Is The Song “Stan” By Eminem A True Story?

Eminem’s 2000 hit Stan made waves not just for its lyrical storytelling and musical complexity but also for its music video. The video, which featured British singer Dido and Devon Sawa, followed an eight-minute storyline about an obsessed fan who saw Slim Shady as the only person who could ever understand him. It changed the perimeters between music videos and short films, with the song becoming one of Eminem’s most famous tracks. But was there a real Stan, and did his story end as it did in the song? 

Background of “Stan” And Slim Shady

Eminem introduced his alter ego, sometimes called his split personality, in 2000 with the Slim Shady LP and really grew his cult of personality with the subsequent song The Real Slim Shady. Slim Shady is depicted as Eminem’s darker side, which he often battles in his quest to do the right thing. 

The Real Slim Shady

Slim Shady’s music indulges in gratuitous or violent content, including stories of rape and murder. Much of what is depicted is a fictional storyline of Eminem’s real life; for example, the song Kim is about Slim getting into a violent argument with his wife and killing her by slitting her throat. He released a follow-up song, 97 Bonnie & Clyde, about driving to dispose of his wife’s body with his infant daughter in the car. 

While Eminem’s marriage did end in divorce, his ex-wife and the mother of his daughter Hailie are alive and well; they are even said to be on good terms. In this way, Slim Shady served as a way for Eminem to entertain darker thoughts and express them in his music. 

However, the rapper always portrayed Slim Shady as someone to be fought with. In different songs, his alter ego is shown to have substance abuse issues and mental health problems, even being institutionalized and overdosing on pills at one point. Slim Shady is shown to have come from an abusive household; he has a mischievous side that leads him to do crazy public stunts such as imitate priests, streak through public spaces, and harass others. 

In his later track When I’m Gone, Eminem and Slim Shady come face-to-face, with Eminem killing Slim Shady for his crimes. 

While Eminem himself always tried to make it clear that Slim Shady was not someone to emulate, some of his fans didn’t seem to grasp his message. After introducing the alter ego, the rapper had several disturbing fan encounters that made him worry that people thought he really was Slim Shady—or even worse, that his “dark side” was a role model. The idea for “Stan” was born out of this idea.

What is “Stan” About? 

Eminem - Stan (Long Version) ft. Dido

Stan was a collaboration with English singer Dido, whose song Thank You is sampled on the track. Thank You is a repeating chorus, and Dido appears in the music video as Stan’s pregnant girlfriend. 

The song follows the story of a fan named Stan who becomes obsessed with Eminem’s violent alter ego, Slim Shady. Eminem created Slim Shady in the late 1990s as a rap persona who explored more violent and angry urges. Throughout the song, it becomes clear that Stan’s perception of reality is blurred, making him unable to distinguish between the rapper and his stage persona. 

The first three verses are written from the perspective of Stan, writing letters to the rapper. He says that he has tried to contact him multiple times but hasn’t gotten a reply yet. At first, Stan blames himself for not writing the return address clearly.

Mika-photography, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

He shares intimate details of his life, including the fact that he and his girlfriend are expecting a baby. Stan says that if the baby is a girl, he plans to name her Bonnie, a reference to Eminem’s song 97 Bonnie And Clyde. In the song, Eminem refers to himself and his daughter Hailie as Bonnie and Clyde as they drive on a fictional mission to dispose of his murdered wife’s body. The reference by Stan hints at the end of his own story and the way he relates to Slim Shady’s violent lyrics. 

As the song continues, Stan gets increasingly frustrated by the lack of response from the rapper. He mentions meeting him after a concert and asking him for an autograph only to be rejected. Other details in his letters show him relating to minute details of the rapper’s life, such as having an abusive father and being close to someone who died by suicide. He mentions that his girlfriend is frustrated because of his obsession with Slim Shady. He also expresses that he is engaging in self-harm to experience an adrenaline rush, indicating that he is suffering from severe depression and dissociation. 

The third verse shows Stan spiraling after getting no response from Eminem. He says that he has ripped all his photos off the walls and is now recording his final message on a cassette tape. The recording takes place while Stan is driving drunk and high, having locked his girlfriend in the trunk. He plans to kill them both by driving off of a bridge. As the verse ends, he realizes that he has no way to get the cassette to Eminem. 

