- Social media can lead to increased passion among fans, which can sometimes manifest itself in negative ways.
- Fans may throw objects to be seen and noticed by a celebrity or as a way to become internet famous themselves.
- Live music can trigger intense emotions, and emotional contagion can lead to fans making rash decisions.
Last week many people were shocked by a viral video of a fan throwing his drink at singer Cardi B as she performed onstage.
She reacted by throwing her mic at him in retaliation, which was also a shock to many watching the video. It turns out that the fan’s behavior wasn’t as rare an occurrence as you might think, which might help explain Cardi B’s reaction. There’s a trend of fans throwing things onstage at performers, from flowers to cell phones to their drinks. Why is this happening more often and what's behind the behavior?
Recent Incidents and Performer Response
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Singer Tom Jones’ largely female fan base was infamous for tossing their panties onstage at him while he performed back in the 1970s. But the behavior has become more common recently, and also more dangerous.
A common object for fans to throw at performers onstage is a cell phone, which can do some serious damage. A fan threw a cell phone at singer Drake at a concert last month, which hit him in the hand, and singer Bebe Rexha was hit in the face by a phone.
She fell to her knees as it hit her, and later posted a photo of her badly bruised eye. That fan claimed he was hoping that the performer would take some photos with his phone and then give it back.
He also admitted that he hoped it “would be funny.” The fan garnered a temporary protection order for his troubles and the singer has worn protective goggles at some concerts since.
Fans throw other objects too, some of them having more personal significance. Harry Styles was also hit in the face with an object which may have been a rose tossed onstage by a fan, and singer Kelsea Ballerini had a bracelet thrown by a fan strike her face.
Pink was astounded to find that a bag thrown at her by a fan contained the ashes of the person’s deceased mother. Ballerini spoke for many of her colleagues when she left the stage for a few minutes after the incident and returned to plead for a safe environment for both her and her fans.
What is causing an increase in this kind of fan behavior, along with an increase in rushing the stage at events? As a fan who has attended all sorts of concerts over the years (and maybe even rushed the stage once as an overly excited fourteen-year-old, only to realize at the last minute that it probably wasn’t a great idea and take a hasty detour), the change is alarming. As is usually the case with psychological and sociological changes, this one has several contributors.
The Impact of Social Media: Blurred Boundaries and TikTok Celebrity
First, boundaries between fans and celebrities have blurred in the wake of social media. Fans have what is known as a parasocial relationship with their idols, a mostly one-sided relationship in which the fan knows a great deal about the celebrity and as a result feels like they “know” them. The celebrity doesn’t know the fan at all.
There’s nothing inherently negative about this kind of relationship and most fans are well aware that it isn’t reciprocal, but the greater perceived access to celebrities through social media can make it appear like the relationship is more reciprocal than it actually is. Fans may feel more entitled to have the performer’s attention and be willing to go to greater lengths to get it.
We all have a need to be seen by those we care about, so being noticed by their idol feels validating. Even a brief moment of eye contact after throwing an object at the performer can feel good. When fans throw objects that have some kind of personal significance to them, such as stuffed animals or bracelets, or flowers (or in the case of Pink, a family member’s ashes), that may be a way of trying to let the celebrity, which they feel so close to, get to “know” them a little too.
While social media has blurred the boundaries between fans and their idols, it has also changed the landscape of the fan community and how people experience and interact with their environments. Everyone, fans and non-fans alike, witnesses viral videos daily—and many people want their turn at being noticed, not just by the celebrity, but potentially by the whole world.
Some fans imagine that by throwing a phone at a singer onstage, they might end up being in the next TikTok watched by millions of people, and are willing to put another person in danger to accomplish that.
Other fans may be motivated not by a desire to connect with the celebrity or to briefly become an internet celebrity themselves, but by a sense of entitlement. Norms for public behavior have also changed in recent years, from raging "Karens" to a simple lack of respect for others.
Parasocial relationships are complicated, and a minority of fans may feel entitled to be aggressive when their adoration for a celebrity is not returned, especially if they’ve paid to be in that celebrity’s presence.
The Power of Emotional Contagion
Interestingly, rushing the stage has also increased at concerts. That behavior may also be motivated by the desire to be seen and connected to the celebrity. But as I remember back to my own teenage aborted stage-rushing, perhaps there’s also a more positive explanation.
Concerts are emotional experiences, with intense feelings created by live music and being close to someone greatly admired. Fans have described concerts with their favorites as almost a religious experience, with live music lighting up the brain’s pleasure center as a feeling of community is also created by the shared experience.
The phenomenon of emotional contagion can increase these emotions even more. Our brains evolved to unconsciously mirror the emotions of others around us (originally so we could catch others’ fear when danger appeared and run away more quickly), so a crowd full of ecstatic fans creates a feedback loop that increases emotions even more.
This feels good, but can also lead to a loss of control, and more impulsive decisions in the face of all that collective joy. Hence my brief foray into being a stage-rusher.
As understandable as some of these impulses might be for fans, the danger is that norms for behavior at events like live concerts may change, which can lead to even more throwing of objects and other attempts to get a performer’s attention—and to more injuries to both celebrities and fans.
Derbaix, M. & Korchia, M. (2019). Individual celebration of idols: A study of music fans’ relationships with their idols and associated practices. Journal of Consumer Behavior, Feb 2019, 1-24.
Edlom, J. & Karlsson, J. (2021). Keep the fire burning: Exploring the hierarchies of music fandom and the motivations of superfans. Media and Communication, 9 (3), 123-132.