How pop stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift are embracing the social media concert
Canadian fan attended first Beyoncé show in Stockholm to beat spoilers
When Diana Nada arrived at the airport in Stockholm last week, a customs agent asked her what the purpose of her trip was. The Toronto marketing professional gave the most honest answer she could muster.
"Well, there's really only one," Nada recalled saying. "It's to see Beyoncé."
The pop star's Renaissance tour kicked off in the Swedish city on Wednesday, her first solo concert tour since 2016. As with many artists who have large followings, every detail from that Beyoncé concert was posted for the world to see and dissect to their heart's desire.
"If I could be there first one to see it and witness everything, I wouldn't have to get spoiled on the Internet for months to come if I had to wait til the Toronto show in July," Nada said, noting that concert "spoilers" are increasingly difficult to avoid on TikTok, Twitter and other platforms.
"I just think that the way that social media has kind of blown up and the way that content is consumed nowadays, if you're not looking for it, it's going to be fed to you."
Social media, especially TikTok, is changing the way we consume live concerts — and your favourite artists know it.
From Beyoncé to Taylor Swift, to Dua Lipa and BTS, pop stars are approaching their concerts with social media audiences in mind, engaging fans who aren't there in person but who are intently watching concert footage from their phones.
Concertgoers 'the least of their concerns'
Some people might notice that their social media feeds — regardless of your affinity for artists like Beyonce or Swift — have become inundated with footage, photos and commentary about their concerts.
"We're kidding ourselves if we don't think that these artists take advantage of these three-hour opportunities to sort of do a brand offensive," said Sydney Urbanek, a culture critic in Toronto who writes the pop star-centric newsletter Mononym Mythology.
"I think at this point in 2023, stars are very aware that when they go out on stage, the people there right in the room with them are in some ways the least of their concerns," she added. "There's much more of a live feed into other people's phones and homes than there previously was."
Taylor Swift embarked on her Eras tour in March, a concert concept designed to revisit her entire discography as well as her past public personas (red lipstick, side swept bangs and a guitar, anyone?). Thanks to its self-referential nature, the tour has become something of a social media phenomenon itself.
Swift's infamously dedicated fan base has been razor-focused on finding "Easter eggs" that the singer seems to be leaving during each show, sometimes by wearing t-shirts that hint at upcoming album releases, or pairing thematically related songs together during her surprise two-song acoustic set, which features different tracks in each city.
"It's definitely [keeping] with Taylor's affinity for, you know, having her fans play games and crack codes all the time," Urbanek observed.
Cassie Leonhardt, a 33-year-old Taylor Swift fan from Vancouver, went to the opening night concert of the Eras tour in Glendale, Calif. She said that all of the social media activity around the tour has boosted curiosity in Swift's performances beyond her most passionate fans.
"I think social media has definitely been a tool in garnering all this interest in promoting her music and helping to, I guess, grow the fandom," she said.
British pop singer Dua Lipa enjoyed a similar online fascination with her tour antics last year. The singer poked fun at herself with a choreographed move — the "pencil sharpener" dance — that she was mocked for earlier in her career. Those concert moments quickly went viral; her fans ate it up.
K-pop group BTS, Spanish singer Rosalía and New Zealand pop star Lorde have used their concerts in a similar capacity.
Beyond these smaller moments, live shows have become fruitful advertising venues and opportunities for artists, according to Urbanek. During a recent show in her hometown Nashville, Swift announced that a re-recorded (a.k.a. Taylor's) version of her 2010 album Speak Now would be released in July, but the news quickly spread to fans outside the arena.
Beyoncé fans, likewise, might be paying a lot of attention to shows outside of their own stop because they're hoping the singer will announce a rumoured film project linked to the Renaissance album.
"Whether it's Beyoncé, whether it's Taylor Swift, each show generates its own two or three viral moments just simply because of how these stars images are being circulated," Urbanek said.
"If Taylor makes a funny face on stage or does a playful bit of choreo more suggestively because she's sort of teasing fans, she knows that you're getting that on TikTok or on your Twitter timeline."
The rise of the concert spoiler
The ubiquity of concert footage on social media has created an odd conundrum for fans, one that most would associate with a movie or TV show: the concert spoiler.
Both Nada and Leonhardt attended the opening shows of their favourite artists' tours partially as a way to avoid performance details — the surprise setlist, the outfit changes, the quips, the special guests and moments of vocal prowess — so that they could preserve the experience of the live show.
"I have some friends that are like this [who] said that, as soon as the Eras tour was starting, they would just do a blackout. They won't go online anymore because of the fact that they don't want to be spoiled," said Leonhardt.
Artists from Madonna to John Mayer have experimented with lock boxes in recent years, forcing fans to lock their phone away in a pouch that only opens at the end of a concert.
While the intent was to limit the amount of video recording and social media usage during these shows, creating a more intimate, in-the-moment environment, it also meant that fewer details were emerging for fans outside.
And with concert tickets being more expensive than ever, as ticket resellers drive up costs with dynamic pricing and upselling — a tactic that Taylor Swift fans know, ahem, all too well — "not everyone wants to pay hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars for tickets and then have a show spoiled all over their timeline," said Urbanek.
Nada, having successfully outmanoeuvred the Beyoncé spoilers thanks to her trip to Stockholm, will now be following the Renaissance tour on TikTok. She might even get tickets to one of the singer's Toronto concerts in July.
"I think being able to stay on top of of what's happening, how things are changing, how things are evolving is only going to drive my interest more to see her," she said.