Seeing Tim McGraw in concert today isn't the spectacle it was in 1996, when he was riding high on being one of country music's biggest superstars. McGraw may have settled down slightly in his later years, but fans at the Atlanta stop of McGraw's Sundown Heaven Town tour earlier this week saw a much different side of the typically good-natured and happy artist.
When an overenthusiastic fan made a grab near the crotch of McGraw's pants during a performance of "Truck Yeah," the singer slapped away her hands, and then, as TMZ reported, "bitch slapped" the woman on the side of the head before he finished out the show.
In the video above, McGraw is visibly pissed about the attempted groping by a fan, but still carrying on with the show. You can almost tell that he's trying to keep the woman from ripping his jeans, but later in the video it is clear that she is trying to smack him on the ass.
The woman is quickly whisked away by two security guards, and law enforcement found that McGraw's reaction was "reasonable," and opted not to pursue the matter further. Even if legal repercussions weren't in the cards for McGraw or the aggressive woman in the audience, this situation highlights the sometimes-tenuous space between performers and fans.
Fans overstepping their boundaries with celebrities is not specific to any one genre of music, and it's much more common than you might think. If you'll think all the way back to May of last year, a young woman performed unsolicited oral sex on rapper Danny Brown while he performed in Minnesota. Two months later, Lester Chambers, a legendary R&B musician, was beaten by a woman while performing a song in memory of Trayvon Martin at a music festival in California. Earlier this year, Iggy Azalea told The Daily Mail that sshe stopped crowd-surfing during her shows due to inappropriate touching from both men and women throughout her career in the industry.
These kinds of violations of personal space are especially disappointing when you consider that McGraw was just trying to be vulnerable with his fans and hand out a few high-fives to lucky people in the first few rows. It seems that when artists make themselves vulnerable to crowds, the crowds are wont to take advantage of this kind of unprecedented access.
McGraw addressed the incident in Atlanta with a press release, then gave an impromptu statement to a crowd in Montreal, as reported by ET Canada. "It is one of those things that happen. Nobody feels good about it, but there's nothing that could be done about it," said McGraw. "You are in that position, you are out there, you are vulnerable, things happen and sometimes you react. There's nothing to be said about it."
You'll notice that McGraw does not apologize for getting caught up in the moment, just that it was a regrettable incident, which is something I think we all can agree on. Unfortunately, unlike what happened to Danny Brown, Lester Chambers and Iggy Azalea, McGraw responded with violence. Whether or not it was appropriate for someone to grope McGraw, is it really okay for him to slap a fan in the midst of thousands of people with no repercussions? And more than that, are these incidents so common that we'll begin to see more musicians who are so fed up with being groped and assaulted that they feel as if they have to physically fight back?
McGraw's fans have been largely supportive of him online, and many online comments indicate that his fans believe that the woman on the receiving end of the slap "had it coming." This kind of verbiage and the associated imagery of a man slapping a woman is both jarring and terrifying, especially in a country where more than a million women are abused at the hands of the men in their lives each year.
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If Tim McGraw had merely slapped away the hands of the woman in question, we never would have seen the video on the web's most popular gossip sites as a "shocking" story. Seasoned performers have often become accustomed to unwanted touching from fans, right or wrong. Azalea made a much better choice than McGraw's physical violence by adding multiple layers of protective tights and underwear to her show attire, but McGraw's slaps weren't the only inappropriate acts on the stage that night.
Few people have acknowledged that a fan reaching to grope a musician on stage is sexually inappropriate. I have to believe that if we were talking about Miranda Lambert or Taylor Swift, things might be much more clear-cut. While we would have cheered a female artist for fighting back against a man that assaulted her, men in music are expected to invite this kind of inappropriate attention, which is equally problematic.
If we can't discern what is appropriate touching for male performers on stage, who hold the majority of power and influence in both the broader culture and the music industry, what does that mean for artists that are much more vulnerable? If it isn't safe for McGraw to shake hands with fans or for Azalea to crowd-surf, it surely isn't safe for lesser-known women in music, particularly those of color, who are already statistically more likely to be targets of violence.
The fault with what happened at this show lies with all of us, at least in some small way. If music fans of all genres have fostered an atmosphere that is unsafe for musicians to perform without fans violating their personal boundaries, we have to consider what has created this uncomfortable truth. It is also important to remember that this truth can, and does, coexist with the fact that both McGraw and the unruly fan share the guilt in this situation.