A Travis Scott concert is a force of nature.
I witnessed this first hand three years ago, during Scott’s “Bird’s Eye View” birthday show at Terminal 5 in New York. The front of the stage wass a mosh pit full of unchecked id and graphic tees, waiting at any given moment to turn the fuck up as soon as the first notes of “Goosebumps” hit. It only took me a few moments of trying to withstand this youth tidal wave before I realized my favorite place to be at the night show was either above the fray, or in the very back with the olds. Not that having the higher ground is necessarily an advantage — later that night, Scott egged on a fan in the nosebleeds to jump down into the pit, reportedly breaking his leg in the process. But for his trouble, Scott put one of his rings on the fan as the stretcher wheeled him out.
I feel the same way about Fortnite as I do about Travis Scott shows: I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve aged out. Or at least I thought I did. Fortnite’s cartoony nature was never my thing as much as the Predator-meets-Hunger Games vibe of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, which I’ve since ditched for Call of Duty: Warzone to get my battle royale fix. There’s also a strange, more uncomfortable uncanny valley I find myself in whenever my 12-year-old nephews and nieces start to show interest in things I’ve been aware of for a while — like Fortnite and Travis Scott.
But a funny thing happened when Travis Scott announced his “Astronomical” digital tour taking place on Fortnite: I was convinced enough to re-download the game. Granted, global shelter-in-place orders have made it easier for myself and countless others to expand our digital horizons, but I was definitely interested to see how it would play out.
Since there’s still a part of me mad for sleeping on last year's Jordan brand skins, I didn't want to miss out on the Travis Scott ones this time around. So after missing the first two instances of the ten-minute event (it repeated several times this weekend), I used some spare V-bucks to virtually cop the Astro Jack and T-3500 skins (essentially a T-1000 face-melted version of the artist) and started doing the in-game challenges to unlock the best part of this mash-up: An emote that mimics the memeable moment Travis Scott lifted a fiery mic stand over his head.
This isn't the first concert Fortnite's had in-game, last year they held their first with electronic music artist Marshmello — someone most people would more closely associate with sterotypical gamer culture — and it garnered 10.7 million people. But that was literally like a concert held inside a game, replete with a stage, audience banter, Jumbotron screens displaying lyrics, and a dance floor — pretty much like going to Coachella in The Sims.
But “Astronomical” was nothing like that. Similar to how Pedro Cavaliere and Zack Bia's IG Live DJ sets capture the ambience and subtle nuance of “in-the-know” parties where cool people congregate, Fortnite and Travis Scott channelled the spectacle of his tours into something that could only exist in a video game. And the effort put into it shows, but also paid off: 12.3 million people tuned into the first concert on Thursday evening.
Keep in mind, this is the same artist who had a gigantic robot eagle made for the stage, as well as an entire set with a roller coaster. The stage, set up in the Fortnite archipelago of Sweaty Sands echoed the 360-degree design from the Astroworld tour, but turned it into a Stargate. As the first verses of “Sicko Mode” started playing, a planet-sized sound system (with a booming speaker at its core) emerged from the portal, signaling the beginning of the event.
Travis Scott arrived like a final boss, preceded by a purple comet that crashed into the venue, sending everyone into freefall as his giant in-game avatar started rapping. If you got up close, you could see his Jordan 1s were the size of a house. But product placement aside (by the way, the Astro Jack character also wears Scott's collaborative pair of Jordan 6s), the event did the unexpected and mixed the offbeat-but-mainstream appeal of Fortnite with the raw, slightly unhinged energy of a Travis Scott show. Characters banged their heads, wildly swung diamond-encrusted pickaxes at the environment around them, and turned the immersive music video into a digital mosh pit.
From the laser light portion that characterized “Sicko Mode” to the trippy underwater segment for “Highest in the Room,” the highlight of the event was the debut of “The Scotts,” Scott's new single with Kid Cudi. It turns Fortnite's skydiving mechanic into an interstellar free-fall that ends with you crashing into a butterfly.
To get the fullest experience out of it, you actually had to play through the event. It just hits so much different than streaming it through IG Live or Twitch. As digital events continue to be a placebo for IRL gatherings, Travis Scott's show was a welcome distraction from the foreboding uncertainty in the world outside of Fortnite. It was the perfect simulation of a good psychedelic trip.