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Behind the Mic: The story of Eminem's pop smash 'Stan'

Chances are if you approach any non-hip hop fan about their favourite song, they will likely end up placing their finger on the pulse of Eminem’s ‘Stan’. The music is so ubiquitous with pop culture that it is hard to ignore. Featuring on Em’s sophomore record The Marshall Mathers LP, the single catapulted the already extremely famous Eminem into a brand new scope of the mainstream. This wasn’t rap anymore; it was pop.

The song ultimately transcended the genre and became a global phenomenon. Legendary hip hop DJ Funkmaster Flex said of the song: “I have to say ‘Stan’ is my favourite because I still listen to ‘Stan’ and wonder if there’s going to be a different ending, I don’t know. I swear, I catch something different in the song every time.” The track delivers a poignant narrative that became a pop smash.

There’s a good reason too. Though up until this point, Eminem had been making his name on complex rhyming structures and the shock and awe of his explosive sentiments, this song relied not only on a slick pop hook from neo-soul singer Dido but provided an image of Eminem’s kinder side — even if the song did deal with a strange and violent character in Stan.

Now becoming a by-word for obsession and adoration, the song frames Stan as the ultimate Eminem fan. Written as a series of letters, Stan slowly loses his love for the iconic rapper as he endures what he sees as complete ignorance. As the letters become more vitriolic and violent, Stan’s sanity begins to slip away, and his frustration is directed towards his pregnant girlfriend. After Stan delivers his last letter, a tape recording that begins “Dear, Mr I’m Too Big to Call and Write My Fans!”, finally Eminem receives his letters and writes back until he realises the tragedy he had witnessed on the TV was Stan.

It’s one of Eminem’s most potent songs and, alongside the excellent hook from Dido’s song ‘Thank You’, it provides one of the clearest narratives the rapper has delivered. Speaking to Rolling Stone, Eminem opened up about the character of Stan: “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.”

It’s a notion that Dido later confirmed when discussing meeting the rapper: “People confuse him with the characters in his songs,” she told The Guardian. “It’s like Stephen King. He does some scary shit, and it’s warped beyond belief. But it’s not real. I got close enough to Eminem to know that he’s not misogynist or homophobic.”

Though the track provided a sincere and severe story, it was perhaps the video for the track that gained the most attention. The storyline plays out with Dido in the role of Stan’s pregnant girlfriend and features disturbing and unwelcomed images of obsession and infatuation. Ending with a lightning strike to punctuate Em’s realisation, we see the picture of Stan glaring back at us. It’s one of Eminem‘s finest artistic creations, and while it indeed became a part of the pop conversation, it’s hard not to recognise it as a wonderful song.