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The Long, Complicated Shadow of ‘Stan’

Eminem’s 2001 duet with Elton John remains one of the Grammy’s greatest moments, capturing the rapper at the height of his popularity. But the song’s meaning, and the reasons behind the two artists’ collaboration, has resonated even longer

Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong grew up in a creative family. Her father a book publisher and her mother a poet, she developed an interest in music as child. “I was that kid trying to write songs using the chords from Beethoven symphonies,” she’d say years later. She dug folk music but also Wham! — after all, she came of age in the 1980s. “I was a big hair, pastel-pink lipstick, proper Duran Duran fan,” she recalled. “Then Madonna came along and I wanted to be her.”

Armstrong started recording under the name Dido, putting together demos in the mid-1990s. She was part of a group of ethereal, slightly folky and slightly electronic U.K. recording artists, like Beth Orton, who were all the rage at the time. And her first album, No Angel, was a hit, featuring the dreamy “Here With Me,” which accentuated her warm, breathy singing style. Then there was “Thank You,” which evoked the bedroom poetry of 1980s singer-songwriters such as Suzanne Vega. “It’s literally one of those songs that took me only a few minutes to write,” Dido said. “I was just sitting there thinking, ‘I’m going to write a song about having a shit day, and then one person, or anything — it doesn’t matter — makes it all okay.” She swore “Thank You” wasn’t autobiographical. “It’s not necessarily about one specific person,” she insisted. “It’s about anyone who has something that makes them happy and just being thankful for that one small thing that actually makes your life good. It’s that simple.”

“Thank You” was elegant coffeehouse folk: guitar, keyboards, some slight percussion. You could imagine it on a movie soundtrack, which it was. (It appears during the end credits of the Gwyneth Paltrow romantic drama Sliding Doors.) It’s a very pleasant, comforting song, and it did well for Dido, going to No. 3 in both the U.K. and the U.S. 

And then Eminem got his hands on it. 

The Grammys are next Sunday, which will no doubt prompt plenty of listicles, including a rundown of the broadcast’s best, most infamous performances. I don’t know where “Stan” would rank, but it has to be somewhere near the top. Arriving at a crucial moment in Eminem’s career, his 2001 duet with Elton John legitimized his artistry and cemented his place in the pop firmament — a place he’s never fully relinquished since. A song about an obsessive fan that went on to give the world a name for obsessive fandom, “Stan” showed off Eminem’s talent for storytelling and provocation, but also vulnerability and compassion. Even if you couldn’t stand him — this belligerent white rapper with the violent, homophobic lyrics and juvenile videos — “Stan” felt like the work of a mature artist. It’s far from his biggest hit. It’s among his finest moments.

Born in 1972 in Missouri, Marshall Mathers spent time in North Dakota as an infant before moving to Detroit. His parents didn’t stay together long, his dad moving to California, leaving his mother Debbie to raise him. He was bullied and beaten up in school, and (as he would later claim in his music) his mom was a drug abuser. It was not a happy childhood. “Whenever something good happens, the bad always follows,” he would later claim. “That’s the story of my life since the day I was born.” 

His sanctuary was creativity. He loved comic books. He really loved hip hop. “I was a smart kid, but I hated school,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2000. “I failed ninth grade three times. I just wanted to rap. I’d go to friends’ houses and rap, or I’d stay in my room all day, standing by the mirror and lip-syncing songs, trying on different clothes, trying to look cool. I knew every song by LL [Cool J] and Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys.” Black kids wondered who this white boy was who thought he could rhyme, but soon his skills were self-evident when he’d battle classmates in the lunchroom. Inspired to pursue a career, he called himself Eminem, putting out Infinite in 1996 on a Detroit record label but failing to get much attention. The more ferocious, cutting lyrical style he’d later be known for wasn’t yet evident — the music wasn’t nearly as arresting, and there was a dull earnestness to his material. 

“It was right before my daughter was born, so having a future for her was all I talked about,” Eminem admitted to Rolling Stone about Infinite. “It was way hip-hopped out, like Nas and AZ — that rhyme style that was [popular] at the time. I’ve always been a smart-ass comedian, and that’s why it wasn’t a good album.” Mad that locals dissed him as a lightweight, he vowed to do better next time, coming up with his Slim Shady alter ego — the violent, irreverent wild card — while sitting on the toilet. “After [Infinite], every rhyme I wrote got angrier and angrier,” he said. “A lot of it was because of the feedback I got. Motherfuckers was like, ‘You’re a white boy, what the fuck are you rapping for? Why don’t you go into rock ‘n’ roll?’ All that type of shit started pissing me off.”

