Live performance was back in spectacular style in 2023. After Covid lockdowns had threatened to deal gigging a death blow, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift’s gargantuan tours boosted economies wherever they went, as hotel rooms sold out and fans flocked in with cash to spend. The rhinestone-studded spectacle of Beyoncé’s “Renaissance World Tour” was only pushed into second place in the list of the highest-ever grossing concert series by a female artist, Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour”, which generated a mere $906.1m in ticket sales in 2023.
But on the continent, the enduring thrill of seeing artists live on stage was confirmed by one huge success story. Italian Eurovision stars Måneskin came back bigger than ever after ongoing pandemic restrictions delayed their “Loud Kids” European tour, upgrading to arena and stadium venues and boldly redubbing the tour “Loud Kids Get Louder”.
The original date at the Brixton Academy (capacity 5,000) being swapped for the O2 Arena (capacity 20,000) was evidence of their stratospheric rise. A summer of sweaty sold-out stadium gigs back home followed before their “Rush! World Tour” took their riot of leather, eyeliner and tattoos all over the globe and wrapped up in time for Christmas in Manchester.
What it all added up to was that, after over half a century of trying, 2023 was the year that continental European rock truly broke the rest of the world. As Mick Jagger told Corriere della Sera in October, “It amazes me that the biggest rock band in the world is Italian”, and a mural appeared on a central Rome street last month depicting the Stones legend literally passing his crown to a kneeling Damiano David, Måneskin’s louche frontman. It was clear that never again would European rock be considered a bit naff.
But for British musicians, there was no post-Covid touring bounce-back in 2023, as they were left counting the cost of Brexit. The onerous ongoing requirement for all manner of permits to get people, equipment and merch into the EU meant that last month’s annual economic report by UK Music, the industry body, painted a gloomy picture of Brexit’s continuing threat to musician’s livelihoods. Among those surveyed who said they had been impacted by Brexit, 82% said their earnings had gone down, while 65% reported fewer invitations to perform in the EU, and 57% said increased costs meant they couldn’t take up the invitations they did get. Meanwhile, the lowest-earning musicians reported losing almost half their revenue from that previously enormous market.
In November, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement Domestic Advisory Group called for a cultural visa waiver for creative workers, which offers some hope that British musicians may be able to access EU markets again. And since 2023 proved that, while technology both makes recorded music more accessible than ever and simultaneously threatens artists’ ability to make an actual living out of it, the live experience is still one that people crave and is a bigger money-spinner than ever, British musicians will desperately need a bite of that cherry in 2024 and beyond.