Photographer – Mahaneela Choudhury-Reid (@mahaneela.jpg)
Photo Assistant – Sarah Harry-Isaacs (@sarah.harryisaacs)
Creative Direction – Daniel Obaweya (nigeriangothic), Mojoyin Durotoye (@moj_bot), A’alia Boyo (@queenoftheyouth)
Gaffer – Joe (@lightingbyjoe)
Stylist: TJ for Blac Ribbon
Stylist – KK Obi (@kkobi___)
Stylist assistant – Kennedy Clarke (@yuungflava) MUA – Fey Adediji (@beautybyfey)
Set design – Jade Adeyemi (@adeyumyum) Set assist – Sofia Mpandu (@Mustbesofia )
BTS Photo – Tife (@tifeid)
BTS Vid – Barbara (@outtake999)
On November 11, 2020, Twitter user @Starlomo1 shared a rather fascinating video. In the 40-second long clip, the lady, who identified herself as Adeola, drew a line in the sand against every form of slander aimed at Afro-pop superstar, Wizkid. “Don’t disrespect Wizkid. Don’t mess with Wizkid, ‘cause if you disrespect Wizkid, you’re messing with Adeola,” she declares in a snappy tone, while gesticulating dramatically with her right hand. “If you’re messing with Starboy, you’re messing with Stargirl… I’m going to drag you like a Tiger generator,” she goes on to add.
By about a week later, Adeola’s video had garnered nearly 60,000 views and around 2,000 interactions, metrics that indicate its modestly viral reach. Part of that is because the video symbolises the mantra of a modern-day fixture in Nigerian popular culture: Wizkid FC. Adopted as the name of the loyal army of Wizkid supporters, the FC, as they’re colloquially referred to in social media spaces, has become something of a phenomenon in the last few years, thanks to their vehement dedication to reiterating their undying adulation for one of the biggest musical exports out of Africa.
This sort of “fan love” seems simple enough on paper, but if you pay even the tiniest bit of attention, you’ll understand that there’s a few layers to the way the FC operate. The core idea is simple: Wizkid is the best at what he does. However, there are multiple dimensions to holding up that core, and they include – but are not limited to – obsessing over everything (and literally anything) that has to do with the singer, amplifying every single milestone, mobilising support for every release (both new and old), tracking down every contrarian or not-so-great opinion about Wizkid and swallowing it with counter-comments to trump any opposing comment. In a way, identifying as part of the FC and indulging in some or all of these activities is what separates the average Wizkid fan from being a bonafide member of the now notorious club.
Unless you’ve spent the last decade purposely avoiding everything pertaining to pop culture, the difference between a fan and a stan is crystal clear. Referring to someone who is overzealous about a celebrity, stans are more willing to take the intensity of their support a few notches above that of a “regular” fan. As a term, stan was introduced to pop culture via Eminem’s 2001 hit song of the same name, which gave the world the extreme image of an unhinged fan. Released as the third single off his Diamond-certified sophomore album, The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem wrote and performed “Stan” at the height of his Horrorcore fascination, crafting a storytelling epic that goes through the stages of the titular character’s descent into murder-suicide, into which he ropes his pregnant girlfriend, after his multiple attempts at eliciting a reply from his idol seemingly falls on deaf ears.
If Eminem simply presented an image of “Stan”, Nas was one of the first people to spin it into a noun. During the height of his infamous feud with Jay-Z, the rapper went on to call his then arch-nemesis “a stan” on the spiteful screed of legendary diss track, “Ether”. With the palpable disgust in his voice, it was obvious Nas didn’t aim the word as a compliment to Mr. Carter. Considering the twisted way in which it was presented by Eminem, and its derogatory use by Nas, it’s a bit ironic that stan has been adopted as favourably as it has been in pop culture; now, having a recognisable stan collective is one of the quintessential indicators of a pop superstar.
Perhaps the reason it’s been so easily co-opted, is because stan gives an easy term to a phenomenon that’s as old as the idea of celebrity itself. From Beatlemania in the ‘60s to the Michael Jackson craze that seized the world in the ‘80s and part of the ‘90s, there are veritable examples of musicians throughout history with far-reaching amount of stans. Today, the difference is social media, a medium that connects legions of stans with one another and their favourite artist. With increased – even if curated – access to their faves and to each other, stans wear their radical passion on their sleeves for the whole world to see at every given moment, which has given rise to the sort of hyperactive stan culture we’ve seen in the last half-decade.
Within the context of global stan culture, Wizkid FC isn’t necessarily peculiar, they exhibit traits generally linked with stan collectives, such as the Barbz, the BeyHive and Rihanna’s Navy. In Afropop, however, the FC has leapt to the forefront – taking the lead from their idol – and remained there in recent years, dominating post-digital era conversations on the ongoing evolution of stan culture in African music.
How they attained this particular pole position is simple: Impact. There’s no estimation of how many people, or social media accounts, publicly identify as part of Wizkid FC, but it’s undeniable that their level of activity is seismic, and they arguably outpace all other parochial stan collectives with the sheer amount of noise they make and space they occupy.