The results were an EP that got him noticed by, among others, Dr. Dre, the pioneering L.A. hip-hop artist who’d left N.W.A behind to focus on a solo career, mapping out the stoned, laidback menace of West Coast rap on 1992’s The Chronic. Dre was turned onto Eminem by a trusted colleague, influential record executive Jimmy Iovine. He had stopped by Iovine’s house, getting ready to take off when Iovine stopped him. “I said, ‘Before you leave, take this. It’s a white rapper who sounds like his pants are on fire. He’s one pissed-off white guy,’” Iovine said. “He says, ‘Okay, I’ll check it out’ — Dre says about six words a day. He calls me when he gets home: ‘Have this kid out here on Monday.’”

Their first collaboration was 1999’s The Slim Shady LP, a volatile, often dynamic mixture of anger and humor. Coming out at a time when Limp Bizkit were helping popularize rap-rock, showing how a young generation of white kids had been shaped by hip hop, the record found Eminem making fun of the Spice Girls while telling the audience how messed-up his childhood was. On the big hit, “My Name Is,” he cracked jokes, mostly about himself, and proudly declared he had no interest in being a role model. “I don’t give a fuck,” he rapped. “God sent me to piss the world off.” 

There was nothing in rap in the late 1990s that was as funny as The Slim Shady LP, but the seriousness of Eminem’s craft (and the peerlessness of Dre’s beats) was undeniable. Hip-hop had seen a few white rappers by that point, but they tended to be mocked as Vanilla Ice-like lightweights. Eminem was different: A motor-mouthed, troubled young man who loved the art form and had grown up having to prove to his Black classmates that he was legit. Plus, he had a compelling personal narrative — a kid raised in poverty who endured a chaotic family life, first with his mom and then with his on-again/off-again romantic partner Kim, the mother of his daughter Hailie — that connected with audiences. The Slim Shady LP went to No. 2 and made him a star. In that Rolling Stone profile, Dre predicted even greater heights for his protégé. “If he remains the same person that walked into the studio with me that first day, he will be fucking larger than Michael Jackson,” he said. “There are a lot of ifs and buts, but my man, he’s dope and very humble.”

Around the same time, Dido was enjoying the success of No Angel when Eminem and his people got in touch. “I got this letter out of the blue one day,” Dido later recalled. “It said, ‘We like your album, we’ve used this track. Hope you don’t mind, and hope you like it.’ When they sent [the song] to me and I played it in my hotel room, I was like, ‘Wow! This track’s amazing.’”

The story goes that hip-hop producer the 45 King heard “Thank You” while hanging out at home. A commercial for Sliding Doors came on television featuring the Dido song, instantly catching his ear. “I taped it [off the TV], I took it downstairs to the basement, I looped it up,” he said. “Added a bassline and drum tracks.” On “Thank You,” Dido sketched out a portrait of a narrator who’s down in the dumps. She can barely get out of bed, it’s a rainy day, she’s got bills to pay. But there’s one ray of sunshine: “Your picture on my wall / It reminds me that it’s not so bad,” she sings. Whoever this person is, he makes life worthwhile for her:

I want to thank you 
For giving me the best day of my life 
Oh, just to be with you 
Is having the best day of my life

But when Eminem heard the 45 King’s track, which incorporated Dido singing about “Your picture on my wall,” he didn’t feel comfort or reassurance. “‘This is about an obsessed fan’ — that’s all I kept thinking,” Eminem said.

Eminem has said that “Stan” wasn’t based on actual events. But the song’s narrative detail and immediacy made listeners think otherwise. One of the tracks on the follow-up to The Slim Shady LP, dubbed The Marshall Mathers LP, “Stan” is the tale of a slowly mentally deteriorating fan who’s writing to his favorite artist. In the voice of Stan, Eminem constructs three verses consisting of three correspondences he sends (or tries to send) to Slim Shady. The first is relatively benign, although we sense that the guy is a little obsessive, constantly trying to reach out to Slim and wondering why the rapper isn’t writing back. Stan feels a deep connection to Slim’s music but, more importantly, Slim’s personal story. 

