Since the tragedy that unfolded at Astroworld Festival nearly two years ago, Travis Scott has been largely absent from the public eye. In the immediate aftermath of 10 people dying in a crowd crush at the concert, several of his sponsorships and collaborations were halted, and he pushed back the release of Utopia, his follow-up to the hit 2018 album Astroworld. The families of two of the victims from the event would eventually reach a private settlement with the Houston-born rapper and the concert’s promoter, Live Nation; Scott himself was finally cleared of criminal wrongdoing this June. All the while, the music seemed to exist in limbo.
Utopia offers a faithful impression of what you’d expect from a Travis Scott record that was initially expected to be released in 2021. The album’s hyperactive roster of superstar features is a great illustration of the Travis Scott Brand turned up to 11, which is precisely where he left off before Astroworld Festival, having debuted a McDonald’s meal, performed in the video game Fortnite, and released his own quasi-Four Loko with his drink, Cacti (another project discontinued following the festival tragedy). With the release of this new album, Scott revives his long-dormant musical brand of pure maximalism. Except, unlike his pre-2021 run, none of the rapper’s grandiose ideas seem to be clicking this time. You can see it in Utopia’s stumbled rollout, which found many of Scott’s best-laid plans struggling to contend with reality.
Take his announcement of an ambitious concert at the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. One wonders why he’d choose such a delicate and high-profile venue after hosting one of the most catastrophic live events in recent memory. Even if you’re all the way in Scott’s corner, the optics were a bit strange. Scott has yet to speak in any convincing depth about the incident publicly, and now he appears to be attempting to jump back into the limelight as if it never happened. When the Egyptian Musicians’ Syndicate, the entity with the final say over approving concerts like Scott’s planned performance, did more digging, they released a statement to The Fader claiming that “When Egyptian public opinion began discussing the culture that [Travis Scott] is promoting, it reflects the opposite values of Egyptian culture and the Arab region… He has controversy in America and the values are not deemed appropriate by traditional Egyptian culture.” It’s hard to understand why anyone on Scott’s team thought the outcome would be any different.
The one constant in Scott’s promotion of Utopia has been an attachment to star power. Over the past year or so, everyone from Drake to Bad Bunny and SZA has been snapped in viral photos with the mysterious briefcase said to hold the album. Scott himself has reportedly played the album for several sports stars, including the entire Houston Astros dugout. The night before its release, Drake shared a screenshot from the strip club Starlets NY that suggested that he left the suitcase at the club. The whole thing might be interesting if it didn’t feel so perfunctory. We all know that Drake is way better at Instagram than this. Similarly, Scott’s superstar-packed lead single “K-Pop” sounded stale and formulaic, despite assists from streaming juggernauts Bad Bunny and the Weeknd — not to mention its title being the name of one of the most popular genres of music on the planet.
It surely isn’t lost on Scott or his team that a five-year hiatus between albums is a long time. In the time since Astroworld dropped, new stars like PinkPantheress and Ice Spice have already reached stratospheres that rival the one Scott hit in the late 2010s — Ice Spice was on a Taylor Swift single and the soundtrack for the year’s biggest movie in the span of a few months, the kind of pop-cultural coup that Scott would have dreamed of pulling off a few years ago. At Scott’s performance at Britain’s Wireless Festival earlier this month, he brought out the rising St. Louis rapper Sexyy Red, an embrace of the current zeitgeist that essentially slipped below the radar, eclipsed by Drake’s now-infamous Instagram photo with the buzzing, young rapper. A few weeks later, A$AP Rocky appeared to diss Scott during his set at Rolling Loud, if nothing else confirming that the rap superstar is less untouchable than he once was.
Along with the album, Scott is now set to release a film, Circus Maximus. It was initially touted as being produced by internet millennials’ favorite cinematic entity, A24 — except, reports later indicated, the indie film house claims to have nothing to do with it. Weird! In spite of this string of missteps, perhaps Travis Scott is betting it all on his album’s ambitious creative vision. In lieu of truly addressing the casualties at Astroworld or telling us what’s been on his mind during this long absence, maybe he’s angling to let the work speak for itself. For now, Scott’s website is teasing a performance in Pompeii, a location famous for being the site of a historic catastrophe. It remains to be seen if any of this transpires — or, more pressingly if anyone will actually care.
From Rolling Stone US