Insecurity and Live Music

Last November, a three-month state of emergency was declared in France after a series of attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis. One of the attacks occurred during the concert of the band Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan Theatre. On June 10, YouTube star Christina Grimmie, a second runner-up in The Voice’s sixth season, was shot at point-blank range by a deranged fan and killed. Two days later, a gay nightclub became the target of a mass shooting in Orlando with 49 people murdered and 53 wounded.

A catalogue of factoids can shed, perhaps, some light on what happened.

EODM’s concert at the Bataclan was a target in part because the venue was owned by Jews and supported pro-Israel events.1 EODM’s lead singer Jesse Hughes had been vocal in his support of Israel: two months before the attack, the band performed at Tel Aviv despite Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters’ calling for bands to boycott Israel;2 Hughes, at the Tel Aviv concert, had said that “I would never boycott a place like this.”3

Christina Grimmie’s death, instead, had less to with politics than madness. She was shot four times by fan Kevin Loibl. Loibl had followed Grimmie online and became infatuated with her. He believed they were soulmates4 and would often discuss his plans to marry her with his co-workers.5 He changed his religion and his diet on account of Grimmie and went under the scalpel to have his face changed and look more appealing to her.6

Days later, tragedy struck again in Orlando. The killer Omar Mateen, had pledged allegiance to ISIS during a 911 call during the attack.7 But ISIS might have just been a cover or a convenient story.8 Many in fact believed that the lone wolf attack was a hate crime towards the LGBT community: Mateen was a regular customer at the nightclub and may have had problems with his own sexuality.

Guns and the Cult of Celebrity

If the fact and motives differed, the use of firearms was common in all these crimes. Thus, in the wake of the Orlando massacre, the worst mass shooting in US history,9 President Obama and U.S. senators renewed the call for gun control. Nevertheless, the status quo prevailed when the usual gun amendments were voted down.10

The music industry, instead, has stayed in the sidelines on the issue of guns. Politically, most of the creative community might be inclined to support gun restrictions. In practice, many artists still condone the use of guns in their music — and the Recording Industry Association of America, its trade representative in Congress, fights vigorously for the right of their free speech.

For example, songs like Gunwalk, by Lil Wayne, 2013, and Pumped Up Kicks, by Foster the People, 2010, promote de facto violence and romanticize shootings. The mantra of Gunwalk is “I don’t do no arguing, I let my gun talk”, while Lil Wayne recites a laundry list of ways he’ll unapologetically shoot anyone in his path.11 Pumped Up Kicks, oddly a Grammy nominated song, is about a kid preparing to shoot his classmates at school; it was apparently inspired by teenage angst, or mental illness, and meant to (sic) “create an ongoing dialogue”12. Such lyrics exhibit no remorse for their potential consequence.

Moreover, guns and the modern cult of celebrity don’t mix well. Fandom can become its own pathology, something that psychologists are beginning to study. For John D. Moore, for example, obsession with celebrities falls mainly under two mental illness categories. The first is erotomania, a type of delusion that leads a person to believe that another person is in love with them: a fan, for example, may believe that the celebrity is using social media to communicate directly. The second is obsessive love, a delusion that happens when a person, sometimes a schizophrenic or bipolar individual, feels compelled to possess another person towards whom they feel a strong attraction or desire: a fan, for example, may develop an intense romantic attachment to a celebrity.13

Elisabeth Sherman writes in Rolling Stone that social media plays a huge role in fuelling fans’ modern delusion that celebrities are their friends.14 As celebrities and their PR teams strive to establish an enduring connection with fans through social media, they tread perilously in today’s world– and therefore trigger episodes where erotomania and obsessive love are acted out. A Snapchat capturing a morning visit to Starbucks with the caption ‘daily routine’ is relatable to fans and may strengthen the appeal of the brand. However, as Christina Grimmie’s case shows, too much information can be the kiss of death for an artist at the hands of a mentally ill fan.

Celebrities were murdered before the advent of new social media technology. Mark David Chapman still found a way to stalk and kill John Lennon in December 1980 without it, when the unguarded Beatle lived happily in New York. And psychologists still have to explain how erotomania and obsessive love turns into murder. Crimes of passion have been common in the past, of course, but more often than not they were examples of domestic violence run awry and a matter of private record. There seems to be a shift now by deranged individuals towards seeking retribution with a public figure. Christina Grimmie did not have the stature that John Lennon enjoyed in popular culture, and yet she was murdered. It may be wrong to extrapolate from this event, but fan adulation is on the rise and social media is a catalyst.

Doing something

In the meantime, music industry professionals are increasingly concerned about security at concert venues. World politics create anxiety and the threat of terrorism looms largest this summer. At home, an undercurrent of anger is testing civil society and mass shootings by psychopaths are never far from mind either.

Trade publications like Billboard mirror this difficult juncture and speculate about changes that concert promoters and venue owners can make. In most cases thin profit margins play against better security, especially for the small to midsize venues. For instance, metal wands, walk-through detectors, and security pat-downs are expensive. A walk through detector sells upwards of $5,000 and a set of wands can be dear at over $100 a piece. And this is before the biggest cost of all is factored in — the hiring of qualified security personnel. This is important. Public assembly safety consultant Russ Simons stresses that the efficiency of pat-downs is dependent on the guards’ alertness, training and supervision (where money is not available for new hires, he sees a valuable asset in law enforcement officers coaching guards at the venue, especially on situational awareness).15 For Steven Adelman, VP of the Event Safety Alliance, well-trained guards are definitely worth the extra expense and are much more effective than a loosely monitored walk-through detector.

Thousands of shows happen almost daily without a problem. But reasonable measures should be taken by the business to prevent shooting tragedies from happening. If ticket prices have to rise to accommodate higher security costs this is surely a better solution than doing nothing, for the potential of mischief from a catastrophe would likely reverberate across the live music industry. Evildoers will choose big congregations of fans to do their dirty deeds, as the massacre at the Bataclan Theatre showed. It remains that music concerts, along with patriotic events and spectator sports, are one of the easiest soft targets out there.


By Corliss Lee



















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