What’s been up, man? 
How’s your daughter? 
My girlfriend’s pregnant too, I’m ‘bout to be a father 
If I have a daughter, guess what I’ma call her? 
I’ma name her Bonnie

That last line is a sly reference to the Slim Shady LP track “‘97 Bonnie & Clyde,” in which the “Bonnie” is Eminem’s daughter Hailie, who accompanies him while he disposes of her mother Kim’s body. Calling himself “your biggest fan,” Stan has all of Eminem’s early stuff and clearly has read a bunch about the rapper — these were the early days of the internet — and wants to talk to him. But over the next two verses, the plot grows darker, with Eminem voicing Stan in an increasingly angrier and more unhinged way. Stan is mad that Slim didn’t sign an autograph for his six-year-old brother. He’s indignant that Slim won’t write him back. And he desperately wants Slim to know how much he, alone, understands him: “See, I’m just like you in a way / I never knew my father neither / He used to always cheat on my mom and beat her.” Stan opens up about his struggles — “Sometimes I even cut myself to see how much it bleeds” — and ends his note by declaring, “P.S. We should be together too.” And yet Eminem won’t respond, Dido’s chorus serving as a sad, melodic rejoinder — or, perhaps more accurately, a glimpse of Stan’s fragile mental state. 

By the third verse, everything has gone wrong, with Stan “on a thousand downers” as he tells Slim that he’s got his girlfriend tied up in his trunk as he’s driving, her terrified screams heard in the background. But Stan is ignoring her, too focused on feeling jilted by his hero:

I loved you, Slim, we coulda been together 
Think about it, you ruined it now!
I hope you can’t sleep and you dream about it!
And when you dream I hope you can’t sleep and you scream about it!
I hope your conscience eats at you and you can’t breathe without me!

Suddenly, we hear a car crash and the sound of a vehicle falling into the river, a queasy reminder of “‘97 Bonnie & Clyde.” The starkness of that plot twist — and the uncertainty about what exactly occurred — is chilling, but we don’t get any more clues, just Dido singing again. What happened? Eminem doesn’t know — in fact, when he finally shows up at the end of the song to write Stan back, he has no idea that a tragedy has taken place. Apologizing for his slow response — “I meant to write you sooner, but I just been busy” — he sends Stan some tough love, telling him not to be so intense and advising him to get counseling for his problems. Only slowly does it dawn on Eminem that the story he read recently about a guy who died in a car accident with his pregnant girlfriend must have been Stan. 

Artists have chronicled the perils of stardom for decades, sometimes zeroing in on their uncomfortable relationship with intrusive fans. The 1980 murder of John Lennon by a disturbed supporter heightened that anxiety, prompting films such as the satiric character study The King of Comedy, in which Robert De Niro played an untalented, unwell stand-up, Rupert Pupkin, who stalks his idol, a Johnny Carson-esque talk-show host (Jerry Lewis). “Stan” was sort of the musical equivalent, a thorny first-person narrative that forced you to identify with a troubled main character. But where De Niro’s comic almost immediately revealed himself to be someone worth avoiding, Stan seems likable enough initially — it’s one of Eminem’s masterstrokes that he methodically lays out more and more details that begin to give us a sense of the depth of Stan’s mental illness. By the time we realize how bad off Stan is, the unimaginable is about to happen.

I have great fondness for The King of Comedy, but I think “Stan” is the more layered and self-critical work. Stan may be dangerous to himself and others, but he’s not observed from a distance the way Rupert is. Because it’s Eminem singing Stan’s thoughts, he embodies this character from the inside — the rapper uses his natural charm to get us on Stan’s side. By voicing a fan’s mindset, Eminem steps into the worldview of one of his supporters — an extreme supporter, to be sure, but nonetheless giving voice to this guy’s anguish and humanity. The King of Comedy recoiled at Rupert’s compulsive behavior, but “Stan” is compassionate, which makes the outcome that much more chilling and heartbreaking. 

“The song is about an obsessed fan who keeps writing me and tells me he’s taking everything I say on the record literally,” Eminem said in the L.A. Times piece. “He’s crazy for real and he thinks I’m crazy, but I try to help him at the end of the song. It kinda shows the real side of me.” 

I’m so curious what he means by that last sentence, but however you want to parse his remark, I think it’s fair to say that “Stan” communicates something profound about Eminem’s understanding of how his work affects listeners — as well as his acknowledgment that he shares their struggles. Without necessarily saying it, “Stan” suggests that maybe if Eminem had written Stan back sooner, none of this would have happened. Is it Eminem’s fault? No, but the song’s unresolved ending — Eminem figures out what became of Stan, but what does he do next? — eats at you. 

