Why Go To A Show When You Can Go On TikTok?
Concerts have turned into content-crazed arenas, where every second exists to be commodified.
Over the past year, my TikTok FYP has gone through many different phases, all accurately reflecting my taste in music: First, it was Rosalía chomping on gum at the opening of her song “Bizcochito,” then it was 15 nights of boas and glittery outfits for Harry Styles’ mini Madison Square Garden residency; that was followed by the resurgence of The 1975’s Matty Healy as he tore through cities kissing fans and eating raw meat. While I was never in attendance at these shows, it somehow felt like I was there every night.
I don’t remember the first video that came up from any of these respective artists, but once they did, they never stopped. The specifics vary, of course, but the beats are all the same, from the moment the performer gets on stage, to the ad-libs between songs featuring a tangent about the city (like Sabrina Carpenter changing her outro on “Nonsense” for every city), to the engagements with the crowd and their signs (like when Harry Styles helped a fan come out to her mom), to the very final song.
For most artists — regardless of whether they’re Grammy-winning or small indie bands — concerts have turned into content-crazed arenas, though that part isn’t really new. Even before TikTok, artists were begging fans to put their phones down and engage. What is new is a shift in the power exchange, where artists feel like fans are worried about creating content just as much as they are.
“The perception of the person on stage has shifted a lot with the creation of TikTok,” says Maia, the 22-year-old artist known professionally as Mxmtoon. “Now, every person in the audience is in charge of making content, not just the person on the stage performing. And as a result, we’ve seen a huge disconnect happening between listeners and artists.”
The pop-indie singer experienced one of the first viral hits on the app with her 2019 song “Prom Dress” and has since toured twice. “I knew every night that almost every single person’s phone would come out when I performed ‘Prom Dress’ so they could record a video, and there are videos that have gotten millions of views from those shows because people knew to expect that to be a viral moment,” she says. But the idea of a singular viral moment has evolved even since then. Now, what was once reserved for the most popular song has morphed to phones coming out for constant recording to capture every and all viral moments. It’s warped the concert experience into something less about the music and more into an event where every second exists to be filmed and commodified.
Harry Styles’ most recent tour, found at #loveontour on TikTok, has more than 7.2 billion views of content revolving around not only the show itself but also fans trying to get tickets, planning outfits, waiting in the pit or for merchandise, and virtually every other second in between. One TikTok influencer, Tara Lynn, who posted videos of her getting-ready routine and the show itself (though she went most viral for once complaining about not being in the pit), also vlogged about paying more than $30,000 to see Harry Styles 17 times in concert over the past four months alone. And plenty of other content creators have made fan accounts to recount all their experiences surrounding the concert and their preparation for it.
Twenty-one-year-old Samantha DeVincenzi went viral on the app after sharing a video of Styles posing for a picture after reading her sign. While it initially seems like a rare but relatable fan interaction anyone could have, her page proves otherwise. DeVincenzi attended more than half of the 15 New York City performances, and as someone who captured a lot of concert footage, she says the show contained a lot of “viral moments” that spanned anywhere from Styles playing a simple song to candid interactions between him and an audience member. If anything, DeVincenzi’s video proves just how many “viral moments” there actually are at a concert, especially when it’s someone like Styles, whose bits and banter proved to be the most memorable part of the show rather than the music onstage.
For Tiffany Tao, a longtime fan of The 1975, the plan was always to see them in concert. But after seeing content from the MSG show — the one Tao was in the room for — explode on TikTok, she felt drawn to see them again. Not once, but twice. First, she bought tickets to the Mexico City show because she was already going to be there for vacation. But then: “I kept seeing more content from shows in other parts of the country with progressively crazier antics, and as the show kept getting crazier, I started to kind of brainstorm what would happen if I went to the U.K. to see their show there,” she says. A few days before the band’s London show, Tao made up her mind. She found tickets, booked a flight for the next day, and attended the London show where Taylor Swift made a guest appearance. “Mildly crazy behavior,” she says, “but definitely influenced by TikTok and overall, very fun.”
