Think about the last concert you went to. Do you remember any of the music played in the venue before the main act? The answer is probably no. For most concert-goers, whatever music is played before the artist takes the stage is just background. Something to fill the silence and amp up the crowd.
But in the last year or so, I’ve noticed an interesting trend where the pre-show playlist is considered as much a part of the show as the main act. In a world where the instance of social media can make anyone feel like they were in attendance, it’s no surprise that when pre-show playlists stay the same night after night, fans begin to circulate the song lists. Fans pick up patterns so by the time the act is in their city, they know the playlist; and therefore, they know what’ll be played right before the show begins for real.
Harry Styles recently ended a world tour. By the time he reached the third or fourth city, the playlist was already known, written down and spread around social media. Fans had something to look forward to—some celebrated the inclusion of One Direction’s “Olivia,” and some enjoyed the seemingly random but fun pick of Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman.” The choice of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to play before taking the stage was, first off, extremely bold, and secondly, a wildly good choice. Clocking in at thirteen and a half minutes long and set against an animation of Harry trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube on the massive screen, it drove the crowd into a frenzy far before anyone set foot onstage. Anticipation, even when you know what’s about to come, is a powerful thing.
As another example, last Friday I went to see YouTube personalities Daniel Howell and Phil Lester’s stage show in Providence, Rhode Island. Their pre-show playlist runs the gamut from Katy Perry to Brockhampton. When “Say Amen (Saturday Night)” by Panic! at the Disco came on, all 3,000 people in the theatre began to sing along, and for a second it was hard to tell whether I was at a Dan and Phil show or a Panic! concert. The most astounding moment, though, came just minutes before Dan and Phil took the stage. “Welcome to the Black Parade,” the emo classic by My Chemical Romance, began to play, and several people around me started crying. I’m sure it was a combination of the song (it brings back a lot of memories from 2006 for the emo kids) and the knowledge that the moment the final lyrics rang out, it would be showtime. Again—anticipation is a powerful thing.
Usually, the playlist is curated by the artists themselves (in the case of Dan and Phil) or is at least approved by someone on their team (the likely situation regarding Harry). Either way, the playlist is a reflection of the artist—if Harry hated Pink Floyd, he probably wouldn’t have let “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” be played before his set. But it’s also a reflection on the audience.
Here’s another example. The Panic! at the Disco pre-show playlist for their Pray for the Wicked tour contains “Africa” by Toto, a song that’s been curiously popular among millennials. According to this fan report, the crowd went wild, turning on their phone lights and singing along (much to the confusion of a nearby middle-aged man). A savvy song choice considering the song’s recent surge in popularity, and one that almost definitely wouldn’t have been played at a concert full of 15- to 25-year-olds even a year ago.
So next time you go to a concert, pay attention to the tracks being blasted over the speakers while you buy your merch and find your seats. They might just be trying to tell you something.