Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Travis Scott’s ‘Utopia’ lacks self-awareness in the face of the Astroworld tragedy

Travis Scott’s Utopia paints a grim picture of modern celebrity culture
Utopia+album+cover+courtesy+of+Genius.
Utopia album cover courtesy of Genius.

At the height of his success, off the heels of a chart-topping album, unheard of streaming growth, pop culture coverage and massive brand collaborations, Houston rapper Travis Scott announced his next undertaking. In collaboration with the city of Houston to celebrate the newly established Astroworld day, he would be headlining, hosting and running the brand new Astroworld Festival.

This single-day music event would feature numerous artists from Scott’s camp, as well as a performance from Scott himself. The following year, the lineup featured even more acts, as well as a surprise appearance from Scott’s mentor, Kanye West. After the 2020 show was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 show was planned to be significantly larger than previous years.

Boasting a two-day schedule and bigger names all around, the show sold 100,000 tickets in under an hour. 50,000 ticketed fans made their way into NRG Park on Nov. 5, 2021, and from the jump there were issues afoot. At just 2:00 p.m., fans had barreled through a VIP entrance, injuring one person and making way for over 200 non-ticketed attendees to enter the festival grounds. This, alongside rowdy crowd movement during the opening acts led Chief of Houston Police Troy Finner to personally warn Scott during a private meeting of the danger at hand.

His show began at 8:45 p.m., and almost immediately a mass crowd crush began. Fans lost control of their ability to move as the unified crowd began to move itself. Many were trampled, and the movement was declared a mass casualty event 30 minutes after the crush began. An ambulance attempted to move through the crowd, easily visible from the stage, and the show was briefly stopped on three occasions while Scott requested help for those in need. While an effort was made, the severity of the crush cannot be overstated, and considering the scale of the situation, these stoppages were simply in vain.

Eight people died during the show, and 11 more went into cardiac arrest. An additional two people died in intensive care due to injuries sustained during the performance. Fault is often pointed at mismanagement from executives and showrunners due to a reportedly understaffed emergency care team, but a troubling history paints the picture differently.

At this point, Scott had been playing live shows for many years. He had toured for each of his previous albums, as well as a tour for his “Days Before Rodeo” mixtape. His name alongside word of his concerts had made the news plenty of times around the world, as Scott’s concerts were known to get quite physical. In videos, you can see that Scott performs with a boiling energy, and his crowd feeds off each other. Mosh pits open, people get shoved around and in his own words, his fans “rage.”

It isn’t entirely uncommon for an injury to be sustained during a concert of this style, and among fans there’s a bit of an understanding as to what you’re signing up for by attending. Despite this, the conduct has led to a harrowing trend.

In 2015, Scott played a set at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, during which he told fans in the crowd to shove past security and climb barricades to get up on stage with him. The show was consequently shut down, and Scott was arrested later that evening, charged with reckless conduct.

In 2017, a fan was left paralyzed after reportedly being pushed off an upper deck balcony by other fans, following calls from Scott for him to jump into the crowd. The fan sued Scott, but to this day the case has not been resolved due to delays. The same year during a show in Arkansas, Scott once again encouraged fans to rush the stage, resulting in multiple injured attendees and his subsequent arrest on charges for disorderly conduct, inciting a riot and endangering the welfare of a minor.

In 2019, Scott released a documentary in partnership with Netflix which covered his rise to fame and the creation of his “Astroworld” album. The beginning of the film focuses on his concerts, most specifically on the controversial dates previously mentioned, and shines a light on fans who sustained injuries but maintained love for their favorite artist. Shots of ambulances arriving to his shows are juxtaposed with sweeping views of Scott jumping into a crowd of pogoing fans. We see fans in wheelchairs and stretchers underneath audio of others describing their plans to rush the stage.

In a blatant romanticization of his frequently dangerous concert environments, this documentary displays Scott’s perception of both his crowd culture and performance style. The apology he issued on Instagram the night following the tragedy told a similar story, where through boilerplate PR drivel about how sorry he is, he mentions he always has and always will stop the show when he notices something going on in order to help those in need – a statement which is borderline comical after he very clearly failed to stop the show while people died, ambulances arrived and emergency staff was overwhelmed.

Scott was met with over 300 lawsuits, removed from festival lineups and severed from brand deals. Eventually he was found not liable in a criminal court, privately settled many lawsuits and offered to pay funeral costs to all the families involved. After a brief hiatus, he began playing shows again, making occasional appearances as a guest on songs from his contemporaries.

This hiatus was effective, as there was minimal negative press surrounding Scott going into the release of his fifth album “Utopia,” but I was a bit concerned.

Initially, nostalgia and excitement washed over any post-tragedy disdain I held, but eventually the wave broke, and I came to reality. Given the context, I had a hard time imagining a good outcome with this project.

I figured either he would address the tragedy in an undertaking I only saw going over well if the entire album revolved around the situation, or he would sweep the situation under the rug and collect his paycheck. Unsure of Scott’s artistic capability to tackle such an issue, I saw the latter as a significant possibility, and left the former to collect dust as a pipe dream in the back of my mind.