In Eminem’s verse, he freaks out about Stan’s declaration of love: “What’s this shit about us ‘meant to be together’? / That type of shit’ll make me not want us to meet each other.” Is Stan gay? Possibly, but I always interpreted it more as a sign of Stan’s unhealthy fixation on Slim Shady — he wants to be Slim. Nonetheless, when the heavily-hyped Marshall Mathers LP hit stores in May 2000 — only about 15 months after The Slim Shady LP — the song was but one example of what seemed to be a vile homophobic attitude on the record. On the album-closing kiss-off “Criminal,” Eminem takes on all his haters, singling out members of the gay community:

My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge 
That’ll stab you in the head
Whether you’re a f** or lez 
Or a homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest 
Pants or dress, hate f***? 
The answer’s yes 
Homophobic? Nah, you’re just heterophobic 
Starin’ at my jeans, watchin’ my genitals bulgin’ 
That’s my motherfuckin’ balls
You’d better let go of ‘em 
They belong in my scrotum
You’ll never get hold of ‘em!

GLAAD denounced him, sending out a statement that said, “Eminem’s lyrics are soaked with violence and full of negative comments about many groups, including lesbians and gay men. Such disregard for others can lead to discrimination, physical abuse and even death.” The group also condemned Eminem’s record label for promoting “such defamatory material that encourages violence and hatred. This is especially negligent when considering the market for this music has been shown to be adolescent males, the very group that statistically commits the most hate crimes.”

This was hardly the only criticism lobbed at The Marshall Mathers LP, with others objecting to Eminem’s casual depiction of killing people such as his wife Kim. But the homophobia was perhaps the album’s most galling element, an insensitivity rampant across hip hop. (Eminem’s buddy Dr. Dre has definitely shown his own misogynistic and homophobic tendencies, too.) Eminem has never been great in addressing these criticisms: Years later, while defending his use of a six-letter homophobic epithet on 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, the rapper explained that, growing up in Detroit’s rap-battle culture, “[That word] was more like calling someone a bitch or a punk or asshole. So that word was just thrown around so freely back then. It goes back to that battle, back and forth in my head, of wanting to feel free to say what I want to say, and then [worrying about] what may or may not affect people. … I poke fun at other people, myself. But the real me sitting here right now talking to you has no issues with gay, straight, transgender, at all. I’m glad we live in a time where it’s really starting to feel like people can live their lives and express themselves. And I don’t know how else to say this, I still look at myself the same way that I did when I was battling and broke.”

Supporters of freedom of speech jumped to Eminem’s defense, with influential Village Voice music critic (and staunch Eminem fan) Robert Christgau arguing, while acknowledging the rapper’s homophobia, “Explicitly and unmistakably, there for any person with a 90 IQ to understand, [‘Criminal’] is about words’ power to cause pain.” 

But such perspectives hardly mollified groups like GLAAD, especially after Eminem was nominated for multiple Grammys for The Marshall Mathers LP, including Album of the Year. The record, boosted by the hit single “The Real Slim Shady,” was 2000’s second-highest-selling record, behind only NSYNC’s No Strings Attached. Eminem was as popular as the boy bands and the female pop stars, like Britney Spears, but his antagonism and warning-label lyrics made him far edgier than his peers. “I’m in all the songs, but you might not see me at first,” he told the L.A. Times. “I think a lot of what you see in the record depends a lot on who’s looking. No two people are going to see the same thing in it. I think some people get it, and some people don’t have a clue. My fans get it. I don’t give a [expletive] about anybody else.”

But as the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards, which were to be held February 21, 2001, loomed on the horizon, GLAAD announced it would be protesting the ceremony. In a statement, GLAAD executive director Joan M. Garry said, “Eminem’s hate-filled lyrics have not only brought many people together in opposition, they’ve also raised the issue of corporate responsibility for marketing this kind of product.” But Eminem was set to perform during the show — how would he respond?

