This concert season might go down as the Summer of Hurling Objects: In the last few months, a number of music artists ― Harry Styles, Bebe Rexha, Drake and Kelsea Ballerini among them ― have been hit or interrupted by concertgoers throwing items at them onstage (beverages, vape pens, even cellphones).
The most recent example? Cardi B, who had liquid thrown at her face mid-set during a performance in Las Vegas on Saturday. In response, the “Bodak Yellow” singer threw her microphone in the concertgoer’s direction, resulting in one audience member filing a battery report following the event.
The incidents have been so numerous, some artists are preemptively warning their attendees to keep their belongings to themselves.
“Have you noticed how people are like, forgetting fucking show etiquette at the moment?” Adele asked fans at one of her recent Las Vegas residency shows while toting a T-shirt gun.
“People just throwing shit onstage, have you seen them? I fucking dare you. Dare you to throw something at me and I’ll fucking kill you,” she joked before shooting off a T-shirt into the screaming crowd.
What’s the deal with this “trend”? Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, a professor of communication at the University of Arizona whose area of expertise includes media effects and audience behaviors, believes two factors are at play.
First, after a long hiatus from public life because of COVID, people aren’t exactly on their best behavior; there’s been a noticeable erosion of manners and etiquette across the board, not just at concerts. (Drinking and other intoxicants lower inhibitions further.)
More notably, though, she thinks it has something to do with the strengthening of parasocial relationships during the pandemic. Fans and audiences truly feel like they know these performers, and in their minds, they have a friendship, Stevens Aubrey said.
“Fans are let into the informal daily lives of many of their favorite performers, making people feel like they have a rather intimate one-way friendship with these performers,” Stevens Aubrey said. “After all, they frequently ‘talk’ on their phones through these short-form videos. In the minds of the fans, they are friends.”
When fans see these performers in person, they might hope for, and even expect, an actual two-way interaction to occur ― even ill-advised interactions involving random projectiles.
“Throwing things at a performer can be considered violence, but another interpretation is that it is an act of desperation,” Stevens Aubrey said. “Like, this is their one and only chance to get the attention of the performer.” (John Lennon being shot and killed by a fan is an extreme example of this “negative attention is still attention from my idol” behavior.)
David Thomas, a professor of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, said that the anonymity provided by a dark concert venue and a large crowd may encourage bad behavior.
He thinks clout chasing on social media is at play, too. People want to go viral, and this trend mirrors a number of viral TikTok trends. (The “throw things in the air” challenge from years ago, for instance, or the recent “ice cream challenge” prank.)
“Many find that attention or media coverage of any kind for bad or good behavior is rewarding,” said Thomas, a former police officer with expertise in the psychology of crowds.
“There is no bigger stage than a concert in front of 20,000 fans, not to mention television and social media,” he told HuffPost. “The attention that the perpetrator receives at the expense of the artist is more important than enjoying the concert or possible injury that could be caused to the artist.”
“Throwing things at a performer can be considered violence, but another interpretation is that it is an act of desperation. Like, this is their one and only chance to get the attention of the performer.”
Because many of the artists who’ve had objects thrown at them lately are women, some have speculated whether misogyny is a factor, too.
“Certainly the more dramatic throwing things has been fans throwing things at women,” said Paul Booth, a professor of media and pop culture at DePaul University.
Someone bizarrely tossed the cremated ashes of a fan’s mother at Pink at one of her most recent gigs, for instance. (“This is your mom?” Pink asked the fan. “I don’t know how I feel about this.”) And Rexha was left with a bruised eye after an audience member hurled a cellphone at her during a performance in New York City.
“If this trend is for attention, people feel entitled to have women’s attention, and perhaps believe that women are more apt to give it,” Booth told HuffPost.
The History Of Fans (And Artists) Throwing Things At Each Other
The Beatles and their fans at the height of Beatlemania provide another good example, said Martyn Amos, a crowd expert and professor of computer and information sciences at Northumbria University.
When they toured the U.S. for the first time in the 1960s, the band gave a series of press conferences that were intended to showcase their “human side.” George Harrison made the mistake of saying that his favorite sweet was Jelly Babies, and at subsequent shows, the four men were pelted with much harder jelly beans by screaming fans.
“It was purely as an act of affection, but Harrison was not impressed,” Amos said. “In fact, in a letter to one fan, Harrison wrote, ‘Think how we feel standing on stage trying to dodge the stuff, before you throw some more at us. Couldn’t you eat them yourself, besides it is dangerous. I was hit in the eye once with a boiled sweet, and it’s not funny!’”
Paul Wertheimer, founder of Crowd Management Strategies, a Los Angeles-based international crowd safety consulting service, pointed out that sometimes, it’s the artists who are throwing things out into the crowd or encouraging these types of interactions. (In the Cardi B case last weekend, additional footage showed both the rapper and her DJ urging the crowd to “splash her pussy.” Cardi was apparently peeved that she was splashed in the face with the liquid, rather than down there.)
“This is not to condone those isolated incidents that put artists’ safety in jeopardy, but this is nothing new,” Wertheimer told HuffPost. “The examples being used these days are disjointed and do not have much in common.”
“Who started throwing objects first is probably a chicken and the egg argument,” he added before listing all the concerts he’d been to where objects were thrown on or from the stage.
“Fireworks were the projectile of choice at a 1973 concert by Led Zeppelin I attended in Chicago,” he said. “I’ve also been hit in the face by a small trinket thrown by Dita Von Teese in West Hollywood and pummeled by Faygo and liter bottles thrown by members of the Insane Clown Posse in Michigan.”
Stephen Reicher, a professor of psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who studies how people behave in crowds, doesn’t think there’s enough information available to speculate on why there’s seemingly been an uptick in this behavior.
He does think these interactions speak to the ambivalence, and sometimes antagonism, that tends to define the performer/audience relationship.
“There’s no way you’re taking life seriously if you think I’m gonna pick this vape up and vape with you at the f**king Barclays Center.”
“Much of this comes down to the question of ’who controls the performance?’” he said.
“Is it the case that the performer is in control and the audience is passive — just a consumer of what they are given?” he wondered. “Or is it that the audience is active and directs the performance by dictating what the performer does, by heckling or something else.”
Outside of these recent “throwing things at the stage” incidents, Reicher said, audiences have actually become much more passive and well-mannered in recent times ― at least compared to the more riotous audiences of the past that Wertheimer described.
He also agreed that entitlement could be one of several reasons for this. Sometimes, throwing things is an act of ownership, “a ritual in which audience members try to impose their views on how a show should run,” he said.
That seems to be what Drake thought when he got a vape pen thrown in his general direction last month.
Vaping in front of, or for, an audience? The Canadian rapper was downright offended.
“There’s no way you’re taking life seriously if you think I’m gonna pick this vape up and vape with you at the fucking Barclays Center,” the “Hotline Bling” artist said as he kicked around the vape onstage. “You got some real life evaluating to do, throwing this fucking lemon-mint vape up here, thinking I’m about to vape with you at the Barclays.”