What is behind the trend of fans throwing phones and objects at musicians?

This week pop singer Bebe Rexha needed stitches on her face after she was hit with a phone while performing

Why do music fans throw projectiles on stage while their favourite artist performs? Nicholas Malvagna, a 27-year-old from New Jersey, offered one explanation after he was charged with assault for throwing a phone at the pop singer Bebe Rexha, who required stitches after being hit. Malvagna apparently thought “it would be funny” to whack Rexha, who later posted a photo of her bruised and bandaged eyebrow.

“Im good,” Rexha captioned the Instagram post, though some fans noted online that if the phone had landed just a little further down, it could have caused serious harm to her eye.

The projectile called to mind recent face-offs between celebrities and tossed items. Last year, the singer Steve Lacy smashed an iPhone that had been launched onstage by a fan. A few months before that, a Toronto audience member hurled a doll at Lady Gaga as she sang the theme song to Top Gun: Maverick. (Ever the professional, Gaga did not miss a beat and continued her performance.)

The same week as the Rexha incident, a fan stormed the Los Angeles stage where Ava Max performed, slapping the singer so hard that he “scratched the inside of [her] eye”, according to her tweet.

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Artists have long dodged stray objects thrown by fans. Tom Jones made tossed underwear part of his act for decades, the Beatles were pelted by jelly beans, and David Bowie was nailed by a lollipop at a Norway show.

But fans say there’s a reason these instances seem to be happening more often. Celebrities like Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo, and Billie Eilish have taken fans’ phones (consensually), filmed a video mid-show, and given the phones back to their owners. It’s a way to go viral – so impatient fans are flinging their iPhones in hopes that their favourite singer will leave them a little gift.

Bebe Rexha

Paul Wertheimer, a crowd safety manager, also blames the apparent increase on people getting out their post-lockdown aggression. “We all said that crowds would be more rambunctious, disorderly, and energetic, after people came out of being cooped up,” Wertheimer said. “When crowds get rowdy, people can feel anonymous, and that leads them to doing antisocial, dangerous things.”

Fans are not the only people who throw things into crowds – singers themselves do it, too. Beyoncé tossed sunglasses into the crowd during a recent UK show on her Renaissance tour. In March, Chris Brown invited a fan on stage for a lap dance, only to grab her phone and hurl it into the crowd because he was annoyed with her constant filming. Last year, Axl Rose said he would stop his decades-long tradition of throwing his mic into the crowd after an Australian woman suffered a black eye and busted nose when it hit her in the face.

“There is a long history of artists throwing guitars, bottles, and clothing into the crowd,” Wertheimer said. “It’s a two-way street: if artists don’t want to be hit by projectiles, they shouldn’t throw projectiles themselves. There’s mutual respect there.”

Wertheimer said that most security guards and safety experts stand close to the stage to protect the artist, but they should also maintain a presence in the crowd “Security hates to be in the crowd because they don’t have a good rapport with the audience,” he explained. “But if they increase staffing in those areas, it can help subdue antisocial behaviour.”

The ever-present threat of mass shootings, along with high-profile stampede incidents at Astro World and in Seoul at Halloween, have led safety experts to focus on crowd crushes as the main threat during live events.

“That’s where most of the fatalities have occurred, so that’s where the efforts are being made to set safety standards,” said Bob Brecht, the CEO of TSE Entertainment, a Texas-based production company for live events. Phones just do not seem as big of a threat.

Ultimately, there is no sure way to stop people from throwing objects. “I don’t know how you stop someone from tossing a phone unless you seat the crowd so far away that they can’t reach the stage,” Brecht said. “But an artist would never stand for that, because they get a lot of their enthusiasm and excitement from a crowd.” – Guardian