Wednesday, November 10 2021

Dive In


It was long and loud and impossible to ignore. Camilla hasn't stopped talking about it.

That’s a hilarious quote from an unnamed source who leaked a big juicy story: Prince Charles’ partner Camilla aka the Duchess of Cornwall was horrified when President Joe Biden let out a big fart at a COP26 reception in Glasgow. Yes, it’s silly (and maybe even untrue) but it is the only funny story about gas emissions you’ll hear these days.

Big Story

WTF happened at Astroworld?

The TLDR: Eight people died at Travis Scott’s concert in Houston. Hundreds of others have been injured—including a 10-year-old who is in a coma. How did a music concert of an A-list rapper in one of the most affluent parts of the world go so terribly wrong? We take a quick look at the three key Ps: personality, preparation and profit. 


First, a bit about Travis

Listed last year on Forbes’ 30 under 30, the 29-year old rapper has earned more than $100 million thanks to a chart-topping career—and that’s not counting the big brand endorsements like McDonald’s and Nike. His girlfriend is Kylie Jenner, and they have a daughter—with another child on the way. That hasn’t hurt his brand either.


The festival: Astroworld is Scott’s creation—launched in 2018, the year he released an album of the same name. Held in his hometown Houston, it typically features the hottest rap stars like Post Malone etc. It has grown in popularity with each passing year. This time, 100,000 tickets sold out within 30 minutes of the festival’s launch.


Factor #1: Personality

As Forbes describes it, “Once [Travis Scott] takes the stage, fans are ‘ragers’ (his term), and he is ‘La Flame’ (ditto), the spark that sets it all off.” In fact, he first made a name for himself as a concert headliner—long before his tracks soared in the charts. A review of one of his performances reads: “Have you ever taken in a live show with the implicit awareness that the next hotly anticipated song that drops may cause a riot so large it effectively ends your life?”


In fact, Scott has a court record when it comes to inciting bad behaviour: 


2015: He urged fans at the Lollapalooza festival to climb over the barricades to join him on stage:


“‘Everyone in a green shirt get the f— back,’ Scott said, referencing the festival’s security staff. ‘Middle finger up to security right now.’ He then led the crowd in a chant of ‘We want rage.’”


A 15 year old was hurt during the stampede that followed. Scott fled the scene, later pled guilty to reckless conduct, and served a year under court supervision.


2017: Scott was arrested once more in Arkansas, and for the same reason: inviting the crowd to overpower security and rush the stage. He was charged with inciting a riot, and finally copped to a lesser charge—and paid a measly $7,465.31 fine.


2017, again: The Arkansas incident didn’t stop Scott from encouraging fans on a second-floor balcony to jump into the crowd below. He said: “Don’t be scared. They’re going to catch you.” One person later sued him, claiming he had been pushed from a third-story balcony and then dragged onstage—an incident that left him paralysed.


2021, at Astroworld: Scott’s cavalier attitude toward crowd safety was on full display: 

  • The police declared a “mass casualty” event at 9:38 pm—but he continued playing until 10:15 pm. Scott claims he didn’t have a clue that anything was wrong. 
  • But he stopped briefly around 9:42 pm when he noticed someone unconscious in the crowd—and then went back to singing. 
  • And later—while someone is screaming for help—he can be heard saying, "Who asked you to stop? Y'all know what y'all came to do—chase me, let's go." 
  • You can see it here at the 1:12 mark (parts of this montage of concert footage are disturbing though not this bit).


Quote to note: Later, the fire chief said: “The one person who can really call for and get a tactical pause when something goes wrong is that performer. They have that bully pulpit and they have a responsibility.”


Factor #2: Preparation

Both CNN and New York Times accessed an elaborate 56-page security plan put together for the concert. An expert in crowd management notes:


"There's no reference to crowd surge, crowd crush, crowd panic. there's no reference to the front of the stage and festival seating crowd. And therefore, there's no specific emergency planning for a mass casualty crowd crush event."


