Skip to main content

Home Music Music Features

Dear idiots, please stop throwing things at the stage

A plea for concert etiquette sanity after incidents involving Bebe Rexha and Pink in recent weeks.

By Rob Sheffield

Bebe Rexha (Picture: Getty)

What is going on here? Why are idiot fans throwing stuff during live shows? It’s reached a crisis point in the past couple weeks—a disturbing and loathsome epidemic of fan aggression against performers. On Wednesday, Kelsea Ballerini got hit in the face when a concertgoer threw a bracelet at her—just the latest case of a female artist assaulted in the middle of a show. Why is this happening, and how do we stop it? 

Ballerini was in Boise, Idaho, doing her country-pop hit ‘If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Too),’ when the bracelet came out of nowhere and hit her face, right near her left eye. She left the stage, but then returned to finish her show. “Can we talk about what just happened?” she said, in admirably clear terms. “Don’t throw things, you know? I just always want shows of mine—every show, for every artist—but I’m in control of this one. I just want it to be a safe place for everyone. Can you help me do that tonight?”

It’s not an isolated case. Bebe Rexha needed three stitches after she got hit by a thrown iPhone at a NYC rooftop show on June 18, and posted a photo of her frighteningly bruised and bandaged face. The alleged assailant, a 27-year-old man, told police, “I was trying to see if I could hit her with the phone at the end of the show because it would be funny.” He also helpfully explained, “It’s a TikTok trend.” Oh. 

Two days later, Ava Max was assaulted by a man who crashed the stage at an L.A. show and slapped her in the face. She posted, “He slapped me so hard that he scratched the inside of my eye.” A couple days later, in London’s Hyde Park, Pink got interrupted mid-song by someone throwing a bag of their dead mother’s ashes. A true pro, Pink asked, “Is this your mom?” Then she put down the bag and said, “I don’t know how I feel about this.” 

It can’t be overstated how much this sucks. Miley Cyrus recently declared she doesn’t feel safe doing arena shows anymore. As she explained, “There’s no connection. There’s no safety.”

Ballerini posted an update to her Instagram Story on Thursday, saying, “hi. i’m fine. someone threw a bracelet, it hit me in the eye, and it more so just scared me than hurt me. we all have triggers and layers of fears way deeper than what is shown, and that’s why i walked offstage to calm down and make sure myself, band and crew, and the crowd all felt safe.”

How did we get here? These are important artists with things to say and music to make. It’s not their job to explain why idiots shouldn’t throw things at them onstage. But it’s simpler than that—they’re human beings. What these incidents have in common is a bizarre lack of respect, a main-character neediness for attention, a child’s ignorance of boundaries. This isn’t fan enthusiasm going overboard—this is hostility disguised as fandom. 

So: it’s weird that this needs to be said, but don’t throw things at the artist, mmmmkay? No matter how soft and fluffy it seems. A cute li’l stuffed animal turns into a weapon if it hits somebody, as happened to Lady Gaga in Toronto last fall. A bracelet can do serious damage. Somebody threw a lollipop at David Bowie in 2004, in Norway, and almost blinded him. A lollipop. Nobody wants concerts to turn into airport-security hellholes with body-cavity searches. Your elderly loved ones do not need the aggravation of amending their wills to say, “BTW, after I die, if it ever seems like a cool idea to bombard a hard-working music legend with the remains of my incinerated corpse, switch to decaf and think again.”

Why now? So much of it comes down to the pandemic. People got out of practice at going to shows, so they forgot how to be audiences. Or else they just started their concertgoing years now, without having learned from being part of an experienced audience. But in 18 months of isolation, the whole fan culture around live music shut down—the traditions, the habits, the manners, the codes of honor, the spirit of “act like you’ve been there before.” It was a disastrous loss for music and the community around it. When live music returned, some fans were desperate to get back into the action, but without remembering the details of how to handle themselves in an IRL crowd. That’s how you get a grown adult boasting he threw a piece of metal at a celebrity to join a “TikTok trend.”

But this wave of fan aggression evokes those horror stories from the Seventies, like the notorious 1971 incident when a London concertgoer pushed Frank Zappa off the stage, putting him in a wheelchair and nearly breaking his neck. Or when “some stupid with a flare gun” burned down the Montreux Casino, inspiring Deep Purple to write “Smoke on the Water.” (Respect to the late great Funky Claude, who ran back into the burning building to pull kids out.) Over time, audiences gradually learned how to be cool in a concert crowd, until the coronvirus. So there’s a lot of Some Stupid going around.

There’s always been a certain etiquette for live music. It’s taken a beating in the social-media age, as more people treat the live show as a backdrop to stage click-chasing viral stunts.

