As Concerts Return, Things Are Going Back To Normal… But Should They?

The pandemic isn’t over yet but it certainly felt like it at the Staples Center in Los Angeles when Lil Baby‘s aptly titled Back Outside tour came to town Friday night. The Atlanta rising star had a breakout year in 2020 with the release of his album My Turn, earning his first-ever No. 1 single with “The Bigger Picture,” yet he never got a chance to perform the exhilarating, fan-favorite songs from the album like “Emotionally Scarred,” “Get Ugly,” “Sum 2 Prove,” and “We Paid.”

As a bonus, fans in attendance got to witness a split set with Baby’s co-headliner Lil Durk, who had his own album, The Voice, to promote, plus the two rappers’ joint album, The Voice Of The Heroes. Durk’s opening set provided the Chicagoan the opportunity to showcase the talents of his OTF family, particularly Booka600. King Von was honored by a group salute, and when Durk returned to the stage later to perform the joint tracks, the two rappers’ chemistry was palpable.

The energy level remained high throughout the set despite the relatively somber vibe of the crew’s songs, although Coi Leray’s appearance injected more fun into the proceedings when she emerged to perform her song “No More Parties,” which Durk features on. The crowd got more hype for a possible Drake appearance when Durk’s band struck up the Canadian’s Durk-featuring hit “Laugh Now Cry Later,” but he was as close to a no show as it gets for an artist who wasn’t on the bill (he was actually across the country at the time, making a surprise pop-up at J. Cole’s opening show on The Off-Season Tour).

A return to normalcy – whether real or imagined – also means a return of silly gimmicks like floating cars and giant mechanical birds. These are the bells and whistles that get fans out of their houses, that ensure the trek downtown and the money spent on tickets, parking, and overpriced concessions are worth it.

For Lil Baby, that meant a bed, complete with spread, pillows, and a pair of scantily clad female companions, suspended over what can only be described as a stage on the stage (or a massive lightbox). Various other furniture appeared on both stages, including a couch and a jewelry tray, from which Baby added to the glittering collections on his arms and neck as he rapped. His female dance team provided most of the motion on stage as he delivered a relatively relaxed performance — although much improved from the pre-pandemic shy guy who’d stick to one corner of the stage. He even danced a little himself after he brought out another set of dancers who looked to be about middle school age

Along with the aforementioned, there was a rolling clothing rack that Baby gripped as he was pushed from one end of the stage to the other by two of his dancers. A game show ensued when Baby offered to bring a fan onstage to pick one bag that was ostensibly full of money from three bags brandished by his dancers, doing their best Vanna White impressions. Even though the person they picked chose the wrong bag, Baby, ever gregarious, still sent the fan home with the correct one.

Normal also means guest stars, and while this part was exciting, it also began feeling problematic as it wore on. When Roddy Rich appeared atop the stage on the stage, it took a moment for the crown to realize he was up there, but they quickly cottoned on, prompting rousing renditions of his songs “Ballin’” and “The Box.” The place went absolutely ballistic, though, when hometown artist Chris Brown appeared from backstage and danced to his hit “Go Crazy” sans Young Thug. Then, just when it seemed the decibel level couldn’t go any higher without causing permanent hearing damage to everyone within a block radius outside the building, Nicki Minaj showed up, marking her first public performance since 2019. She rapped her verses from “Seeing Green” and BIA’s “Whole Lotta Money” as the crowd roared.

As Baby wrapped up the show with his career-defining hit “Bigger Picture,” it certainly seemed like things have gone back to normal. But that song choice inadvertently begged the question: Should things go back to normal? After all, while the 2020 uprisings certainly seemed like the start of something, that movement was very much pushing back against the status quo. Baby, and so many other entertainers, seemed to be gaining a new social awareness that felt powerful coming from their massive platforms. Then, Baby himself rejected that notion, preferring to remain firmly apolitical. Now, a year later, it also feels like the broader progress that started in 2020 has halted in the push to go “back to normal” instead.

Likewise, it can’t be enough that stars are just recognizable without being accountable. The timing of Nicki Minaj’s appearance couldn’t have been coincidental. She’s facing a backlash over her anti-vax tweets and threatening a journalist, as well as a lawsuit for harassment of her husband’s alleged 1995 rape victim. That’s to say nothing of Chris Brown receiving a hero’s welcome, 12 years on since battering Rihanna without so much as a public apology. There has, however, been a string of accusations since then, including a restraining order filed by Karruche Tran in 2017 alleging violence and menacing behavior.

Compound that with all of the usual reckless concert misbehavior — people blowing smoke indoors, heedless of their fellow concertgoers — and it really hammers home the point. The metaphor of people making personal choices that affect others inside this ostensible safe place is harrowing when the scope is expanded to what’s been going on outside of venues where vaccination is required. Going “back to normal” seems to mean going back to a state in which human decency as a whole is optional rather than the bare minimum expectation of society. Sorry to sound preachy here, but the pandemic and resulting shutdowns offered us a chance to determine a new normal, a better normal. In the bigger picture, that should be more important than any album, artist, or concert.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.