We're living in the golden age of fandom, where social media has allowed stans to interact with their idols on a daily basis. Whether you're a barb, lamb, belieber, or registered bardi gang member, you're probably @-ing somebody. On Stan Stories, we meet the internet's most dedicated followers and delve deep into their obsessions.
Charli XCX's angels are among the internet's most complex stans. Over the course of her career, Charli has released a broad spectrum of pop music, from mainstream chart bangers to gorgeously weird experimental cuts. Those who follow her generally have some pretty strong opinions about which sounds they prefer, and they're more than happy to get into a spirited Twitter debate about it.
Related | Charli XCX Is Pop's Cult Leader
Originally from the UK (like Charli!) but now living in the United States (also like Charli!), Sean is 24 years old and knows more about Ms XCX than the entire PAPER team combined. And there are definitely stans among us.
PAPER DM-d him to find out what it's like to be an angel in pop music heaven.
PAPER: Let's start with your Twitter handle, @wheretfissticky. Can you explain the "Sticky" thing?
Okay, so Charli XCX has a tonne of unreleased music, but unfortunately she was hit by hackers and a bunch of that music was leaked in 2017. A snippet of a song called "Sticky" leaked somewhere around this point, and I created an account to essentially beg for it in full — for Charli to release it herself.
So the song still hasn't come out?
The song hasn't been released and I doubt it ever will or would have been! But it did later leak in full, last year.
Was it worth the wait?
I love it! It was rumored to be a song for Rihanna, but I think it's just an outtake from her original, now scrapped, third album.
So how did you become this much of a Charli stan?
Becoming a Charli stan, or an "angel," was a pretty gradual thing for me. I remember reading about her music in 2014 and enjoying a few of her songs, and then I remember hearing "I Love It." I was blown away, because it was such a fun pop song, and then found out Charli herself wrote it and featured. I was a casual fan from then on, just checking out her music whenever it was posted about on music blogs, or if it showed up on YouTube. Fast forward to about 2017 and I saw Charli had performed a new song, "Bounce," on Jimmy Kimmel. A pretty vapid and silly song, but Charli knew that's exactly what it was, and I loved that whole concept. Something purposely being vapid, but that being okay. Because there's enjoyment to be had, and it is worth something regardless.
I remember specifically watching a video of her performing her then-unreleased song "No Angel," and was just blown away by the energy and the entire concept and aura the song and performance and Charli gave off herself. I would probably say that was the moment I became a stan. Something about Charli being so unapologetically pop, mixed with these new experimental sounds — thanks to her working with PC Music and SOPHIE — is something so exciting to me. Hyper plastic pop music. There's a video of that performance, it's basically what started people begging Charli to release specific songs.
So at this point is it kind of like… having these unreleased songs is part of Charli's appeal?
I definitely think so, hearing an unreleased song and not being able to hear it in high quality is so unsatisfying, it really has created this behavior of Charli stans AKA angels to beg Charli to release these certain songs, for about two to three years. Charli actually acknowledged people begging for these songs herself in a few tweets and interviews, and she did end up releasing "No Angel" last year! But I do think a big part of her appeal is this new form of pop she's creating and experimenting with and people have an insatiable hunger for it, it seems!
Other than keeping things mysterious, why do you think she doesn't release the tracks?
I really can't say, she released "No Angel" and "Girls Night Out" which are two tracks people had begged for last year. Some of these tracks are from 2015/2016, so I always wondered whether it was that she wanted to move on from them and start new, or that maybe some of them weren't "general public friendly" enough, hence her going on to release music through her two mixtapes without much label interference, while the album's future was still uncertain.
I do think Charli is a perfectionist, I think she has a strong vision and isn't a fan of compromising. Which again is a part of her appeal, she's always unapologetically something, she's badass essentially, haha.
What are some of your favorite Charli moments?
She really just has this insane energy on stage, it doesn't feel like you're at a show, it's essentially this huge club party and Charli is the one throwing it. That, and she's just such a respectable artist, I think that's another thing that makes me stan, is knowing how involved she is with her own music and vision and that she uses her platform to collaborate and lift up other artists, too.
"I think stanning Charli and interacting with all these other stans gave me some sort of purpose..."
How would you characterize her relationship with fans and stans — she's fairly interactive, right?
