The show must go online: inside the rise of virtual gigs during the coronavirus crisis


“Let me see your hands in the air,” commands a typically boisterous Yungblud, pacing about a sparsely lit, DIY-looking stage, his pink, blue and black hair sticking out at odd angles, slick with sweat. So far, so normal – but then he finishes his instructions with a hollered: “In your bedroom!”

It’s 7am in Los Angeles and the Doncaster rock star is performing not in front of the usual crowded venue stacked full of fans but in a studio populated only by him, his band and crew. He is one of many musicians who have been forced to cancel gigs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but he’s determined not to let that shut him off from his loyal followers.

nstead, he’s delivered The Yungblud Show – a safe way for him to still get his rowdy rock’n’roll performances to the fans. The live-streamed gig is interspersed with drinking games featuring opponents Machine Gun Kelly and Bella Thorne, while a surreal cooking segment with viral star Oliver Tree sees Yungblud swigging vodka straight from the bottle before testing a Flaming Hot Cheetos pancake. Fans have even made virtual tickets to prove they attended this bizarre but heartening show.

“The world is in a very weird time at the moment,” Yungblud says before the show. “Everyone doesn’t know what to do or where to turn. It’s like we’re all trapped in a perspex box whilst someone is playing a trick on us. My shows are getting cancelled left, right and centre – I miss the energy, I miss the connection, I miss my fans and family. We need each other more than ever right now and having the opportunity to interact with them taken away from me fully wasn’t even an option for me.”

He’s not alone. Over the last few days, the number of artists holding live-streams has shot up. Some have been highly stage-managed, like Yungblud’s, whereas others have taken a more impromptu approach, like Chris Martin’s Instagram Live session.

Diplo has been dropping live DJ sets across the internet, Christine & The Queens is holding a nightly live session from her studio in France, and even Patti Smith has gotten in on the act. Bristol record shop Specialist Subject set up their own live-stream festival, while a group called Quarantunes played host to sets from artists all around the world as part of their own DIY punk all-nighter and “online revolution”.

Part of music’s role in our lives is one of comfort and catharsis, especially in strange times like these. Artists who have carried on playing to packed venues over the last few days have come under heavy criticism – we’d all much rather be in those spaces feeling the healing effects of jumping around and singing along to our favourite songs but, right now, it’s a risk not worth taking. As we all polish off our self-isolation snacks and try to do something other than binge Netflix, musicians are doing their best to replicate the effects of traditional gigs online as best they can.

L Devine was meant to be heading out on tour with US pop star Fletcher but those dates, like so many others, have been pulled. Instead, she’s embarking on a URL tour, which will see her playing sets on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook. The first – an Insta acoustic session on Monday (March 16) – saw her joking around with fans between songs and treating them to snippets of new tracks and songs she’s never played live before.

“Last night I had so many messages from people saying, ‘I’ve had so much anxiety and for that hour I felt happy and relieved,’” she says the morning after. “To be able to do that for people at this time is so special. It helped me out a lot as well.”

The rising pop star is unique in the current slew of live-streamers in that she’s tried to maintain a touring structure behind her virtual shows. Hopping between social media platforms is, to her, a digital equivalent of playing in different cities or countries. “You’ve got a different audience on TikTok to what you have on YouTube,” she reasons. “For me, it’s just about interacting with different fans in different places similar to what you do on tur.”

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