Are audiences getting more aggressive? Harry Styles struck in face by object at Vienna show

Some of the performers who have dealt with objects thrown onstage include (left to right): Kelsea Ballerini, Pink, Bebe Rexha and Harry Styles.
Some of the performers who have dealt with objects thrown onstage include (left to right): Kelsea Ballerini, Pink, Bebe Rexha and Harry Styles. Copyright AP Photo
By Anca Ulea
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Harry Styles is the latest artist to get hit in the face with an object thrown by a spectator, at his show in Vienna this weekend. Why does this keep happening?


Harry Styles is the latest performer to get pelted with a flying object during a concert, after a string of similar incidents at shows around the world.

Over the weekend, the British pop star was struck in the eye during his performance at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna.

Videos shared on social media showed Styles walking across the stage before a flying object hits him in the eye. He's seen wincing and grabbing his left eye before continuing his show.

It's not the first time Styles has had to contend with projectiles at one of his shows - back in his One Direction days, he was hit in the face with a tampon. He also slipped on a kiwi that was thrown onstage.

But generally, the experiences have been mostly positive. One moment in particular went viral when Styles noticed a fan had thrown a chicken nugget onstage. He stopped his show to laugh about it.

Recently, however, the tone has shifted to something darker. Last fall, Styles was hit in the eye with Skittles while performing in Los Angeles, which set off a wave of anger among fans who accused other concertgoers of lacking respect.

The incident in Vienna is just the latest in a long list of artists who have been targeted, and sometimes injured, by flying objects during their shows.

Some of the more bizarre things artists have dodged include sex toys and someone’s literal ashes.

Adele warns audiences to 'stop throwing sh**t'

At a concert in Las Vegas last week, British singer-songwriter Adele warned her audience (jokingly, of course) that she would “f**king kill” anyone who dared throw something at her.

The Grammy winner said: “Have you noticed how people are like forgetting f**king show etiquette at the moment? People just throwing s–t onstage, have you seen them?”

Her onstage rant may have been tongue-in-cheek (she herself noted the irony as she was launching t-shirts into the crowd with a cannon), but cases of concertgoers launching projectiles at artists have become increasingly visible lately.

There is a definite change in people's behaviour, there's a lot less tolerance, a lot less patience, a lot more aggression. The phrase that is used most frequently is a sense of entitlement.
Eric Stuart
Chair, Global Crowd Management Alliance

Crowd management experts have noted an increase in aggressive behaviour at live events, including concerts and sports matches, since the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns were lifted, said Eric Stuart, chair of the Global Crowd Management Alliance.

"When we speak with our colleagues around the world, in Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Ireland, everybody's saying the same thing," Stuart told Euronews Culture

"There is a definite change in people's behaviour, there's a lot less tolerance, a lot less patience, a lot more aggression. The phrase that is used most frequently is a sense of entitlement."

A surge in unruly audience behaviour

One of the most egregious recent cases of a projectile actually hitting an artist took place last month, when US pop star Bebe Rexha was hit in the face with a cell phone while she was performing in New York City.

The Grammy-nominated artist had to get stitches, and was left with a massive bruise on her left eye, which she shared with fans in a photo posted to Twitter.

The 27-year-old man who threw the phone was charged with assault and aggravated harassment. A witness who was quoted in a criminal complaint said they heard the man say: “I was trying to see if I could hit her with the phone at the end of the show because it would be funny.”

He later changed his story; his lawyer maintains that he threw the phone because he wanted Rexha to take a selfie, referring to a TikTok trend where performers will record a video on fans' phones during shows, which subsequently go viral online.


A few days later, American singer Ava Max was slapped by a man who climbed onstage during her show in Los Angeles. In videos posted to social media, the man is seen being dragged off by security, as Max continues her performance.

A shift in the dialogue between artists and fans

This kind of behaviour isn’t new – people have been throwing things onstage during concerts pretty much as long as concerts have existed. Think back to the thousands of panties that ended up at Tom Jones’ feet, or that one time David Bowie was almost blinded by a lollipop.

"We've always had incidents of people throwing things on stage," Stuart said. "It's never been a major problem. But now people are throwing hard things like mobile phones. I've not heard of it to this level before."

Stuart says that artists need to take some of the responsibility for the audience's actions, by establishing clear boundaries from the outset.

"It's a really difficult thing because artists want to be seen and loved by their fans," he said. "But if an artist does pick up a phone off the floor, take a selfie and then pass it back out to the person that's thrown it, then they're encouraging that behaviour, which would then be copied by others and may actually increase the danger."


Even Adele's stage rant wasn't particularly effective, according to Stuart, who said that shooting t-shirts into the crowd could actually cause injuries in the audience if people rushed to catch them.

"We need to make sure that the artists fully understand that there are consequences to their actions, not just parts of their art and part of their performance, but how they respond to people," he said.

Another concern is the disproportionate number of female artists who have been targeted by the violence, which several fans have pointed out on social media.

“Idk what is in the air lately but the disrespect for female artists by unruly concert goers who will do anything for attention is deeply concerning and abhorrent,” wrote Twitter user sweetlikeh0ney.

Stuart says that in the coming weeks, crowd management experts are planning on meeting to discuss what he says "feels like a pattern" of female artists being targeted by violence while onstage.


"The sense is that it seems to be mostly towards female artists, but I don't think any of us really know why, and none of us can actually envisage the reason. I don't think we've got a strong enough evidence base to confirm that that is the case."

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