The fact that Tao could sense something big would happen in London is not just good guesswork on her part but an inevitable effect of the commodification of the concert experience. The unending influx of content is leading some superfans to spend more money to see those big shows in hometown cities or attend multiple concerts in order to remain surprised and witness the big moments for themselves instead of on social media.
“I didn’t want to watch the whole thing play out on TikTok and feel like I had already gone.”
For bigger tours, fans are opting to buy tickets for shows during the first leg of the tour to get the full surprise experience. Hoping to maximize her chances of capturing one of the first viral concert moments of Taylor Swift’s upcoming Eras Tour, 26-year-old Los Angeles content creator Reagan Baylee decided to purchase tickets for the tour’s opening night in Glendale, Arizona, as well the shows in Los Angeles. “I see it as a content opportunity because obviously I’ll be one of the first people to be able to post about it, which is huge,” Baylee says. “But then second of all, her shows in my city are the last shows of the tour, so I didn’t want to watch the whole thing play out on TikTok and feel like I had already gone.”
For people who can’t afford to attend multiple concerts or fly to the first concert, it’s become an active game of avoiding social media, which fan Maridelis Morales Rosado did ahead of seeing Rosalía at Radio City Music Hall. “Whenever I saw a TikTok about Rosalía, I didn’t look. I would scroll past it because her performance seemed incredible, and it was happening at such a special venue, so I wanted to make sure that I can be there and experience it for the first time and not have all the surprises spoiled,” recalls Morales Rosado.
Pablo the Don, a music and cultural critic on TikTok, feels similarly about the recent rise of SZA content on their feed. “She just kicked her [S.O.S.] tour off like three days ago, but everybody's already showing exactly what she does while performing ‘Kill Bill.’ I don’t want to know that as someone who’s going to see her,” they say. But they also recognize that the content is doing a service to those who can’t attend. “You have to realize that because of the price spiking, there are so many fans that don’t get to go, and that’s how they get to live the experience with their favorite artists: through a phone screen, thanks to someone recording.”
Even someone like DeVincenzi who makes content surrounding concerts is thankful to others who do so. “At one point, I couldn’t spend $200 on a pit ticket and go to see my favorite artist, and TikTok is making it so even if you’re not at that show, you’re experiencing Harry and you’re experiencing what the culture is like there. Especially because some people who post on their TikTok from the front row, it really makes you feel like you’re at the barricade with them,” she says. “I think that’s a really inclusive thing for people who can’t go.”
There’s certainly something to be said about whether this rise of concert TikTok content, and its impact on the spending behavior of the fans who are fighting to get to the barrier, attending multiple nights, and spending $30,000 on tickets to share videos on social media, is itself feeding into the spike in ticket prices. But it almost doesn’t, and wouldn’t, even matter. At this point, this frenzy of social sharing at live shows, for many industry insiders, regardless of its impact, is here to stay.
“Even though excitement and love for the artist incentivize people to share, social sharing is part of the social experience now,” says Fabrice Sergent, the co-founder and managing partner of the tour-tracking platform Bandsintown.
As someone who works on the side of the artists, Sergent sees the increase in social sharing as a plus, especially for smaller artists who need traction over larger performers. “For the price of Madison Square Garden tickets, you can go to three concerts for smaller acts,” he says. “Those are the ones where social networks are not great at giving them a voice but live music is very good at giving them a voice.” But not everyone in the industry sees social sharing as a positive.
SMG Entertainment founder and manager Anwar Sawyer, who has worked in the music industry for more than 15 years, knows that TikTok is part of promoting artists, but his sentiment around it is less than ideal. When it comes to concerts, especially bigger ones, he says, “A lot of people just want to prove that they were there. It’s so sad that TikTok and the Internet have just diminished [them] like that.”
Maia agrees, remarking that as an artist, she’s “hyper-aware” of how ultimately fleeting any attention garnered from TikTok can be. “I do feel like I have to work really hard nowadays to get respect from audiences in a way that I don’t know if I necessarily did earlier on,” she says. “There’s a lot of pressure. I don’t want to feel like a circus act on stage every single night.”