The fourth and final verse is Eminem himself responding to Stan’s letters; he apologizes profusely for having not gotten them earlier. He also sends an autograph for Stan’s six-year-old brother Matthew, saying that he hadn’t seen them outside the show when they assumed they had been ignored. 

Lastly, the rapper shares that he is concerned by certain details in Stan’s letters. He reminds him that Slim Shady is only a stage persona and that he has never done any of the violent things he raps about. He begs him to get mental help for his obsession and self-harm, saying that he doesn’t want him to end up like a man he recently read about in the newspaper; the man locked his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk and then drove drunk off a bridge, killing them both. As the song ends, Eminem suddenly realizes the name of the man, saying “…it was you, Damn!” 

Why Did Eminem Write “Stan”?

The story of Eminem’s obsessive fan, Stan, is not a true story. However, the rapper said he was inspired to write it after receiving a series of disturbing fan letters. These made him worry that some of his followers were taking the alter ego of Slim Shady too seriously and that they needed a reminder of what was real and what wasn’t. 

The character of Stan sees Slim Shady as the true embodiment of Eminem. He interprets his violent and graphic lyrics as something to emulate, even pointing out that he is better than Slim because he simply locked his girlfriend in a trunk rather than slitting her throat (a reference to the song 97 Bonnie And Clyde, which depicts a fictional account of Slim Shady killing his wife). 

In Stan, the rapper’s too-late response urges him to get help and remember that his stage persona isn’t reality. In answer to Stan’s insistence that they belonged together and that Slim Shady was the only one who truly knew him, Eminem was dismissive. He points out that they don’t know each other at all, and Stan should look to the real people in his life, such as the mother of his child, for connection and understanding. 

So while Stan was not a real person, his attitude was one that the rapper picked up in fan mail over the course of his career. The song is a depiction of what could happen if those attitudes were taken too seriously. 

The Music Video 

The music video for Stan might be more famous than the track itself. It was directed by Dr. Dre and Philip Atwell. Released in 2000, the music video won many awards and has been called a work of art that propels Stan onto another level of history-making music. 

The video stars Devon Sawa as Stanley Mitchell, Eminem’s obsessed fan, and singer Dido as his girlfriend. Running for roughly eight minutes, it depicts Stan’s journey from megafan to someone who can no longer differentiate reality and fantasy. 

At the beginning of the music video, Stan dyes his hair blond in an attempt to look like Eminem. He smiles at his reflection as the bleach takes effect. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, who is pregnant, knocks on the bathroom door and calls his name. He angrily tells her not to call him “Stanley.” Seeing his hair, she asks if he doesn’t think he’s taking things too far; he brushes her off. 

Stan goes down to his basement, which is decorated from floor to ceiling with pictures of Eminem. The music video cuts back and forth between him as he writes a letter and Eminem himself on a tour bus, reading the letter. 

An angry fight breaks out between Stan and his girlfriend as she finds him watching one of Eminem’s music videos; meanwhile, a scene at the post office shows that Stan’s letter has fallen out of the carrier bag and been overlooked. 

Stan’s next letter is slightly angrier; the music video cuts between him writing it and clips of himself and his six-year-old brother Matthew waiting outside to ask Eminem for an autograph after a concert. However, the rapper’s security detail pushes them aside. At another event, Stan and his brother meet Eminem and Stan reminds him that he promised to write back to him. He accuses the rapper of lying to him; nevertheless, he gets a tattoo on his chest that says “Slim Shady.”

Stan replaces photos of himself and his girlfriend with pictures of Eminem, saying that they belong together and no one else could possibly understand him. 

In the middle of the night, Stan’s girlfriend finds his basement room with the pictures of Eminem, including the photo where he replaced her image with that of the rapper. She is horrified, but Stan finds her and grabs her. 

At last, Stan records his final message to Eminem on a cassette, having drunk “a fifth of vodka.” He is barrelling down the freeway in heavy rain. He references the song In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins and mentions a popular urban legend at the time, which stated that Collins wrote the song after witnessing someone refuse to help a drowning victim. Stan compares his situation to the urban legend, saying that Eminem could have saved him. 

