The Travis Scott brand was not built for this

For nearly a decade, Travis Scott has carefully placed himself at the center of the hype. His rise coincided with the corporate takeover of streetwear and sneaker cultures, making him a de facto stand-in for ‘cool’. An avatar to put as many logos on as possible. His business partnerships, of which there are scores, have led to fawning coverage in music magazines and corporate publications alike. Scott is, for better and worse, a symbol of millennial marketing – easily adaptable, able to adapt to the needs of any business. The kids love it, whatever it is.

Only it seems that Scott has gotten too good at monetizing his audience; to turn the thousands of kids queuing for a limited-edition sneaker or a McDonald’s meal into profit. That’s why, after eight people were killed and hundreds injured at Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston, the response was so quick. Until now, Scott’s relationship with his audience, while far from symbiotic, hadn’t proved parasitic. Sure, he’s a corporate behemoth in the form of a rapper, but he puts on a good show and the shoes look cool. At a time like this, however, that’s not nearly enough to fall back on. The product Scott is so adept at selling couldn’t be further from real life. From Cacti to his invocation of Houston’s iconic rodeo and the even more iconic Astroworld amusement park, Scott has never been concerned with real connections, instead gesturing to real references, sublimating every readable context to create an easily palatable product. to create.

Since news broke of the harrowing conditions in the crowd during Scott’s performance at his festival — of Scott continuing to perform for more than half an hour after officials declared “mass casualties” — fans took to social media and they called on others to stop listening to Scott’s music on streaming services. In an instant, the public he so consistently relied on for revenue turned to the Travis Scott business. “Go to his Spotify page and click the … next to his name and ‘don’t play an artist’, this will stop him from getting money”, has been copied by many users, followed by “boost this”. (On the day of the tragedy in Astroworld, Scott’s “Escape Plan” received nearly two million streams on Spotify, making it the number one song on the streaming service that day.)

Part of Scott’s appeal was a mainstream repackaging of the underground ethos of punk rock. His concerts are known for their aggressive moshpits – often fueled by the rapper himself. Except that unlike the punk and hardcore scenes where moshpits thrive, the “rage” Scott encourages during his show is ultimately hollow. That’s why many first-hand accounts of the events at Astroworld describe an audience seemingly unrelated to humanity. Videos show attendees dancing atop ambulance cars in the crowd. None of it seemed real, and why should it?

“I’m a huge fan of Travis, but damn, he needs to know when to chill. I know he’s known for his love of ‘rage’ and that’s cool, but last night was completely out of control,” one fan tweeted. “He calls this shit on a regular basis, so some of this is on him idc.”

On social media, upset fans have pointed to Scott’s past shows – in which he reportedly encouraged people to jump from high balconies, and in one case was convicted of reckless danger of inciting fans at Lollapalooza – as evidence that the rapper himself boosted the unsafe atmosphere that led to deaths at Astroworld. “He promotes people who are furious in the crowd,” one fan tweeted. “He has cultivated this energy and must be held accountable.”

Others have called him out for not stopping the show despite the emergency unfolding. Although he paused, some argue that other performers have taken more care of injured spectators in the past, by clipping clips of bands like Linkin Park pause their set when a show gets too rowdy.

But unsurprisingly, Scott continued to perform or, as has been reported, encouraged rowdy behavior well into his set. Travis Scott’s brand – his empire – never required him to be a real person. Therefore, in the series of apologies the rapper has posted since the tragedy unfolded, he cannot strike a genuinely compassionate tone. Like an employer accused of misconduct, any response has the hallmarks of corporate harm reduction. In addition to covering funeral costs for those who died at the festival, Scott announced a partnership with the BetterHealth app to provide free counseling to anyone traumatized by the experience. Even in the face of tragedy, Scott’s response is another business collaboration.

It reveals a fundamental flaw in the rapper’s multimillion-dollar brand. No one comes to Travis Scott for a deeply cultivated community of fans who care about each other. They come for hype. For the chance to win a pair of sneakers that will quadruple in value over the course of a few months. For a chance to be front row seat to a social media worthy experience. After the tragic and avoidable events of Astroworld, it will be an almost impossible sale.

Additional reporting by Andrea Marks.

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