The idea for Elton John to duet with the rapper on “Stan” was Eminem’s idea after hearing John sing the rapper’s praises in interviews. “I read the articles where he actually had my back on stuff, and it was cool,” Eminem said. “I was like, ‘Okay, well, I really respect Elton.’” And John, one of the most prominent and celebrated gay artists in the history of pop music, was happy to perform with him. “I’m a big fan of his music, and I said I would be delighted to,” John said a couple weeks before the Grammys. “I know I’m going to get a lot of flak from various people who are going to picket the show. … I’d rather tear down walls between people than build them up. If I thought for one minute that he was [hateful], I wouldn’t do it. … I want to work with him because he’s the most exciting artist around today. I’m looking forward to the evening.”

The news, which ruined the surprise Eminem had initially conceived the duet to be, ensured that their performance would be the show’s most-anticipated moment. And it delivered.

With John taking over for Dido, “Stan” retained its intimacy on stage, Eminem showing off his remarkable vocal skills as he dramatized Stan’s descent into despair in real time. Focused and controlled, the live “Stan” got its first sizable applause when John begins singing, the audience recognizing a living legend. But as the song’s narrative tension grows, leading to its awful ending, Eminem helped shoot down a few misconceptions. The first was that hip hop couldn’t translate in concert. Another was that rap was just guys cursing. (The censored version of his lyrics that Eminem performed were still incredibly evocative, sketching out the Stan character entirely through his own monologue.) And for those who accused Eminem of appropriating a Black art form, he revealed the extent of his artistry. 

Truth is, I never loved The Marshall Mathers LP. I found its tirades tiresome, its taunts at other musicians sophomoric. But “Stan” always knocked me for a loop — it was the one moment where the guy God sent to piss the world off actually showed some soul. And that vulnerable essence was preserved in the Grammy performance — even if Eminem responded to the crowd’s long ovation by flipping them the bird.

As much as John’s appearance on stage with Eminem helped the rapper, the hug they shared after the song was probably just as significant. “If I didn’t make a statement with Elton John tonight, I don’t know what else to do,” Eminem said after the show. “I came to make an impact, I came to make a statement, and I guess to piss some people off. … I think the biggest impact came in seeing us onstage together.” Ironically, when the duet came together, Eminem hadn’t known John was gay. “I didn’t know anything about his personal life,” the rapper said. “I didn’t really care, but being that he was gay and he had my back, I think it made a statement in itself saying that he understood where I was coming from.”

“Stan” was No. 1 in several countries, including the U.K., although here in the States it never even cracked the Top 40. The video starred Dido as Stan’s (Devon Sawa) traumatized girlfriend. (“He was so brilliant, and so convincing, and so real,” she later said of her intense co-star, “all I had to do was react to how brilliant he was.”) But where other songs earn a kind of immortality because of all the cover versions they inspire or by their memorable placement in an indelible film, “Stan” took hold of the culture in another way. 

A year after The Marshall Mathers LP was released, Nas was dissing Jay-Z on the song “Ether,” proclaiming, “You a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a Stan.” That was only the beginning of society’s adoption of “stan” as a euphemism for a super-fan, a combination of the words “stalker” and “fan.” As Stereogum’s Chris DeVille wrote in 2020 about the evolution of stanning, “This can manifest as a frivolous display of fleeting devotion, like when any person anywhere behaves in any appealing way and some online observer declares they ‘have no choice but to stan.’ It can be applied to most kinds of dedicated appreciation — ‘I stan’ as shorthand ‘I’m way into this.’ But ‘stan’ now most commonly refers to a hyper-online culture of extreme fandom, many of them with artist-specific monikers like Swifties, Arianators, Beliebers, or, God forbid, Sheerios. All fan groups are prone to exhibiting stan behavior, but it particularly thrives in the pop realm thanks to its vast scale and built-in hero worship.”

As DeVille points out, we now live in a world where fandom often has a dark undercurrent: Like Stan, lovers of, say, Star Wars think the object of their affection owes them something. It’s an unhealthy, very public obsession, with fan bases sometimes believing they dictate the terms of the relationship. (Look no further than how some of Mitski’s supporters went after her for daring to ask they not use their phones during her shows.) Simultaneously, Eminem’s portrait of mental illness has only grown in stature over the years as there’s become more recognition and compassion for those dealing with suicidal ideation, depression and addiction. Eminem often claims that listeners shouldn’t take his lyrics literally — he likes to joke or craft elaborate fantasies — but “Stan” cuts deeper because it feels very real, even if it’s entirely invented, hitting on a universal condition. Maybe we don’t all stan, but we all can appreciate the need to have someone understand us. Ultimately, it’s what “Thank You” and “Stan” have in common: They’re both songs about trying to connect with another person.

