28 November 2023

WTF is going on with fans and stadium gigs?

The death of a fan at a Taylor Swift concert in Brazil raises a lot of tricky questions about large venue concerts.

On Friday the 17th of November, Ana Clara Benevides died from a cardiac arrest after becoming unwell at Taylor Swift’s first Eras Tour show at the Nilton Santos stadium in Brazil. While Benevides’ passing is being put down to the heatwave and a stadium ban on personal water bottles, an inquiry has since been launched into TRF, the Brazilian entertainment company that organised the concert. In the wake of Benevides’ death, Swift took to Instagram to express how “devastated” she was by the news and that she’d made the decision to postpone the show that was due to take place that evening. But that might not be enough. Though footage emerged of Swift trying to distribute bottles of water at the show in question, for many, the singer is somewhat complicit: could her fans’ wellbeing ever be a priority in a venue of this scale? 

The tragic death of Benevides is part of a bigger problem when it comes to these large venue concerts. It comes just two years after the fatal crowd crush at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, which saw 11 people die and a huge 300 people being treated for injuries. Meanwhile in the UK, earlier this year Lambeth council made the decision to suspend O2 Academy Brixton’s licence following a similar occurrence at the venue that left two people dead and one in critical condition. Astroworld, in particular, entered the cultural zeitgeist in a big way: it led to a slew of other musical artists pertinently pausing their own concerts whenever a fan was in distress. But with the news of Benevides death – and bearing in mind that these kinds of displays are now less and less commonplace – it’s hard to see these kinds of responses as anything more than artists trying to save face. 

In the world of Swift’s Eras Tour, which will span a total of 151 shows across five continents, Benevides death could be seen as the nail in the coffin amongst other criticisms drawn by the singer’s tour-stroke-musical spectacular. Swift’s decision to sell tickets with a view from behind the stage has already made the rounds on X, as has the price of tickets for the concerts, which range from US$49 to $449. VIP packages will even set you back up to $899. 

Tickets with these kinds of price tags don’t just make for an expensive night out. For Becca, who attended one of Harry Styles’ Love on Tour shows at Wembley, it was shocking to see just how many fans had been led to purchase fake tickets for the event: “young girls, who were clearly ecstatic to see their favourite artist, were literally collapsing to their knees when they found out they hadn’t got a real ticket.” In 2022, the year in which the majority of the Love on Tour shows took place, ticket scams were said to have increased by a whopping 529%.

There’s somewhat of an undercurrent here: that it might be hard for artists to understand that a 70,000 strong crowd comes with a responsibility (and not just a big paycheck). And that’s never clearer when instances of sexual assault take place during these kinds of gigs. “When I was around 15, I went to see Oasis at Milton Keynes bowl, back in the day of crowd surfing,” says Amy. “A friend lifted me up and threw me forward when a stranger moved aside my knickers and sexually assaulted me”. Unfortunately, Amy’s experience is by no means unusual. In 2021, the Safe Spaces Now initiative was launched in response to data that revealed 40% of women under 40 had been sexually harassed at music events.

These large venue concerts happen for a reason: they mean that a greater number of people get the chance to see their favourite artists in the flesh. And just as there are tours like Swift’s – those that are hard to untangle from the artist lining their pockets – there are those by artists endeavouring to create a more intimate experience. Adele’s residency in Las Vegas, for example, takes place at Ceasars palace, which seats a comparatively tiny 4000 people. Adele made the news this August when she momentarily paused her show to defend a fan who was told to sit down and “stay calm” by a security guard. 

Where do we go from here? For Taylor Swift, apparently the answer is to go full steam ahead. Since her initial statement on Instagram, Swift has been quiet on the matter, and fans have expressed their dismay that the singer didn’t explicitly pay tribute to Benevides at her next Brazil show. While some have argued that this is because Swift couldn’t legally do so, it’s a move that invariably feels a little crass when the singer did take to X to announce that she’s releasing an “extended version” of The Eras Tour Concert Film that will be available to rent online. One user responded by saying that “the way [Swift] is able to continuously milk money out of her fans for the same shit they already have needs to be studied”. 

Swift’s trajectory after Benevides’ death is, really, all too familiar. Within the same year as they came to the decision to revoke its licence, Lambeth council came to the decision to allow Brixton Academy to reopen. Ultimately, it appears that the show must go on; it just leaves a bad taste. For the family of Benevides, who recently expressed their gratitude towards the fans that crowdfunded to get Ana’s body back to their hometown, that’s simply all too true.

  • Writer Amber Rawlings

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