Opinions, Column

A Psychological Analysis of Concertgoing

Think back to your 12-year-old self. Trapped in that awkward transition between childhood and adolescence, you were likely starting to develop a loose sense of self—the kind that could easily be torn down by one unanswerable question or purportedly uncharacteristic action. Whether it was the Myers-Briggs personality test you took in seventh-grade health or the “Which Harry Potter House Are You” quiz you and your friends filled out in study hall, there was probably a point in your life where a seemingly simple survey prompted a self-identity crisis in your adolescent life. 

Maybe it was the future applied psychology major buried deep within my psyche that led me to intensely consider the predicament of personality, but I struggled to group myself into the concrete categories that each test presented. If I excelled at empathizing with others but made pro-con lists for every major decision in my life, would I classify as an emotional or data-driven decision-maker? And did I truly structure my life in a ‘judging’ way if I struggled to make major decisions despite planning every aspect of my day down to the second? I grappled with these black-and-white concepts, wondering what it said about me that I always found myself trapped in an undefined personality gray area. What I never considered at the time, however, was the unspoken relationship between the context I was in and my actions.

The concepts of introversion and extroversion were always the behavioral terms that I struggled most to define myself by. Every test I took told me that, by textbook definition, I was an introvert—shy, introspective, and self-contained. But I always felt like I fell into some middle ground of ambiversion. I could talk to my friends for hours on end, but I had to spend half of class hyping myself up just to raise my hand. I got easily overwhelmed by busy city sidewalks, but crowded concert halls were (and still are) a safe haven. Surrounding myself with thousands of strangers might seem incredibly uncharacteristic for someone with persistent social anxiety, but I always seemed to make the exception for live music. 

So why exactly is it that I can justify spending hundreds of dollars just to spend one night at the Eras Tour? Why have I anxiously waited in virtual queues for hours on end to secure a spot in the House of Blues to see Gracie Abrams? And how come I can temporarily block out the voices in my head telling me to remain quietly composed the second that Inhaler steps onto stage? 

The monetary summation of my concert spendings isn’t exactly one that I would proudly disclose if unprompted, but I would fervently assert that these nights were worth every cent. I’m a strong proponent of the belief that experiences will always reign supreme to material purchases. Ten years from now (which sounds scarily far into the future, but stick with me), are you really going to be reminiscing over the dress you bought to wear once for a club formal? The odds that you’ll remember the night that you and your best friend got to scream your hearts out to the song that got you through the nightmare of freshman fall are hopefully much more probable. Retail therapy has temporarily euphoric effects, but shared experiences create permanent memories and deepen lifelong bonds. 

To a passive observer, I am probably the least likely candidate to lose my composure amid a sea of complete strangers. I would argue, however, that it is the anonymity of concerts, the fact that I know absolutely nobody apart from whichever one of my friends I’ve dragged along with me, is actually one of the reasons they elicit a state of uninterrupted ease. Textbook introversion can act as a defense mechanism, allowing the observers of the world to keep their guards up and eyes open as a means of assuaging a larger fear of judgment. These fears seem to melt away, however, the second that I am shoved into a crowd of indistinguishable faces cloaked by darkness. You may be just one in a concourse of thousands, but concerts have the unique ability to make each individual feel overwhelmingly understood on a personal level.

There’s something to be said about music as a point of both interpersonal connection and self-understanding. Consider how many times you’ve had a conversation revolving around a mutual favorite artist or seen headphone-d students rushing across the quad. Despite the emotional attachment I have personally developed to my AirPods, nothing can compare to the irreplicable sensation of whole-bodied envelopment in a concert’s sonic panorama. 

The necessity of music as an emotional outlet is indisputable in my opinion, but it typically serves as background noise to the ever-moving world around us. Concerts provide a brief interlude from the onslaught of life’s stressors, allowing us to live life in a pure state of awe and uninterrupted emotion. Each onlooker will unlock a unique floodgate of feelings under the melodic trance of their favorite artist, and our personalities play a major role in the ways we experience these emotions. The sense of unity created by the shared experience of concertgoing among both friends and strangers is a fascinating phenomenon.

Now, maybe it’s my tendency to construe lyrics as having latent messages, seeking out the thematic relevance of outwardly minor life experiences, that led to my exaggerated argument for the necessity of concertgoing. I don’t, however, think I’d be disputed in making the overarching claim that music evokes emotion of some sort in all of us. So, I encourage you to make the absolute most out of your next audience member experience. Be fully present in the moment and appreciate the chance that you have to connect not only with the music but also with yourself. 

Whether you’re naturally introspective or inordinately outgoing, concerts are places where we can put our temperamental differences aside and let the music define our experiences. It might take a series of Ticketmaster wars and unexpected splurges to get there, but I promise that it will all be worth it the second the lights start to dim and the cheers of the crowd engulf your senses. 

October 31, 2023