A week ago, Travis Scott was one of the biggest names in popular music, a bonafide superstar with chart-topping hits and deals with top brands to match. But after eight people died and hundreds more were injured at his Astroworld festival on Friday night in Houston, the rapper’s career as he knows it is now in peril.
Since Friday’s tragedy, Scott has issued two statements, provided full refunds and counseling services to Astroworld ticket holders, and offered to pay for the funeral services of the eight fans who died at his festival. Still, more victims (as young as nine years old) are hospitalized in critical condition, while nearly 50 lawsuits been filed against Scott and the festival organizers with likely more to come, and a high-profile police investigation is ongoing. The Astroworld tragedy is unlikely to fade away soon, and the brand Scott built as an unruly performer is now under heavy scrutiny in and out of the music industry.
For Scott’s career, the timing couldn’t be much worse. After his virtual Fortnite concert became one of the music business’ biggest stories last year, reaching 45.8 million viewers and launching his Kid Cudi-assisted song “THE SCOTTS” to No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart, he has steadily made gains breaking through as a mainstream celebrity. Along with his high-profile relationship with Kylie Jenner, branding deals have played an integral role in that, including partnerships with PlayStation, McDonald’s and Nike. His next collaboration was high fashion — a collection with Dior that was supposed to launch in next spring, but could now get scrapped, according to a Rolling Stone report.
“This tragedy will affect Travis’ image and brand deals moving forward,” a hip-hop marketing expert tells Billboard. “Over the last couple of years, Travis Scott has become one of music’s biggest brand ambassadors by inking partnerships with Nike, Anheuser- Busch, McDonald’s, and General Mills, to name a few. We are already starting to see brands trying to distance themselves. Epic Games [Fortnite], with whom Travis had a partnership with a few years earlier, removed the games’ Travis Scott music emote — the feature that allows gamers avatars to dance to specific songs.”
Scott’s touring career is taking a hit too. On Monday, he canceled his upcoming headlining performance at Day N Vegas, and the festival promptly replaced filled the spot with Post Malone. According to Variety, Scott also canceled a private performance in Saudi Arabia, which would have netted him $5.5 million, and thousands of fans have been petitioning AEG-owned promoter Goldenvoice to drop him from next April’s Coachella lineup.
Over the years, Scott’s live shows have become known for their intensity and mosh pits, and have helped him ascend to the top of festival lineups over the years as he’s collected more hits — but now that’s working to his disadvantage. In 2015, he was arrested for disorderly conduct following his performance at Lollapalooza. There, Scott encouraged fans to climb over the barricades during his concert, and a 15-year-old girl was trampled. Scott pleaded guilty to reckless conduct charges and was ordered to be under court supervision for a year. In 2017, Scott was arrested again after a concert in Arkansas on the suspicion of starting a riot. Several people were injured and Scott pled guilty to disorderly conduct. He paid a fine of almost $7500.
Despite his arrests, Scott still relished his brand as a concert disruptor, creating chaos and watching fans rage alongside him. Because there haven’t been severe consequences up until now, fans championed Scott’s behavior and deemed him modern hip-hop’s ultimate stage performer.
“Travis Scott has built a brand off being a rager,” says the marketing expert. “He creates high-energy music and has high-energy shows. If he is inspired to change his stage show, he might be inspired to make a different style of music for his fans. There is no way to truly tell if his image or brand will take a hit, but the rager side must evolve.”
And then there’s Scott’s relationship with his fans. While it was their fervor that built his career to superstar status, it’s also what caused the crowd swells that brought such tragedy at Astroworld — and now some are turning on him. Across the internet, anecdotes about fans blaming him, or why he didn’t stop the show when he saw the ambulance have been rampant. And for those who were at the festival Friday night, it’s even worse as they now struggle to cope with the trauma they experienced.
Fahin Shahriar, an 18-year-old from Houston who was injured during the festival and is now taking part in a lawsuit, says he re-experiences the trauma of the event when he hears Scott’s “Butterfly Effect,” because that’s the song the rapper was performing when he was knocked off his feet and buried beneath a layer of collapsed bodies. “Ever since that day, now it’s just like, the song always brings up that experience, just of dying,” he says.
Since then, Shahriar has been listening to that song in an effort to “conquer the fear” — because, he says, “I don’t want PTSD from it.” But, he continues, “Every time I hear ‘Butterfly Effect,’ I just remember dying again.”
The night before Astroworld, Scott released two new songs — “Escape Plan” and “Mafia” — giving fans hope that his long-awaited fourth album, Utopia, would be following soon. That album had been scheduled for release before the end of the year, a source previously told Billboard, but that now seems unlikely. Epic Records did not respond to Billboard’s request for comment.
“Escape Plan” is now struggling to gain radio airplay, with daily plays falling since the song’s release. On Friday, Nov. 5, the day of release, it drew an already modest 102 plays from the slate of stations that report to Billboard’s all-format Radio Songs chart. The next day, it dropped to 76 plays and then 71, 56, 51 and 51 again daily through Wednesday, according to MRC Data. Even Travis’ core format has shown some reluctance, with only 22 of the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart’s 75 panel stations having played the song since its arrival.
After 170 weeks on the Billboard 200, Scott’s 2018 blockbuster album Astroworld remains a strong player, currently sitting at No. 50, six spots up from last week as press time.
Over the past year, artists ranging from Morgan Wallen to DaBaby to Tory Lanez have tried to refocus their careers after facing severe criticism for their behavior — with mixed results. For Scott, it’s hard to imagine anything more he can do now to help his case, aside from avoid blame as much as possible. On Wednesday, his attorney Edwin F. McPherson made a public statement to these ends, calling for an end to city officials’ “finger-pointing” while asking for a focus on investigations, “so that together, we can identify exactly what transpired and how we can prevent anything like this from happening again.”
With so much attention on Astroworld, and a wave of lawsuits that are likely to take years to complete — if they’re not settled out of court first — it’s hard to imagine what more Scott can do publicly than wait this out and hope his audience is still there when he returns.
“[Travis] has a very loyal fan base, and I think the majority of that base will be there for him musically,” says the talent manager. “And whoever promotes and markets his shows moving forward must have better planning when it comes to security, medical staff, and other measures.”