What ruined the concert experience (And can we fix it?)

Live music today is not what it used to be. From Taylor Swift fans taking Ticketmaster to court, to the horrific Astroworld tragedy, and major artists like Justin Bieber canceling tours, there’s the sense that today’s concertgoing experience is being ruined. Fans and artists alike are speaking out about a troubling shift in concert culture, reflected in crowds filled with phone screens, intrusive onstage heckling, and a post-pandemic tendency to consume the artist as viral content.


Live music today is not what it used to be. From Taylor Swift fans taking Ticketmaster to court, to the horrific Astroworld tragedy, and major artists like Justin Bieber canceling tours, there’s the sense that today’s concertgoing experience is being ruined. Concerts and music festivals have long been a force for community, uniting people through the power of live music. But fans and artists alike are speaking out about a troubling shift in concert culture, reflected in crowds filled with phone screens, intrusive onstage heckling, and a post-pandemic tendency to consume the artist as viral content. All that’s if you can even afford to go in the first place, as concert prices hit levels that make most of us gasp. Here’s our Take on everything that’s going wrong with this hyper-commodified, etiquette-lacking concert experience, and how we can turn it around.

Tiktok And The Competitive Fan: How Concerts became “Content”

There’s nothing like a sea of phones blocking your view of the stage. Rows of phones at concerts is not a brand new phenomenon, but it seems like the desire to film these events has shifted from casually capturing a moment to curating lengthy viral content. And where do these often blurry and inaudible videos go? Likely straight to TikTok. By camping for days on end, dropping excessive amounts of money on a ticket, throwing objects on stage, etc., fans fight to capture viral moments that they can post before anyone else. Some artists, like Matty Healy of The 1975, use this behavior to their advantage. While touring the band’s newest album, Healy went viral countless times, making him, and the band’s tour, the center of most for you pages. Healy’s onstage antics — like making out with fans on stage, eating a raw steak, or humorously engaging with objects thrown on stage — made The 1975 near inescapable on TIkTok. But as the hype surrounding Healy’s unpredictableness grew, so did fans’ competitive need to capture every memeable moment.

This competitiveness also means needing to be as close as possible, creating a hierarchy of who has the ‘best’ concert experience. Some disgruntled concertgoers post their view from the nosebleeds or obstructed seating areas. Meanwhile, fans with closer seats not only use their view of the concert as a brag, but also for the high quality content it yields. TikTok creator Taraswrld infamously went viral for dropping over 10k on Harry Styles pit tickets, despite having been in the pit multiple nights prior, and then filming only herself at these shows. This points to another trend: audience members recording themselves reacting to the events on stage as opposed to the performers they’re paying so dearly to see. So, we can see a shift being made from the spectacle of the artist to the spectacle of the fan; who will do whatever it takes, be it spending 10k on tickets or singing loudly in the crowd, to have the best, and most sharable experience possible.

A Day At The Zoo: How Musicians Really Feel

We think of being a rock star as one of the most glamorous jobs on earth, but today the musicians themselves are facing a lot of unpleasant behavior. They’re being heckled at, looking out at an impersonal crowd glued to their screens, or needing to worry that someone could get hurt. And their requests to set boundaries are met with varying, often negative, reactions. Before resuming her Laurel Hell Tour in February 2022, musician Mitski tweeted a statement kindly requesting that her fans keep their phone use minimal during her upcoming shows. She took to Twitter: “When I’m on stage and look to you but you are gazing into a screen, it makes me feel as though those of us on stage are being taken from and consumed as content, instead of getting to share a moment with you.” However, her request to bring back the communing aspect of concertgoing was quickly met with controversy; fans read her claims as ableist or dismissive of mental health issues. The speed at which fans dismantled and weaponized Mitski’s statement somewhat proves her words true: these artists are viewed as means of content first and performers second. Ultimately, musicians hold a range of opinions on phone usage, but Mitski’s plea being turned into a witch hunt indicates a deeper problem with audience entitlement and performers not being seen as humans.

