Desperation for a Viral Moment Is Driving Concerts Off the Rails

Desperation for a Viral Moment Is Driving Concerts Off the Rails

On June 18, Bebe Rexha was performing a hometown show at The Rooftop at Pier 17 in Manhattan. During the performance, an audience member threw an iPhone at the pop singer-songwriter, which hit her just over the right eye. The impact immediately ended the show, and Rexha required three stitches in the aftermath, leaving her with a nasty bruise around her eye. 27-year-old Nicolas Malvagna was quickly arrested as the alleged culprit behind the attack. According to a criminal complaint obtained by The New York Post, Malvagna threw his phone at Rexha because he “thought it would be funny.”

At his arraignment, Malvagna blamed TikTok for his actions. Malvagna told police that he was attempting to take part in a TikTok trend where concertgoers throw their phone on stage in order to get the artist to take selfies or a video. He claims he miscalculated the phone’s trajectory, hitting Rexha’s face. Malvagna is facing a July 31 court date and a restraining order. His alleged actions on June 18 are only one example of an infuriating trend in concertgoing: The desperate attempt at a viral moment.

Two days later, Rexha’s fellow Albanian pop singer Ava Max was performing at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. There, a fan rushed the stage and, while being escorted away by security, slapped Max, as reported by Billboard. Max tweeted her frustration following the show, claiming that the slap had such an impact that it “scratched the inside of [her] eye.”

In a non-violent encounter, singer P!nk paused her show in Hyde Park this weekend after a fan threw their mother’s ashes on stage.

“Is this your mum?” P!nk asks to the audience member while holding a plastic bag seemingly full of cremated remains. “I don’t know how I feel about this.” Another fan would later hand her a wheel of brie.

Harry Styles, meanwhile, is one artist who has gotten his unfair share of projectiles catapulted his way while on stage. During the final bars of his song “As It Was” on his current Love on Tour concert series, a fan whipped Skittles at Styles while he blew kisses at the crowd, only for him to keel over in pain before resuming his thanks. Bear in mind, fans of Styles boast as their motto: “Treat people with kindness.” As British GQ reports, Styles has also been the target of chicken nuggets, while Pop Crush points out that he has been doused with water in the past.

It’s easy to paint this issue as a broadstrokes issue of rowdiness at concerts, but that’s clearly not the case, as evidenced by two of the largest concerts going on this summer — Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” and Beyonce’s “Renaissance World Tour.” Throughout both tours so far, Swift and Beyonce have generated and/or leaned in to viral moments with the help and participation of their audiences that have not come at the expense of their own safety. The Eras Tour has sparked intrigue from Swift’s dedicated cohort of “Swifttokers” over what two surprise songs she will sing each night as part of her rotating setlist. Beyonce fans are playfully parodying the robotic arms that appear during Queen Bey’s tour, emulating her choreography, and drooling over the new outfits she trots out for each location. A certain fear and respect attends each pop star — perhaps because of the reputed rabidity of their fans — and no one is seen throwing hefty objects onto their stages. Perhaps these concerts are too expensive for fans in the pit to be anything but diehards who would never chuck anything at their faves.

Even still, throwing things on stage or at artists is not a new phenomenon. “Bottling” — you can easily guess what that entails — has been recorded since the 1970s, with AC/DC being one of the first recorded targets. Everyone’s favourite music punching bag Nickelback famously ended a Portugal show after only two songs after being pelted with rocks and bottles in 2002. While bottling was borderline synonymous with the gritty rock and punk scenes of the 1970s through the early 2000s, one thing clearly shifted in the 2010s: the quest for clout. Social currency became synonymous with social media as apps like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram became vital and ubiquitous avenues for self-expression and connection. Within the culture of those apps, constant one-upmanship is required to go viral. Look no further than “main character syndrome,” no better exemplified than in Malvagna believing his camera roll was worth stopping a concert at the expense of other fans and the performer herself.

As the bar to shock and entertain strangers on the internet rose higher and higher, users hit a ceiling during the covid-19 pandemic as everyone was forced inside. Once concerts resumed following lockdowns and mass vaccinations, those spaces became crucibles for the pent-up anxiety of pent-up people. What we saw was entitlement, crass behaviour, and cell phone videos — especially amongst younger generations who would be experiencing their first concerts later on in their lives than those generations that attended shows pre-covid. The aftermath of a trend in behaviour like this is obviously that it puts artists at risk, but it likewise puts fellow audience members at risk, who also paid money to be at the show someone just ruined.

It’s hard to gauge how artists will handle aggressive audience behaviour moving forward, if at all. While not directly pointing the finger at fans throwing things, Miley Cyrus expressed no interest in touring arenas any time soon, citing safety issues. Styles, on the other hand, playfully chastises audience members behind his light assassination attempts. That’s not to say that its ok to throw things at Styles during his years-long tours, but he is far from putting his foot down. While artists themselves have some responsibility in managing their crowds and encouraging everyone’s safety during concerts, fandoms — some of whom will continue to attack the same artists they champion with phones, ashes, Skittles, or their own open-faced palms — need a reckoning.