“They eat their young, don’t they.”
A Rash of Booing Incidents at Concerts Reveals That Fan Culture Is Getting More Toxic
Drake’s rejection at Camp Flog Gnaw earlier this month shows that fans increasingly believe they have control of the aux cord, even when it harms artists.
One fan out of the approximately 50,000 Camp Flog Gnaw attendees this year had a recommendation that could have been Drake’s saving grace when he was booed off the stage at the Los Angeles event earlier this month: “He should’ve played ‘Nonstop.’” (Hear it at 16:39 below.)
As surprise headliner for the Tyler, the Creator-curated festival—performing among the likes of avant garde wonders Solange and FKA Twigs and heavy-spitters Da Baby and YG—Drake should have been a crowd-pleaser, if not a little mainstream, but instead, his appearance at CFG ushered in a roaring demand for Frank Ocean. Visibly blindsided, Drake attempted to reason with guests at the CAMP stage, even performing “Feel No Ways” as a favor for Tyler, but he was no match for the crowd’s resounding boos. After expressing gratitude for being invited, a frustrated Drake retreated backstage. With no Frank Ocean in sight, the eager crowd continued to wait, only to witness CFG staff breaking down the stage and a fluorescent message on jumbotrons telling them to get home safely.
Even if crowd members weren’t swayed by Drake’s presence, Camp Flog Gnaw encourages attendees to visit three separate stages, ride attractions, or check out merch stands; at worst, the Gnaw-goers uninterested in Drake could have simply left the Dodger Stadium grounds. Frank Ocean hasn’t made an appearance at CFG since 2013, skipping the festival in 2017 to celebrate his 30th birthday party elsewhere in the same city. Could he have been dodging overexcitement from fans, a la Summer Walker? Possibly. While festival organizers dig deeply in their budget to secure acts that are relevant to their audience, even the $1 million-plus cost to book Drake was deemed unsatisfactory for impatient CFG guests. By attempting to bargain with fans to fulfill their hopes of a great show, these collaborative organizing efforts can be exhausted, resulting in toxic fandom if the audience feels slighted.
While the reveal of a surprise artist can be adrenaline-fueling, rejection from festival crowds signals a growing sense of entitlement in a time of on-demand pop culture. This could originate from the availability of streaming services, offering the accessibility to skip songs at our fingertips, with music fans no longer needing to sit through repetitive radio hits and wait patiently for their favorite tracks. Though the booing incident earlier this month could be a sign of a possible decline in Drake’s popularity, it also stemmed from the crowd being unable to override his appearance like they were being passed the aux cord. There was also a sense of mob mentality, as pressure builds to heckle an artist when a few highly vocal audience members are audibly begrudged.
But for both the artist at hand and others present at these live performances, this hostility from audience members reads as not just a lack of appreciation, but a tantrum. With ticket prices soaring, fans may have spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars to attend, purchased artist-promoting merch, and stood in the crowd for hours in anticipation, but there’s a misconception that the “ideal” artist will, or even should, appear at their beck and call.
It was shocking to watch arguably the most popular rapper in the world be humbled in real-time, but Drake still took the jabs in good humor, joking on Instagram that he’d be hosting a residency at Camp Flog Gnaw for the next ten years. Some artists haven’t been able to land quite as gracefully, and in recent years, the curation of surprise acts at festivals and concerts has often been met with similar antagonism. Take the case of Blueface, whose “Thotiana” reigned the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year. At a late-2018 concert supporting Lil Uzi Vert in Philadelphia, Blueface was also mercilessly booed as he tried to segue into performing “Freak Bitch”. Eventually, the fans won, and his microphone was cut off.
Even rap veterans can’t escape the warpath of a resentful audience, even if the show is held in the artist’s hometown. In May, Foxy Brown was coldly welcomed at Kandi Burruss’ Welcome to the Dungeon tour at Terminal 5 in New York City. Though Burruss announced that Brown would be hitting the stage, it was unclear whether it was her, as Brown was covered in a long black jacket and a gold eye mask. “We want you to take that mask off,” said the DJ. As Brown tried to run through a string of hits with backup dancers in tote, she slurred her lyrics, to which the DJ viciously played former rival Lil Kim’s “The Jump Off”.
Last year, Machine Gun Kelly, less than a week after releasing Eminem diss “Rap Devil,” made an appearance in support of an Orlando Fall Out Boy concert. Promoting the song (and his Binge EP), Kelly attempted to take a picture with the crowd, encouraging them to put their middle fingers up as a message to Em. The audience wasn’t swayed, booing Kelly as he performed and even blasting him through social media about his unwanted presence.
In a time when organizers are constantly competing to offer the biggest and best surprises for audiences (or at least, teasing them), fans have grown more and more emboldened to steer control over those choices. Tyler, the Creator—whose Twitter bio after Camp Flog Gnaw was temporarily changed to “embarrassed by fans right now”—lashed out in a string of tweets against those who questioned his booking of Drake. “THAT SHIT IS LIKE MOB MENTALITY AND CANCEL CULTURE IN REAL LIFE AND I THINK THAT SHIT IS FUCKING TRASH,” he said in a tweet that summed up his frustrations.
Live music, like life, is bound to be full of surprises; perhaps fans need a reminder that if they want to pick their playlist, they don’t need to shame an artist off stage. If they want total control, they can always go home and open Spotify.