Astroworld tragedy exposes cultural shift in the music industry

Travis+Scott

Iñaki Espejo-Saavedra | Flickr

Mia Gindis

On Nov. 5, thousands of avid Travis Scott fans passed through the gilded gates of Astroworld, a massive statue of the singer’s head who’s gaping mouth served as a vestibule, and found themselves unsure of whether they’d bought entry to a certain heaven or hell.

As Scott belted hit after hit from atop the festival’s main stage, ironically named Utopia Mountain, the crowd grew progressively more violent.

Most concertgoers found themselves unable to breathe and others pleaded for the concert to stop as unconscious bodies were crowd-surfed above their heads. What was supposed to be a day of revelry quickly devolved into a massacre.

By the end of the night eight individuals were pronounced dead. In the days since, the death toll has risen to 10.

Many attributed the deadly crowd surge to shoddy festival organization, gate rushers and a lack of medical and security personnel. However, the events were indicative of an issue far greater than insufficient crowd control.

Raging, a practice that has become inextricably linked with music genres like rap and punk, has contributed to the degradation of the festival etiquette necessary for a safe and fulfilling concert experience.

This isn’t the first time that excessive raging has caused a musical artist to have blood on their hands.

In 1979, 11 people were trampled in a stampede to see The Who in concert at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. Nearly 50 years later, a crowd surge killed 21 people at Love Parade, a techno music festival held annually in West Germany.

Yet, despite these atrocities, raging continues to manifest itself in the musical entertainment sphere with rituals like moshing or stage diving. Scott, who calls his fans “ragers,” is just one of the many artists promoting such conduct at festivals.

Thus, to determine what or who was to blame for the innocent lives lost at Astroworld, it’s important to consider why raging might be so popular in the first place.

Members of Generation Z exhibit a far greater proclivity for mental health issues, such as depression and suicide than previous generations, according to an American Psychological Association study conducted in October 2018.

This stems from a variety of factors. Firstly, despite the intense connection of social media, Gen Z still scored the highest of all generations on the UCLA loneliness scale, which has been used as the standard to evaluate loneliness since 1978.page1image37311168

Job insecurity, student debt and political polarization are also contributing factors to Gen Z’s chronic stress.

Additionally, the slew of traumatic historical events that have unfolded in the short lifetime of Gen Zers, like 9/11, mass shootings and the coronavirus pandemic have rendered young people incurably nihilistic.

Scott is just one of the many artists that rose to stardom by capitalizing on this disillusionment and aligning himself with anti-establishment, anti-traditional and anti-lawfulness. His songs resonate with so many people because they offer an escape from the drudgery of school or a nine-to-five.

Listeners don’t have to strain their imagination to picture the utopia Scott’s music temporarily transports them to, as his latest album concept does it for them.

Astroworld, named after a Houston-based theme park the rap artist would frequent in his youth, conjures images of an alternate dimension, rampant with sex, drugs and money. In this dimension life is a carnival of chaos and hedonism.

Lyrics such as, “And it ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries/ I got ’em stage divin’ out the nosebleeds,” which can be heard in Scott’s 2018 single called “STARGAZING.” also reinforce the notion that violence is necessary to disrupt the quotidian, a symptom of social conformity.

Scott’s music preaches hyper-materialism, anarchy and substance abuse as essential to a life worth living. Attending his concert is sitting one pew from the pulpit.

It’s not unimaginable that seeing their idol in the flesh, reciting a gospel that’s fed to them in their daily life, would incite a crazed reaction from radicalized fans and cause inappropriate, oftentimes barbaric, festival conduct.

A similar phenomenon has occurred at the concerts of artists such as Tyler the Creator, Playboi Carti and XXXTentacion, all of whom experienced rioting during their performances in recent years.

In 2015, the University of Queensland conducted a study that concluded listening to “extreme” music, or chaotic, loud and energetic vocals that contained themes such as anger and depression, might soothe listeners by giving them a healthy, nonviolent outlet to process complex emotions.

Thus, the practice of extreme moshing, which is one aspect of raging, might have become normalized among the younger generation because it allows them to physically express the anger they feel toward society.

Genres such as punk and rap have gained popularity so rapidly over the past several decades because artists tend to articulate such emotions in their music, creating a sense of camaraderie between themselves and their fan-base.

Though an artist’s lyrics might contain themes of violence and disobedience, the prevailing antagonist has always been society, not their audience.

Scotts’ no longer using his music as an outlet to stick it to the man, but rather he is exploiting the legacy of hip-hop counterculture to deflect allegations that he has become the toxic thing his music seeks to destroy.

The purpose of music is to reinforce a sense of identity, to reclaim a self-love and lust for life that society seeks to strip you of.

No one’s life is meant to feel disposable at a concert. No one was supposed to die.