Bebe Rexha being hit with a phone proves fan culture has gone too far

Groping. Choking. Punching. Stalking. Yelling. 

When I say those things, do you instantly imagine doing them to someone you love? Or do they fill you with terror and anxiety? 

Because that’s what fan culture has become – expressing so-called adoration for an A-lister through such wildly inappropriate actions that cross every boundary and in ways most of us wouldn’t dare do to another human being.

An incident involving Bebe Rexha went viral recently, as the poor singer was allegedly attacked while performing on stage. 

An audience member threw a phone that hit her directly in her face – I say ‘throw’, it was more of a pelt, rock through a window type of thing – leaving her with seriously nasty bruises and in need of stitches. 

Of course, in true Bebe style, she was quick to reassure her genuine fans that she’s OK while making a light-hearted quip on TikTok. The individual responsible was also charged.

But this horrifying alleged assault got me thinking – how did fandom culture ever get so out of control? How did being a fan of a musician go from something so pure and exciting to not only invading someone’s personal space, but actively hurting them all for… what?

Five seconds of eye contact? A joke? 

Throwing phones on stage isn’t a new thing, of course. Take Harry Styles, for example. He’s been known to call fans’ parents when mobiles are chucked in his direction, or take a BeReal on their phone. It’s wholesome fun. 

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Things become frightening, though, when the playful mocking from fans becomes rude and possessive, and fans start believing they are owed something purely because they’ve dedicated time and money to supporting an artist. 

In reality, no one owes you anything. It sounds cruel, but there needs to be a clear distinction between the celebrity and the fan or, to be blunt, the creator and the consumer – for everyone’s safety. 

Parasocial relationships with celebs are at an all-time high. While these can be harmless, there’s a risk of the line between the star and the fan becoming blurred. 

For context, a parasocial relationship is where someone genuinely believes there’s a connection between them and their celebrity idol. Parasocial relationships are one-sided. They involve one party exerting all their energy and time while the other remains unaware that this person even exists. 

As the definition suggests, they can involve going to extreme lengths to show commitment, with the antics extending far beyond concert arenas. 

Again, this isn’t a new phenomenon. We saw it with the outpouring of grief following the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 and how thousands of mourners gathered outside Elvis Presley’s iconic mansion when he died in 1977, all in tears despite never having met them.

But in terms of today’s culture, gone are the days of queuing up on a runway to meet The Beatles when their plane lands. Fan culture today is on a whole new level to Beatlemania and the frenzy surrounding ‘90s boy bands. 

As a One Direction fan back in the day, I vividly remember girls hacking into airport security cameras to watch the guys just sit in the lounge. Personal photos would leak, as if anyone was entitled to them, with rumours swirling around their family members’ iClouds being infiltrated.

Oh, and two fans once stole Liam Payne’s boxer shorts from his balcony and wore them to the beach, eventually giving them back after being caught. 

Taylor Swift released a song in 2019 titled Cornelia Street, named after her old apartment and featuring lyrics, which many believe to be about her ex-boyfriend, Joe Alwyn.

Thankfully, she no longer lives in said apartment because it’s become a tourist hotspot. Swifties travel far and wide and flock to take photos outside as if it’s the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben. 

Another recent example is Doja Cat. Fans in Paraguay were upset with her after she didn’t meet and greet those waiting outside her hotel in the rain after she cancelled a gig due to a storm.

They accused her of leaving them feeling ‘empty’ and even labelled her ‘public enemy number 1’, which is a lot of emotional strain to put on an artist.

Doja went on a rant about the high expectations from her fans, vowing to quit music altogether – and who can blame her?

Personally, I can’t say I’d be delighted to take selfies with hundreds of people camping outside my hotel. 

These high expectations from celebrities lead to disappointment on both sides – with fans gutted when their unrealistic expectations are not fulfilled, and celebs grappling with the guilt of (rightfully) setting personal boundaries. 

So, what’s to blame? Is it social media, which allows us 24/7 access to big celebrities? Perhaps. There’s no denying that having constant updates on someone’s life and writing fanfictions about a romance between you and them feeds into the problem. 

Are celebrities just too nice, and need to learn when to tell fans to shove off? I guess that’s a tricky one. 

The fact of the matter is fandom culture is out of hand and it’s been known to have scary consequences. 

Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears, Sandra Bullock, Madonna… they’ve all dealt with stalkers and are no strangers to legal action. 

When an unhealthy level of worship towards a celebrity develops, parasocial relationships can far exceed the point of being harmless, especially when there’s a sexual or romantic aspect. 

No one’s saying don’t be a fan. 

I grew up with fan accounts on social media, going to concerts and making friends, covering my bedroom from ceiling to floor in posters, and creating memories thanks to the singers I adored. They provided a safe space for me when I was going through dark times. 

Being a fan is magical and I’ve always wished for everyone to have something in their life that makes them as happy as it has made me. 

What I am saying, however, is take a second to think about what’s objectively appropriate. If you wouldn’t like someone to do it to you, chances are, no matter how much of a megastar your idol is, they wouldn’t like it done to them. 

Deep connections with celebrities can be comforting and help establish self-worth, but they are far from normal relationships. 

It needs to be kept in mind that not only are these stars not our friends, but they’re not even normal human beings. They don’t exist on the same level in the way that – despite what critics say – no, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle can’t just fly commercial, because it would be so unsafe.

Admiring celebrities from afar is one thing, as is finding meaning in their music, relating to their movies, or using fandom culture as an escape. Just remember that there’s a line – no one has a right to unlimited access to another human being, purely because they’re famous.

Meanwhile, Bebe Rexha has to move on from this. She has to go out and continue giving performances to crowds who, for all she knows, could turn on her at any moment. She has to walk the street without security and be at home on her own at night.

If I was in that situation, my mind would be spiralling and I’d flinch at the sight of my own shadow. She’s so vulnerable when she’s on stage and I wouldn’t blame her at all for taking an extended break.

Everyone deserves basic respect. It’s just a shame someone has to be injured for it to be realised.

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