It’s been more than 20 years since “Stan.” John has remained friends with Eminem, continuing to defend the rapper while pushing him to abandon the homophobic rhymes. That said, Eminem’s impish sense of humor remains, and it’s something John clearly loves about him. In fact, the pianist recalled that when he and longtime partner David Furnish got married, Eminem sent him a cheeky gift. “It shows you how homophobic he isn’t — we had two diamond-encrusted cock rings on velvet cushion,” John said. “And I have to say, they have remained unused.” 

As for Dido, she enjoyed a fresh wave of popularity thanks to “Stan,” although at the time she confessed, “I do find it hard to believe that someone would rush off and buy my album after just hearing that small bit in Eminem’s song.” About a decade later, she had her son, who she just so happened to name Stanley, guaranteeing a future in which she’d have to keep insisting it wasn’t because of Eminem. “When I was a teenager, I was with my mate, I remember sitting on a wall, and they were like, ‘What are you going to call your kid?’ and I was like, ‘Stanley,’” Dido once said. “Bizarrely, when I met my husband, that was the name that was his favorite for different reasons.” 

Anyone who hears “Thank You” now probably thinks of “Stan,” but Dido said in 2019 that her original “is a happy song for me. It’s so funny. I still love singing it, which is a relief, because I can’t not sing it. It would be a nightmare if you had a song that you were like, ‘Oh, my God. I never wanna sing that again.’ It just creates this little bit of magic. It’s just got such a nice vibe, and people have told me so many lovely stories about what it meant for them, or maybe they played it at their wedding, or whatever. That song sort of went on such a journey, and took me on such a crazy journey.”

Eminem has had his ups and down, winning an Oscar for “Lose Yourself,” fighting substance abuse, reemerging as a hitmaker, taking the stage with Dre and others for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show. He’s now 49, his longevity a surprise to many, including the younger Eminem, who didn’t necessarily see a substantial career ahead for him. “I want to keep making records as long as I can,” he said in 2000, “but I don’t know how long you can be taken seriously in rap. There might be an age limit on it, if you know what I mean. I probably eventually will move over into producing.” 

It’s hard to explain to people who weren’t there at the time what a huge deal Eminem was. He’s still massively popular, of course, but it’s different: He’s no longer dangerous, no longer someone who scandalizes parents and inflames moral watchdogs. He’s just a middle-aged rapper with a huge audience. (And recently, he’s had his own run-ins with aggressive fans: A home intruder broke into his house in 2020.) In the early 2000s, though, he seemed like a rebel, his attitudes a shock to the mainstream. He appealed to a young fan base because he was young himself: juvenile, confused by the world, nursing angers from childhood he hadn’t yet processed. He channeled adolescent male rage, giving impressionable listeners an outlet for their own issues, whether it was with women or mental health. The clarity and wit of his rancor spoke to millions. 

When Eminem talked to Rolling Stone for that 1999 profile, he discussed his then-new album, The Slim Shady LP, which included inflammatory subject matter including domestic violence and drug abuse. But he refused to apologize. “My album isn’t for younger kids to hear,” Eminem said. “It has an advisory sticker, and you must be 18 to get it. That doesn’t mean younger kids won’t get it, but I’m not responsible for every kid out there. I’m not a role model, and I don’t claim to be.”

It’s an argument many artists and athletes make: I’m just doing a job, I’m not here to raise your children for you. But not long after, Eminem would take a more nuanced approach regarding this debate. “Stan” was about one of those young people who listened to Eminem, looked up to him, connected with what he had to say. Was Eminem responsible for him? Did Stan’s actions reflect on Eminem? What do artists owe their fans? When does fans’ devotion cross over into something dark and ugly? Because “Stan” doesn’t provide answers, we’ve had to keep pondering these questions ourselves. 

What sits at the heart of that harrowing, melancholy song is a tension I think we all feel, famous or not. How much can we help other people? What small things can we do that might make a big difference in their lives? On one sad, lonely day, Dido wrote a song about someone who perked up her mood. Eminem turned that into another song, this one about not being able to be there for somebody in need. We all reside in the gap between “Thank You” and “Stan.” Sometimes we’re able to help, sometimes we’re not. Sometimes we’re the one being called upon, sometimes we’re the one hanging by a thread.