The most popular performers in music today don’t just have fans, they have “stans” — overzealous supporters nicknamed after the Eminem song “Stan” (and also said to be a portmanteu of “stalker” and “fan”). They usually have names: Lady Gaga lords over her Little Monsters, Katy Perry is queen of the KatyCats and Justin Bieber makes the Beliebers swoon. For stans, fandom isn’t just a pastime, it’s an identity, one they claim passionately online. Caught talking trash about a certain pop star? Their stan hivemind won’t hesitate to find you on social media and tell you why you’re wrong.
Elvis Presley’s name isn’t usually uttered in the same breath as Katy’s or Gaga’s, but his fans had all the same fervor — even if they didn’t have a nickname or hashtags at their disposal. TIME learned this the hard way when they published a less than flattering review of “Heartbreak Hotel” that called out his “unpleasant quaver” and “spasmodic delivery.” “If you think teen-agers of this country are taking the slander you printed about our man Elvis you are sadly mistaken,” wrote 43 Elvis fans from Waterbury, Conn., in a response letter to TIME in the April 23 issue of 1956. “Man! Elvis is the most in all us cats’ books.”
Another reader, responding to the review in the same issue, offered a warning that arrived much too late: “Better watch what you say about this Elvis Presley cat, or you’ll have all of young America, TIME readers or not, down on your neck,” wrote Alan C. Elms of La Center, Ky. “This boy is the new god of the beanie brigade and the kiss-me-quick clique, and he’s not to be spoken of lightly.”
Exactly 58 years ago today, on Sept. 9, 1956, Presley played The Ed Sullivan Show, attracting the show’s highest ratings in two years, TIME reported then, with around 60 million viewers. TIME wasn’t going to cave to stan pressure in its review of the appearance, though. The article described Presley as “dripping with sweat and goose grease,” complained that he “mumbled” through his songs and noted that he “contorted his mouth suggestively and his pelvis more so” — as if the world had already seen its fair share of panic-inducing Miley Cyrus VMA performances. “When it was over,” the article continued, “parents and critics, as usual, did a lot of futile grumbling at the vulgarity of this strange phenomenon that must somehow be reckoned with.”
Read the 1956 review of Elvis Presley’s Ed Sullivan Show appearance here, in TIME’s archives: Radio and Television, the Week in Review, Sept. 24, 1956
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