- Words Liam Cattermole
Since the pandemic, gig etiquette has been called into question more than ever, as fans find new and outrageous ways to interact with their idols.
It’s Tuesday, July, 8 and Drizzy Drake’s dodging Air Jordans on stage. The Canadian superstar is an avid sneaker collector, so ducking away from “a big-ass shoe”, as he explains, feels a little out of character to say the least. But on the third night of his ‘It’s All a Blur Tour’ with 21 Savage, what was once Drake’s dream quickly became a nightmare; it’s raining Jordan’s, but beware of the caps, cameras and mobile phones.
Drake’s peppering is the latest in an epidemic of incidents where fans have thrown objects, the more ridiculous the better, on stage for artists to interact with. Gone are the days where people toss harmless cups of piss or collections of underwear towards their idols: cheese, sex toys and even your mum’s ashes have raised the stakes.
Many artists have come out and condemned fans for their behaviour. Billie Eilish told The Hollywood Reporter at the Barbie film premier, “People just get excited, and it can be dangerous”. However, this trend illustrates a wider issue within music – one that’s become increasingly prevalent since the pandemic.
The truth is that relationships between artists and their audiences have never felt so close but yet so distant. This could explain why, post-lockdown, the behaviour of music fans seems to have shifted. Gigs certainly feel rowdier, and after being inside for however many years, can we understand people for wanting to be noticed?
The answer to this question completely depends on how far fans are willing to go to feel seen. For American singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha, who was taken to hospital after being hit by a phone recently, it’s hard to be so forgiving. Acts of violence are completely unacceptable, especially when the culprit merely says they “thought it would be funny” to assault them.
What’s more concerning is the nature of celebrity fandom today. Some people respect the relationship’s one-sided nature, while others struggle to deal with its fictional intimacy. Adding fuel to the fire, social media has made parasocial relationships in a post-pandemic world difficult to navigate. Commenting on Instagram posts, liking TikToks and streaming videos creates an illusion of friendship that, when brought into a live setting, may explain the shift of gig etiquette.
Holding up signs saying “I love you P!nk” or “Marry me Harry Styles” isn’t going to break through the noise anymore. If you want to get someone’s attention, the gesture will need to be far more grandeur. While at her recent British Summer Time performance, P!nk was handed a gigantic wheel of brie. In the now-viral video, she falls to her knees and repeatedly makes eye contact with the person while singing lyrics to “Fuckin’ Perfect”. Now how’s that for a moment of intimacy?
Unfortunately, not all actions have been so endearing. Hoping to capture the moment, phones are regularly thrown on stage in a bid for performers to pause and take a selfie. Young Adz did this at D Block Europe’s Wireless slot, causing rapturous screams from the audience. Some artists have warmed to the idea more than others. At the end of last year, Steve Lacy smashed a fan’s camera before storming off stage at a gig in New Orleans. And at last year’s Wireless, Lil Uzi Vert lobbed a phone back into the crowd tempestuously, accidentally cutting someone’s head open.
During lockdown, live music was greatly missed. It wasn’t the act of uploading an Instagram story that people yearned for, but rather a fierce desire to hear their favourite songs performed live by their favourite artists. Nothing beats the sense of community achieved when belting out lyrics surrounded by devotees like yourself. But sometimes that isn’t enough. As social media continues to hyperbolise the way we engage in parasocial relationships, the industry needs to reconsider just how intense these feelings can become in a post-pandemic universe, both for the safety of artists and their fans.