Alexander Summerfield received some terrible news at the beginning of the month: It’s the longest ever wait for a Rihanna album. The Barbadian icon released her first seven albums in eights years before a three-year pause let up by 2016’s Anti. The start of April marked three years and two months since Anti.
The day Summerfield heard of the unwanted milestone, Rihanna had posted a glamour shot for her new Fenty bronzer on Instagram. Summerfield wasn’t feeling so warm, angrily commenting, “I don’t give a fuck how many people think I’m crazy for saying this. YOU. SAID. WE WOULDN’T. HAVE. TO. WAIT. AS. LONG. AS. WE. DID. FOR. ANTI. I love u sis but get it TOGETHER,” he said in part.
Reflecting on his impassioned plea weeks later, Summerfield, who runs the popular fan art account @navyukedits, admits he “probably should have written it out before posting.” But he doesn’t regret his tone: “The shade in my comments tends to be what draws people to liking it.” Sure enough, his comment racked up 109 likes.
As a member of the Rihanna Navy, Summerfield is well-versed in stan culture. But for the past few years, social media fandoms have largely come under attack for vicious hate. Pete Davidson received death threats by Arianators after his breakup with Ariana Grande, while the Barbz had writer Wanna Thompson fired from her KarenCivil.com internship for critiquing Nicki Minaj. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters even tried to sabotage A Star is Born’s box-office competitor Venom with fake reviews.
Now some fierce fandoms are starting to turn on their own idols. With artists like Rihanna, Lana Del Rey and The Weeknd on extended music hiatuses, their stans used to following their every move are at a standstill. False promises, delayed release dates and little acknowledgment by their idols have left many demanding new music. With no signs they’ll get their wish, many stans have decided to do what they know best: attack.
“U were my first love you fckn loser drop an album i’m fckn BORED,” Nae, an 18-year-old from Toronto, tweeted last October to The Weeknd. She grew up on the R&B singer’s albums, joining his XO Crew and routinely attended his concerts. It was all worth it when “at one point he’d followed me on Twitter.” Now that The Weeknd is taking his time to release new music—he hasn’t released an album since his 2016’s Starboy—part of Nae’s identity is threatened.
“I get upset about it, ya, but to say I feel like anyone owes me anything—no,” she said. “If you follow an artist closely and their music is important to you, then after waiting for awhile you get restless.”
Part of the frustration is if there’s not music then there’s little keeping the community together. “When your fav is releasing music/music videos, doing tv appearances/interviews, it’s more fun to be on stan Twitter,” Kwasi, a 23-year-old Kesha stan said over Twitter DM.
Kesha’s fans patiently supported the nearly five-year wait for her most recent album Rainbow, whose release was initially stalled amid her ongoing legal battle with producer and alleged abuser Dr. Luke. When Rainbow finally dropped in 2017, her fans were floored. For nearly two years, they’ve celebrated her first Grammy nominations, tour with Macklemore and signature boat cruise. Now her Animals want new music, and this time Kwasi and others aren’t willing to wait as long. “Right now it’s radio silence on her end, which is incredibly tough for her fans,” he said. “To see her go from being so active and present to only posting ads and automated posts is a little frustrating.”
So they bombard her about the status of her music on social media. Some are light-hearted takes on popular memes, others are sincere questions. But increasingly they’ve become aggressive. “There’s no drama...no new music...no new pics/interviews bitch I’m BORED,” Kwasi tweeted in March. Kwasi defended his tweet, saying, “I went on to reiterate that nothing was happening and added a funny gif. I don’t see how that is rude or even close to bullying?”
A common theme emerged in my interviews with passionate stans: almost everyone who commented something that could be perceived as aggressive said there are accounts who’ve said something worse. A fan of the alt-pop singer Banks who’d commented on her Instagram “with all due respect, queen...where is the album, we need the damn album,” told me over Instagram DM they wouldn’t be a useful source because “I’m not one of THOSE stans”—they, of course, are referring to “Rihanna’s stans who won’t let her breathe without asking for her album.”
The Rihanna Navy certainly has one of the worst reputations for nastiness. While Nicki Minaj’s Barbz viciously attack her adversaries, the Navy isn’t afraid to sink their own idol’s ship. On April 10, Rihanna posted a tribute video on Instagram to late rapper Nipsey Hussle and his partner, actress Lauren London. In a now-deleted comment, Ajit, a 20-year-old stan from Nepal behind the account @RihannaNepal, demanded to know when her next Fenty Beauty line—not even her music—would be released. “When I first saw the tweet, I didn’t know about Nipsey,” Ajit said. “So I was trolling her. Then I realized it is related to him. It’s already been deleted.”
Summerfield, who admits he’s prone to comment when “in a bad mood,” defended the Navy. Rihanna herself will occasionally respond to the never-ending comments with quippy retorts, including one hilarious meme. “She acts shady, so her fans act shady,” he said.
However well-intentioned stans may be, it’s not always appreciated by their idols. Justin Bieber recently addressed his fans demanding new music in a lengthy Instagram caption. “Music is very important to me but Nothing comes before my family and my health,” he said. Similarly, Cardi B, after having just given birth to daughter Kulture Kiari, responded “It’s coming sis hold on just a damn minute” to a fan on Twitter requesting new music a mere four months after she dropped Invasion of Privacy.
So why do fans so devoted to their idols turn on them? “They’re entitled to the artists on music releases and what deals they have,” said Will Cosme of the mega-popular watchdog Twitter account Pop Crave. Fans can make or break an artist’s project, such as BTS’ Army and Blackpink’s Blinks helping K-Pop groups unprecedently thrive stateside. So when an artist like Rihanna decides to focus on her beauty line or acting career, the Navy may “feel kind of abandoned,” Cosme said.
It certainly backfired for Katy Perry. In 2017, Perry traded her long, sleek black hair for a short, bleach blonde cut as part of her Witness album era. “I so badly want to be Katheryn Hudson that I don’t even want to look like Katy Perry anymore sometimes,” she told Viceland. Witness was largely a critical failure, causing bouts of “situational depression” for Perry. Her fans have turned the blame back onto her and her hair.
“Katy perry trending on US apple music just from applying a wig...you possibly can’t tell me that her short hair is not the reason why people stopped bumping her,” one Katy Perry stan tweeted. Sure enough, Perry’s debut of a long blonde wig on Instagram last week is believed to be her most-liked photo ever.
With no new music updates from their favorite artists, many stans are shifting their focus. Summerfield now draws portraits of Lana Del Rey, Ariana Grande and Beyonce. “I just don’t think she’s choosing to do it. Which is fine, but three years. Is that really beneficial to us? How is this working out?” Summerfield said of Rihanna’s musical break. “She’s doing makeup, lingerie and stuff, which is fine, [but] the music should always come first.”
Judging by the success of Fenty Beauty, there’s no guarantee Rihanna agrees.