She definitely is! Honestly I think the relationship is great, you get the odd few crazy stans but I think for the most part Charli enjoys all the memes, and reposts some of them herself! I actually got to meet her last year too, because she did a Spotify studio meet and greet (for free!) where she invited fans to listen to unreleased songs she was planning on releasing and asked our opinions on them, what we liked and didn't like or what we'd change about a song, which was awesome. She really was just so easy to talk to, and honestly it was such an honor and opportunity to be a tiny part of that process.
That's amazing. How did it feel to meet her — did you talk?
I was insanely nervous! I had no reason to be, because Charli didn't hesitate to say hi and hug everyone individually. I was a little too nervous to just talk freely to her, but I managed to speak up after she played a demo of "1999" and essentially told her I loved it and asked her to please release it. She was just so accommodating, and even within that meet and greet was open to laughing and joking around with fans, it wasn't so much like meeting a celebrity, but rather an artist that really wanted to share her work. Just super down to earth!
You could tell how invested the other fans were in her music too, and she even recognized some longtime angels!
Stans these days get super, super obsessive. Where do you personally draw the line when it comes to following Charli?
Stanning Charli is essentially a hobby to me, creating memes and content, fan art, and making friends and discussing and enjoying her music and world is what's fun to me. Whatever live experience I'm financially able to go to I will try for, I just want to have fun with this community Charli has created. I think it would be ridiculous to ever expect or let your idol's personal life impact your own. I draw the line at only wanting to know what she wants us to know and what she publicly shares in regards to her personal life, which is what I hope most stans would draw the line at. But you definitely get the few crazies.
Totally. So would you say participating in the community brings you more joy than trying to get attention from Charli herself and interacting with her online?
100 percent. I actually did a few drawings of her looks for each project she released and Charli retweeted it and followed me shortly after, which was insane. But I still didn't feel compelled to message her or talk personally, probably because I'm too nervous to, but I also understand how busy she must be and how many people just in her day to day life she has to communicate with. Taking part in the community is definitely what's fun, and it sometimes feels like its own little XCX party on Twitter and forums sometimes. If Charli ever interacts or retweets something I've posted then it's a bonus, and definitely makes my day!
Are there any big rivalries within the Charli XCX fan community, or between angels and stans of other artists?
So it's funny you mention that, because there are little sub fan groups for each of Charli's projects/eras. There's a divide between "true romance angels" (the OG angels) and "mixtape angels" (newer angels), and even stans of specific projects of hers. None of it ever results in serious arguments, but instead really funny and healthy (in my opinion) banter between fans. I've been a fan of Charli before her mixtapes but I only really appeared on Twitter/forums after her mixtapes so I'm definitely referred to as a mixtape angel. I don't mind since her mixtapes are definitely my favorite pieces of work. It's all in good fun most of the time.
Everyone is constantly posting their ranks of Charli's discography and it's definitely funny to see all the disagreements and memes. About rivalries with other artists stans... not really, unless somebody specific posts a negative opinion about Charli. I think because Charli collaborates with so many artists a lot of her stans are turned on to their music and essentially become fans of them too.
If someone is just getting into Charli now and encountering this wild fandom, what advice would you give?
Okay so my advice would be to definitely not take what everyone is saying seriously, I definitely think Charli's fandom is a colorful one, we're all here to enjoy Charli's vision! I know sometimes the humor (and stan humor in general) can be a little harsh, but definitely try connecting with other angels, and don't be afraid to post your memes and jokes! The more people posting and joking the more fun it is, I've seen tweets from other stans calling Charli stans some of the funniest and smartest, so!
I'm curious, what do you want to happen for Charli in her career?
More mainstream success, or critical acclaim, or whatever. Honestly, I think she deserves it all. It felt good to see her receiving critical acclaim after she released her mixtape Pop 2. Not that it matters, but I would like for more mainstream success as long as her work is unhindered to get that. I think she's criminally underrated and honestly think she has something for everyone in her discography. But above all that, I just really want to see her continue her artistic journey. You really never know what you're getting with Charli and her music and that's something that makes it so exciting. I'm excited to see where she takes pop music throughout her entire musical career and hope she can do it with as much creative freedom as possible!
Are you a Nasty Cherry fan too?
Yes! Well, waiting for more of their music, but I'm definitely a fan of "Win." It was exciting to see Charli's own label revived with their debut, and I'm looking forward to see what else they bring to the table.
Could you rank your top 5 Charli tracks?
Could I?! That's all angels do while we wait for new Charli music!
