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023 - WHY NO-ONE DANCED AT BEYONCÉ
All fun's not lost
If you saw much of Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour on your feeds this week, you’ll have noticed the slightly depressing sight of an entire audience standing stock still, filming on their phones. It raised fair concerns: Have we all forgotten how to dance? Has technology rendered us incapable of having fun IRL?
But that’s not the full picture. Beyoncé represents the main-est of the mainstream, the most commercial of them all. While she helps steer trends, her fans are also the some of the last to see the trickle up…
In this week’s Burn After Reading, we investigate the lack of dancing at Beyoncé, and why (don’t worry) all hope is not lost: there is still plenty of fun to be had.
“You ready?” An animalistic roar fills Tottenham Hotspur Stadium amidst a sea of glitter, diamanté and disco balls. The horn riff of Crazy In Love blares as I ready myself to participate in a choreographed booty-pop dance with 62,849 people. Yet, to my surprise, there was hardly anyone dancing. Queen Bey herself said that her Renaissance tour was all about “release…living in the moment, embracing all of the flaws and just having fun and enjoying your life.” But with showgoers taking to Twitter and TikTok to note a distinct lack of vibe, it begs the question: what does fun really look like in 2023?
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“Dancefloors, wherever they may be situated, reflect the times, but also reflect us”, says Emma Warren in her book, Dance Your Way Home: A Journey Through The Dancefloor. The amount we’re dancing (or not) is directly tied to the state of the world. There’s the cost of living crisis, which makes attending gigs even more of a luxury than before (I was one of a lucky few who found themselves upgraded to the Gold Circle courtesy of the venue’s security (cheers Neville!) - but I never would have been able to afford the £177.50 that those tickets cost).
The economy is impacting musicians, too, with medium-sized acts having to cancel shows due to increasing touring costs, and small venues closing left right and centre. We’re left with a situation where only the biggest, most mainstream acts (and most expensive productions) are able to perform, cutting out access to live music for swathes of the industry, and minimising the opportunity for more diverse pockets of music lovers to let loose.
With the new generation of music fans coming late to live events, young people today are more likely than ever to seek their dopamine hits via phone screen than rave. We live in an age where 49% of Gen Z think their online image is of concern when drinking and socialising - a combination of fear of being caught off-guard on-camera, and a desire to present our best, most fun loving selves to our audiences. We’re still deep in a “pics or it didn’t happen” culture (the hundreds of people in the Gold Circle at the Renaissance Tour, standing still, phones in air, show that to be true) - the escapism felt when losing yourself to dance can be captured and shared online with millions of others without the need to even tap your foot.
But even though the sight of the crowd at Beyoncé was a bleak one, maybe we don’t need to panic. "I suspect that once the excitement of being able to see live music again wears off, fans will spend more time experiencing the shows and less time on their phones" says Fabrice Sergent of live music discovery platform Bandsintown. He’s on to something - just look at the fact that we’re currently witnessing the end of the Kardashians - a cultural monolith than represents performative social media use at its most extreme - and the cementing of messier, more “authentic” attitudes.
The fact is: Beyoncé’s concert-goers are likely to be last to catch up. Despite showcasing an album inspired by the queer Black people that pioneered house music, Beyoncé represents uber-mainstream entertainment that caters across demographic lines: being at a Beyonce show feels more like being out in general public than at an intimate event. Her tour, an super-commercial spectacle, lends itself far more to being watched, filmed, and shared online that it does getting lost in the music.
Look just a little more closely and you’ll see that fun is not dead. The past year has seen pop music awash with new acts that are bringing dance back into the charts. Take acts like Shygirl and Pinkpantheress, or LF System, the breakout producer duo that stayed at number 1 in the UK for eight weeks. Or Mura Masa, who’s recent single feels like a love letter to the rave, the mantra "I’m allowed to f*ck up whenever I want” soundtracking a video of partygoers in slowmo. Or Fred again.., who recently headlined Coachella alongside stallwart dance acts Shrillex and Four Tet, and who’s early track Marea (we’ve lost dancing) summarises this anxiety around the fun we’ve lost in recent years.
The same is true outside of the mainstream. Yes, recent years have seen aesthetics and subcultures become so accessible that they’ve become commodified and lost meaning. But that doesn’t mean subcultures and their respective safe spaces no longer exist. Case in point: some of the first grassroots festivals of the season, like DLT Malta, which saw attendees whining on Dexta Daps, or Wide Awake Festival, which saw audiences mosh to rock acts like Viagra Boys. Or the underground club scene that continues to flourish in London (see events like Body Movements, Pxssy Palace, and a host of DIY raves that shall not be named…), creating safe spaces for minorities and subcultures that promote in-the-moment enjoyment vs screen-mediated experience.
The same story is true on social media, where niche subcultures are flourishing again. See: meme-accounts creating entirely new visual languages or communities devoted to uber-specific hobbies and topics (think: queer-led ecology groups or Arca’s community for DIY electronic music producers).
The lack of dancing at Beyoncé’s tour doesn’t mean that we’re witnessing the End of Fun, it’s just that, thanks to all the rubbish we’re battling societally, joy just isn’t something we can experience collectively right now.
We all want to dance in our own way, but only with those who truly understand us. So instead, let us focus on niche joy: our own pockets of fun that only we know how to find, that haven’t yet been commercialised, that still feel safe and special. That’s how you’ll find us letting loose, at least for now.
With all that said, brands, this isn’t the time to tell your audience how to have fun. Instead, you can do the work by creating the room for them to do so. Look to those who are doing it best, like Boiler Room, who continues to create space for all corners of electronic music (and its respective superfans), Snow Peak, who created a micro festival for camping enthusiasts, Flock Together, which continues to bring people together IRL to geek out over birdwatching, or Nike, with this ad celebrating the power of dance.
Ask yourselves (and be honest):
Are you empowering your consumers to dance (literally or not) when they want to? Or is your brand making them more conscious than they need to be?
Are you creating spaces that feel safe for your audience?
Are you giving your audience room to have fun?
Are you embracing and supporting niche communities so they can thrive?
That’s all for now. As always, let us know your thoughts below, and send to a friend if you think they’d enjoy Burn After Reading.
Now go and let your hair down!!!
Words: Jumi Akinfenwa
Editor: Letty Cole