By Bianca Guzzo
Summer concert season is already well underway for those lucky enough to find success in the Ticketmaster trenches. If you’re really lucky, when you get to your assigned seats and the lights go down, you’ll actually be able to hear your favourite artists, too. Last summer, after two years of cancelled shows I finally made my way to the nearest arena to see Harry Styles at his sold out Love On Tour show in Toronto. I was so excited to hear all of my favourite songs over the next couple of hours. But when Harry was on stage I couldn’t hear anything other than the fan that was shrieking every single lyric to every single song behind me. Sure, concerts are famously loud events, but this was a new experience (and I was in the thick of One Direction-mania a decade ago). I noticed a bunch of people complaining about the same thing while scrolling through my TikTok FYP. They spoke with passion about “the decline of concert etiquette” that came with the return of live music post-pandemic. So as it turned out, I hadn’t let the soul of a grumpy elderly person enter my 28-year-old body over the past two years. The crowds at concerts have actually changed.
The whole conversation surrounding the proper etiquette at live shows has people pretty divided online and with just a few minutes of researching for yourself, you can pretty much draw a line in the sand between people 25-ish and under and well, everybody else. If someone complains about a bad experience they had at a show because of the behaviour of the people around them, it’s usually met with two different kinds of comments. The first being “That’s so annoying… sorry you had to listen to that all night” or, “Are we just supposed to be silent the whole concert?”. Complaints are also often met with an “if I paid for the ticket, I should be able to enjoy it by doing what I want to” mentality, which sounds great in theory, but in reality there are like 50 people in your vicinity who have spent just as much to enjoy the show.
Constant shrieking is only one piece of the puzzle that has changed the way we experience live entertainment. Camping culture has also blown up post-pandemic at shows with general admission areas close to the stage. While people lining up early to secure good spots for a show is not a new concept, the number of people that do this at each show has grown from a select group of die-hards, to an overwhelming number of fans who spend hours, and in some cases days prior to the show lining up on the sidewalk. In August of 2022, the number of fans that lined up for the Harry Styles show outside the Scotiabank Arena were in the thousands, making a winding queue around the venue. It made a big enough stink that local news stations came out to film it and interview fans. Phoebe Bridgers’s show in Toronto last summer also made news headlines after “campers” left all kinds of litter outside of the venue from small things like food containers to larger items like camping chairs and tarps. People were nearly trampled on their way to the stage once the gates opened, and fans reported the security not being up to par throughout the entire event.
When you look around at a concert for an artist who’s popular specifically among Gen Z fans, it becomes very clear through the sea of phone screens you suddenly find yourself dodging, that what seems to be fuelling their fan fire is getting content to post online. Most of the new standard etiquette is all part of the quest for the perfect photo moment or interaction to post on TikTok in hopes of going viral. Fighting for a front row spot when space is limited also raises legitimate safety concerns like crowd crushes, which in some cases can be deadly. And while it’s unfair to paint every single fan with the same brush, it’s brutal in the pit unless you vibe in the open space at the back (that’s where I would be, FYI). But right now, it’s all about getting the best video, photo, BeReal, and interaction that can be posted and reposted by update accounts on Twitter and Instagram.
Social hierarchy in fandoms, specifically in online spaces, has been around for at least the last decade, but the pandemic shifted the way fans consume their favourite artists. Whether it’s buying the merch or attending as many live shows on a tour as they can. For some, being a fan is kind of like a popularity contest where you constantly have to prove that you’re actually worthy of being a fan. Some users on TikTok have even highlighted that it’s a socio-economic divide between fans who could afford to take weeks off of work to stand in line and have the income to travel to multiple states or countries to attend different shows, and fans who attend one show in the nosebleeds. In reality, I think we all know that buying all six copies of the same album on vinyl and dropping thousands of dollars to follow an artist on tour all summer doesn’t make you any bigger of a fan than the person who maybe can’t afford to do all that.
Despite the above that have changed the way we experience concerts, some fun traditions have been reignited, too. Fans attending Taylor Swift’s record-breaking Eras Tour have been busy making beaded friendship bracelets to swap with other Swifties at their shows. “Fan projects” have also been on the rise since the return of concerts and the level of planning and organization is admirable. Maybe the past few years have been hard on everybody and we’ve all been waiting a long time to hear our favourite songs live. I just think it would be nice if we could all hear the artist singing that song and not the person behind us overpowering the state of the art sound system with their screaming. And if concerts just sound downright miserable to you now, there are always live streams you can watch on TikTok or Instagram. I’ve watched Taylor Swift concerts live from the comfort of my own air-conditioned home. Where the drinks and snacks are free and there’s never a line at the bathroom.