mean to scare her. But at the same time it was over in a minute, she's already met a couple hundred more people since then.
Is there a difference between what you did, and fans asking her to pose with an anal douche or poppers?
Yes. I have a lot of thoughts on this. So, I was very upfront. I said, "These are my mom's ashes." So from the jump, she knew what I was asking her to do. I think she could have said no if she wanted to, but even if she didn't feel comfortable saying no, at least she knew what it was. And the douche guy, he said she didn't know what it was. He asked her to hold his poppers bottle up to his nose, and she said she didn't want to do that. So he whipped out the douche and asked her to sign it, and she was like, "What is this?"
So I think it's very different, I didn't trick her into doing anything, even if I made her uncomfortable. It was a very personal, specific thing. It wasn't intended for clout. For me the douche situation seems specifically intended to capitalize on this idea of, oh, if I bring a weird thing to Charli's meet and greet I'll get lots of retweets. I guess I take responsibility for starting that, in a sense. But there was also the guy before me who asked her to sign the poppers bottle, and there were the people who got engaged at her meet and greet. I wasn't inspired by any of those things, I wasn't trying to one-up anybody, but the douche thing seems to be more specifically intended to go viral and do something outrageous.
I also think because it's my mom and she was dead and I had to deal with those emotions, she was sick for four years, her ashes to me, it's no thing, it's a keychain. It symbolizes her, but it doesn't seem outlandish and crazy to me. So I think that's where there's a disconnect. To me, I'm asking Charli XCX to hold this keychain, but it just so happens to have my mom's ashes in it, versus like, I'm trying to scare Charli to go viral.
In the i-D article she says, "Oh I love my fans, so they can get away with a lot." Which is valid, but also that interview happened before the guy brought the douche. So I think that upset her. This morning she tweeted that people should have some respect. That's when people started coming for me. The Fuck Yes Charli account put the most negative part of the article about me on their page, and that upset me, because it seemed unfair.
I had like 800 followers at the time of my post, I don't think my audience really cared that much, and if they did care it was because they knew about the situation. I tweet a lot about my mom being dead. Specifically about her being cremated. There's something that feels very specific about cremation, in that she doesn't have a body anymore. We spread her ashes, and the ones I have on my keychain are all I have. It is a very specific and special object to me. It's also something that I talk about a lot.
It wasn't out of left field for you to do this.
Exactly, for people who knew me, it made a lot of sense that I would do that. But then, when you get 15,000 people who don't know who I am or how recently my mom passed or what led to her dying, there's a lot of room for people to lack compassion. Twitter isn't necessarily the website for flexing your empathy.
Do you regret doing it?
This is the thing. I said to someone beefing with me that I'd do it again. Which isn't necessarily true. I wouldn't repeat the incident. But if I could go back, I'd still do it, I just wouldn't tweet it. What made it more of a thing is that so many people talked about it. It got like two million impressions on Twitter. That was never my intention. It was really just supposed to be for me, my close friends, and my loose acquaintances on Twitter. A lot of people had a lot of things to say. So, do I regret it? No. Do I regret tweeting about it? Yes.
This is a moment of reflection for Charli's fanbase, I think. Going forward will there be more discussion around being respectful at meet and greets and on Twitter?
Yeah. And I think that's a very relevant thing. Ultimately I don't think I disrespected her, because I was honest with her. I'll own up to making her uncomfortable, and I wish it didn't go that way, but I was honest. Whereas the douche person, she literally didn't know it was a douche, which feels like more of a trick. I think definitely people need to be more conscious of the fact that she's a person. But I also think that not a lot of the people with mean things to say are thinking a lot about my situation as it relates to my mom. I guess, why would they? They see a tweet for 15 seconds then it's over.
I don't want it to be this thing where everyone's trying to one-up each other and have this viral moment. I really can't say enough how much I didn't intend for this to be a viral thing. If I had known so many people would be saying mean things to me, or comparing my dead mother to a literal douche? People had a lot of mean things to say. That really upset me.
It has been suggested that some of Charli's gay male fans are treating her with a degree of misogyny, in that they seem to feel they own her. Do you have any thoughts on those gendered dynamics?
That, I think there's validity to. I'm not trying to other myself from this necessarily, but I don't think what I did was misogynistic. In my mind I wasn't like, I can poke and prod at this celebrity and make her feel some type of way. Or, she can't say no to me. I was very prepared for her to say no, I'd completely understand. I don't feel she owes me something. But I do think other fans feel Charli owes them something.
I definitely think there's something to be said for being honest with a celebrity, and respecting their personal space. There was a Latinx woman who got peed on at a Charli XCX concert, and that's disgusting, I can't imagine not respecting other people that much. All these people are just thinking about how they can have this viral moment, how they can get their clout up. And they're not really considering that Charli's a person.
Charli has spoken a bit about pressure from fans over releasing certain songs and taking certain directions in her music. Releasing "Taxi," stuff like that. Do stans need to back away from that a bit?
I think this is interesting. In the i-D interview, Charli says that I told her to release "Taxi," which isn't true. I'm not mad at her for thinking that, you meet 50 people every night, I imagine the interactions start to run together. I'd like to say, "Taxi" is not that good of a song! There are better unreleased Charli songs! I don't know why the gays are like, "Taxi," "Taxi," "Taxi."
There's something to be said about respecting her decisions, but I think that all stems from the fact that her untitled third album was leaked without her consent. Someone took that from her without her consent, and didn't respect her enough to wait. The fans wanted that music immediately, so someone hacked it and leaked it. So yes, people need to be more respectful and not hack her music library and get the songs as far as they can. Because she's a genius artist who needs the time to do these things on her own.
If Charli was like, stop asking about "Taxi," I'm never going to release "Taxi," I would never bring it up again. Because it would bother her! Knowing now that she was afraid during our meet and greet, I wouldn't create a situation where she feels that way. If I had another opportunity to do another meet and greet I would just apologize for making her uncomfortable and then we'd go our separate ways.
Are you enjoying her new music?
I am. I left work early today because people were being really mean and it was getting to me. But on my way home I was still listening to Charli. Because it's a good fucking album. This is the thing, I love Charli XCX. Last year I hosted a party called "Angel Night" and I hired drag queens to do Charli XCX impersonations. I love her, I want to honor her, it has never been my intention to make her feel weird or do her dirty. It's hurtful that people think these things about me, but at the end of the day, it's not about me. It's about her, the way she's treated as an artist. I think if I contributed to her feeling uncomfortable as an artist at large then I feel bad for that. But I also don't think what I did warranted the amount of harassment I've received. I don't think it warranted any harassment, frankly.
If you could give Charli a message, what would it be?
I would say, I love your music, I'm so sorry that I inadvertently started this, I think your music is genius and you're a genius. And I hope you're not still upset about this. I love you and I'm sorry.
Watch Charli's track by track breakdown of her new album for PAPER's YouTube channel, below.
Photo via Twitter