Is TikTok To Blame For The Demise Of Concert Etiquette?

Photographed by Gian Cescon.
For two nights only late last week, BLACKPINK brought their Born Pink World Tour to London. But during their first show, the planet’s most popular girl group had to ask their fans to be present and in the moment.
“We like to see Blinks’ faces, not their phones. We like to make eye contact and sing our songs together,” BLACKPINK’s Jennie Kim told the crowd. “I want to see more light sticks up, I want to see more movement,” Rosé Park said. 
The phones at show dilemma is not a new one. But this year, with the welcome return of world tours, it’s reared its head again. 
In February, Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski carefully shared her disdain for the prevalence of phones at concerts. In a now-deleted Tweet, she wrote: “I’m not against taking photos at shows (though please no flash lol). But sometimes when I see people filming entire songs or whole sets, it makes me feel as though we are not here together.”
The internet acted like the internet does: brashly, frenzied and loud. Mitski’s own hyper-opinionated fanbase called her out on her statement, with some citing mental health issues and disabilities as reasons behind filming.
The backlash was swift, though it’s worth noting that musicians like Florence and the Machine, Bob Dylan, Jack White and The Lumineers discourage — or outright ban — the use of phones at their shows, without receiving the level of vitriol aimed at Mitski.

"I really hate to stereotype because I think fandoms’ life and soul come from teenagers (and mostly teenage girls) but there's not much etiquette at popular gigs anymore."

26-year-old Jasmine recently attended a Wallows concert at the Forum Melbourne. Seeing one of her favourite bands on their first Australian tour was bound to be a memorable experience — though she didn’t expect to be left with a sour sticking point. 
Young crowds can be the lifebloods of musicians, something that Jasmine notes. “I really hate to stereotype because I think fandoms’ life and soul come from teenagers (and mostly teenage girls) but there's not much etiquette at popular gigs anymore,” she tells Refinery29 Australia
“I honestly thought it was just a boomer thing to record whole songs and concerts but these girls [in front of me] were watching the band through their screens. Every time the lead singer, Dylan Minnette, came over to our side of the stage, all of these phones would pop up and cover his face,” she says.
Jasmine left feeling “disheartened and frustrated”. “You don't need to film every single song or get every shot of the singer. It ruins it for everyone else behind you.”
The astronomical uptake of TikTok mirrors this changed concert environment. Our feeds are filled with unique concert grabs (think Harry Styles’ Harryween performances and Sabrina Carpenter’s city-specific ad-libs). We eat up concert ‘fit checks, stars in stands and fan interactions
Sure, concerts have always been about entertainment and musicians connecting with their fans, but the difference is that now, audience members are part of its production. The bait of potential virality has changed the way people interact with concerts. Taking photos and videos is not only done for the sake of documentation or memory capturing anymore. The insistent obsession of non-stop recording is about what fans can take from an experience and ultimately what they gain from them, whether that be clout, popularity, likes or notability.
Concerts become content farms and audiences become walking tripods.
It’s no longer about FOMO, it’s about the fear of missing the shot. Going to see The 1975 isn’t only about appreciating the musicality of the band, it’s inevitably tied to capturing the theatrics of Matty Healy and his propensity to perform inebriated and make out with fans on stage. 
Sure, TikTok can help launch a musician’s career and help songs jump up music charts, but there’s a price to pay for that. 
Steve Lacy’s tunes have become a magnet for viral TikTok sounds (his hit ‘Bad Habit’ knocked Styles’ ‘As It Was' from Billboard Hot 100’s number one spot). But the 24-year-old from Compton made new headlines in October when he stopped his New Orleans show early after smashing a camera a fan threw on stage.
When 25-year-old Millie attended his Sydney show at the end of November, the sea of phones in the crowd “made [her] not want to be there and [she] couldn’t wait to leave.” 
“Everyone had their phones up the entire time — it was literally impossible to see him at all. I had a better vantage point looking through an iPhone screen than I did in real life,” she tells Refinery29 Australia.
“There was a lot of sending on Snapchat, which was chill, you want to let your friends know where you are! But the relentless recording felt like everyone was just waiting for that perfect moment to go viral on TikTok.”
Debates around concert etiquette have haunted online spaces for a long time. Many Subreddits have been concocted to discuss dos and don’ts. “Don't be the guy to ruin everyone's time by singing too loudly,” one comment reads. “Try not to drink too much because you don't want to take a bathroom break during the show,” someone else offers. “Don't litter, clean up your shit,” another comment reads.
“Concert etiquette used to be not pushing to the front, tying up your hair so it doesn’t whack someone in the face and not singing so loud that it ruins the footage people do actually record when they watch it back,” Millie says, but suggests that this needs to be revisited to account for post-lockdown life
For many young concertgoers, this year marks the first time they’ve properly experienced gig culture. It could mean that, because of the two years of lockdowns, this is their first time attending a concert. Instead of social interactions, they had to pivot to online spaces. Community became digitised, life was experienced through tapping thumbs on glass screens. Accounting for others’ personal spaces and creating shared memories with strangers, then, can prove to be a foreign concept. 

“What I saw literally sapped the life out of live music. There was no sense of camaraderie, no sense of being there not only with the artist but the joy of being there with fellow fans too.”

Both Jasmine and Millie aren’t opposed to taking a few photos or recording a couple of snippets to live on their camera roll or social media feeds. “But recording the whole gig for one ‘viral’ moment means you lose the presence of being there and aren’t being a good sport to everyone around you,” Millie says. 
“What I saw literally sapped the life out of live music. There was no sense of camaraderie, no sense of being there not only with the artist but the joy of being there with fellow fans too.”
Anyone who has been in a good mosh pit can vouch for the electric current of energy that’s passed between artist and audience — when it’s done right, it can feel spiritual. Around Australia and beyond, there’s growing discourse around the lack of public social spaces available to us. And if gigs — where people convene for the enjoyment of live music, dancing and connection — are depleted of their magic, where does that leave us?
When we spend our precious time eyeballing a rectangular screen, we are choosing to miss out on genuine connection — with ourselves and others.
As Mitski said: “I love shows for the feeling of connection, of sharing a dream, and remembering that we have a brief miraculous moment of being alive at the same time, before we part ways.”
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