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Music Culture

Par-asocial Relationships Between Artists & Fans in Music

Today we are going to be talking about the Parasocial relationships between fans and artists, and the resulting fan culture that contributes to dangerous sitations such as the Astroworld casualties. Let me first be clear and say that I feel that Travis is directly responsible for what happened at this one particular event. As the headlining and organzing artist, he had the most power in that situation and chose to contribute to the deaths of his fans – and he was caught doing so in 4k. With that being said, there is a larger conversation to be had about how we, as consumers of music, have to change the way we participate in music culture. There was a lack of empathy within the audience that has been curated by social media, idolization of celebrities, and a severe misunderstanding of the real relationship between fans and artists. Fan culture needs a hard reset.

First, let’s talk about what the hell parasocial relationships are. Parasocial relationships are one sided relationships, that can psychologically feel like face to face relationships you would develop in your day to day life. But they aren’t, they are mediated and curated by one side. When you see a celebrity in person, you’re immediate thought might be, “Holy shit, I know them.” or something along those lines. The reality though, is that you don’t actually know them. You recognize them and you have in one way or another looked at their life through the lense that they, and their entire team of management, curated for you to see. These aren’t your besties, they aren’t actually directly speaking to you specifically as a fan. I know that sounds like I might be over explaining, but genuinely, as I sit on twitter and watch hoards of fandoms harass people and artists knowingly inciting behavior from their unhinged fanbases, I feel like it needs to be over explained. The lack of awareness from the fan side of the artist-fan parasocial relationship is a really slippery slope, and is the catalyst for targedies like Astroworld to happen.

You should never be so enthralled by an artist that you would literally trample over the people in front of you just to get that much closer to them. Life is not a fanfic, none of us are actually y/n. We have to understand that our behaviors as individuals within a fandom directly contribute to the culture of that artist and the resulting culture at their events and in their spaces on the internet. If you don’t have that parasocial boundary with the artists you listen to, it allows them the ooportunity to use that to their advantage. Travis Scott has incited this behavior from fans for years. The Barbz have gone to the ends of the earth to try and save whatever is left of Miss Minajs reputation all across the internet, as if this person they idolize is actual family or something. Back in the day, and I was here and participated because I didn’t know better, The One Direction fandom was absolutely unhinged beyond repair. The swifties and the directioners were literally at WAR when RED came out the first time. Fan Culture has only continued to get more dangerous and less empathetic as time goes on, trading the fan to fan personal relationships for clawing at any chance to have a real relationship with the artist when that is not reality. Both fans and artists are in compromised positions of safety when the boundaries of that relationship are not clear. Look at how many artists have been killed because of fans that did not grasp the reality of what a parasocial relationship was. Look at how many fans have been killed. There is no reason why this should be happening, and it is horrifying.

You should never have to go to a concert and be in fear of your fellow fans trampling over you. You shouldn’t be scared to voice a valid opinion about an artist out of fear that their fanbases are going to obliterate you on the internet. Celebrities are people, yes, but they are not your friends. They give you the illusion of y’all being friends so that their careers can continue. Now, this is not to say that no artist actually carees about their fans. That isn’t true either. Of course artists love their fans, they wouldn’t be able to do literally anything without them. You have hundreds of thousands of people who are listening to your art and telling you how much they love you and how much your music has impacted them, and you are sharing that experience with them in some way but you have to know that you’re looking at it from two separate sides of the coin. You are one body in that sea of hundreds of thousands of people. When artists say, I love my fans, they mean exactly that. Even when they say, each and every one of you, yes in theory they appreciate every single person that contributes to them in one way or another. In application, they do not know you individually exist like that. They don’t know your life like you know theirs, but they give you the ollusion of knowing that life through writing relatable misic that really does sometimes feel like it was written just for you. But it wasn’t. It was written for them, and then shared with you as a fan by choice through more hoops and loops of management than you or I could imagine, but all you see is that artist on twitter and insta posting about how excited they are to share this with YOU. But its not you, as in individual, its y’all. All of y’all, including me.

I have to check myself all the time as a fan, like I will be knee deep in the Kacey Musgraves subreddit fighting for my life and then I take a step back and I’m like… girl get a grip you don’t even know her, like I am guilty of idolizing artists just as much as the next guy. Then I take another step back and I’m like… why am I arguing with other fans? We are supposed to be in the same boat, right? You have to question and reflect on your own behavior to gain a better understanding of the dynamics in these parasocial relationships with celebrities. Music is a community, started through shared emotions and experiences. The most important relationship in music should not be the ones betweens fans and artists, but just between the fans themselves. That is your real community, where the shared experiences are actual real. Celebrity artists do not relate to their music in the same way that you we do, they don’t have a normal life experience anymore. The fans, the people who you are trampling over to be seen, are the people you should be looking at. That is where real life frienships and relationships with music are developed. I don’t have any fond memories of me looking at artists instagrams and boosting their algorithms, I have many fond memories of dancing with my friends and crying and laughing and screaming together about our shared experiences with songs. It’s taken time for me to gain awareness after being literally raised in this culture on the internet of idolizing celebrities. Holding the celebrities accountable for their actions and abuse of fan culture is important, but that only addresses the cause and not the symptom, which is this nasty, unwelcoming, literally fight for your life space of music culture that makes musisicians into god-like figures. Every artist youve ever heard was a fan first, they were you and me. I will always have special places in my heart for certain artists and feel connected to them, but I am not actually connected to them. I am connected to the music they shared with the hundreds of thousands of fans, me being one of them. It’s my experiences that define those songs, not the artists that wrote it.

The next time you go to a concert or watch one online, take a minute to really look at the picture. The artist, on stage, elevated and separated from the audience delivering the experience to the thousands of people in the crowd. Every single one of those people have their own relationship with music, and these particular songs, just like you do. You are all in that moment together and it’s such a magical opportunity to have that shared experience, those are life changing music moments I have had them. Looking back now though, the artist was only the vessel. The fans and the feeling of knowing everybody else in the room was just as excited as I was, THAT is the magic of going to a concert. Artists are just artists without fans, then they become celebrities. Celebrties cannot share your reality, they have been removed and filtered from it for the sake of developing an audience. Having that knowledge, knowing the boundaries of parasocial relationships as a fan is crucial to making a change in music culture as we look towards the future. If we want a safer, less exclusive music community than we have to make that change ourselves. Idolization makes money for a lot of Artists, which is why you see so many create random business brands. They know people will buy it even if its not good, just because. Industry professionals are not going to be too inclined to change the fan culture that upholds the current standards of the music industry, so it has to come from the fans themselves. We have more power than we think as individuals, but it’s easy to have been convinced otherewise by the internet we’ve been rasied on.

All of this is to say that in the wake of this weeks events, it is time that everybody who listens or makes music re-evaluates their reltionship with both the songs and the artists you have attachments with. Spend some time checking out some forums for your favs and get a reality check on the sub-cultures they are driving within the larger scope of the music community.

For an audio/video version of this post, check out the YouTube Channel:

By Victoria Shell

Epileptic Singer-Songwriter & Independent Music Journalist.

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