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The Death Of Concert Etiquette: Why Are Fans Throwing Things At Artists?

14 July 2023 | 2:24 pm | Melissa Griffin

At what point did the well-being and safety of an artist become second to our own need to be seen at these gigs?

Concert Etiquette image

Concert Etiquette image (Graphic Credit: Mitch Fresta)

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From flowers and underwear to beer bottles, food and an infamously unfortunate bat – musicians are no strangers when it comes to dodging (or regretfully eating) projectiles hurled on stage. It’s an odd tradition as old as rock ‘n’ roll, but artists, quite rightly, are kind of getting sick of having stuff thrown at them.

A recent string of incidents involving pop musicians Bebe Rexha, Harry Styles, P!nk and Drake has reignited the discussion surrounding audience etiquette and artist safety after objects were thrown on stage from the crowd, in some cases causing injury.

While some may see it as an opportunity to (literally) shower their favourite artists with gifts, others are clearly malicious in their intent (Bebe Rexha’s iPhone assaulter told police they thought “it would be funny” to hit her). Whatever the reason behind it, a flying object still hurts when it hits you in the face – and wouldn’t be particularly welcome when you’re trying to do your job.

Can you imagine if a stranger came into your place of work and just threw something at you? You’d have a hard time believing it was done out of love.

Although not a new phenomenon, these recent incidents allude to an unfortunate trend in audiences post-COVID, in which fans feel a sense of entitlement over artists. Whether it’s impatience in expecting new material to be released or aggravation directed at artists who’ve had to cancel/pull out of shows last minute due to health reasons or unforeseen circumstances – the behaviour and expectations from fans in recent years often surpass reason and forgo empathy.

Artists are still human beings. How much you pay in time and money to support them is ultimately your choice, and yes, it’s great when our favourite artists regularly tour and release music, but really they don’t actually owe it to anyone to do these things. When fans forget this, it’s easier to justify behaviour like throwing things on stage because they view the performance as an experience they paid for and forget about the person behind the artist.

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Radio presenter Zane Lowe recently shared his thoughts on the matter, asking his listeners to be understanding of the vulnerability artists performing on stage put themselves through. Lowe reiterates whatever the reason behind the act of throwing things on stage, it’s an unwelcome threat to the artist’s safety, “There’s no good intention when doing that…you cannot justify it.”

This issue is certainly not new to the music industry. Bebe Rexha’s alleged precaution in wearing safety glasses on stage mirrors Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson’s actions after his eye was damaged at a concert in 1979 when a fan threw a rose on stage, thorns and all.

Likewise, David Bowie was likely triggered in 2004 when a lollipop that was thrown by a member of the crowd at a show in Norway lodged under his eyelid (Bowie’s distinct eye colouring was due to a childhood fight that caused a Heterochromia in his right eye).

Bottles, both glass and plastic, have been used as a sign of audience discontent at gigs since the genesis days of punk up until recent times – in 2004, The Strokes singer Julian Casablancas confronted the crowd after he was hit in the face by impatient Metallica fans at the Big Day Out festival (Limp Bizkit and The Plain White T’s have also been at the receiving end of bottles thrown by rowdy Metallica fans).

Last year a video of American rapper Tyler, the Creator circled the internet after the artist called out a fan on stage for throwing a shoe at him. Harry Styles himself is no stranger to this behaviour; although he brandishes the pride flags and feather boas thrown his way, in the past, he has been pelted by Skittles, chicken nuggets and even a tampon back in his One Direction days.

Despite a long history of this kind of behaviour, there is an evident shift behind the intent. The one thing these recent incidents have in common is that they’ve all been captured on camera and shared widely on social media. Gigs have become content meccas, to the point that even if you’re a fan on the other side of the world, you can still recap the setlist and highlights of a show the night before of bigger artists. As evident with the recent coverage of Taylor Swift’s Eras and Beyoncé’s Renaissance tours, spoiler warnings no longer just pertain to blockbuster movies.

This never-before-seen coverage feeds into the audience’s mentality surrounding these shows. We’re no longer just fans; we’re consumers – and consumers have rights.

When this kind of thinking takes shape, gig etiquette falls to the side, and some people are likely to lose sense of what it really means to be a fan. When did the reason we attend gigs become more about the content we can create from it than the music itself? At what point did the well-being and safety of an artist become second to our own need to be seen at these gigs?

The magic of live gigs stems from the idea of music as a collective experience. Whether you’re in a crowd of 20 or 20,000 fans, all of you in that moment are there for one reason – a shared love of music.

Personally, I’ve had my fair share of both bad and good audience experiences at gigs. Not being able to hear the music over a guy yelling about how good the artist was when they saw them at a gig a few years ago, repeatedly throughout the entire set, or having my view blocked by someone much taller who has decided to stand directly in front of me 10 minutes into the gig when there was little to no space there, to begin with. But it’s the moments of community that stand out the most.

A few years ago, I was at a gig in Melbourne to see one of my favourite bands with my best friend. We’d spent the whole day sitting in line in front of the venue, bonding with like-minded fans, sharing food, saving spots for bathroom and stretch breaks, and even working out a number system so everybody knew who’d been waiting in line for the longest. When the time came for the doors to be opened, the group negotiated a deal with the security team to let us through first so that we’d all calmly get a spot at the barrier, and it worked! A group of total strangers recognised the love we shared over this band and came together to ensure that everyone had a great time. Simple as that.

Maybe these recent incidents are a sign we all need to take a step back and consider why we’re really attending gigs in the first place – whether or not we’d be just as excited to go if our phones had to be turned off. As an audience, we should always work together to create a safe environment for everyone, including artists.

Also, while we’re on the subject, please, please, please do not let anyone go back to gobbing!