The Great Debate: should artists be held accountable for being late to concerts?

The National's Jason Von Berg and Saeed Saeed question whether tardiness at gigs is inevitable or just plain rude

FILE PHOTO: 2019 Billboard Music Awards- Show - Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., May 1, 2019 - Madonna performs with Maluma (not shown). REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

One of Madonna’s superfans has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Queen of Pop in the US because the singer pushed back her Miami concert times by two hours, something she’s apparently made a habit of doing. So we asked The National's head of social media, Jason Von Berg, and Saeed Saeed, our trusty music expert, to discuss whether or not they think it's fair to hold artists accountable when they keep fans waiting.

Jason Von Berg: There are many lessons I've learnt from my grandfather, but two that stand out: use your manners and punctuality. It's good that we're discussing this today, because the two go hand-in-hand, and, as someone who has worked in the entertainment industry, there is nothing more frustrating than waiting for an artist or entertainer to grace us with their presence … when they're ready.

While suing the star is a bit extreme, I’m on the side of the annoyed fan. I know Madonna is rich, but no Madge, just no.

Saeed Saeed: Why are fans taking it personally? It is not like Madonna is late on purpose. Her name may be on the poster, but as you know yourself from working in the industry, a pop concert is a big machine. Many things can happen to cause delays to a show.

JVB: Of course things can go wrong. That's normal and to be expected. I just think in an age of social media, when we and our favourite stars have direct access to each other, the onus should be on talent and/or production and publicity to inform fans of such delays well in advance. It's all about managing expectations and respecting those who have spent money and time getting to see you and your show. 

SS: But aren't expectations part of the concert experience? Why should we manage them? For example, Egyptian pop star Amr Diab often arrives late, not because he is tardy. People close to him told me that he does it to raise the anticipation and have the crowd primed for a great concert. Just as it's fashionable to go late to certain events, the same rule applies for concerts by music divas. The only thing is, they need to deliver a killer show after.

<span>Is it not disrespectful to be extremely late if the bulk of the crowd are schoolgoers?</span>

JVB: And I'm sure he did (and does), but there's a difference between being late for the purpose of hype and excitement, and being rude. Anything longer than 20 minutes is inexcusable … Whether you're Amr, Drake, Celine or Madonna. 

SS: 20 minutes? A world tour is like setting up new homes every few days in a different city and in a different climate. If people start grumbling after a 20-minute delay, then no one is ever going to be happy in a concert.

JVB: 20 minutes in the height of the UAE summer will not sit well with 20,000 people who came to watch Madonna. FYI, Drake was so late the first time I saw him. His fans slated him and the next time he came back to South Africa, he was well within the expected performance time window. I appreciate you, Drake.

FILE - In this June 27, 2015 file photo, Canadian singer Drake performs on the main stage at Wireless festival in Finsbury Park, London. Drake's “Scorpion,” the highly anticipated, 25-track album by pop music’s No. 1 player, was released Friday. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP, File)

These tours are well-oiled machines and the artists get paid big money to do this. Be professional enough to be on time. I don't go to meetings 80 minutes late – like a certain 'Killing Me Softly' singer is known for. She would 'kill me dead' if I had to wait that long.

SS: While I agree with you on that, I just don't think suing the artist will help. If anything, they just won't perform anymore in certain cities. Who needs to take the risk? Also, by that rationale, if you come late to work, would you be happy if you were financially penalised?

<span>If you come late and your show is not up to scratch, then you are basically done for in that city</span>

If your dinner comes late at a restaurant, do you sue the venue? Being late is a regular part of our life and it will always happen. Deal with it.

JVB: Oh, I'm with you on that suing front. It's ridiculous, but tardiness is lame. If my food is late, I don't sue – but I complain. I'm there for an experience, one that I can enjoy. Don't kill my vibe. Also, in some companies, where timesheets are a thing, if you're late and you leave early, you do lose out financially. If these artists are late
and they choose to not tour again in that city or country because of the backlash, then they're cutting off their noses to spite their faces (and fans for that matter). It's simple – just don't be late. 

SS: But I am yet to see a fan who refuses to see an artist because they were late the last time – even if it is two hours. This goes back to my earlier argument about how an artist can come late and make an angry audience happy with a killer show. Now, if you come late and your show is not up to scratch, then you are basically done for in that city.

JVB: What happens if it's a school night and Bieber's legions of fans need to go to school the next day? Is it not disrespectful of him and his team to be extremely late if the bulk of the crowd are schoolgoers? Mums and dads pay a fortune to go, but leave early because it's too late for their little ones.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 06, 2017: Justin Bieber performs in concert on Saturday, May. 06, 2017, at the Autism Rocks Arena in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak for The National *** Local Caption ***  CW_0605_JustinBieber_27.JPG

SS: I was there for both Bieber shows in the UAE. He was late for both. I still hear complaints about that, but only from the parents. The fans loved it because The Biebs delivered, hence he had no problem selling out his next Dubai concert a few years later. I am telling you, while coming late is an irritant, it doesn't ultimately make a concert rubbish. It's about what happens on the stage and not what time you get there. Mic drop.

JVB: I'm pretty sure the gigs will be good, but time is money and I've got things to do. I'll let you hang out in the crowds and I look forward to your review, filed on deadline and ready for me to read in two minutes. Doo Wop, that thing. 

SS: You must be a real joy at parties.