As the 2020 presidential election continues its march toward voting day, many campaign staffers and politicians have been taking a page straight out of the stan culture playbook — e.g., Hillary Clinton clapping back at President Trump on Twitter and Elizabeth Warren staffers bonding together with (very questionable) matching tattoos.
No community, though, epitomizes the digital discourse around a contentious election quite like Barbz4Bernie.
Nicki Minaj stans, known as Barbz, supporting the former presidential hopeful are just like any other political interest group, except the only thing they advocate for is using Minaj lyrics to bring about progressive social change.
The Barb above is 18-year-old Anthony Padilla. The California high school student says in the video, “I’m starting the best movement of 2020. And the only movement that matters, bitch. Barbz for Bernie, bitch. Barbz for Bernie.”
And though Sanders dropped out of the race yesterday, Padilla and other Barbz4Bernie supporters will continue stanning for their Vermont king anyway. “We’re in quarantine,” he tells me. “There’s nothing else to do. It’s fun just to make videos about this.”
Padilla didn’t actually start Barbz4Bernie. Andrew, 20, who requested to remain anonymous since he hasn’t come out as gay, originated the hashtag on Twitter in December. In the process, he turned Sanders into a pop star, pairing #Barbz4Bernie with fancams, shitposts and stan vernacular to celebrate the candidate’s primary wins and rebuke his rivals for accepting money from billionaires. “Barbz4Bernie basically means that you can have fun while still advocating for human rights and supporting a good cause,” Andrew explains.
“Just because some people might not seem serious, they still know things,” Padilla adds. “A Barb knows what he’s talking about.”
To be sure, Barbz4Bernie are not Bernie Bros. They’re the bright pink light of Sanders supporters, empowered by Minaj’s ascent in the rap game to make their voice heard politically. They’re strong in numbers, too — currently, the #Barbz4Bernie hashtag has more than 34.4 million views on TikTok, while #BarbzforBernie has another 21 million. (There is — but of course — Barbz4Bernie merch for sale as well.)
As for Minaj herself, the rapper rarely speaks politically, telling Billboard in late 2019 she wants “less politics” in rap. The last politician she supported publicly was Hillary Clinton in 2016; more recently, in February, she deleted a tweet critiquing the Democrats for “playing dirty.” Not that her lack of involvement really matters. “What we’re seeing is it’s fun to bubble up support organically. So you don’t need Nicki Minaj to come out and do some viral video to have all this happen,” New York Times digital culture reporter Taylor Lorenz tells me.
Barbz4Bernie really caught on after conservative TikTokers began critiquing Sanders and his progressive followers — namely, Trump supporter Nick Lowenberg, known as @NickVideos. To defend themselves (and Bernie), several Minaj stans quickly formed their own TikTok collective, Barb Hype House. Meanwhile, they also raided the comments section of Lowenberg’s videos and spammed him with Minaj lyrics. “Barbz4Bernie is to annoy conservatives who support Trump,” Padilla explains. (Among stan communities, Barbz are admittedly divisive, known for doxxing rival fan bases and harassing music journalists.)
It might be guerrilla warfare. And again, their candidate might be no more. But the Barbz4Bernie simply refuse to stan down. As Andrew puts it, “We can help enforce change in the future.”