Bras to brie: why people throw things on stage

Pink, Harry Styles, Drake... It seems no artist is safe from the recent onslaught of inanimate objects getting chucked at them. What the hell is going on?

Earlier this month, Harry Styles was playing a show to a packed-out crowd in Vienna, when something small and spiky spliced through the air and thwacked him beside the eye. In footage released later, the pop star can be seen clutching his head in pain, his neck bent down, before apparently collecting himself and continuing to perform.

In earlier times, such an event might be considered an unfortunate one-off. Shows can be heightened, chaotic, and shit sometimes flies about. But more recently, lobbing random objects at artists on stage appears to have become a pattern, with no clear indication as to why.

A month beforehand, country star Kelsea Ballerini stepped off stage in Ohio after being struck in the face with a bracelet while playing If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Too). Upon returning, she addressed the audience: Don’t throw things, you know? I just want it to be a safe place for everyone. Can you help me do that tonight?”

Mere days before that, Bebe Rexha had to be hospitalised after a phone flew through the air and smacked her in the face. We’ve also seen sex toys thrown at Lil Nas X – allegedly a publicity stunt, but that’s an article for another day – a shower of bracelets aimed at Taylor Swift, Drake hit by a phone, someone’s mothers ashes flung at Pink and, in one case of frightening assault, a man invading the stage at an Ava Max performance in Los Angeles and literally slapping her across the face. What the hell is going on?

Throwing things at performing artists isn’t exactly a new thing, per se – chucking underwear, for example, is a cliché classic, and there are plenty of weird prior examples. Over the decades, Daphne and Celeste have had everything from urine, meat and a wheelchair thrown at them. Meanwhile, back in 1978, Suicide even had someone lob an axe at frontman Alan Vega. But these were more like protests from haters, or tongue-in-cheek displays of horniness. The stage invasions that we’re seeing now – which span from plain bonkers to genuinely disturbing – are much more frequent, and it’s harder to pin down a reason as to why they’re happening.

There’s definitely something to be said about fans’ desperation to achieve their viral moment, even at the expense of an artist’s wellbeing. Consider the fact that these invasions get swiftly plastered across social media, with an artist sometimes biting back and addressing the audience directly. The event punctures the veil between artist and fan, with the fan achieving the direct communication, attention and notoriety that they so desire. These fan-artist interactions definitely hold a certain value, and there are even instances in which the artist does the throwing, as a gift: one fan who Beyoncé threw her glasses to – twice! – has now sold them for $18,000.

While the frequency of object throwing is new(ish), post-pandemic gig etiquette has been a subject of contention for a while now. Artists have been heckled or interrupted on stage during intimate acoustic performances, while some audience members have even played games during gigs for TikTok clout. Like the object throwing, much of this speaks to a fan’s desire to stand out from the crowd while also gaining internet views and kudos. Sure, a show might last a couple of hours. But a viral video of a show in which you are also the main character lasts a lot longer – making hours spent queuing online for a ticket and cash splashed all the more worthwhile.

There’s also the argument, of course, that younger people don’t know how to behave at gigs anymore because, during the multiple lockdowns and venue closures of the pandemic years, they simply didn’t attend any. At Lana Del Rey’s headline show at BST Hyde Park last weekend, I was struck by differences in crowd behaviour.

One girl was repeatedly screamed at to get off her friend’s shoulders, despite the fact that audience members have sat on others’ shoulders at festivals since time immemorial. It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing this most often from a generation who missed out on so many formative live experiences, and were instead forced to watch their favourite artists at home, through a screen. Now they’re able to attend IRL gigs, and are expected to suddenly switch their behaviour accordingly. Shouting mommy” at an artist from the crowd is quite different, for example, than typing it beneath a TikTok clip alongside some cry-face emojis.

Artists themselves are cottoning onto this shift in live audience behaviour, and many have had enough. Last year, in a since-deleted statement posted to Twitter, Mitski asked fans to embrace the present moment rather than spend the entire evening filming her. A few months later, singer Steve Lacy was filmed smashing an iPhone that had been thrown onstage by a fan. And, earlier this month, Adele addressed the audience directly during a Las Vegas show. Have you noticed how people are like, forgetting fucking show etiquette at the moment?” she said. People just throwing shit on stage, have you seen them? I fucking dare you. Dare you to throw something at me and I’ll fucking kill you.”

What can actually be done about such events remains to be seen. You can’t ban all objects from venues, and, to a certain degree, fans behaving bizarrely is to be expected when there’s so much excitement and hysteria in the air. Sometimes, it might even make a structured show like Swift’s or Styles’ that much more exciting. This behaviour can also be harmless – a fan handing Pink, who’s known for onstage theatrics, a wheel of brie, for example, is odd but not hurtful.

But an artist being physically in danger while doing their job? That’s a different matter entirely. And until such behaviour becomes culturally unacceptable, and totally discouraged, it’s hard to envision a future in which gigs can remain fun and safe, and not just opportunities for content. For swathes of the crowd, no matter what generation they’re from, live music is an unparalleled opportunity to come together and enjoy something special. Not a raining shower of flying iPhones.

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