Last week, my roommate and I dropped what we were doing, piled in the car and drove four hours to Chicago to go to a Gracie Abrams concert we had rather spontaneously purchased tickets for. We missed all of our classes, didn’t open our laptops for 24 hours and fell behind in our schedules in more ways than one, but the extra stress in the days that followed was more than worth it. We got to see Abrams, in real time, right before our eyes.
Well, through our phones might be a bit more accurate. I was in fact standing in the same room as Abrams (something I am still giddy over) and the very first thing I did during every song she sang was pull out my phone, open my camera and take a video, watching the performance unfold through my phone screen as I strained to get the perfect angle. As much as I wanted to sit back and enjoy the moment, a nagging voice in my head was yelling, “Take a video! You can look back at it later, and post it to social media!” So, I succumbed to the pressure, and I was not alone. Nearly every single person in that performance hall raised their phones simultaneously as Abrams came on stage, and recorded each moment with great care.
As I returned to my hotel room that night and began sifting through the videos I took, I wondered why I was so intent on capturing each moment so carefully. Wasn’t my mere attendance at the concert enough? Did I really need a complete video gallery of the performance to “remember” it well enough? Well, if you’ve been on TikTok lately, you’ll know that the answer to that question is a definite yes. TikTok concert clips have become a subculture of their own, amassing billions upon billions of views and going viral daily. There are so many of them that even though I’ve never been to a Harry Styles concert, I feel as though I’ve witnessed the entirety of one just from scrolling through my For You page. This is no coincidence, as clips from #LoveonTour (Styles’ ongoing international tour) have gained nearly 9 billion views on TikTok alone. Concert clips have become so prominent on the app that part of the fun of concerts is getting that perfect video to share with your friends afterward. If you try hard enough, you may even get your favorite artist to wave at you or read your poster aloud — the exact type of video that typically goes viral. The goal is no longer just to take a few hours to belt your favorite songs, but to create engaging content to share with others and look back on later. The issue is that, in many cases, this has led to a huge disconnect between the artist and the audience members, one that has not gone unnoticed by either party.
Of course, this article would be null and void if I did not mention the multitude of positive effects TikTok has had on the music industry. An endless number of songs that may never have been popular have soared to the top of the charts after being incorporated into a popular sound or trend, and music artists desperate to get their names out there have amassed thousands of dedicated listeners because of the app’s ability to reach millions of people all around the world. I have followed a familiar path from TikTok to my Spotify search bar more times than I can count, attempting to locate a trending song that is stuck in my head and listening to it on repeat until it quickly becomes one of my favorites. The app has subconsciously forced many users, myself included, to step outside of their music comfort zone and try out artists they may never have heard of otherwise.
Fans are not the only ones who have noticed TikTok’s power. The app has become so important to the music industry that — as discussions surrounding banning TikTok have circulated the media, originating mostly from the far-right — there has been significant pushback from the higher-ups within the industry, who claim that artists and producers would struggle without the app’s influence. Unfortunately, they have real reason to worry. The music industry continues to take full advantage of everything TikTok has to offer, even paying content creators with large platforms to promote an artist’s new music. Popular TikTok creator Chris Olsen was recently signed to promote Meghan Trainor’s music, a partnership that has become quite well-known across the app, benefitting both Olsen and Trainor. It goes without saying that without TikTok, many artists’ music would fall through the cracks. However, is this enough reason to brush off the negative effects?
Many would say no. Of course, even before TikTok, artists were begging their fans to put their phones down and engage with them during concerts. However, since the app has reached its current status of popularity, things have only gotten worse. Now, artists are performing for not just the crowd, but the millions upon millions of people who will see the videos afterward, and this has slowly begun to diminish the magic of the concert experience. There’s almost a competitive edge to the concert environment now, as fans attempt to engage with the artist on stage. Styles has had things thrown at him repeatedly, and has read some pretty uncomfortable poster messages intended for him, all because fans are desperate for just a second of his attention. At a recent Steve Lacey concert, the artist even had a camera thrown at him, which he then proceeded to smash (a justified reaction, I think). Not only that, but many of the “fans” who were at Lacey’s concert only knew the words to the songs that gained popularity on TikTok, calling into question just how much of a “fan” they really are, as a TikTok user who heard a snippet of the artist’s music and intends to go viral with a clip of his concert. It seems that — for many — concerts are no longer about sitting back and soaking in the moment, but just another opportunity to go viral by tapping on the fish tank.
For genuine fans, this is alarming. Many can already feel the magic of the concert experience slipping through their fingers, and are desperate to preserve it in any way they can. For Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, dedicated Swifties have gone to extreme lengths to attempt to maintain the element of the unknown that used to be an integral part of concerts by purchasing tickets for opening night even if they live across the country, as well as posting TikToks begging fellow fans to not post the videos they take in order to allow those who won’t see Swift until later to get an authentic experience. It’s pretty easy to see how unrealistic it is to stay on social media and expect something not to get spoiled for you, but the intent is understandable. I can only imagine how much more magical my Eras Tour experience would be if I was seeing her on opening night instead of in June, and would be discovering the setlist along with everyone else in the stadium.
For me and most other dedicated Swifties, that alone won’t take away from the concert experience. Simply being in the presence of Swift will make those few hours an unforgettable experience, whether we know the setlist or not. However, for the more casual Swift fans, it begs the question: Why even go to the concert if you can watch the whole thing on TikTok? It’s this very fact that makes TikTok’s impact on concerts most detrimental, especially for smaller artists who aren’t casually selling out massive venues and who rely on social media to spread the word about their tours. It turns an experience that relies on in-person attendance and face-to-face interaction into something purely digital. In some scenarios — like during the COVID-19 pandemic, or as an alternative for those who cannot afford concert tickets — this can be a positive thing, but for those who can go in person, the concert should be at least attempting to return to its authentic format.
It’s time to find a balance. Pick up your phone for your favorite songs and moments (I know I will), but also appreciate those in-between moments to silence it and stuff it in your pocket. Soak in the moment, both for your benefit and for the benefit of the artist. You’ll have plenty of time to surf the Web looking at videos later, but you only have a few hours to watch your favorite artist sing your favorite songs right before your eyes.
Daily Arts Writer Rebecca Smith can be reached at email@example.com.