Other key points to note: 

  • Just before the event, fans stampeded through a VIP entrance, knocking over metal detectors—which “suggests they weren’t prepared for the kind of crowd they were going to get.” 
  • Glaringly missing: an elaborate system of barriers that are routine at such venues—where fans who break through one set of gates are blocked by another set. 
  • This despite plenty of social media evidence that fans were planning to gatecrash—and the fact that a recent concert at the same venue had to be cancelled due to the exact same reasons.
  • Medics at the venue were overwhelmed long before Scott’s performance due to a huge influx of drug-related cases—and had already run out of equipment when the stampede started.
  • The company in charge of security hires tens of thousands of gig workers who sign up at $10-$13/hour. No special training required.
  • Its area director said on Facebook that his guards had spent 10-hour shifts trying to stop “waves of dumba---s breaking down fences trying to rush in,” adding: “A lot of these idiots were from 15-22 in age.”


Factor #3: Profit

Festival organisers are under huge financial pressure from the stars and their agents. So the only way to make a profit is to either raise ticket prices—which may push down attendance—“or have to charge less and push the capacity envelope.” In Houston, there is no official limit on numbers at an open air event. 


Also this: There has always been conflict between concert organisers and safety officials over standing-room areas—where people are most likely to be trampled—but which are also “extraordinarily, extraordinarily profitable.” One expert says:


“This could be another classic case… where the safety people signed off on something they knew or should have known could be extraordinarily, extremely unsafe, especially with Travis Scott, who had a history of chaotic, chaotic events.”


Speaking of money: The security company is already facing multiple claims that allege negligence. It is currently facing 18 Astroworld-related lawsuits—along with the event organisers and Travis Scott. That number is expected to escalate in the days to come.


Big point to note: In other industries that involve public safety—like aviation, for example—there is usually an independent investigation. And new rules are put in place when something bad happens. But not when it comes to music concerts


"Unfortunately, in the events industry, it comes down to litigation and it's generally settled out of court… The court documents get sealed, the information never gets fed back into the industry and so there's no learning, there's no improvement."


The bottomline: The Washington Post once praised Travis Scott as “one of the most electrifying performers of the moment,” a “maestro directing the chaos.” Many people delighted in—and profited from—his “bad boy” concerts… until someone died. So there’s plenty of blame to go around in the making of this tragedy.


Reading list

BBC News offers a good overview. For more on Scott himself, check out this 2020 Forbes profile. CNN and New York Times have more on the security plans in place. Independent UK explains why crowd surges happen at concerts. Rolling Stone details all the warning signs—and the pressure for profit. LA Times and New York Times have more on Scott’s record of inciting chaos at events. Wall Street Journal (paywall) looks at the role played by illegal drugs. The Guardian reports on the conspiracy theories spawned by the tragedy.


Headlines that matter

The magical time for bed

A new UK study has identified the best time to go to sleep: between 10 and 11 pm. That optimal window helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Sleep any later than that and your body will miss the cues such as early morning daylight, which resets your body clock every day. And if that happens over a long period, then “that misalignment of behaviours and the circadian clock increases inflammation and can impair glucose regulation, both of which can increase risk of cardiovascular disease.” (The Guardian)

Two things to see

One: In the lead up to the Uttar Pradesh elections, the Samajwadi Party has unveiled a… new line of perfume (???). It is made out of 22 natural scents—and also this: “when people use it, they will smell socialism in it.” Truth is always stranger than fiction in Indian elections. (News 18


Two: Heinz rolled out its latest product: A ‘Marz Edition’ made with tomatoes grown in “the same harsh conditions as found on Mars.” And it took two years of research to achieve this feat. The ketchup isn’t available for consumers, but, hey, they made a promo (that you can watch here) that makes it fairly good for what looks like kooky experimentation. (Space)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • Adele's new single ‘Hold On’


A list of curious facts

  • What does a dog in a man's dating profile photo indicate?
  • Which website is tracking you the most?
  • Here’s why ASMR videos might be creeping you out
  • How do zoos persuade animals to take their Covid shots?

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