On April 22, Carson Lott, a UA freshman majoring in economics, created a Nicki Minaj stan account on Instagram called @bamabarbz.
The account was inspired by @emorybarbz, a similar account created at Emory University. It all started with some simple Nicki Minaj memes photoshopped in front of the UA buildings. By the end of the summer, the page had over 1,000 followers, generated more fan accounts and teamed up with Icon, Tuscaloosa’s only LGBTQ bar, for a themed party.
“I didn’t really expect it to get the kind of traction it did, but this campus is more diverse than it looks from the brochure,” Lott said.
This collection of AU-centric fan accounts is the product of the broader stan culture of the internet: communities of engaged super fans spanning social media platforms, especially Twitter.
They identify with nicknames linked to a certain artist, such as Barbz for Nicki Minaj, Swifties for Taylor Swift and Pharbz for Phoebe Bridgers. Except toxic elements these fan bases can sometimes face organized harassment, intimidation and body shame, they bring together a shared cultural understanding and perspective that has imbued a unique Alabama flair to create a new and vibrant community on campus.
“It’s special because it’s so different from what you would consider the University of Alabama to be,” said Valerie Allen, a freshman majoring in musical theater and creator of @uapharbz, a stan account of Phoebe Bridgers. “As I walked in, I thought I would be very outcast and alone, but when I saw these stories and created my own, I realized there were a lot more people like me.”
Online stan communities have some common traits: inside jokes, shared language and phrases, even some political worldviews. These qualities foster the unique connection and culture shared among those who make them up.
“Even though there aren’t a lot of people following my account, there are a lot of people following these same three accounts. It’s so interesting that there are just a lot of people with the same interests, the same humor, just like me, ”Allen said. “I’m not the only one making these stupid jokes; it’s funny.”
This community of like-minded Phoebe Bridgers fans was seen last week when Bridgers performed at Avondale Brewing Company in Birmingham, Alabama. Even with thunder looming and the sky dark, hordes of fans from as far away as Nebraska gathered in a line that wrapped around the entire block and onto the street.
Avy Whaley, a senior business specialist, drove herself and her two friends from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to see Bridgers.
The desire to meet like-minded people on campus – especially after a school year of virtual learning – was the primary motivation for second-year criminal justice student Camryn McGaha to create the @bamaswifties account, a Taylor Swift stan account.
“The past year has been really bad for most people. The freshman year during COVID was not a good one, ”McGaha said. “Music is very personal, and I think if you relate to someone’s music you will probably hear each other.”
The Stan culture around these specific fan bases is also tied to LGBTQ culture. Much of the terminology and the aesthetic seen in modern stan communities can be attributed specifically to black queer culture.
This connection goes back decades to artists such as Judy Garland, which was very followed by the LGBTQ community. Today it has taken even more root in pop music, with Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj having massive fan bases in queer spaces. It was this connection that, in part, led to the “Barbz Night” premiere at Icon in August.
“We had been interacting on Instagram for a while and they had talked about doing a Barbz dance,” said Kyle Richardson, owner of Icon. “So I said, ‘What about a Barbz party at Icon? And it all took off from there.
Since then, Icon has hosted a Swifties party and two Barbz parties. For the most recent Barbz event, Lott and Richardson used the cover charge collected at the door as a charitable fundraiser. In total, they raised $ 500 for the Southern Equality Campaign, an LGBTQ-centric charity that advocates for civil liberties, organizes grassroots community organizations, and provides health care resources across the country. South.
Richardson attributed the success of the events to the community the Accounts have built. The accounts and their connection to Icon and the LGBTQ community have created a space for expression for those who are under-represented on the University campus as a whole.
“I really didn’t know how many gay people went here,” Allen said. “There aren’t really a lot of safe or diverse spaces here. Icon is one of the only places you can really go and be openly gay with your openly gay friends.
Lott, McGaha and Allen all said they were surprised but incredibly proud of the widespread reception the accounts received. They all told stories of being recognized or approached on campus by people they had never met, excited to finally meet the person behind the Instagram page.
Related testimonies from universities across the country followed and interacted with them, from the University of Montevallo in Alabama to schools in Michigan or Washington. Together, they have formed a united and connected community of thousands of people.
“We’ve created a kind of counter-culture, but I don’t feel like I’m making it my own. It belongs to all of us, ”said Lott. “Roll Tide, stream Nicki.”