On Monday night, Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester, England was targeted by a suicide bomber, killing almost two dozen people, many of whom were teenagers like myself. This event almost coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. As a young, gay, Latinx man, the Pulse shooting felt like a direct attack on one of my communities. The Manchester bombing felt like an attack on another.
Long before I was able to walk into a nightclub, I found a safe haven in pop music. I waded into stan -- a portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan”-- culture in 7th grade. It sounds negative, but it’s not. The term “stan” refers to the an artist’s most dedicated fans and the communities they’ve created online. In my experience, a lot of stans tend to be young queer people like me. So we’re bonding--not just over our shared love of a celebrity--but over our shared life experiences.
As a result, stan culture and gay culture are deeply intertwined. Many stans talk about how their favorite artist’s music has impacted them, or even changed their lives. Today’s Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé are yesterday’s Madonna, Cher, and Liza Minelli. It’s through our divas that many of us find ourselves.
The bombing at an Ariana Grande concert broke my heart as a stan. It sounds cliché, but a concert can be a magical place where you immerse yourself in your obsession. For just one night, you’re surrounded in a world of people who are just like you, where you can be yourself. To so many of us, concerts act as a safe place, where we can be carefree, yet accepted. Where else can you publicly dance and scream to all the words of your favorite songs? It can make you forget the outside world for those two hours.
The victims of the Manchester bombing were mercilessly attacked in their refuge. They attended that concert for a spectacle of music, dancing, and love. They went to finally see their idol, the girl that they love, who they spend their days admiring. Like many of us, they might have been counting down the days to the concert. Because Ariana’s fan base skews young, it might have been the first concert for many of them.
It’s a jarring feeling. When our safety is attacked in our “safe space,” it’s hard to know where to go next. But as stans, we are like a family. We will move forward and heal... together.