Of all the myriad VIP options that exist for gigs in 2019, the most curious is the meet-and-greet: where well-heeled fans pay for the chance to meet their idols either before or after a show.
This premium option has proved surprisingly controversial. Some performers baulk at them, considering them too elitist. Acts like Taylor Swift, The 1975 and Years & Years have spoken out against them, many preferring instead to meet fans they’ve been following on social media or who have hung around after the show.
For other artists, however, these packages are increasingly becoming their bread-and-butter – a way to supplement their income and engage with fans at the same time. They can cost anything from £250 for Emeli Sandé, around £800 for Miley Cyrus or £2,000 for your Britneys and Biebers. In fact, these packages are so pervasive nowadays that even the world of theatre has got in on the act. Attending the new ‘Only Fools and Horses’ stage show? Well, you can, for a fee, attend a buffet with drinks and take a selfie on stage with the cast.
Still, there’s a debate about whether meet-and-greets justify their price tags, especially when awkward meet and greet pics go viral – as happened with Avril Lavigne a few years ago. So are they worth it? We asked some experienced meet-and-greeters what they think…
Santi, who met Ariana Grande in 2017
‘When I queued up to meet her in New Orleans, it was quite nerve-wracking. The security were tough. Five or six people walked up and down the line, constantly checking that you weren’t on your phone and that you didn’t have any presents to give her. That’s more on the organisers, I think, and it did take a bit of the excitement off. Ariana seemed to enjoy it, though. At one point, when I was getting ushered out of the booth, I said to her, “I’ll see you in London!” She said, “Oh, are you going all the way there to see me?” And I said, “No, I came all the way from London to see you here.” She stepped away from the velvet curtain thing and gave me a hug and said, “Thank you so much for coming.” That was cool because everyone who was queuing up got to see that she’d hugged me. Everyone screamed. It felt like she genuinely loved that part of her job. Divas like Mariah and Britney, who are of that era when pop stars were put on a pedestal, perhaps feel silly doing one-to-one things with fans. But artists like Ariana who are younger and big on social media feel that connecting with their fans is really important.’
Jeff, who met Mariah Carey in 2016 and 2018
‘Mariah’s set-up is very rigid. We waited until after the show then someone collected the group. The security guard told us, “She could be 15 minutes or she could be an hour.” The first time I did it, we waited for 45 minutes. They told us we weren’t allowed to touch her, which I didn’t listen to. And neither did she! It’s up to you to engage her. Some people went in, took the photo and then left. They didn’t say much because they weren’t prepared. I knew what I wanted to say so it meant that I got a little bit of a chat with her. She was super-lovely – it was everyone around her who was being hectic. They kind of put the fear of God into me! I think you really need to love the artist to do it. I’d probably do it again. There’s something really special and incredible about it. Everyone says that you shouldn’t meet your idols, but when I met Mariah she was so gracious. Even though I was only in the room with her for a minute, it meant the world to me.’
Paul, who met Garbage in 2016
‘I’ve done three in total with Garbage. The first time, the band were still working out how the whole VIP experience would work. We got the three-song soundcheck, a Q&A, some merch, a photo and a quick chat. But it was a bit of a rush as there were so many people. The second time, the band took the time to ask what we had been up to since they last saw us. The band had got bored of the standard pose-and-smile photos, so we had free rein to do silly poses. It’s actually quite a privilege to hear fans tell Garbage how much their music means to them. It’s actually a really communal experience too.’
Phil, who met Metric in 2018
‘The price for the VIP package was only about 80 quid. That included the ticket and a signed poster as well, which I didn’t think was a huge amount. The meet-and-greet was really intimate. We went into one of the dressing rooms and then the band came through. We were probably there for about half an hour and it was really informal. Everyone was mingling in the room and the band were just going around talking to everybody.’
Ross, who met CupcakKe and Britney Spears in 2018
‘CupcakKe is such a character online. She is wild and raunchy and funny. I wasn’t expecting her to hit me up with a one-liner about her pussy or something, but because she is so on it, I thought she would have more of a presence in real life. You could say whatever and take a picture. I asked if I could do a stupid pose and she was all for it, she was fun that way. She wasn’t scared or cold, just super-chill, though not as forthcoming as I thought she might be. Britney was obviously super-controlled. There was a bodyguard making sure that no one walked past when they weren’t supposed to. And then there was a strict woman near us saying, “All bags and phones and jackets away. If you have anything for Britney, give it to me.” She wasn’t even trying to be chill. I don’t think I’d do it again.’
Check out the best gigs taking place in London in August here.