Throwing things on stage in concerts: Friendly gesture or annoying nonsense?

Although the incidents would seem to have increased in recent years, this practice, intended to show the love (or disdain) of the fans, is not new

British singer Harry Styles during a concert.
British singer Harry Styles during a concert.

“Too much love will kill you,” declares a Queen song. And when it comes to the love of the fans, it certainly can come fairly close to achieving it, especially when it is expressed by throwing objects on stage.

Examples abound, both recent and old. During her Motomami tour, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Rosalía got thrown a t-shirt and a letter, to which she replied: “If you want to throw something, please do it carefully and aim well.” That didn’t help much. A few days later, in San Diego, California, she was hit in the face with a bouquet of roses. This time her response was an angry tweet: “Please don’t throw things on stage, and if you’re such a motomami that you do it anyway, throw them on the opposite side to where I am.”

On November 14, Harry Styles got a Skittle in his eye. For him, that was just the latest incident in a long history of being a target: in 2012, when he was part of One Direction, he was hit by a tampon at a concert in Nottingham, UK, and later watched in awe as things flew at him, from chicken nuggets to a shoe right into his crotch. He was professional about it: “The show must go on,” was his reaction.

Lady Gaga has not been spared, either. This summer, while on stage, she was almost hit by an unidentified object, to which she vigorously protested. In any case, that was nothing compared to the 2012 concert in Barcelona, Spain, in which someone threw sausages at her. And in September Dua Lipa kicked a Dr. Simi doll in Mexico City; throwing that stuffed toy in concerts has become a widespread practice in Mexico in recent times, albeit not always a welcome one.

What motivates this kind of behavior? According to music journalist Xavier Valiño, it “has to do with adrenaline, with being part of something with a crowd of people and showing that you are living with intensity. It’s a flashy way of responding to what’s happening on stage, and one of the few ways the audience has to participate in the show, regardless of whether that’s good or bad.”

“We could say that the fans seem determined to return something to their idol, to send a token of their love back to them. That display, as you can see, is not without a certain aggression,” argues psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Manuel González Molinier. “In this narcissistic age in which we live, the spectator doesn’t seem to be satisfied with a passive, unequal position in relation to their idol. They want a privileged position, to bridge the distance that separates them, to also be the protagonist.”

From the Beatles to Kanye West, no one is spared

Throwing objects onto the stage is an old practice that can be traced back to the time when tomatoes were cast at theater actors as a sign of dissatisfaction with their performance. The first documented case dates back to 1883, when an actor named John Ritchie was showered with tomatoes and rotten eggs in New York.

Practically no rock and pop star has been spared. On their first American tour, the Beatles were continually pelted with candy; George Harrison is said to have hated this “friendly fire” so much that he did not want to go on tour anymore. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Jethro Tull, AC/DC, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Oasis, Green Day, Marilyn Manson, Justin Bieber, Marc Anthony, 50 Cent, Jeff Mills and Kanye West are among those who have also been honored with one of those unsolicited gifts at some point in their career. Some instances have been captured for posterity: such is the case of the live album Metallic K.O., by The Stooges, where the Detroit audience can be heard harassing Iggy Pop with an endless storm of beer bottles, candy, ice and eggs, among other objects.

Some episodes have gone down in rock history, like what happened to Alice Cooper at the Toronto Peace Festival in 1969 when someone threw a chicken at him. The singer returned it to the crowd, which tore it apart, spraying blood everywhere. That is when the myth that Cooper killed chickens on stage was born.

An even bloodier incident occurred to Ozzy Osbourne in 1982 when a fan threw a live bat at him. Thinking it was made of rubber, the leader of Black Sabbath bit its head off. Far from being put off by what happened, he later became used to throwing raw meat at the audience, who responded by doing the same.

Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson was somewhat shocked when he saw bloody syringes at his feet at a concert in Portugal, and Mick Jagger was hit on the head by a chair at a Rolling Stones performance in Marseille, France, in 1990. He received eight stitches. In 2004 it was David Bowie’s turn, in Oslo, Norway, when a lollipop hit his eye. As a reward, the Norwegians got a considerably shorter concert and brief remark: “Lucky you hit the bad one.”

Things can get even worse for the opening acts that the fans of the main artists deem inappropriate. That was the case of The B-52′s when they opened for The Who in Orlando, Florida, in 1982. An apple hit the stomach of vocalist Cindy Wilson, prompting the group to leave the stage. In 1992, the band Faith No More received a rain of beer cans while opening for Guns N’Roses in Seville, Spain; years later, the target would be Guns N’Roses themselves, this time in protest for taking too long to go on stage.

Another incident happened in Buenos Aires In 1998, when the singer Meredith Brooks was bombarded with bottles and coins as she opened for the Rolling Stones. She had gone on stage wearing the jersey of Argentina’s national soccer team and, in protest, took it off, threw it to the ground and finished the concert offended and upset.

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