why are we still doing meet and greets in 2019?
“More like pay and leave, sis!”
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.
Four YouTubers sit on a bench in the shadow of a cardboard cut out bearing their name: The Dobre Brothers. A girl no older than 13 appears from behind it, smiling and saying hi, to which just one of them responds ‘How you doing?’ while the others mumble. The girl, awkwardly sandwiched in the middle, is grinning, while the pair either side of her sit po-faced and disinterested. Someone snaps a photo. She thanks them and walks away. They barely move their bodies to acknowledge her fleeting presence.
This encounter -- immortalised in a viral tweet that’s now been seen by over six million people -- lasts no more than 26 seconds and cost this girl (or her parents, rather), anywhere between £110 and £390. Anyone willing to shell out money to meet someone does so because they care about and love the artist in question. To be met with something like that? The only thing that might stop you from being disappointed would be the delusional infatuation that makes us fawn over famous people when we’re young (or old, I would still die 4 Gaga). As one Twitter user put it in the replies to the Dobre Brothers video: “meet and great [sic] lmao more like pay & leave sis”.
Lucas Dobre has since apologised for the group’s lacklustre mood during the meet and greet. “After a long 48 hours of restless filming and touring then meeting thousands of fans with no sleep we were exhausted by the end of our show,” he tweeted. “Our true apologies. We are sincerely sorry.”
Since the 1990s, the ‘meet and greet’ has long been a staple of any musician or artist’s touring schedule, built upon the idea that a musician’s time is worth a regular person’s money, and the latter will spend however much they have to be in the presence of the former. Most pop stars, in their infancy or at the height of their fame, will do them. But does either party find pleasure in discovering that, for better or worse, a celebrity’s company will cost you, and that they’re not saying hi and taking a quick snap with you out of want, but obligation?
Though no figures currently exist, the profit margin on things like VIP access packages and Meet & Greets must be massive: with menial bits like lanyards and ‘experiences’ like watching soundcheck offered up alongside the actual face-to-face encounter, the cost of spending time with the star you rate the most in the world is probably quite small. Still, that hasn’t stopped most major labels putting a price tag on their most beloved stars: before she stopped doing them to keep her mental health in check, Ariana Grande’s Meet and Greet Package on her Sweetener Tour cost $799 per person. To get a professional pic with Lady Gaga during her Enigma Vegas residency? That’ll set you back $2000. And as for a brief encounter with Britney Spears, either in Vegas or on a date on her most recent world tour? It would cost you an exorbitant $2500 for barely seconds of interaction. On the other hand though, you can get up close to your favourite celebs without breaking the bank, though it’s all relative: Love Island’s Tommy Fury charges £30 for a selfie and a signed photo, while every drag queen under the sun has monetised the format. Events like Drag Con are built upon paid meet and greets, where fans pay extra (after the cost of entry) to get a photo with their favourite Drag Race stars.
Truth is, the artists themselves seldom have a say in whether or not they do these kind of things, as well as deciding the price tag. Just this year, makeup guru James Charles had to apologise to fans after they noted the insane price of his tour’s ‘SISTER VIP’ ticket price, which included a meet and greet, front row seat and a ‘chance’ to buy merchandise before general admission ticket holders: $500. It was, he said, not his call, but due to the cost of hiring the venues: “I am sorry that we disappointed many of you,” he wrote in a tweet after the controversy kicked off. “We have worked very hard to put this tour together and want it to be accessible for everyone & an amazing experience no matter the ticket.” Considering the YouTuber’s fans tend to be of high school age and below, people soon pointed out that most couldn’t afford to meet their idol.
Some pop stars admittedly do have a fun time with it. The photos from Ari’s Meet and Greets look like a scream. I’ve personally seen Halsey be very nice and take time with fans who’ve flown thousands of miles to see her live. Rihanna’s? Extra as fuck! But for everyone putting their whole back into it, there’s an artist who doesn’t feel comfortable doing them, yet has been roped into standing with a dozen starry-eyed fans anyway. The Avril photos with a wide berth between her and the grinning fans? Sensational.
And Britney is an icon, but the weird politics surrounding who makes the decisions in her professional life, as well as the way tabloid media have unfairly dragged her through the mud, have understandably made her a little anxious around people she doesn’t know well. Then you get stunts like this that pretty much justify us killing off meet and greets all together:
When you really think about it, in 2019, hasn’t the increased accessibility of celebrities through social media made meet and greets obsolete anyway? Back in the MTV heydays of the pop world, where stars existed through television screens and on-stage from afar, the idea of having an intimate conversation with them was a mere dream outside of the M&G setting. But the internet changed that. We can now have full conversations with artists we stan via Twitter, and receive the pro bono seal of approval of a follow or like in recognition of our loyalty. The archaic, classist form of proving how much you loved a pop star has been replaced by digital stan culture, and the most fervent of those still spill out onto the streets, waiting outside star’s hotels and gig venues to let them know (for free) how much they love their work.
The commodification of admiration is everywhere: we buy things by the artists we love because we want to support them. But when admiration transforms into interaction, things get far more messy and we’re forced to question the moral nature of it. There’s a story that’s done the rounds many times on stan Twitter about a fan who’d waited 19 years to meet Britney Spears, and lost 30 pounds so he’d look “beautiful” in his photo with her. “I told her, ‘Hi Britney, Welcome to Paris, we missed you so much here!’,” he wrote in a blog about the experience. “To be honest with you, I do not even remember if she answered me back with a thank you or something..., then we had the photo taken.” He was escorted out shortly after, unable to say everything he wanted to say.
M&Gs are the zenith of that old adage; “never meet your heroes”. So in the digital age, isn’t it time we got rid of it? Or at least made it less transactional and borderline exploitative? After all, there are alternatives that pop stars have already exercised now. Take Taylor Swift, for example. When she’s on the road, her mother peruses the crowd to find die-hard fans who meet T-Swizzle backstage after the show – no monetary exchange involved.
They always say you should never meet your idols, and after that clip of Dobre Brothers (who look like they really deserve a day off) went viral, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d argue otherwise. Instead of paying it into existence, think of it as a serendipitous happening that fate will bring your way. You never know, maybe one day you’ll wander into your idol in a hotel corridor, or a coffee shop, or on the street. And you can have a memorable conversation that isn’t marred by a queue of fans behind you or an assistant pushing you away once your 26 seconds are up.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.