Astroworld Won’t Be The End Of Travis Scott—Here's Why
History shows that, for better or worse, avoidable concert tragedies don't sink top acts. The Houston rapper has another factor on his side, too.
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As a music fan and a human being, it’s impossible to ignore the tragic news that came out of Houston earlier this month: ten concertgoers died and dozens more were injured in a crowd surge at Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival.
Critically, it seems this loss of life could have been prevented with better crowd-control measures, or avoided outright if responsible parties had stopped the show sooner. More than 100 lawsuits have since been filed against parties including Scott and festival promoter Live Nation, leading some to speculate that the 30-year-old rapper’s career could be over.
The Astroworld debacle is a horrific incident on a human level, and Scott certainly won’t be touring again anytime soon. But for better or worse, if past precedent is any example, Scott is far from finished.
A surprisingly large number of musical acts have headlined fatal (and likely avoidable) live event disasters. Among them are a handful of superstars across many genres who managed to reboot their careers in the wake of tragedies for which they were, at some point, at least partially blamed.
The Rolling Stones infamously capped a 1969 tour with a stop at Altamont, a festival that promised to be “Woodstock West” but turned hellacious. (The original Woodstock wasn’t all peace and love, but that’s another story). At Altamont, a gang of bikers was hired to provide security; multiple fans died at the show, including one shot by the ragtag security force. The episode didn’t stop the Stones from becoming one of the highest grossing live acts ever.
The Who’s 1979 tour featured a date in Cincinnati where hordes of fans, mistaking a soundcheck for the beginning of the concert, stampeded toward the entrance. Even though eleven deaths were eventually reported, the show went on. Fingers pointed all over—even inward, in the case of Pete Townshend. “It’s a rock & roll event that has created this,” he said. “And we feel deeply a part of rock & roll.” Yet the group kept rocking.
In 1991, nine people died in a stampede before the Heavy D And Puff Daddy Celebrity Charity Basketball Game. New York’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety concluded “almost all of the individuals involved in the event demonstrated a lack of responsibility.” Though the event had Puff Daddy’s name all over it, he never faced criminal charges. Within just a few years he was one of the most marketable stars on the planet, his image plastered across Times Square billboards sporting his eponymous clothing line.
Those who are predicting the end of Scott’s career may point to inadequate security at his show, or his unruly behavior at past concerts, or the fact that Astroworld was his event. But the examples of the Rolling Stones, the Who and Puff Daddy—not to mention several other acts who’ve come back after mass casualty events at their events—suggest Scott will recover.
And yet, there’s more than past-precedent keeping Scott afloat: his future is percolating in the Metaverse. I’m not referring to the company formerly known as Facebook. Instead, I’m talking about the burgeoning shared digital space that’s increasingly coming to fruition across a range of platforms and devices. Enabled by new augmented and virtual reality, the Metaverse is a place where users roam digital landscapes like in the video game Fortnite—which got a boost from Scott in April of 2020, when he blazed in on a purple meteor as a Godzilla-sized avatar of himself.
Scott proceeded to perform a virtual show viewed by 12 million people. Though fans didn’t buy tickets in the traditional sense, he earned millions from the endeavor, mostly through related brand deals. More importantly, he showed proof of concept for those looking to monetize online performances on a grand scale and unleash creative energy in an unprecedented manner.
“It was an opportunity to go to the max, to create a world that permits won’t let you do, fire marshals won’t let you do, building codes won’t let you do,” he told Forbes last winter, in something of a darkly telling moment. “To have unlimited fun.”
Brands now appear to be taking a hard look at their relationships with Scott—Nike postponed a planned sneaker launch and Fortnite pulled a Scott-related item from its store—but it’s still not clear if many will drop him for good. And his superfans certainly appear to be standing by him. As acts with much smaller audiences have shown, a base of ardent fans can sustain an artist’s career for decades.
There’s no question Astroworld was a tragedy, and clearly there’s more investigating to be done. But don’t expect brands to stay away from Scott forever, if history is any indication. And when the dust settles, this won’t be the last we’ve heard from Scott—especially on the virtual front.