This invasive trend carries over to other hostile dynamics in concert spaces, with some artists facing blatant disrespect or intrusive heckling. After the song “Bad Habit” blew up on TikTok, Steve Lacy’s 2022 tour sold out in minutes due to his new, and mostly Gen Z, audience. Lacy outwardly struggled with this shift in audience membership, dealing with crowds that only knew the viral snippets of his songs. Most notably, he snapped after being hit with a disposable camera on stage. While artists like Harry Styles might be able to keep performing after being hit in the eye with a skittle, Lacy threw the camera to the ground and left the stage. And the episode points to the severe lack of boundaries — and sometimes reciprocal connection — between artists and their younger fans.

Crowds have also grown entitled to requests, often screaming during quiet moments of a set demanding an artist play a particular song. After facing requests for years to play the unreleased song “TAXI”, Charli XCX emotionally opened up about the difficulties of performing it after the death of SOPHIE, the song’s producer and her good friend. When a fan in the crowd screamed “You’re so hot!” after indie artist Clairo performed a personal song about sexual harassment in the workplace, she took a step back from performing a few weeks later.

What Happened To Etiquette: Gen Z’s Emergence Into Concert Spaces

So what gives? 2021 saw the return (albeit a cautious one) of live music, and by 2023, the demand for live music is high. A LiveNation report revealed that the company sold more than 100 million tickets through July 2022, as compared to 74 million for the entirety of 2019. This post-lockdown demand is mostly driven by Gen-Z consumers who, according to Billboard, are “buying tickets for the first time or are eager to participate in a communal experience after a year in lockdown.” For many Gen-Z’ers, the COVID-19 lockdown hit at a peak time in young adulthood, and deprived them of key communal moments like proms and graduations. Many of these teens grew into the concert landscape during COVID, which meant engaging with Instagram live streams and virtual concerts where viewers could publicly share their reactions in real time. So for new concertgoers entering live spaces for the first time post-lockdown, the old boundaries and customs between artist and audience were disrupted.

As a result of parasocial relationships formed during the pandemic and fans centering the concert experience around themselves and their technology, many young concert goers have blurred the crucial line between fan and artist necessary to establish proper concert etiquette.

Outrageous Prices And Safety Concerns: Why It Sucks For Fans

While it’s tempting to blame everything on bad fans, on the other side, concert tickets are getting egregiously expensive due to a perfect storm of factors: rampant inflation and cost-of-living increases have pushed up the actual costs of the concert production and wages as much as 30-40%. Ticket sales are also now the main way musicians and the whole industry makes profit, thanks to internet streaming eating into record sales. And on top of what artists need to make, tickets today come with untold fees — which leads to the issue of “dynamic pricing” (altering prices based on demand) and Ticketmaster owner Live Nation Entertainment’s monopoly driving up prices. After the presale of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour sold out in under 24 hours and there was a total meltdown due to so many tickets being held back, this brought scrutiny on Live Nation, which has around 70% of the US ticketing market and was already being investigated by the Justice Department. Time reports that Ticketmaster might charge up to 78% of the ticket price again on fees, and they also hold back “as many as 90% of the tickets for the secondary market — credit card companies, promoters, radio stations, or artists’ fan clubs. Meanwhile, others are bought in bulk by resellers, who use bots to resell them at a markup.” All this is why some Eras tickets were being resold for over $20,000 apiece. And the frenzy has led some fans to spend way over what they can actually afford and seriously regret it. No doubt this feeds the anxiety to capture the concert and get something more permanent out of it than just a fleeting, human moment.

Meanwhile, the experience can be literally dangerous for fans — as we saw in the tragic events of Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival. Crowd crushes at concerts have been a problem for decades, but it’s a little shocking in today’s health-and-safety-conscious age that there still aren’t adequate nationwide regulations to prevent this. And risky situations can become even more daunting and overwhelming to today’s young concertgoers with little experience in packed crowds, who lack any education on how to protect yourself in a packed general admission pit. The high-profile events of Astroworld have prompted artists to be more vigilant about problems within crowds — though this crucial logistical surveillance is hardly something that should be falling on musicians onstage.


Live music may be live again, but this combination of new generational norms, repercussions of the pandemic, and squeeze economic factors threaten to destroy this sacred art form. Today’s fans often view an entire show on TikTok before even seeing a concert in-person, and then arrive fraught with anxiety due to the financial expenditure, online competitiveness, and actual safety fears. But, not all hope is lost. Artists hold the potential to set boundaries both online and in-person to one day hopefully recenter music as the key component of the concert experience. Will their attempts be taken seriously and given respect? Only time will tell.


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