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Astroworld: When do we hold artists accountable?

<h5>A crowded concert venue (not Astroworld)</h5>
<h6>Kerrie Liang / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
A crowded concert venue (not Astroworld)
Kerrie Liang / The Daily Princetonian

Nine dead. 25 hospitalized. And yet the show went on.

On Friday, Nov. 5, over 50,000 people were packed in NRG Park for a good time at Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival; what they got instead was a bloodbath. By 9:52 p.m., less than an hour into Scott’s performance, a Level One Mass Casualty Incident had been reported, and between approximately 10 p.m. and 11:40 p.m., 17 people had been transported to hospitals, at least six of whom were suffering from cardiac arrest.

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How does an event spiral this out of control? While one might be inclined to blame it on a lack of security or the unmanageable energy of the crowd, the casualties were not caused by the heat of the moment. The downfall did not begin at the dangerous crowd conditions four hours before Travis Scott’s set or at 9 a.m. either, when a tsunami of spectators barrelled through the main gate — those are just symptoms of a larger catalyst. In fact, the problem started far before the festival itself.

Previously, Scott has pleaded guilty twice to misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct. In 2017, a fan was left paralyzed after he fell off a balcony which he described as “severely crowded.” It’s clear that Scott is no stranger to casualties — in fact, he instigates them. From inciting a riot at his 2017 Arkansas concert to encouraging a fan to jump from the second floor, Scott obviously has no regard for his fans’ safety. So when he goes on Instagram pitifully rubbing his forehead, mumbling his condolences between heavy sighs, how are we supposed to believe him? How can the man who says “all my real ragers jump the barricade right now” be the same person to claim he “could never [have imagined] anything like this just happening?” It’s almost as if when you incite violence, you get violence … shocking.

Over the past week, numerous videos from the Astroworld concert have emerged, revealing the sheer terror permeating the raging crowd. Consequently, many Travis Scott fans and music lovers in general have been confronted with a very complex question: What behaviors should we hold artists accountable for? And why?

While we can remember that these celebrities are humans — they can make mistakes — we must also realize that they are humans with significant influence. When an idol consistently encourages reckless behavior, what they’re saying to fans is, “Hey, this is okay.” Furthermore, many fans are young, impressionable teenagers who may actually think that jumping off of balconies into a crowd or storming a concert is “cool” or “edgy.” 

Some argue that it’s unfair to place this burden on celebrities and that they aren’t responsible for the lives of others. To those, I pose the question: Would it be okay if a parent was encouraging their child to act dangerously? Many of us would find it appalling if we saw a child dangling from a balcony and heard a parent say, “[They’re] gonna catch you. Don’t be scared!” It shouldn’t be any different when those words come from the mouth of a famous rapper — in fact, we should be outraged when anyone, famous or not, puts others’ lives at risk.

Moreover, it shouldn’t matter if the fan is a child or an adult; when any artist shows no regard for their fans’ safety, we should really question whether they care about their fans at all. In his apology, Scott claims that “his fans mean the world to him,” but his actions say the exact opposite. In fact, his actions have been contradicting this sentiment for years. Did his fans mean the world to him when he was dancing the robot while his fans were on the brink of death?

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Conversely, a responsible artist should also hold their fans accountable for their behavior. At this year’s Lawnparties, many found themselves engulfed in the dangerous mob of students that consumed the backyard of Quadrangle Club. This violent surge resulted in a plethora of physical and emotional damage — panic attacks, cuts and bruises, fainting, and more. Despite staff members urging students to move back from the stage, their efforts at crowd control were greatly ineffective. Noticing this issue, A$AP Ferg took matters into his own hands, pausing his set twice to ask students to “move all the way back.”

Understandably, when your favorite artist is performing, it is natural to feel overly-excited. Likewise, artists thrive off of this energy from their fans. The issue isn’t about whether concert-goers are allowed to have fun; rather, it’s about how idols set a precedent for their fans. As lame as it seems for an artist to pause their show to reprimand fans, this dilemma ultimately boils down to one simple question: Would you rather be called a “buzzkill” or endanger the people who put your name on the map to begin with?

It is almost comical that neither on his Instagram story nor in his Twitter post does Travis Scott ever say the words “I’m sorry.” The closest we get is a mere “I’m devastated” and a commitment to work alongside the Houston Police Department to “get to the bottom of this.” Scott speaks as if it’s some shocking mystery as to why his festival was disastrous when the answer is clear as day. If he wants to “get to the bottom of this,” he doesn’t need the support of the police: he needs a mirror. 

At the end of the day, nine people died. It’s going to take a lot more than a black-and-white Instagram story to fix that. Travis Scott can claim to be as devastated as he is, but he also needs to acknowledge the significant role he played in this catastrophe. As for the avid defenders who claim that he deserves to learn from this lesson — who’s to guarantee that he will? Looking at Scott’s past, this is evidently a repeated pattern of behavior that has plagued his entire career. While I hope that he deeply reflects on his behavior, nothing will reverse the pain he has brought upon his fans and their loved ones. It should never take the death of nine innocent people for anyone to learn their lesson.

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Kerrie Liang is a contributing writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at kerrie.liang@princeton.edu, or on Instagram at @kerrie.liang.  

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