Outside of opera encores and Tom Jones covers acts, lobbing stuff at pop stars doesn’t have the most worshipful of histories. Whoever hoofed a deckchair at 50 Cent at Reading 2004 didn’t follow it with a neck cushion and pina colada. It’s unlikely that the audience member who bottled Brendan Urie unconscious with a direct hit two years later threw the fateful bullseye out of concern that Urie was in urgent need of a restorative swig of piss. Historically, the wellying onstage of bottles, coins, eggs, mud and (in Pearl Jam’s case during a U2 support in 1993) shoes has traditionally signified a subtle hint of dissatisfaction with – even, it could be argued, borderline animosity towards – the act under bombardment.
These are kinder times, however, and fans appear to have begun to consider chucking objects at their heroes as a form of remote gifting, a kind of moshpit Moonpig. This week a thoughtful, if clearly deranged fan handed P!nk a full wheel of cheese from the front row, presumably under the misapprehension that she’d enjoy it with her band after the show rather than – as is international pop star protocol – have it destroyed backstage in a controlled explosion. The previous night, another fan passed up a portion of their mother’s ashes onstage, no doubt mistaking P!nk for Keith Richards. The presenting of weird objects to P!nk has clearly becoming a meme; in itself an inadvisable distraction for an artist who needs to worry about getting clipped into intricate safety harnesses to avoid a potentially fatal onstage mishap, and could probably, while she’s at it, do without having to find somewhere about her leotard to secrete 3kg of brie at short notice.
But those fans unable to get close enough to the stage have started resorting to more Daphne & Celeste-at-Reading-2000 tactics. On Sunday, Lil Nas X briefly stopped a show in Stockholm to deal with the unexpected arrival onstage of an artificial sex toy, which isn’t a euphemism for a guest spot by Robbie Williams. “Who threw their pussy onstage?” X exclaimed, much to the frustration of the writers of The Idol’s sex scenes for not having come up with the line first.
And while objects specifically designed for sumptuous softness – I’m told – might not pose too much of a physical threat, the trend of throwing one’s phone at a star in the hope of a quick selfie and lob back has started seriously backfiring. Bebe Rexha was hit in the face by a mobile phone at a New York show, requiring stitches, while singer Steve Lacy smashed one thrown at him. Lil Uzi Vert reacted to being hit by a mobile at Wireless last year by arcing it straight back into the crowd, injuring a fan. It’s only a matter of time, at this rate, before the automated claim services for all mobile phone insurance companies have an option to “press 4 if you lost your phone by whanging it at Jason Derulo”.
History has bold lessons to teach about such well-meaning but dumb-as-a-wheel-of-cheese behaviour. In 1979 a fan at Madison Square Garden threw a rose at Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson only to wound his eye with a thorn – Anderson wore protective goggles at subsequent shows. At Norwegian Wood Festival in 2004, a lollipop thrown at David Bowie lodged in his eye, prompting him to threaten to punish the crowd with “an even longer concert”. And more recently, country pop singer Kelsea Ballerini was struck in the face by a bracelet thrown at her. The desire for a memorable one-off connection with the pop gods is understandable, particularly in an age when the wealthiest among us can virtually buy a meet-and-spoon with them before the show. But it shouldn’t need to be said that risking their personal well-being, the gig itself and a bouncer’s boot in the face for your troubles isn’t worth any amount of TikTok notoriety.
There is a short, strict list of things that musicians are okay with being thrown at them. Bundles of high denomination paper cash. Hospice-donatable soft toys. Verbal compliments. Underwear with your photo and phone number pinned to the gusset. And that’s it. Anything else, save for your next family buffet. With Ava Max being attacked onstage last month, we’ve entered an era where interactions between fan and artist need to revert to respectful boundaries. It’s a performance, not a baby shower or disorderly selfie queue, so let the stars get on with dazzling you without the underlying frisson of warzone.