Assaulting a musician to go viral on TikTok

Adele, Pink and Nick Jonas are just some of the artists who have had to halt performances due to the frequent lobbing of objects from the pit

Pink, during a concert in Los Angeles on March 27.
Pink, during a concert in Los Angeles on March 27.Emma McIntyre (Getty Images)
Armando Quesada Webb

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Another day, another TikTok trend. For today’s musicians, it’s almost impossible to stay relevant if they’re not on top of the latest happenings on social media. It’s part of the job. But what happens when the latest fashion is to throw objects, record the process, and then upload it to the internet? We’re not talking stuffed animals or underwear, favored projectiles ever since pop became pop, but rather solid objects, more along the lines of what has been lobbed in punk — although, this is about as close to punk as Nick Jonas or Adele are ever going to get.

A growing aggressiveness on the part of audiences directed towards artists has become apparent. In 2019, at a Drake concert, the Canadian artist grabbed a fan’s phone, recorded himself singing, and gave it back. He did it because the fan asked him to. But they’re not asking nicely anymore. This year in Chicago, the rapper had a mobile phone thrown at him that hit him in the arm. Drake ignored the projectile and kept going. Not all artists have been so lucky. Bebe Rexha had to be hospitalized after someone threw a phone at her head in the middle of a song. All to go viral on social media — because, of course, none of this happens without someone recording it and putting the video online. The case of Bebe Rexha required her to get stitches on her forehead, and appear wearing protective glasses at her next concert. They were able to identify her assailant and bring them to justice. According to the Los Angeles Times, the phone-thrower was a 27-year-old New Yorker who confessed to authorities that he had done it because of a TikTok trend, and that the idea of hitting the singer at the end of the concert seemed “funny”.

Other recent cases have been less violent than that of Rexha, but no less strange. Fans have thrown chicken nuggets at Harry Styles at various concerts; they’ve chucked sex toys at Lil Nas X and, this June in London, launched a plastic bag at Pink that supposedly contained the ashes of spectator’s mother, an act that left the singer completely paralyzed. “This is your mom? I don’t know how I feel about this,” said the So What singer.

Some academics and experts are trying to figure out the reasons behind this chain of aggressions. There is a prevailing theory held by some researchers — such as the University of Arizona’s Jennifer Stevens Aubrey and Lucy Bennet of Cardiff University — that the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting confinement profoundly impaired the way young people behave at mass events. But for the moment, there are no real answers. One day someone decided to assault an artist and post it on TikTok, but as with any internet phenomenon, the trend’s exact origin is very difficult to trace.

Artists and experts are asking for it to stop. Some have tried to start a dialogue with the public and ask for respect, but others have been less patient. The rapper 50 Cent hit a spectator with his mic after she threw things at him, just as Cardi B did to a woman who threw a glass full of liquid at her. The rapper threw her microphone at the woman’s head while speakers continued to blast the lyrics of one of her latest hits. At a Las Vegas concert in July, Adele wasn’t able to contain herself when she saw a fan appear to throw something. “Have you noticed how people are like, forgetting fucking show etiquette at the moment? People just throwing shit on stage, have you seen them?” she said. “I fucking dare you. Dare you to throw something at me and I’ll fucking kill you,” she screamed.

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