On November 5th, Travis Scott headlined the first night of his two-day Astroworld Festival, held annually at NRG Park. The crowd at the festival was densely packed, with about 50,000 people attending the event. Astroworld festival organizers released a video in April showing some of the chaos at NRG Park in previous years, including people storming gates and jumping fences, as part of a promotional video for the festival. According to officials, when Scott took the stage around 9 pm on November 5th, the crowd surged toward the front of the stage, triggering chaos. The show slowly turned into a nightmare for most concertgoers as people were compressed up against each other and could hardly breathe. As some festival attendees started to pass out and scream in terror, many fans urged staff to stop the show. Even though a video online shows that Travis Scott paused his performance at one point asking for aid, he continued immediately by bringing Drake with him on the stage. Drake’s appearance made the crowd even wilder. Officials reported that ten people ranging in age from 9 to 27 were killed, and dozens were injured at the Astroworld Festival. The concert turned out to be one of US history’s deadliest live musical events. In a tweet posted on Saturday, Scott said he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night.” In this blog post, we will analyze the potential impact of the tragedy on Scott’s reputation, as well as his crisis response strategy.
To anyone who follows hip-hop or pop culture closely, Travis Scott is one of the most influential figures. He is a Houston-born musician and an eight-time Grammy-nominated rapper with a massive following on social media channels. He has over 43 million followers on Instagram and 11 million on Twitter. The rapper has become the go-to celebrity influencer when brands want to appeal to millennials and Gen Z in their campaigns. Scott primarily uses Twitter and Instagram profiles to promote his albums and posts about his non-music endeavors and sponsors. Some of his most successful partnerships include PlayStation, McDonald’s, and Nike. Travis Scott has a good relationship with his fans because of his ability to find unconventional ways of connecting with them. One of the examples is when he asked his fans on Instagram to drop their favorite Travis Scott song, and he would select random fans to send them money through the Cash App. However, the rapper received heavy backlash on social media because of the incident, with some clamoring to cancel the rapper. On Twitter, the hashtag #CancelTravisScott trended as users urged to boycott the rapper on Spotify. The unfortunate events that occurred during the Astroworld Festival could seriously damage the rapper’s reputation, brand, and relationship with his fans.
Coombs (2007) observes that a crisis is “a sudden and unexpected event that threatens to disrupt an organization’s operations and poses both a financial and a reputational threat” (p. 164). Coombs (2007) further explains that crises can harm stakeholders physically, emotionally and/or financially. In the case of the concert incident, not only were people hurt physically and emotionally, but there was also a loss of lives. Additionally, there are many financial losses for hospitalized fans and families who lost their loved ones. Situational crisis communication theory, proposed by W. Timothy Coombs, could help us understand the level of Scott’s reputational damage by examining the following three factors: initial crisis responsibility, crisis history, and prior relational reputation.
The first step is to identify how much the public attributes responsibility for the crisis to Travis Scott. There is currently an ongoing investigation to determine who should be held accountable for what happened at Houston’s Astroworld Music Festival. Scott has been harshly criticized mainly for not ending the show when the first issue emerged. While his spokesperson asserted that only the executive producer and the concert producer have the authority to stop the show, many Twitter users posted examples of Adele, Harry Styles, Lady Gaga, and other musicians who paused their concerts entirely in similar situations until they made sure that everyone’s safety was in place. On the other hand, Scott did pause the show on several occasions but it is unclear whether he was 100% sure that the fans were taken care of since he continued to perform immediately after those pauses. While rapper Travis Scott is the most recognizable figure associated with Astroworld, the public is still divided on whether the musician is to blame for the tragedy or if event organizers are responsible.
Secondly, if we look into the crisis history related to Travis Scott, we can find a few examples that speak against him. After encouraging fans at Lollapalooza to jump over barricades, the rapper pled guilty to reckless conduct charges in 2015. In 2017, he faced misdemeanor charges of inciting a riot, disorderly conduct, and endangering the welfare of a minor after inviting fans to overpower security. In addition, a mass surge through security barriers at his 2019 Astroworld Festival also resulted in three people being hospitalized. Though Travis Scott deleted some old tweets where he encourages people to surpass security, because of his past experience with similar situations, his reputation will suffer seriously regardless.
Finally, Travis Scott has gained an international reputation as one of the most electrifying performers who wants the audience to respond to the energy he gives on stage, almost defiantly. His high-energy performances are chaotic and fun-filled, with concertgoers encouraged to participate in a raucous nature involving mosh pits, crowd surfing, and stage diving. According to one of his fans, “he’s one of the only artists that when he comes on, he can vibe with every single person.” Another fan said about Scott, “it’s weird how one person’s music can turn everyone into such a family.” However, a video resurfaced of Travis Scott encouraging the crowd to attack a man who attempted to steal his shoe at a concert in 2015. While Scott has a massive and loyal fanbase and a reputation as a vibrant performer, it is very likely that his history of encouraging fans to get rowdy will negatively impact his brand after the Astroworld Festival crisis.
After the tragedy, Scott announced that he would refund every Astroworld ticket and pay for memorial services for the victims. He also partnered with mental health service providers to offer help for those affected. On top of that, Scott canceled his upcoming performances in Las Vegas and Saudi Arabia. According to Coombs (2007), crisis response strategies are used to repair the reputation, reduce negative affect, and prevent negative behavioral intentions. Rebuild strategies are used in the case of the Astroworld Festival since the crisis presents severe reputation damage to the rapper because of his high responsibility involvement coupled with unfavorable crisis history and prior relationship reputation. Travis Scott employed rebuild strategies to improve his reputation by offering material and symbolic aid forms to victims.
In conclusion, even though officials are still looking into the incident and trying to determine what caused the surge, many people hold Scott responsible for what took place. To make matters worse, his prior crisis history and reputation do not speak in his favor. Since Travis Scott experienced a similar crisis and has a history of negative relationship reputation, he is attributed greater crisis responsibility and suffers more direct and indirect reputational damage. While Scott is trying to restore his reputation by employing rebuild strategies that address the needs of the victims, it is still unclear whether his career would be able to recover from the incident.
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Scott, Travis [@trvisXX]. (2021, November 6). I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night. My prayers go out to the families and all those[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/trvisXX/status/1457018948109705217/photo/1
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