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Why Are Fans Throwing Things at Artists?

11/08/2023

Why Are Fans Throwing Things at Artists? Going to a concert safely is a shared responsibility, Berklee experts explain.

By

Bryan Parys

August 10, 2023

Image by Elizabeth Friar

What do phones, bracelets, Skittles, and cold chicken nuggets have in common? They've all been hurled at pop superstars including Harry Styles, Bebe Rexha, Drake, and others, during recent concerts.

Headlines about the trend regularly appear in major publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the New York Times, and while it can scan as humorous and endearing to hear about a friendship bracelet being offered to an artist from a fan, other instances are more troubling. That rogue Skittle struck Harry Styles in the eye mid-song, and Bebe Rexha got stitches after a phone hit her forehead. Even a case where something is offered to an artist rather than thrown can be complicated, as was the case when a fan gave Pink a bag of her mother's ashes. I don't know how I feel about this, Pink said-a statement that sums up many people's thoughts about the craze.

Why Is This Happening? Morgan Milardo, managing director for the Berklee Popular Music Institute, points out that, for one, this is nothing new, especially for harder genres like rock and metal. (Think of the fan in 1982 who lobbed a live bat onto the stage during an Ozzy Osbourne concert, only to have the singer, who assumed it was fake, bite off the bat's head.) We have to talk about it now because it keeps happening over and over again, Milardo said.

She cites social media as a contributing factor. We see one person do it, it goes viral, and then the next night at a different concert, somebody thinks, oh, I can have my moment of fame too. Im gonna throw something too. Milardo adds that this is most likely a subconscious decision, suggesting this isn't a case of fans acting in bad faith.

I think its okay to say like, Hey, can you stop throwing chicken nuggets, like, youre hitting my friend in the back of the head.

- Morgan Milardo

Alicia Bower is a developmental psychologist and professor in the Liberal Arts Department, who studies, in her words, why we are, who we are, why we do what we do, and how we change over time. She says that there a number of social, emotional, and physiological factors at play in situations like this that can create the conditions for behavior that would otherwise feel out of character. We often find that we are able to do things in groups that we would never do alone, Bower says. It helps us to explain things like when the Patriots win and people turn over cars and break windows as a celebratory gesture. No one person would do that on their own, probably.

How Can We Address the Issue? Bower also points out that while it's highly unlikely fans are operating with malice in these situations, the intention doesn't matter, since the outcome is the same-artists can and do get hurt. Addressing the situation, in that sense, isn't as simple as taking punitive measures against the fan. Rather, both Bower and Milardo see this as a teachable moment, especially for younger audiences who may have missed a couple formative years during the height of the pandemic.

It's the responsibility of everyone, Milardo says. It's security maintaining clear boundaries, and it's also audience members looking out for each other. I think its okay to say, Hey, can you stop throwing chicken nuggets? Like, youre hitting my friend in the back of the head.'

Milardo doesn't think that this will (or should) set a new industry standard, but, she says, I do foresee some artists who have been personally impacted by this possibly changing their tech, their security riders, and saying, I need a bigger barricade. . . . I think its gonna be based on the individual artist and not the industry standard.

Lessons from the Mosh Pit Bower looks back to her younger days going to punk shows and how those harder genres may offer a model on how to engage in wild behavior without forgetting those around you. Youre consenting to whatever might happen [in the mosh pit], she says. And if you change your mind, you just back away. And the people who are in the middle want to be in the middle. The people on stage are kind of like saying, yes, this is our shared rules.

So while every genre or artist may have different considerations, Bower says that this could be an opportunity for us to set ground rules. Because ultimately, everyone can feel their big feelings and still value the safety of others. Like, say Im Billie Eilish and Im having a two-minute talk [with the audience] about how this is a special thing were doing-and with this awesome opportunity comes the awesome responsibility to care for one another.

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