In a series of special year-end roundtable discussions, The A.V. Club looks back at some of the stories that made the biggest impact on pop culture in 2023.
In a lot of ways, 2023 felt like the year that concerts really came back in full force after the lockdowns and social distancing of Covid. Sure, people were out and about by the end of 2021, and 2022 saw big tours from the likes of Harry Styles and Bad Bunny. But those pale in comparison to the one-two punch of 2023’s Eras Tour and the Renaissance Tour from Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, respectively. Not only was getting tickets as challenging as surviving “several bear attacks,” in the words of Swift, but the shows were credited with boosting the U.S. economy by billions of dollars.
But on the flip side, concerts often made headlines for the fact that everyone seemed to have forgotten how to act in public, which manifested as throwing things at performers. Bebe Rexha was hit in the face with a phone; Harry Styles was hit with ... something; P!nk faced both the ashes of a fan’s parent and a wheel of cheese.
In this roundtable, A.V. Club staffers Saloni Gajjar, Drew Gillis, and Emma Keates discuss the highs and lows of the year in concerts, and why being back with other fans was often kind of strange.
Saloni Gajjar: I shouldn’t be shocked because of their massive popularity, but it was still a trip to see just how insane the hoopla around Eras and Renaissance was this year. It wasn’t just a musical tour, it transcended into an unmissable event. But if you did miss it, there were usually various news stories out of every night and concerts were being live-streamed on TikTok with thousands of people viewing. It all kind of catapulted into madness. I get it though, I went to one of those tours and had the best time. And I regret not being able to attend the other.
Emma Keates: In a lot of ways, these felt like two of the first MAJOR returns to a widespread positive (well we can discuss that later) communal experience since the pandemic, so I’m not surprised they took off so much. I made no real attempt to buy tickets to either of them and didn’t think I’d care until all the live streams/Instagram posts/general hoopla (to use Saloni’s word) took over and I got completely swept up. I watched ... a lot of TikToks from both of them. An embarrassing amount, if I’m being honest.
Drew Gillis: When the Renaissance Tour started in Stockholm, I was going out of my way to avoid the content but I was hoping to go to the show and didn’t want it “spoiled,” and then when it became clear I wasn’t going to get tickets, I couldn’t get enough of it.
SG: That’s so fair. I feel like all those posts and livestreams generated just so much more interest even from people who probably aren’t big fans of Taylor, or Beyonce even. I don’t know if major musical acts have been consumed in this way before.
EK: I didn’t even consider myself a Swiftie before this show and now I’m the one correcting my friends on their deep cuts and lore.
DG: Exactly Emma. I definitely learned a lot about Taylor Swift this year just from being online and seeing the viral TikToks (and from working with Mary Kate Carr, if we’re being honest). I didn’t have to be plugged into a specific Swiftie corner, it felt omnipresent.
EK: To answer Saloni’s question, I can’t think of another time where it felt like everyone knew the fine details of a show, down to the order of a setlist and what outfit an artist wore for what song.
SG: Totally. Fans and fan accounts were constantly posting updates on these things: set lists/changes, outfits, surprise guests/songs, etc. Social media integration definitely made both Eras and Renaissance feel like grand pop culture events you simply had to be a part of.
EK: I can’t think of any other event where I would willingly watch a grainy livestream instead of just waiting for official videos, at least.
SG: Both these artists have incredibly vocal & massive fandoms, and I do think their online work made a huge difference, especially for a younger audience. Other artists don’t have that as much (excluding K-pop!)
DG: I feel like this flows into another element of concerts this year: bad behavior by fans, which was incentivized by going viral on social media.
EK: Ugh, definitely. There were so many incidents this year, it’s actually kind of a miracle artists want to tour at all anymore. I’m not surprised that Miley Cyrus said she was going to quit touring for good and I would be even less surprised if more major artists followed her lead in 2024
SG: I don’t know what anyone hopes to gain except viral traction (derogatory) when they throw things at an artist? What’s the point? Anyway, there was a truly harmful trend of that happening this year with Bebe Rexha, who literally needed stitches, P!nk, and others. It sets a bad precedent obviously, and feels genuinely scary.
Emma, you’re right. It adds to the pressure and has the potential to discourage both artists and attendees for safety reasons.
EK: Even without fans throwing things at their favs (ashes? sex toys?), the experience of going to a concert has gotten less fun in general between people bringing massive signs and recording entire sets on their phones and blocking shorter people (like me!) from seeing anything. But maybe that’s just a personal gripe ...
