Why The Modern Age Of Connection Is Changing Our Relationships With Musicians

Live music fans at a barricade
Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

In our modern world, a world dominated by social media that thrives on artificial connection and a false sense of knowing, the public figure has had to negotiate a new kind of space in the crowded landscape of ‘celebrity’, even if this comes at the price of their anonymity. It is an interesting contemporary phenomenon that most ‘celebrities’ must decide how they are going to traverse the maze that is social media. Maybe they will feed their fan’s hunger with endless selfies and updates on their life, or maybe they will choose to remain off it altogether and enter a class of celebrity that manages to retain some level of privacy, although if this privacy is even possible in today’s age is another question.

The Influence Of Social Media On Performer Power

This dilemma seems to affect a few types of public figures, like the musician. For the most part, if they are big enough to draw large crowds to their concerts, they have no choice but to put their face out there. With this, they leave themselves open to the type of gross interpretation that only social media can conjure. Their every move on stage is being watched, recorded, and uploaded for anyone to see and judge. This is not an argument that our cultural obsession with social media is wrong, because frankly, this argument has been made countless times already and I’m sure with more knowledge on the subject. Instead, we need to uncover the core paradox that comes with our growing relationship with musicians via social media and in-person concerts, and why ultimately, the more we seek the kind of personalisation of experience that we crave with our favourite bands, the less close we become to them.  

Harry Styles is a global megastar. He has just finished his Love on Tour, raising millions for charity. This has been well applauded, and Styles himself has never been more influential than right now, except for the fact that Styles lacks the power on stage that the media claim he does, the power that matters anyway. He may be able to capture the hearts of millions and make them swoon, but when it comes down to his safety, and the barrier between him and his audience, a different story can be seen. During his tour, he was hit in the eye with some sweets. Despite his influence, he could not stop his people from trying to get as close as possible to him, in that case even going as far as to injure him to grab his attention and get an individual moment with him.  

There are several viral videos of Styles speaking to people in his crowds, reading their signs and helping them come out. This has always been a sweet thing, and it is always nice to see huge artists like Styles drop the mystery that comes with his status and act like a real person. Styles has always seemed genuine, and that is why millions adore him. But Styles is not the first huge artist to have projectiles thrown onto their stage. In June, Pink had ashes thrown onto her stage, which understandably made her uncomfortable. It is not a new phenomenon to treat certain huge artists like Gods, and on its surface, this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when it comes to throwing and potentially injuring those Gods, it opens an entirely new conversation.  

We treat some musicians like Gods and are desperate to get as close as we can to them. We want them to see us, notice us and acknowledge our presence. This is not a bad thing; I have gone crazy myself when Ross from The 1975 smiled at me (yes, it did happen, and it was amazing). At that moment he saw me, and it made me feel powerful, as if he was playing the bass only for me at that moment. This comes down to how we have always treated musicians we love, but in our attempt to gain even more access, we have seemingly made it ok to cross the implicit boundary between audience and performer.  

The Physicality Of Music Consumption

The main catalyst for this is the presence of social media, and how it programmes our brains to gather as much information about musician’s personal life as possible. Social media feels like a personal tool, and as we have our phones in our hands, flicking through Instagram and learning everything we can about our favourite artists, a connection is formed that exists solely through the physical barrier of the phone itself. This physicality creates a personal experience between the person and the phone, and we can often translate this personal experience onto the person we are learning about. The same can be said for how we consume music today. Streaming music on your phone similarly facilitates a physical link between the person and the music via the phone itself. This physical connection exists in a liminal space, forming a specific type of physicality that nobody else can touch other than yourself.  

Therefore, with this social media catalyst inducing a sense of physicality and closeness to the artist, when it comes to seeing them live at a concert, it can often feel very impersonal and fluid. If you cannot see the performer on stage, for example, that sense of connection your brain is hardwired to seek out is denied. This rips away the private relationship. Many artists, like Styles, have fans that connect particularly deeply to the music. He seems to gather a fanbase of young people that latch onto the emotional messages within the songs. There is no better feeling than finding a song that you feel speaks to you, but it can in some cases create a false idea that you know the person singing it, when the reality is that you do not.  

This permeable boundary between the physical and the non-physical means that when people throw things onto stage, for the most part, they are doing so non-maliciously. They want to get back that personalised connection, even if it is just for a moment. What they are doing is wrong, and I am not trying to defend them for going too far. But there are clear triggers that cause one to lash out in this emotional way. The physical controls our world. We receive information through phones that sit comfortably in our hands. We have habitual ways we hold phones that over time train our brains into forgetting that we are holding a physical object.  

The thing is, as we push forward into physical connection, we become less close to the people we are trying to connect to. As said, social media breeds artificiality, and in trying to replace that connection, we are simply replacing artificiality with artificiality, instead of finding a different form of connection that we may be less comfortable with. I am not sure if the person who threw sweets at Styles thought he would stop and speak to them. They might have hoped it would happen, but it would not have amounted to much if it did.  

Music With A Physical Space

We love musicians, but we want our relationships with them to exist on our terms because the relationship was first formed privately, blasting their music in our bedrooms, creating our own special bond to the music and the people who sing it. This is all well and good, but we must realise that when we go from listening to music on our phones to listening to it at a gig, we are entering a different space, one that cannot be treated in the same way. The musicians are there to entertain, but they must retain control of the relationship, to the extent that they can assume their personal safety is not under threat.  

Music is the best thing in the world. There is a reason why Harry Styles is so loved. His ability to control a crowd is mesmeric. He probably cannot fathom what his music means to people and all the intricacies of the millions of separate relationships people have formed with him. But these relationships need to exist within the social rules of real life. This does not tarnish our enjoyment of the concert, if anything it should connect you to those around you in the crowd, as all the beautiful connections harmonize and become one with the music being played.  

Words by James Evenden 

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