The recent tragic events at Astroworld – Travis Scott’s annual festival in Texas – has left many questioning the responsibility of an artist for their audiences’ safety. People attending concerts expect and deserve not to worry about being in danger for various reasons, but should the finger be pointed at the performing artist?
Astroworld Festival was first launched in 2018 by Scott and became a big event featuring a number of high-profile artists and large crowds. Scott’s involvement in the creation of the festival and the emphasis on himself as a branding feature connects him to the tragic events in a stronger way than if this would have taken place in an externally funded event where he was just a performer. In festivals such as Glastonbury and Coachella where the performing artists are not involved in the organisation of the event, the responsibility for people’s wellbeing and safety falls amongst the staff and the companies behind them. However, Scott’s high-profile association in Astroworld has not worked in his favour in this case.
Footage from the festival is very unsettling, capturing the intensity and almost uncontrollable nature of the crowd. Ten people died in total, the youngest being just nine years old, and a number of others sustained serious injuries. There is conflicting information about the accurate sequence of events in the crowd and Scott’s reaction to it. In one video he is shown interrupting his performance to get help for a fan who has passed out but is also seen to carry on performing whilst the screams from the front of the crowd and of people shouting for help can be heard in the background, a video which is particularly upsetting to watch. It was reported by police that the victims were crushed in the crowd surge around 21:30; Scott continued to perform for about forty minutes after but did finish around fifteen minutes earlier than scheduled.
The distasteful response from Scott, in the form of his formal apology via Instagram stories, has left many feeling angry and upset at the lack of action in the aftermath. Similarly, Scott’s partner Kylie Jenner’s Instagram story of the event has received backlash, rightfully so as it is a video of the event which shows an ambulance trying to make its way through the crowd. Whilst Jenner apologised and stated she did not know people had died until after the event finished, this demonstrates a blatant lack of awareness and consideration that someone in the crowd needed urgent medical attention. The magnitude of this tragedy should not be brushed under the carpet and should open up a wider discussion about what artists can do in the aftermath.
A rowdy crowd is not necessarily something that can be controlled, but Scott is known for inciting ‘raging’ at his performances and has come under fire for encouraging this in the past. This demonstrates the power an artist can have over their audience of fans. Therefore, the performer should have influence in controlling them as well. In the Astroworld case, police reportedly said that Scott should have used his authority and stopped the crowd sooner, in order to allow the ambulance to make its way safely to where it was needed. There is also the moral question. If an artist is profiting economically from the money the audience has paid to watch them perform, surely they should take some of the responsibility for their safety as well.
The Manchester Arena terrorist attacks which took place in 2017 at an Ariana Grande concert sets an example in what artists could be doing in the aftermath of these types of events. Grande’s One Love Manchester was a charity benefit show organised to commemorate the twenty-two who lost their lives. It included a star-studded line-up including Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Coldplay and also a section for the original attendees of the concert. People appreciated the effort Grande put into commemorating those who died and for taking the time to speak to those recovering in the hospital and the victims’ families. This empathy is something the Astroworld situation seems to be lacking.
In the wake of this tragedy, performers should make the safety of their audience a top priority, which is something that not enough seem to be doing currently. The responsibility falls largely on the organisers of these shows and festivals, however, where possible the artist should be exercising and utilising the power they have over the event and the audience in order to make concerts a safer and more fun environment for everyone involved.
– Bethan Oakley
Featured Image Source: Still Via YouTube