Flashbacks show Stan destroying his shrine to the rapper by ripping all the photos down and destroying his television with a baseball bat. As he crashes through the barricade, Stan realizes that he has no way of sending his final message to Eminem; the car barrels off the bridge and into the river. 

As the video ends, the scene returns to Eminem reading Stan’s letter, and we realize that he received it too late. Eminem’s response is cut with scenes of rescue divers retrieving Stan’s submerged car and his mother and brother standing by his grave. Police retrieve his cassette tape from the submerged car. As Stan’s brother stands by his grave, he removes his hood to show that he, too, has dyed his hair blond, showing that Stan has passed on his obsession. As Eminem realizes what has happened, Stan’s ghost stares at him through the window. 

Legacy of “Stan”

Both the track and the music video for Stan made a lasting impression on the music industry. Critics praised Eminem’s lyrical prowess and the use of Dido’s sample as well as the sound effects of heavy rain and frantic writing. Both the song and the video were nominated for a variety of awards at the MTV Video Music Awards, BET Awards, and MTV Europe Music Awards. It also won Best International Music Video at the 2001 iHeartRadio Much Music Video Awards. 

The music video is often referred to as a short film, clocking in at just over eight minutes. The song received heavy censorship during radio plays and television broadcasts. Censors removed vulgarity as well as references to alcohol and drug use; during the airing of the music video, references to Stan’s girlfriend in the trunk as well as audio of her screaming were removed entirely. 

Music critics consider Stan a turning point for music videos across genres; up until that point, they had largely been focused on entertainment rather than storytelling. It blurred the lines between a music video and a film, expertly shifting perspectives between Stan, his girlfriend, and the rapper. 

It was also praised for its depiction of mental illness, possibly borderline personality disorder. In fact, the music video has been used by university professors to teach psychology students about borderline personality disorder, as Stan is considered an ideal example: he experienced trauma, engages in black-and-white thinking, oscillates between intense emotions, engages in self-harm, and more.

Thanks to the song, the term “Stan” has become common slang for an intense, diehard fan, especially one who takes their fandom to extremes. It is well-known and used in the hip hop industry. In modern parlance, it can also be used as a verb to mean “enthusiastically support.”

“Bad Guy” 

DoD News Features, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2013, Eminem provided a sequel to Stan with his song, Bad Guy. The song follows Stan’s little brother Matthew, who was mentioned several times in the first track. Now grown up, Matthew plans to take revenge on Eminem for his brother’s death, for which he blames the rapper. 

The first part of the song follows a stream of consciousness from the adult Matthew, who thinks back on his brother and wonders if he was simply supposed to forget him. He says that after all this time, he can’t stop thinking about Stan; every time he hears mention of Eminem, the memories come back. 

Stan has clearly passed his obsession onto his brother, who has spent more than a decade nursing a grudge against Eminem. He blames him for never answering Stan’s letters and for brushing him off during autograph signings, which he believes drove his brother to his death. 

As the song continues, it follows Matthew as he stalks Eminem to his address, then breaks into his house. Like many of the Slim Shady tracks, Bad Guy indulges in following a violent fantasy that is a fictionalized version of Eminem’s own life. Matthew chloroforms the rapper and throws him in the trunk of his car, which he says is the ultimate irony considering what Stan did to his girlfriend. 

Matthew drives Eminem around Detroit while listening to his album in the car. He points out the further irony of their similarities, especially in their initials (Matthew Mitchell and Marshall Mathers); the theme of the Mitchell brothers seeking to identify with Eminem continues across both songs. 

Matthew plans to bury Eminem alive and ponders whether he should put him beside Stan’s body or somewhere else. However, as police flag him for speeding, he changes the plan. With his lines, “Big bro it’s for you,” and his repetition of Stan’s line, “Gotta go, almost at the bridge.” The implication is that Matthew drove off a bridge with Eminem in the trunk, just as his older brother had driven off the bridge with his girlfriend in the trunk. Other interpretations have Eminem waking up and managing to fight Matthew off.

Critics reacted positively to Bad Guy, lauding the skilled storytelling; Eminem seamlessly continued the story of Stan and what happens when mental illness turns into obsession and goes untreated for too long.

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