But it’s unquestionably gotten worse post-pandemic. Last summer, Kid Cudi walked out on the Rolling Loud festival in Miami. “I will fucking leave,” he warned the crowd. “If I get hit with one more fucking thing—if I see one more fucking thing on this fucking stage, I’m leaving. Don’t fuck with me.” Someone then hit him with a water bottle—and bragged about it on Twitter, because of course he did.  

Tyler the Creator issued a public plea last year for concertgoers to stop throwing things. “I don’t understand the logic of throwing your shit up here,” Tyler ranted mid-show. “Not only for safety reasons, but bro, I don’t want your shit. I don’t want it. Like, I’m not even being funny. Every show someone throws something up here, and I don’t understand the logic. Why do you think I want your shit? Then if I slip and break my foot? Stop throwing that fucking shit up here, bro!” He went on to say, “Fucking dick-fuck.”

But that message was evidently too subtle for some folks. Steve Lacy stopped a New Orleans show in October when somebody hit him in the leg with a camera. Lacy said, “Don’t throw shit on my fucking stage,” then smashed the camera and left. Rosalia got hit in the face with a bouquet of roses, in San Diego. “Please don’t throw things on the stage,” she tweeted (in Spanish). “And if you’re such motomamis that you throw them anyway, throw them on the opposite side from where I am.” Harry Styles, whose live vibe is the essence of generosity and openness, has gotten his boundaries invaded by Skittles-tossers and chicken-nugget-hurlers. Nobody could blame him for being less than okay with it. 

There’s always been a tradition of acts who encourage fans to throw their bras, panties, or flowers. That’s just consensual show-biz. A Tom Jones concert wasn’t complete without tipsy ladies pelting him with their hotel room keys. When a fan threw a bat onstage, Ozzy Osbourne assumed it was a rubber toy, so he playfully took a bite—then became the first rock star ever rushed to the ER for rabies shots after a dose of batflesh. Punk rockers often thrived on the dust-ups. At the Sex Pistols’ famous final gig, Greil Marcus reported that the band got hit with “ice, cups, shoes, coins, pins and probably rocks.” Johnny Rotten complained, “There’s not enough presents. You’ll have to throw up better things that.” Immediately, someone threw a rolled-up umbrella. Johnny replied, “That’ll do.”

But during the pandemic, for many fans, their primary source of human contact was social media, where there is no perk for non-asshole behavior and nothing but rewards for finding novel ways to be a dick. There are so many incentives to create a viral moment, so it seems acceptable to interrupt a show to make strangers notice you. Throwing your phone at something to get its attention—you wouldn’t do that to a squirrel, much less a human, so why would anyone do it to an artist they’ve paid money to see? But social-media culture breeds a new kind of fan mentality defined by parasocial resentment, where fandoms feel so possessive about their faves, they get outraged when their fave doesn’t live up to their demands. It takes a toll on simple human empathy. Our whole culture picked up so many toxic habits it will take years to unlearn.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Almost exactly two years ago, I saw a symbolic return for live music when Madison Square Garden reopened with a super-emotional Foo Fighters show. It felt like all of us in the room were figuring out from scratch how to be fans again. I described it at the time as an “invitation to start remembering how to celebrate together.” Needless to say, the return of live music turned out to be a lot messier than that—lots of stops and starts, lots of conflict and controversy, lots of fear and grief and anger. 

But this is the first summer when it’s felt like live shows are really back. My music summer began a month ago with Taylor Swift on her Eras Tour. I saw The Cure and Dead & Company on back-to-back nights, two tribal gatherings that felt like the most uplifting kind of communal devotion. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen loads of brilliant punk rock (Protomartyr, Wednesday, the Dolly Spartans, the So So Glos, Bar Italia), comeback gigs from old-school heroes (The Feelies, Love and Rockets), and a Beatles tribute band, the Fab Faux (damn fine “Martha My Dear”). It’s time travel, hitting so many different eras of my life as a music fan—past, present, and future. I’ve been trading stories with friends having similar epiphanies this month at Joni Mitchell or DJ Premier or LCD Soundsystem. We were all hungrier for this than we even realized. 

The mass rapture of the live show—it’s a fragile temporary community that comes together for a night. Whether it’s in a sleazy bar or a basement or a stadium, it’s a place we go so we can experience those raptures in the dark with strangers, to be part of a story that doesn’t happen when we’re listening by ourselves. But those moments don’t happen without a certain level of mutual trust and respect. And they can’t even begin when the performer can’t trust the audience. We’re all in the crowd for the same reason—to create that space where this rapture can happen. But it’s not something the artists or the industry can conjure up on our behalf. It’s on us to be an audience that the performer can believe in. That’s really where the music begins. 

From Rolling Stone US.