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Why are fans throwing objects — and cremains — at performers? Unpacking bad concert behavior

A fan records a concert on a cell phone. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)
A fan records a concert on a cell phone. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)

Singer Bebe Rexha needed stitches after a fan threw a cell phone and hit her in the face while she performed last month. Just this week at a show in Chicago, rapper Drake was also hit with a cell phone hurled at the stage by a fan.

Phones aren’t the only things being thrown at concerts either. In June, a fan threw a bag of their mother’s ashes on stage at singer P!nk’s London concert. Flying objects have disrupted shows by Harry Styles, Kelsea Ballerini and others. During a performance during her Las Vegas residency, Adele spoke out about fans’ bad behavior.

“Have you noticed how people are forgetting f****** show etiquette?” she asked.

Throwing objects isn’t the only type of unsavory behavior that’s been gaining traction. Concertgoers report people pushing to the front and being aggressive in crowds. But why is this happening now? Have fans always been this unhinged at shows, or is this a new phenomenon?

Social psychologist at Sussex University John Drury specializes in the study of collective behavior. He says he noticed the problem ramp up when the events reopened after initial COVID-19 shutdowns.

“Most commentators, certainly in the live events industry, think this is something new,” Drury says. “But many people in the industry feel that audience behavior has got worse over the last two years.”

But why are people flinging objects at the artists that they presumably paid for and planned to see perform live? The man accused of hitting Rexha with the phone told the Manhattan district attorney’s office that he did it just because he thought it would be funny.

Drury says that other people might be trying to go viral for acting out in public.

“People are now more individual-focused. They attend events for their own individual pleasure, and they’re not really thinking about being part of a group or a collective in the way that they might have been before,” he says. “These are people who perhaps are treating the event as an opportunity for them to build their social media profile rather than considering the other people around them.”

These behaviors are more often reported at large-scale stadium shows. Even though they’re surrounded by more people, Drury says that people may lack the sense of being in a community because the crowd is so large. At smaller venues, reports of unsafe behavior from fans are much less frequent.

“[At smaller shows] it tends to be people that feel that others are there for the same reason as them,” Drury says. “They feel a sense of community or shared identity with those others that might be less widespread at these bigger events.”

Even though other commentators have attributed this newfound concert behavior to a wider spread of narcissism in Western society or behaviors changing as a result of COVID-19 societal isolation. But Drury says he hasn’t seen much evidence of either cause.

“It’s actually quite a mixed set of phenomena,” he says. “Therefore, maybe there are multiple reasons.”

Hafsa Quraishi produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe Bullard. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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