About two weeks ago, the LA-based psychpop band Sunrose made an Instagram post that drew in some serious attention. The post itself was fairly unassuming, simply showcasing a few photos from one of their most recent gigs, with the caption “Thank you for the Biblical night LA” indicating a happy crowd. Awash with streaks of neon, all splayed limbs and washed out lights, the photos give the impression of a gig both lively and intimate. The crowd, frenetic and hazy at the feet of the band, seem as excited to be there as Sunrose themselves, and the ecstatic expressions between the four members make the energy of the night almost palpable. Yet for how “biblical” the post makes the night seem, there is a problem underlying the post that largely goes unaddressed.
The problem? The photos were taken two weeks ago, and for all the faces in the crowd, a single one is hidden by a mask.
After eight months of one of the worst outbreaks in the past century, It certainly should not take an etiological biologist to comprehend what a maskless live gig might represent for the spreading of Coronavirus. Going maskless even in a public park is enough of a faux-pas to elicit a few stink eyes, let alone a cramped, indie concert venue.
One might think that such shows would be a thing of the past in 2020, but if these photos are anything to go by, these concerns never crossed the minds of anybody in Sunrose, nor in the crowd. Instead, it seemed the LA crowds were happy to flock to the closest, largest, and hippest live gig that they could find. As a state with over 275,000 confirmed cases, it is a terribly demoralizing sight to behold, and it casts a negative light not only for the concert-goers, but for Sunrose themselves.
Since posting, Sunrose has deleted all comments from the titular post (never a great look when trying to avoid blowback), and apart from a single caption elsewhere, they have stayed entirely silent on the topic. The only provided reaction thus far has been, “Next time plz keep your masks on cause we’re catching a lot of heat for y’all, we love you.” Beyond this, not a word. Is it satisfactory? No. Does it acknowledge the mistake? Maybe. Does it sidestep any and all possible blame? Deftly. Did it help to stop whatever spread they might have caused? In no way, shape, or form.
The question of accountability is pertinent, here. It takes two to tango, and it takes a crowd to make a live show, but there is something deeply irresponsible to be found in a band playing a gig without any masks. Although Sunrose never outright stated anything about masks one way or the other, the very absence of masks on stage comes with the implicit notion that safety precautions would not be necessary.
In another time, this might have been acceptable, but after 1.04 million deaths and shutdowns across the globe, the move comes off as calloused, aloof, and entirely without empathy. In a world where everybody from Miley Cyrus to Charli XCX to Megadeath has found a way to adapt to the situation, Sunrose boldly disregarding the rules of the new normal is not trail-blazing or endearing. It is dangerous and dumb.
It is easy to place all the criticism on Sunrose themselves, who, it must be admitted, dealt with the situation poorly. The blame cannot all be doled out onto Sunrose, however, and aside from the single, mask-wearing samaritan swimming in the crowd, nobody in the photos goes totally without blame. Sunrose has had to take the brunt of the backlash, but the faces in the crowd are just as responsible, and unlike the band members themselves, these gig-goers can continue to go to as many non-socially distant live gigs as they would like, without fearing any repercussions.
This is, perhaps, the saddest takeaway from the Sunrose gig — even after months of CDC-approved, Pandemic-for-Dummy, social-media supported guidelines, people are still willing to put their own personal wants over the needs of society. If after all this time, people are still totally willing to endanger themselves and their loved ones, what does that have to say about the willingness of the average American to contribute to public health? It bodes very poorly for the future, and for all the work the country can do to ensure guidelines are being met, a group is only as strong as their weakest (or dumbest) members.
So, now that we know there are huge swathes of the population totally happy to disregard public health for the hip new jam band, what do we do? Is it too soon to put the kibosh on live music for a while, or has the time come? Was this whole thing a fluke, a one-off, or the start of a new, maskless-gig trend? For all the Instagram “awareness” movements, calling for no more frat parties, no more restaurants, no more anything, how is a country supposed to fight its own, willfully ignorant people? The whole situation poses a lot of uncomfortable questions and nearly no answers, and without more accountability from acts like Sunrose, these questions will remain unanswered. Moving forward, hopefully, the band, as well as the country, will act with more responsibility.