Back in May, the world witnessed the might of the FC on an epic scale. As part of No Signal Radio’s NS10v10 series, which pitted hit songs selected by two curator-fans from their favourite artists against each other, the proudly black British radio station arranged a battle between Wizkid and Vybz Kartel. Even before the battle of hits commenced on that Sunday evening, there was an excitement that was far more heightened than any of the previous NS10v10 clashes, an excitement stoked by the FC in anticipation of the event.
In the ten rounds of hit song match-ups, Joie, the clash representative for Wizkid, cleaned house with a flawless 10-0 win. Votes for the winning song of each round were crowd-sourced via Twitter poll, and on each occasion the FC made sure there was some distance between Wizkid’s hit songs that were played and Vybz Kartel’s. While it was a pleasant trip down memory lane for Afropop fans, and a chance to celebrate two global superstars for neutral observers, the main headline in the aftermath of the clash was the undying, noisy dedication Wizkid continues to inspire from his stan collective. If you look beyond the relentless drive to win, on an evening where the Wizkid hit set contained highly revered songs like “Pakurumo”, “Jaiye Jaiye” and “Soco”, it was evident that the FC didn’t simply manifest with the rise in social media use in Nigeria, rather it evolved alongside its idol figure.
Over a decade ago, Wizkid made his official major label debut, under the auspices of the Banky W-led Empire Mates Entertainment (EME), with “Holla at your Boy”, and it very much felt like the arrival of a budding superstar. Having already made several head-turning guest appearances, including on M.I Abaga’s “Fast Money Fast Cars” and Banky W’s “Tanker”, an instant smash single only consolidated that the singer was gearing up to be the next big hit-maker. By his debut album, Superstar, projections elevated to potential generational artist.
Sure, a lot of the increasing reverence and lofty expectation was effected by his undeniable talent and intoxicating string of hit songs. At the same time, though, Wizkid looked every bit like the superstar you would want to root for. In the video for “Holla At Your Boy”, he’s presented as the cool kid, and not in the snotty type of way. By the video for “Tease Me”, he’s entering the strip club for the first time in his life. For the “Pakurumo” visuals, he’s crashing an owambe and getting the party started. All of this snowballs into the striking image of a young guy coming of age and beginning to live his best life, an idea that clearly resonated with many young Nigerians.
Nigeria is an aspirational society. Due to our perennially incompetent governmental institutions, young people constantly face hurdles in the bid to actualise their dreams, which makes watching other young people succeed feel very special. In the earlier days of his ascent to superstardom, Wizkid became a status symbol for an entire generation of young Nigerians at home; at the time, he was simply a talented guy from relatively humble beginnings who was making it out, and nothing about it felt gimmicky or looked like it would be ephemeral.
Being a country divided along ethnic and religious lines, along with the constant tension across socioeconomic classes, there are very few things that unite Nigerians. Although football is widely considered to be a unifier, it still hinges on interest levels, coupled with the fact that many devote their allegiances to rivalling European football clubs on the other side of the world. With the domination of locally flavoured music at home and its ascent on a global scale, Afropop is increasingly eclipsing those divisions – where street-bred music is played in the swankiest of spaces, and alternative stylings with middle class roots consistently worm their way into the construct of mainstream music.
Similar to predecessors such as 2Face Idibia and P-Square, Wizkid became the latest megastar a generation could unify around. His explosion mirrored the awe-inspiring success many of his peers aspired to, while his sustained relevance at home and growth into a global brand has only annealed the greatness to which his stans have sworn an allegiance. Wizkid has never had to peddle hope, he embodies it quite cooly, and that’s why millions of devoted fans are drawn to him. In fact, it all ties back into the broader framework of celebrity culture, where people become enamoured not just by skill, but also by identifying with the popular figure’s narrative and persona.
As he’s evolved into a modern icon for contemporary Afropop, The Boy from Ojuelegba has gone on to inspire the same level of overzealousness in young Africans across the continent and in the diaspora. “I’ll never forget, it was in 2011 when my cousin who lived in Nigeria put me on to Wizkid,” Nora, a self-admitted stan tells me over a phone call. “I went to YouTube to watch that “Holla at your Boy” video, I was obsessed and then that whole Superstar album just drew me in.” Lang, the other Wizkid fan on the 3-way call, pretty much offered a similar sentiment with his own origin story as a Wizkid die-hard, except his entry point was with the singer’s sophomore album, Ayo.