1. "No Angel"
2. "Vroom Vroom"
4. "Unlock it"
5. "Taxi" (release "Taxi," Charli!)
Tell me about your stanning history. Do you have any other stan accounts?
I've stanned other artists before, a big one was the K-pop girl group 2NE1, and one member in particular called CL, but Charli is the first artist I created a stan account for. Honestly I think stanning Charli came during a time I was super down and struggling with bad anxiety towards the end of my time at university, and I felt my life had no direction. I think stanning Charli and interacting with all these other stans gave me some sort of purpose or something to partake in and take my mind off of things. A form of escapism. Maybe not the healthiest way of dealing with things, but life is a lot better now, and I have other angels as friends to show for it!
"Unfortunately the crazies are sometimes just the loudest, as with any community or movement."
From the outside, I think a lot of people — even sometimes artists themselves — think stan culture is kind of crazy. But below the surface you often find people like yourself, who are looking for community and friendship.
Definitely! I mean some of my friends don't get the stanning thing for sure, and there are definitely crazy stans, but I think for the most part it's the same as any hobby, like supporting a sports team. You want to see your idol succeed. Sometimes it's a rush to be a part of this huge community and culture and take part in all these conversations, memes and sometimes arguments between standoms. But I think there's a big portion who genuinely just enjoy the community and friendship. Unfortunately the crazies are sometimes just the loudest, as with any community or movement.
Are your IRL friends and family aware of your level of standom?
I wouldn't say so exactly. A few friends know of my account and some say it's crazy, but I don't think it's anything foreign to them since they're part of a lot of other online cultures, like gaming, themselves.
Do you ever worry about the power balance between fans and their idols? The more attention they get the more rich and powerful they become, but for fans life stays the same.
That's a tough one. I can't say exactly, since I feel like since Charli's mixtapes and the influx of new fans she got from them, she walks the line of mainstream and underground even more so now than compared to her album Sucker, when she was receiving mainstream success. I do view my life as a separate thing so I don't expect hers to reflect on mine. So personally there isn't any worry about power balance to me. Maybe I'd feel different if I was one of the long time angels back from when she was just getting started.
Personally I hope the more fans she gains the easier it is for her to tour so everyone can experience her music live more!
She's currently following you on Twitter. As a stan is that kind of an ultimate goal?
She is! So, I never ever expected it, I was shocked when she liked one of my tweets for the first time, so to see her follow me was definitely crazy. I think to some stans it's a huge goal, especially the younger stans. I do think since I'm an older stan I'm kind of here to just have fun. I know if I was back to being 16/17/18 I'd probably be begging Charli to follow me.
There's a culture of stans coming after publications that are perceived to shade their idols. Like maybe it happens less with Charli, but if a magazine or even just a random Twitter user posts something negative about an artist, their stan hive comes after them. What do you think about that phenomenon?
I've definitely taken part in this behavior, and I think it all depends on the context and the method. I think a lot of the time stans use it to promote their idol's music even further, or create memes around it, like spamming videos and links to their idol's work and being like "stream this song by this artist." Obviously the media and other social media users have free speech and should be allowed to post whatever. As long as it isn't personal and you aren't leaking people's personal information, I think a lot of it is humorous. I do think a lot of it is done to be funny, at least that's what I try to achieve: let's turn something negative into something funny and promote our idol. Obviously they're free to have the negative review or opinion!
Do you ever worry about Charli getting canceled or doing something problematic? Would you forgive?
I'm going to go ahead and say no! I think Charli surrounds herself with so many artists and people with so many different backgrounds, I think she tries her best to always be sensitive and I just don't see her as a confrontational type of artist. Cancel culture is an interesting thing because I think if somebody does something problematic it should be determined whether it was through ignorance or intent. One is forgivable as long as they're willing to learn (in my opinion) and the other is more hateful and damaging. Although I don't think Charli would ever say or do anything damaging. It would depend on her response, but I have good faith that she'll always remain unproblematic. I think she just wants to make music and party.
Do you think you will stan forever?
I'd like to say yes! I'm lucky enough to have an insane amount of free time, which is probably why I can stan so hard at the age of 24, but who knows what the future holds. I think even if I can't maintain this level of intensity, Charli's music will always be something special to me and something I look forward to. Maybe it's my bias speaking, but there isn't anything else like it.
Thank you so much for talking with me about Charli.
I can do it all day!
Photo via Getty