You’re on stage. You’re singing at the tippy top of your lungs. Your fans are screaming your name. You’re-
Artists have faced attacks from fans in recent days at concerts – a man was charged with assault after hitting Bebe Rexha with a phone earlier this month, and an audience member slapped Ava Max and scratched the inside of her eye last week. Elsewhere, someone recently threw a bracelet at Kelsea Ballerini and a bag of ashes at Pink.
So what is going on here? Experts can’t say for sure, but it likely stems from the blurring of online and real-life boundaries, leaving fans clamoring for viral moments with their favorite artists. Add drugs and alcohol to that mix and you’ve got a concussion-worthy concoction.
“It is important to ask questions about why these attacks are happening and what underlying causes or motivations may be leading people to act out in this way,” says Nathan Brandon, licensed psychologist. “It can also underscore the importance of creating safe spaces for artistic expression, and how such spaces can become places of healing, connection and understanding.”
‘Celebrities aren’t seen as real people’
Hurling something at a celebrity or rushing a stage isn’t uncommon and has historic precedent. Think of how many pairs of underwear The Beatles received onstage, or all the rotten tomatoes actors once faced. And who could forget the infamous Will Smith/Chris Rock Oscars slap?
But this is different. “At least since the Will Smith/Chris Rock Oscar incident, there does seem to be something new here,” says Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. “The idea that this is a thingto do, an option – a trend even – has now been released into the culture. Like swallowing a spoonful of cinnamon … it seems that attacking people on stage has perhaps become, alas, a challenge.”
When it comes to fans, parasocial relationships with celebrities are to blame for perceived familiarity. “The only explanation that makes sense is the influence of social media,” says Maryanne Fisher, a psychology professor at St. Mary’s University in Canada. “What exacerbates this effect, though, is that celebrities often post their personal lives and details on social media – more than ever before – and fans feel like they actually know them.”
The person whose Instagram your eyes are glued to isn’t actually your friend, nor are they somehow larger than life.
‘A significant breakdown in empathy and understanding’
Some attribute social dysfunction like this to the aftermath of COVID lockdowns, “but I think it is more tied to the blurring of social media and ‘IRL’ interactions and the constant recording of one’s behavior to gain attention whether it is positive or negative,” says Erica Chito Childs, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNY.
Whatever the case, boundaries have been unbounded in shared spaces like concerts. “The disregard for personal space and the willingness to inflict harm indicates a significant breakdown in empathy and understanding,” Brandon says.
What’s more, “when we’re that socially uninhibited, this becomes concerning for all of us because people are no longer playing by what was previously held and expected societal rules,” says Lauren Cook, clinical psychologist.
Carla Manly, clinical psychologist, adds: “When we lower the bar for appropriate behavior, we open the door for increased physical and psychological attacks.”
Much of these incidents may also stem from trends. Like allegedly throwing a phone at a celebrity in an attempt to get them to take a selfie with you.
Some may simply just want attention and virality. “The outbreak of people behaving badly at concerts shows that despite best efforts to manage crowds and manage individual’s behavior, some people enjoy being disruptive,” says Amy Morin, psychotherapist and host of the Mentally Stronger podcast..
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How to actually behave at concerts
If your friends consider you inappropriate when at concerts, keep these tips in mind:
- Think about whether a concert environment is right for you. “Being a part of a large crowd, might help someone feel emboldened to behave in ways they normally would not,” says Amanda Garcia Torres, licensed mental health counselor at Chairwork Therapy NYC.
- Remember that celebrities are real people. And they’re at work! “Yes, they may get paid more than you, and yes they may be more widely known, but it’s still their job,” says Raquel Martin, licensed clinical psychologist. “They’re still human, and they still deserve respect.”
- Avoid alcohol, drugs. Still feeling some type of way? Calm yourself down. Let’s take substance use out of the equation for fans’ unbridled, unhinged behavior. “The first thing would be to figure out if one is genuinely feeling this way, or if it is more picking up the vibe of the crowd and amplifying it,” Fisher says. “My best advice would be to de-escalate oneself, whether it means removing oneself from the situation, talking oneself into calming down or trying to engage in rational thoughts.”
- If you notice someone in your group acting out, get out. “Talking to the enraged person or similar might be effective, but if their goal is to escalate and cause havoc, talking might not do all that much and indeed might lead to harm,” Fisher says.
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