Both Nora and Lang are integral members of the FC, they both operate two of the most popular Wizkid fan pages, @WizkidSource on Twitter and @WizkidNews on Instagram. Based in the U.S., Nora, who is Nigerian-American, and Cameroonian-American Lang were drawn to Wizkid as a young, talented artist playing an integral part in pushing African music forward, and by extension, helping to further a progressive narrative of the continent. Shortly after becoming enthralled with Ayo, Lang set up the WizkidNews Instagram page, partly inspired by his dorm roommate who was running a Kanye West-centred blog, and entirely fuelled by his then newfound fixation. Initially kick-started as an EME fan page, Nora transitioned into the Twitter handle in Wizkid, after his exit from the label. Around 2017, the two captains of the FC on their respective platforms joined forces, pooling individual resources on the way to becoming the go-to pages for Wizkid-related information.
If Wizkid FC members carried cards, Nora and Lang would likely be amongst those issuing them, so I had to ask them what they would say were the criteria to be deemed a part of the FC. “The criteria is just loving the music, spreading the music, you should also feel free to be honest,” Nora tells me, with Lang laughing out loud particularly at the last part, not out of mockery but because it’s symbolic of how modest her explanation is in comparison to what plays out on social media. As exemplified by Adeola’s previously mentioned video, freedom to express negative views does not exist within the realm of stardom, the FC has shown that they’re willing to cyberbully in order to enforce the idea that Wizkid is the greatest African artist – probably since Fela – and that he’s incapable of doing any wrong.
Last December, when Wizkid put out the EP Soundman, Vol. 1, Motolani Alake, Music Editor at Pulse Nigeria, published an unforgiving review of the project a few hours after release. Instantly, the FC set upon Motolani for his less-than-savoury opinion, citing the short turnover time for his review and generally hurling insulting comments at him. “[Before the review] I literally just named Wizkid as the artist of the decade and he got album of the decade as well,” Motolani tells me over a phone call, stating that his opinion wasn’t intended maliciously. “They feel like the fact that you can say anything negative about their fave means you hate them, which isn’t the case. That’s the problem with stan culture.”
With its entrenchment into global pop music, stan culture has manifested its fair share of toxic attributes, especially as it has to do with slinging venomous comments at those with differing opinions, however slight. Earlier this year, Taylor Swift’s stan collective, popularly known as the Swifties, doxed Pitchfork senior writer, Jillian Mapes, and consistently harassed the publication for giving her latest album, folklore, an 8.0 rating – a very good score as far as Pitchfork numbers go. The trigger for their unruly agitation wasn’t that the album wasn’t rated a perfect 10, but it had reduced the album’s aggregate score on Metacritic from 90 to 89.
Sometimes, it doesn’t take a differing opinion to whip stans into a frenzy, all it takes is the perception of wrongdoing. Last year, Nicole Curran, wife of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors owner, was attacked by the BeyHive, after she was pictured leaning across Beyoncé in conversation with JAY-Z. According to Curran, she was simply getting JAY’s drink order, and the social media harassment that ensued led to the temporary deactivation of her Instagram account. From Ariana Grande’s Arianators going after ex-fiancée and comedian, Pete Davidson, to countless times Nicki Minaj’s Barbz has set upon dissenting voices, the negative side associated with stan bases has reared its head on so many occasions, and a lot of times it’s catalysed by the celebrities themselves. Rarely ever directly, it’s however, sometimes through their inaction in reining in the toxic excesses of these overly zealous stans.
Celebrity-stan relationships are parasocial in nature, meaning that one side is far more intense than the other side, and it’s never the celebrity. Wizkid has shown himself to be jovial, playful and at times open on social media, but he’s also curated his online presence to the point where long absences are expected. It’s a strategy that has ensured the FC has limited access to him, which they’ve largely come to accept, however, this also means that they’re given the leeway to move mad without his intervention. Having built a reputation for being Teflon to controversy, perhaps it’s unreasonable to hold Wizkid responsible for the actions of the FC, especially since they’re mostly all adults who should be more discerning.
“We make sure we’re not posting anything negative about anybody on our pages, all our focus is on supporting Wiz,” Lang tells me, shortly after Nora explains that die-hard fans can have the capacity to hold honest opinions and also accommodate those with dissenting views. “I actually think Wizkid FC is one of the biggest stan bases in the world,” Motolani says, “but with great power, comes great responsibility.”
Although it was christened after Wizkid’s collaborative jerseys in partnership with Nike, the FC have been around since the singer erupted into mainstream consciousness. Their level of organisation in the post-digital era is pioneering for an African music ecosystem that’s still developing, and the precedent they set plays an active role in helping to shape stan culture on the continent. The FC is also exemplifying how African artists can leverage on the power of a community into further asserting their dominance. These days, it’s impossible to discuss Wizkid without delving into the support of the FC, something the singer himself has constantly acknowledged and appreciated in interviews. At the moment, Afropop is in the throes of redefining how fans interact with the work and lives of its famous figures. Wizkid FC embodies the vast potentials of the support network required to help in furthering the agenda of an African-born superstar with a global outlook.
With the FC, Wizkid is assured that there’s a vast number of people who believe in him, expect the best from him, and will support him at every turn. Many artists will deem it to be a blessing, and while it is, there’s a cockier perspective to this sort of unwavering support: This is what real power looks like.