Photo by Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images
As the human race loses tolerance for itself, isolation has become a strong trend. From the politically devastating Brexit kind down to something as mundane as abandoned Beliebers, we're all just trying to get the hell away from each other, it seems. Celebrities, being the trendy gatekeepers they are, of course, have followed suit with increasingly less contact with… well, anyone. This week Drake was the latest in a line of performers (which includes the likes of Bieber and even Yoncé) to cancel his VIP meet and greets for his upcoming tour. Fans who had shelled out four figure sums to meet the 6 God were devastated, and another round of convos began about whether artists even deserve us as fans. Many who would never participate in such an activity found themselves caping for these maniacs. But this pity is misguided. Meet and greets may seem like some utopia where fans get to hug their idol and declare their love in person, but here's the simple truth: Meet and greets are a scam for the fans. Take it from me. My job is to coordinate them.
Here’s how meet and greets usually work: The average package for a well-established artist usually starts around $300 to $400, although The Boy’s were a cool thousand this time around. (Smaller artists charge much much less but offer just as great goodies, usually including their own albums.) The package is a ticket upgrade that gives you the best seats in the house (usually front rows), a goodie bag full of custom merch items not sold to “regular” fans, early entry into the show and any other little experience perks that can be managed, such as a catered soundcheck party. The average meet and greet has 100-plus people per night, and artists like Bey, Rih, and Biebs might encounter upwards of a couple hundred fans for what is supposed to be a quick shake and a pic.
Understandably, meet and greets are far from short affairs, usually taking, at the very best, a couple hours. There are people (security, coordinators etc) to keep the interaction to a minimum: For efficiency, fans are usually not allowed to take the picture themselves nor ask for autographs, as they’ve either received a signed item in their merchandise for, again, efficiency. However, once the fan is in the artist’s presence all that holds them back from asking for more is if the artist will be an "asshole" and decline.
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So fans finesse. Ask if they can get an extra pic. Sneak in a sharpie and blindside the artist with a request when security isn't looking. Start talking or even freestyling to the artist for ten minutes because who cares about the 175 folks in line behind them at 12:30 AM—they don't have a hot 16. Do you remember them from Tennessee back in 1983? White kids from the suburbs casually request rappers do a prison pose or some sort of gang sign pose so the pic looks #authentic online. And if you're an underage fan, just lie to everyone so you can take a pic with your new ass tat. It's not gonna ruin anyone's life or anything! The requests are endless. The money buys the fan access, but the boundaries of that access are rarely at the discretion of the artist.
Is it any surprise fans feel entitled? They paid buku bucks for this experience. But only the fans really know what they want to get out of it. Maybe they want live approval of their Stan Smiths (Say it again directly into their Snapchat!) or, at worst, they want an autograph on a completely unrelated shoe that can be flipped on eBay. They want Drake to tell them their girlfriend is hot. They want Bieber to take a picture where they get to kiss him like a Madame Tussaud’s souvenir. Despite all the upstanding things fans swear on the internet, when they arrive it's all transaction. Any request that comes to their minds is totally acceptable because they paid for the chance. (I once watched an older fan throw a tantrum that sent an entire venue staff aflutter because they swore they’d been promised free appetizers!) The money is an investment for opportunity. You paid for a live audience and the hope that this entertainer will make your dreams—whatever they are—come true and nobody is going to stop you, not even the artist themselves.
To be fair, as with anything else, there is a hierarchy to things. New artists can benefit very much from a fan meet and greet. It's a time to meet all the peeps that gave you those thousands of Soundcloud spins and are willing to spend the money to get you high on the pyramid. These fans are the ones who will eventually convince others that you most certainly deserve to be seen in an arena. These types of meet and greets can be jovial and communal. The artist is learning just as much about the fans as the fans are about the artist. But if your career continues to go up, you're meeting folks at the rate of a DC bartender. The meet and greets become one of several fan interactions in your schedule. And the more powerful you get, the more the fans feel entitled. You have your own label now? They want to rap for you and get a deal. You have a Kardashian level social media? They want to be tagged in—for their paintings, their outfits, for their asscheeks. it doesn't matter. They're not their to increase your star power; they're there to bask in it because they truly believe they’re the sole cause behind it.
Logistically, serving this mindset quickly becomes complicated. Bringing fans backstage means being sure you can get them out, which can be a fool’s errand. (Once a puppy has been on the bed that's that!) Bringing the artist into public space is cataclysmic. Then, besides scheduling the HOURS required to take pictures with hundreds of people and finding a place to take these pics, you still have to make hundreds of one on one intimate experiences on the spot. Every fan paid to have their moment, not OUR moment. And for the artist, there are only two choices on tour: before your set or after. So you're either trying to get in the zone OR you've depleted all your energy. Now, imagine going from a signing to a show to a meet and greet to a club appearance a.k.a. Four Circles in the Hell of Flashing Lights. An artist doing well for themselves can easily have days like this, but their personal mood does not matter. Fans don’t care where they fit in; they paid for the artist’s utmost attention.
And no, you don’t have to feel bad for a bunch of millionaires, but consider that no other type of millionaire would ever give you five minutes for $1000, nor are they “required” to. And they certainly don’t give you a goodie bag of stuff that is not being sold anywhere else. Point is, for every beautiful tear-jerking moment of connection there are a dozen frustrating and draining interactions. Even those beautiful connections are draining if you have 65 of them in two hours. Save your judgement about people who pay to meet other people, but even then you can consider the truth. Those who pay for these things either have tons of disposable income or are sacrificing in search of changing their lives—no matter how exactly they think that will happen. Though they are responsible for the fantasy, the best thing artists can do is not give them any false hope in reality.
Judnick Maynard will not meet you or greet you, but you can follow her on Twitter.