DG: I think there’s an interesting psychological element that I’m mostly unqualified to talk about, but it seems like people can’t handle being a passive spectator anymore. They need to be part of the action. It’s one thing to sing along to your favorite artist—I honestly don’t even like to do that usually, I like to sit quietly and chill and watch, but that’s me—and another to need to be part of the show.
EK: I so agree, Drew.
SG: Yup. you’re so right, and I get that to some extent, too. Both Taylor and Beyonce had these cute elements to include fans like the chants for Eras and the mute challenge for Renaissance, it’s like you’re in sync with the artist for a while, and it’s fun. But the bad behavior took things to an unnecessary extreme.
DG: And Eras and Renaissance are just too big for anyone except the few blessed fans in the pit to do anything like that. But even Taylor at one point had to ask people not to throw things on the stage because it freaks her out—and it is freaky! You have no idea what it could be.
EK: I wonder if that’s a part of why Eras and Renaissance took off the way they did. Obviously, Taylor and Beyonce are both massive artists whose tours would be popular in their own right, but they were both really smart about adding those interactive elements so fans didn’t feel as motivated to create those moments themselves.
SG: On the flip side: It was also very nice to see some good, normal behavior like exchanging all those friendship bracelets and Beyonce asking people to wear silver. That adds to the communal element of attending a concert of your favorite artist, which is what most people want to experience.
DG: It was very nice to see anyone being normal this year.
SG: Can’t argue with that.
EK: One of the best parts of going to a concert is interacting with other FANS as much (if not more so!) as interacting with the artist themselves, which Taylor and Beyonce hopefully reminded people of a bit.
SG: Yeah, again it just helps explain why their tours stood out so much. I mean, Taylor just keeps adding dates to her schedule, and fans all over the world seem to be willing to pay the price … literally.
DG: I will say, I went to see Madonna last weekend and I was talking to a couple other fans before the show who were definitely older than me and had gone to several of her shows. It was my first and they were hyping me up about what to expect and what their favorite parts were and it was just very sweet. It was one of those things I didn’t necessarily think of before I went, but felt as good about it as the show when I left.
EK: That makes me so happy. I feel like concerts for smaller artists have become almost like a competition to prove you love them the most or waited the longest to score merch or get to the front of the crowd. It’s hard to just connect and have a nice time.
DG: And, on the flip side, tickets to shows like Taylor or Beyoncé were so competitive, I’d be scared to admit that I was a new fan. Not that Madonna is a “smaller artist” but she didn’t break Ticketmaster. It felt more appropriate to go to a legacy act like that without having every single lyric committed to memory.
EK: Yes, I saw a lot of comments from people on videos of both tours saying fans didn’t deserve to be there if they only knew the hits or didn’t get a chant exactly right.
SG: Oh I love that, Drew, that’s really lovely. It also makes me sad that I missed out on other artists I would’ve loved to see perform live, including those who didn’t get the constant attention that these guys did. Taylor breaking Ticketmaster, and them not learning their lesson for Beyonce’s ticket sales, has turned into a real shitshow. Even if someone wants to attend the concert, the experience of buying a ticket is a nightmare now, for these landmark tours at least.
EK: I would have loved to see Olivia Rodrigo, for example, but I’m way too intimidated to even try with the way the others have gone.
SG: We’ll just have to see more grainy TikTok’s of her singing “bad idea right?”
DG: I went to see Lana Del Rey and had to fly to Pittsburgh to do it. But part of that was because she apparently never wants to set foot in New York again.
SG: I would’ve loved to see boygenius this year but it wasn’t in the cards. at least Phoebe opened for Taylor and it was excellent. But my goal for 2024 is to see more concerts and get back into the joys of enjoying live music with fellow fans.
DG: Let me ask this to conclude: what was your favorite show that you did get to attend this year?
EK: I got to see Paramore and it was such a good time. I’ve been a fan ever since the Riot! era and Hayley Williams is an immensely fun and captivating performer. I’m not going to say screaming the bridge of “Misery Business” in a sold-out stadium is better than therapy, but it certainly comes close.
DG: I think flying out to see Lana was probably my favorite, but Jon Batiste in Brooklyn isn’t far behind. He put on a hell of a show.
SG: Eras tour, of course. Taylor really puts on a show, so there’s never a dull moment whether or not you’re a Swiftie. A stadium of like 75,000 people coming alive while singing out loud various songs from her entire career? Yeah, it was electric.