Fan Violence Against Female Pop Stars Has Become More Common And We Need To Call It Out

It's no secret that being a celebrity isn't easy. It should also be no secret that being a celebrity who also happens to be a woman is even harder. Watching Taylor Swift's Eras tour take the internet by storm over the past few months, as well as the gossip and speculation surrounding it and Swift's life, shows just how out of control fan behavior has gotten. Our preoccupation with celeb breakups is bordering on dangerous, and our collective obsession with their personal lives illustrates that we love to project onto our favorite stars.

When taking a look at how we talk about famous women versus men, it's abundantly clear that it's time to confront fan culture's deeply embedded misogyny. Things are getting out of hand when it comes to how pop stars are being treated by the people who claim to love them. Where is this coming from? Well, ultimately, fans don't just believe that they have the right to famous women's entire personal lives; they believe they have a right to women, period.

Ava Max was assaulted by a man trying to give her his number

Physical, aggravated, and sexual assault perpetrated against pop stars has long been a problem, but it is undoubtedly increasing in frequency and severity. On Tuesday, June 20, 2023, singer, Ava Max was the latest to join the ranks of pop stars who have been assaulted while performing: A man ran onto the stage at Max's LA concert, and according to a tweet from Max, herself, "He slapped me so hard that he scratched the inside of my eye. He's never coming to a show again." Despite the pain and fear, Max continued performing.

So, why would you go to someone's concert and assault them? Well, according to TMZ, the attacker intended to "hold" Max, rather than hurt her. Of course, this is also very much not allowed, but it does say something about how women pop stars are viewed –– especially by men. One tweet in the wake of the incident showed some screenshots from the attacker's own social media posts, which make it clear that he was fixated on and obsessed with Max in a very forward, public way, with his mother even referring to Max as her "future daughter-in-law." One screenshot of a tweet by the attacker claimed that he was attempting to give Max his number when he hit her. He used this as a defense as if his desire to forcefully pursue a romantic relationship with the star proved his innocence.

Countless pop stars have been assault victims

While this bizarre incident may seem isolated, it's far from it. In fact, it came just days after Bebe Rexharecieved a black eye and required stitches after an audience member at her performance threw a phone at her head. In December 2023, singer, Kehlani, was sexually assaulted while performing. The singer shared on their Instagram story, "I don't care how sexual you deem my music... That does not give any of you the right to cross a boundary like sticking your hands up my skirt."

While it's surprisingly common for pop stars to be attacked while performing, they are also frequently pursued by fans in their day-to-day lives. Back in 2016, Ariana Grande shared on social media an experience when a fan bombarded her and then-boyfriend Mac Miller as they got into their car. "I thought all of this was cute and exciting until he said 'ariana is sexy as hell man i see you, i see you hitting that!!!'" adding, "This may not seem like a big deal to some of you but I felt sick and objectified" (per Bravo).

In an interview with Them earlier this year, star Phoebe Bridgers recalled a situation where fans bullied her after her breakup with ex-boyfriend, Paul Mescal. "I, at one of the lowest points of my life, saw people who claim to love me f***ing dehumanize me and shame me and f***ing bully me on the way to my dad's wake," she shared.

Fans feel that they have a right to pop stars' bodies and lives

The exact details of the assaults, as well as the motivations, vary from star to star. To Kehlani's point, some pop stars may be viewed as so sexualized that people feel that they have sexual access to them. Other stars' personal lives are so well-known that folks think that they really know them and what goes on behind closed doors. It seems that more and more, fans feel entitled to different aspects of their favorite stars –– particularly when those stars are women. Consequently, misogyny among fans leaves people feeling that they have a right to the bodies and lives of celebrities. In any case, it comes down to objectifying celebrities rather than seeing them as fellow human beings. And, while there may seem to be a major gap between typical fan behavior and assaulting a pop star, there's less of a difference than we may think. 

Why is this issue getting deeper and deeper with time, you might ask? As social media and the internet increasingly blur the lines between being someone's fan and being their friend, our understanding of what it means to be a fan gets muddled. Many celebrities speak straight to fans via social media, and celebrity gossip is shared and blown out of proportion faster than ever via TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, and the like. Consequently, as our parasocial relationships with celebrities grow stronger and deeper, fans need to be reminded that they are not friends, confidantes, or lovers of their favorite celebs. 

Protecting pop stars requires accountable fans

Whether these instances of abuse by fans are caused by the public nature of the artists' personal lives, how sexually suggestive the art may be, or a dangerous mix of delusion and engrained misogyny, female pop stars are at increasing risk. It's important that we are all aware of these assaults when they happen, as well as how they're linked to celebrity gossip and the reality of being a fan. In short, we all have a responsibility to discourage this sort of objectification. 

In 2016, 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie was fatally shot by a fan and a meet-and-greet event. Although she was known for her time competing on "The Voice," the singer was also an active YouTuber and had a reputation for friendly interactions with fans. Many believe the shooter's delusions about having a relationship with Grimmie were bolstered by the feeling of intimacy YouTube creates.  To say that the internet celebrity culture has changed since 2016 is an understatement — but while the risk isn't new, it's getting more alarming and threatening all the time. Women pop stars need extra protection from fans who feel entitled to interact with them. But, by the same token, we all need to be aware of the ways in which we interact with celebrity and fan culture. The stars we love are people, too, and the ability to enforce our boundaries and feel safe in public are vital rights we all need to enjoy, regardless of our chosen profession.