It struck me that the most likely outcome was one where one of the world’s most successful musicians, who has a storied history of misconduct at concerts, who was involved in the deaths of 11 people at one of his shows, would, after waiting a few years for the press to move along, release an album like nothing ever happened. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was somehow even worse.

The album finally came out, and it feels like the work of a rushed and confused artist. The song “LOOOVE,” which was recorded primarily in 2014, is on the tracklist alongside “MELTDOWN,” which was finished so late it doesn’t even appear on the initial wave of vinyl records being sold. Between Scott’s older vocal style and the severely dated beat, “LOOOVE” has a hard time standing up to “MELTDOWN,” which boasts a guest verse from Drake and production from Working on Dying’s BNYX, one of the hottest names in the scene right now.

The collection of 19 songs feels more like a playlist than an album, and while this style of release has become increasingly popular in the past few years, it rarely denotes quality. Furthermore, when it comes from a name like Travis Scott who has put out well-executed thematic albums like “Rodeo” and “Astroworld,” it feels like a lazy cash grab, and a blatant display of creative bankruptcy.

This is defined by the lack of sonic and thematic cohesion on display throughout the tracklist. Typical lines flaunting his massive wealth and roster of women are rampant on almost every song, as are incredibly distasteful bars about how high energy his concerts are. “You know it’s slammin’ wall to wall / We gotta fill the stands up with slaps and the anthems” on the album’s intro track, “I got em’ levitating way off their knees / The way I get it jump I make it hard to breathe” on “MODERN JAM,” “Now your venue we gotta resize” on “SIRENS,” “Hunnid thousand pack the fans / Got em’ jumpin’ with no hands / Need more spaces where we jam” on “GODS COUNTRY,” “They think I’m satanic I keep me a reverend” on “MELTDOWN,” and “Outside it got traffic / ‘Cause inside we wreak havoc” on “CIRCUS MAXIMUS.”

I refuse to include only a few examples because I need to express just how major this trend is. There aren’t a few lines on the album about his concerts; there are plenty.

The worst of all is the mention on “MY EYES,” which chooses to address the actual Astroworld 2021 concert. This should sound some alarms, but I can promise you it’s worse than you think. “I replay them nights, and right by my side, all I see is a sea of people that ride with me / If they just knew what Scotty would do to jump off the stage and save him a child.” This sequence of lines is followed by bars describing his efforts to move forward from the tragedy and keep making art. Not only does Scott fail to address the tragedy in any meaningful way, but he also places himself at the center of the conflict implying that his artistry is the most important factor, and then moves right along to rap more lines about how much energy he brings to his shows.

This self-centered momentum is carried further by “PARASAIL,” a track which features a monologue by famous comedian Dave Chappelle – who has made several transphobic jokes — detailing his efforts to “choose to feel good,” in an act of self-victimization. This narrative is furthered on “TELEKINESIS,” where Scott sings about entering heaven and living in eternal glory.

Scott’s blatant ignorance and utter lack of empathy is on display throughout this project as well as its other manifestations. In the movie released alongside the album, Scott has a conversation with producer Rick Ruben who plays a sort of wise-man prophetic character. He addresses Scott and brings up the tragedy, to which Scott tells him he didn’t come to talk about that; an upfront statement on his feelings surrounding the situation – feelings which are further extrapolated by various lines dripping with try-hard mystique describing his struggle to create art since the event occurred.

At the first “Utopia” live show, Scott brought out his mentor, Kanye West, for a guest performance. Given Kanye’s antisemitic tirade and subsequent disappearance from the public sphere, choosing to perform alongside him speaks volumes to Scott’s values.

His failure to fulfill a basic measure of empathy in numerous situations of increasing severity paints a grim picture. Shaped by the public eye, Scott transformed into self-perceived omnipotence. In uncanny similarity to his mentor West, Scott grew to monumental status before becoming the center of immense negative press. Following his own event, West took to the shadows, removing himself from public perception for over a year, where he remains today.

After following in his footsteps, Scott seems to be playing the role of a dreadful prophet, foretelling the eventual return and subsequent success of his mentor. Despite the history of misconduct, the mass casualty event, the unfathomably distasteful lyrics – Scott’s album sold 496,000 copies in its first week. Despite his actions, West could easily make a grand return to the spotlight and reignite what was once a fiery career.

In a vicious cycle, celebrity culture cultivates godlike figures before criticizing them for acting as gods. We watch them fall from grace, feign disdain and cast them aside so we can await their inevitable return – which will certainly garner more attention than they had ever received before.

Travis Scott’s conduct over the past eight years serves as a historical representation of the twisted nature of celebritydom, and his prolonged success accentuates the warped relationship we maintain with those we choose to uphold.

Andrew C. Freeman can be reached at [email protected].

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    sumbidyOct 12, 2023 at 12:21 am

    be so for real 🤦🏽‍♂️🤦🏽‍♂️

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