Last week I was kindly invited on to Claire Byrne's Radio 1 show on RTÉ to discuss contemporary gig etiquette. The show was broadcast live on the morning after the RTÉ payments scandal broke so it wasn't exactly the top story of the hour – Simon Maher and myself joked in the green room beforehand that we were the light relief.
We spoke on the radio, mostly, about bad behaviour at gigs directed from the audience to performers. Bebe Rexha had a phone thrown at her face by a fan at a concert in New York recently by a man who told police that he thought "it would be funny", meanwhile a Taylor Swift 'fan project' saw someone hand out 300 photographs of Taylor Swift's dead grandmother which were then held up during her performance of a song written in her memory. Recently a fan at a Pink concert passed their mother's ashes to the stage for Pink to...do what with, exactly? Who knows, but in all three cases the fans get noticed.
What I didn't get to talk much about on the show, and what I'm actually more interested in, is how the shift in modern gig etiquette impacts fan-on-fan behaviour. I've been following conversations on TikTok closely between fans at Harry Styles, Taylor Swift and Boy Genius concerts sharing their experiences of going to concerts with people who have no idea how to behave. 'Main character syndrome' is cited often to criticise fans who scream their way through entire concerts or block people's views with large signs, or yelling at performers while they're trying to talk to the audience.
When I first started going to gigs as a teenager it was mostly to rock and metal shows. As a young person, taking in the behaviours of other more seasoned gig goers was part of the experience. I learned from watching others how to behave in and around a mosh pit, that if somebody falls down you pick them up, that men should (and in the overwhelming majority of my experience at these shows, did) watch out for women when things get crazy. I learned to share my water with people who needed it, let someone shorter than me go ahead, how to signal to security if someone close to me was in trouble. Metal crowds are still among the most polite I've ever experienced, and I think it's because the 'rules' are understood to be in place to make everyone's experience a good one. I remember being separated from my friends at one of my first gigs and basically being adopted by a group of giant, bearded, tattooed bikers who acted as my personal guardians until I was safely back with my crew – I still think about those guys often, and how much I learned from them about how to act at gigs.
The C Word
Since live music returned after Covid, I am painfully aware that I'm now something of an old. The new generation haven't had a chance to slowly integrate into crowds, to look around and see what behaviours are accepted, to learn from gatekeepers about etiquette and safety. Instead, they've spent what are essentially the most formative years for their music taste online, consuming and participating in online fan culture and expecting these behaviours to map directly onto the real world.
In the past couple of days I've really being paying attention to the boygenius fandom and the utter breakdown within it playing out in their TikTok and Reddit fan communities. The band asking for phones to be put away during certain songs, fans stopping the show to tell the artist that they need water, making sexualising comments to performers, focusing on creating content of themselves crying for TikTok more than the show, screaming lyrics during quietly emotional songs.
But this post, shared on Twitter by the person who received it last night, really caught my eye.
Now, as the kids say, there's a lot to unpack here (do they still say that?). The first thing that signaled a red flag for me was how this person believes boygenius concerts to be a safe space for lesbians – it is very important for everyone to understand that a concert or a club or any space is only a 'safe space' for a particular community if the organisers expressly say that it is. Concerts have security, often a police presence, and various other people working at them – if these people aren't in on the space being safe for a particular community then it can't actually be one. They need to be trained on how to act in safe spaces, and at major gigs that don't expressly advertise themselves as such for a particular community, that kind of training isn't happening.
But the more concerning and deeply saddening aspect of the post is the blatant biphobia experienced by this woman for attending the gig with her boyfriend (just like, say, Phoebe Bridgers does). I've experienced this kind of gatekeeping of queer spaces at Pride events, when I used to attend, where I would be quizzed on my own sexuality and all but accused of being a poser because I was in a relationship with a man.
As one Twitter commenter said, "Bisexual women with boyfriends are constantly seen as traitors to the queer community and I’m so tired".
I also can't help but feel for the boyfriend (whose sexuality is unknown, and none of our business) in this situation too. When he bought a ticket to the show did he know that the fans around him would perceive him as an interloper in a space that wasn't made for him? Was he barging his way into a safe space for lesbians and exercising his privilege as a straight man, or was he going to see a concert of a band he liked with his girlfriend?
I'm off to see boygenius in Dublin in August and hoping that we have a bit more sense than this. I suspect that this kind of behaviour will eventually level out, that as fans go to more gigs and settle into the pace after the various lockdowns. Or maybe I'm just someone in their thirties complaining that live music isn't what it used to be.
In the meantime, here's a song by boygenius about their complicated relationship with their fans. It's called Bite The Hand, and tells you everything you need to know.
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