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Steve Lacy
Via Instagram/@steve.lacy

Is TikTok actually ruining live music?

Steve Lacy smashing a fan’s camera onstage has stoked a long-running debate about audience etiquette among terminally online fanbases

On Monday night (October 24), Steve Lacy was filmed taking a camera off a fan in the front row at his New Orleans show and smashing it against the stage. Why, you ask? Because, moments earlier, the musician was hit by a camera thrown from the crowd. It’s unclear, at present, whether the person who threw it is the same that had their camera broken.

This isn’t a standalone incident. Shared earlier this month, more footage from Lacy’s ongoing US tour – shared on TikTok, naturally – sees him dismiss a fan’s shouted request to say hi to their mum. “Can you be quiet?” he says into the microphone, before launching into the next song. In yet another video, he speeds through a half-hearted version of one of his best-known songs, “Dark Red”, before seemingly leaving the stage (although comments report that the video was cropped to cut out the part where he returns to finish the set).

These videos have left a bitter taste in some fans’ mouths, and led to something of a conspiracy theory circulating on social media: that Steve Lacy is regretting his recent success, and “hates” his own music. In case you haven’t been keeping up with Lacy’s rise to fame, he originally started out as the guitarist for the LA-based band The Internet, and has songwriting credits for the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Solange Knowles. In the last year, however, his fame has peaked with the release of his latest album, Gemini Rights, which includes his first number-one single, “Bad Habit”.

Even if you’re not a Steve Lacy fan, the words “Bad Habit” probably conjure up a very familiar vocal melody in your mind: “I bite my tongue, it’s a bad habit.” Like it or not, the song can attribute part of its success to blowing up on TikTok, where it’s been used to soundtrack more than 500,000 videos since the track was released in June.

In fact, some people suggest that this is part of the problem. Is Steve Lacy annoyed because half of his audience aren’t “real” fans, but instead buy tickets based on TikTok trends, and don’t know the vast majority of his lyrics? Is he testing them in the videos where he makes the crowd sing his biggest hits unaccompanied, while he stands in silence looking kind of bored?

Of course, throwing objects onstage is a time-honoured tradition, and it could equally be argued that Lacy overreacted by smashing a fan’s (allegedly $20) camera. Even Harry Styles – whose record-breaking number one was knocked off the top of the charts by Lacy – makes time to interact with his fans at sold-out arena gigs. Look no further than the hundreds of fawning TikToks that show him responding to fans’ signs, or helping them to come out to their parents. This summer, Lewis Capaldi was similarly captured taking a fans’ BeReal onstage at a major European festival.

That being said, poor audience etiquette has been a much-discussed topic as of late. Who can forget that video Lorde shushing her fans that resurfaced on TikTok earlier this year? That sparked a debate about the fine line between audience participation and getting in the way of the performance. Are the videos from Lacy’s tour a sign that things are finally coming to a head, and online culture – ironically enough a musician who made his name with The Internet – is ruining live music? Have we simply forgotten how basic human interactions are supposed to work?

Probably not, to be honest. In a statement posted to Instagram on October 25, Lacy explains that his shows have been “been fun as hell!”, though he does add a sly dig at recent events: “Shoutout to the people not throwing disposable cameras at me and just coming to catch a vibe and connect.” He also says that he had “a really good time” at the controversial New Orleans show. “I hate that the beauty of the connection I have with so many people in the crowd gets lost when something negative happens.”

Notably, Lacy also refuses to apologise for smashing the camera, and reiterates that fans should respect certain boundaries. “Maybe I could’ve reacted better?” he adds. “Sure. Always. I’m a student of life. But I’m a real person with real feelings and real reactions. I’m not a product or a robot. I am human.”

Similarly, Lorde shut down the controversy about her shushing earlier this year, addressing it in a video shared with fans. “That was something that I did on that one song a couple times when I wanted to sing it acapella and/or off the microphone so people could hear me and because I wanted to try something different,” she explained. “If you come to my shows, you know it’s an hour-and-a-half of all of us singing and screaming together.”

At the end of the day, it seems less like TikTok has ruined live music for musicians and their core fanbases, and more like it’s made it easy to clip their most awkward, emotional, or annoying moments out of context.