It’s pretty telling of how busy of a news week it is in country music when you have a controversy involving Miranda Lambert that stimulates Whoopi Goldberg to walk off the set of The View in disgust, and it’s the second biggest story to report on. That’s the case for Miranda Lambert’s “Selfie-Gate” after she stopped down one of her Las Vegas residency shows mid-song (“Tin Man”) to chide some ladies in the front row for snapping photos as opposed to paying attention to her song.
Though much less of a controversy than Jason Aldean’s song/video “Try That in a Small Town,” the situation makes for an interesting discussion point surrounding concert etiquette. When I first saw the headlines of how Ran Ran had stopped down the show and some people had even left the show after the supposed disrespect she showed to the selfie takers, I was surprised when I saw the video itself and how comparatively respectful and humorously Miranda Lambert seemed to handle the situation.
It’s not like she threw a salad at them, or got punchy like she once did with that guy from Nickelback. Miranda Lambert is known for coping an attitude at times, and if you love her, you’ve got to love her for it. She’s Miranda Lambert. She lights stuff on fire, collects Airstream trailers, and saves puppies. But there was no attitude here, more just frustration.
Without question, it is the responsibility of every conscientious music fan to shut the hell up and pay attention whenever it comes to the intimate portions of a musical performance, if not the entire time. Otherwise, why are you there? If you want to chit chat or surf Tik-Tok, save it for some other time. As for snapping photos or selfies during a show, the rules are slightly more nebulous, and that is why this situation has become such a deeper discussion point across this cultural zeitgeist well beyond country music.
For certain, those who watch concerts through their phone screens, or that are constantly holding up their phones over their heads and obstructing the view for those behind them are doing their fellow concert goers and themselves a disservice. Be more in the moment, not in your device.
Some think phones shouldn’t have a place at concerts at all, and certain comedians and even a few musicians insist on phones being placed in bags before entry. Perhaps one of the reasons Whoopi Goldberg is sensitive to the matter is from her years as a stand-up comedian. But rounding up phones can create logistical and safety concerns, and it just feels excessive.
We’ve lost a lot through the proliferation of smartphones and social media, including our attention spans. It’s difficult to impossible for a lot of people to make it through a concert without fidgeting with their phones. But one of the beautiful things and unquestionable benefits of this technology is our ability to chronicle important moments in our lives and share them with our friends, family, and the rest of the world. This is all the selfie takers were trying to do. They just did it during a more intimate song, which was the wrong time.
It also happens to be that the sharing of concert experiences via smartphones and social media is super important when it comes to spreading the word and supporting music artists not supported by the industry, mainstream culture, and traditional media.
How many bands or artists have you heard about because a friend posted about them on social media, including from a concert? How many times have we heard stories about a video or snippet on Tik-Tok, Twitter, or Instagram starting someone’s musical career, or sending a song viral? This is how Zach Bryan got started. This is how the Flatland Cavalry song “A Life Where We Work Out” with Kaitlin Butts became their biggest hit.
While the Miranda Lambert selfie situation was gripping the world, I was attending the Under The Big Sky Festival in Montana, taking photos and sometimes short video snippets of the performers to then share them on Instagram and help boost their signal, especially the up and comers who receive attention when they’re featured right beside the big headliners. This is an easy way to expose someone’s music to a bigger audience without asking people to read through lengthy album reviews or other dense media coverage.
There is no more powerful promotion for artists and music than word of mouth, which these days travels through photos and video content that people share on social media. Granted, by the time you’re playing Las Vegas residencies like Miranda Lambert, you may not need that word of mouth. Or maybe you do.
But regardless of the relative popularity of the performer, good fans know when it’s best to try and capture moments, and when it’s best to put the phone down and live within them. The Miranda Lambert selfie moment straddled that line, and wherever you fall of the spectrum of being more cautious or more liberal when it comes to capturing experiences is probably how you ultimately feel about it.
What I feel very strongly about is that allowing concert goers to share moments in real time is an extremely valued currency when it comes to supporting independent musicians, because I’ve seen it in action on countless occasions.
It’s more of a feel of when to whip the phone out and when to put it away than it is a set of hard rules, and every concert setting and artist is a little bit different. In a listening room, it may not be appropriate to take out the phone at all. At a rowdy stadium show with bowl seating where you’re not disrupting the people behind you, snap away. Some artists encourage fans to take out their phones at certain moments in a show. Others would rather not see a smartphone at all.
In the Miranda Lambert selfie situation, both parties were kind of right and kind of wrong. It’s good because it’s stimulated some great discussion on the matter. As technology continues to impinge on our lives as well as enhance it, hopefully we all continue to work to strike the right balance of chronicling moments for social media and living in the moments we most cherish, facilitated by the beautiful gift of music and our favorite performers.