A Sign of the Times: Thoughts in the Post-Covid Mosh

A few weeks ago, I got to attend a Harry Styles concert in Sydney. Myself and my friends got all Harried-up and jumped on a train, fatefully forgetting our feather boas. It was an all-day ordeal to get there, but it was a great time. The show was awesome, the openers, Wet Leg, were fantastic, and we thought the sprinkle of rain was refreshing after a long day in the heat. All round, I had a great time. But I couldn’t help remembering all the TikToks and tweets I’d seen in the weeks and months leading up to this huge concert, saying that mosh pit crowds aren’t as lively as they once were.

I should mention that following the concert, I fell rather ill with a mysterious disease that felt a lot like COVID-19, but according to my PCR, was not. On TikTok, I saw that a bunch of people who attended that show wound up with a flu that felt eerily similar to COVID-19 as well. It’s not until you’re skipping out on class to sit on your couch and drown in your own mucus that you think ‘hm, was it worth it?’ (It was).

People were, of course, very excited to see this show. His fans show an immense dedication to Harry Styles. But there was definitely something missing, and predicably, it once again got me thinking about how the pandemic has affected the live music experience.

As I stood in the mosh pit, I couldn’t help but think about how different the experience was from pre-pandemic concerts. Granted, I don’t think I’d ever attended a stadium tour of this size, but I can speak from a reasonable amount of concert and festival-going experience. Before the pandemic, the mosh pit was always a sweaty, slightly scary but endlessly fun affair, with bodies bouncing around without direction, and people shouting lyrics at the top of their lungs. But at this concert, it felt like everyone was holding back a little. The dancing was less energetic, the singing less enthusiastic. Not that people weren’t having fun–they were–but it felt like there was a damper on the usual level of excitement and energy that you’d expect at a concert of that size.

At some stage it started raining, and a row of people about two meters in front of me put up umbrellas. Of course, they faced the loud disapproval of the crowd behind them. I also heard people switching places with those who were shorter, though, so it was a healthy mix of considerate people and people who acted like they’d never been outside before. The lack of enthusiasm for Wet Leg in my section was disappointing, and admittedly, the stage sound wasn’t great from where I stood. Overall, though, I just kept noticing how hesitant everyone was to move around. I couldn’t believe how many people stood completely still for hours on end.

An obvious culprit for the lack of enthusiasm is, of course, the lingering fear of getting sick. People are less afraid of the disease nowadays, but there’s an ongoing sense of caution, consciously or not. People didn’t seem unhappy, but they weren’t jumping around making a happy hazard of themselves, either. I noticed people, including myself, getting frustrated over being squashed in together, rubbing elbows with germy strangers. I noticed similar energy at the Phoebe Bridgers concert in February, but thought that it might have just been that crowd. Of course, Phoebe Bridgers doesn’t necessarily make music for dancing – but Harry Styles sure does. So why was everyone so hesitant?

I also thought that maybe the weird atmosphere could reflect the ongoing impact of the pandemic on mental health. The past few years have been incredibly stressful and challenging for everyone, and especially alienating for young people. Researchers have documented increased levels of anxiety and depression worldwide. Undoubtably, the general sense of unease and emotional fatigue makes people less likely to let loose and have fun, even with lifted restrictions.

It’s also worth noting that the Harry Styles Sydney show was an all-ages event, so many of the concertgoers were likely experiencing that kind of environment for the first time. Being in a mosh pit can be a thrilling experience, but it can also be intimidating or overwhelming, especially for those who are new to it. Lots of people might have just not known what to do and how to behave.

In any case, I still had a great time seeing Harry Styles perform live. His energy and charisma on stage were infectious, and he was so adamantly grateful toward everyone who put the concert together. He played Medicine, which was an absolute treat given that I was prepared for a cover of “The Horses” by Daryl Braithwaite. There were still really exceptional moments where the crowd came together over a joke or particular line. Namely, hearing a stadium full of people scream “leave America” was beyond entertaining. I’m not sure it was necessary that I learned what hundreds of wet feather boas smell and look like, but I’m glad I know. I loved seeing everyone’s colourful outfits and makeup, and getting to spend that time with my dear friends.

If you’re planning on attending a concert festival sometime soon, it’s worth keeping in mind that the experience may differ from what you’re used to. I was really excited to get back to it, but I also understand why people seem hesitant in crowd situations. It doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a great time though, and hopefully the feeling passes and those who are new to the scene learn not to bring an umbrella into the mosh.