Must the show go on? Music industry’s reckoning with the climate crisis | Taylor Swift

todayNovember 23, 2023 4

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In Brazil, a tropical country whose famed Carnival celebrations are held at the peak of summer, hot weather is not usually considered an obstacle to music events.

“For Brazilians, the heat is part of our identity construction … We’re a country that deals well with heat, we’re proud of that,” said Nubia Armond, a geographer at Indiana University Bloomington.

But the death of a young woman during a Taylor Swift concert held amid a scorching heatwave in Rio de Janeiro has brought into sharp focus the dangers of extreme heat – and how music events will be forced to adapt to the era of global boiling.

With temperatures reaching 39.1C (102.38F) in Rio last Friday, more than 60,000 people packed the Estádio Olímpico Nilton Santos for Swift’s first-ever major gig in Brazil, the second South America stop in her legendary Eras Tour. After queuing for hours in the sizzling afternoon sun, concert-goers endured stifling conditions inside the venue.

“I’d never experienced anything like it,” said Natália Cordeiro, 29, a lawyer from the nearby city of Niterói. “It felt like an oven.”

A girl feels sick from high temperatures as she waits outside the stadium for the concert. Photograph: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

Seeing Swift live was a “teenage dream come true” for Cordiero, but conditions made it hard to enjoy the gig. “During my favourite songs I got into it, I jumped around, I sang, but I’d get this feeling of breathlessness,” she said.

At least 1,000 people fainted, and video footage of Swift on stage showed the 33-year-old pop star apparently struggling to breathe too.

Ana Clara Benevides, 23, collapsed while Swift was singing Cruel Summer and died in hospital shortly after. A preliminary autopsy has indicated she suffered minor lung hemorrhages, but authorities said it was too early to determine whether heat and dehydration were the cause.

Brazilian authorities reacted promptly, issuing emergency rules to allow bottled water into concert venues. On Saturday, after fans had already started entering the stadium for Swift’s second show, the show’s promotors, Time For Fun, postponed that night’s concert as the mercury rose to 42.5C (108.5F) and the heat index – a measure that considers humidity levels and other factors as well as temperature – hit 59.7C (139.46F).

Taylor Swift fans cool off as they queue outside the stadium before her concert in Rio de Janeiro.
Taylor Swift fans cool off as they queue outside the stadium before her concert in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Tercio Teixeira/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilian prosecutors are investigating Time For Fun and questions have been raised about the organisers’ apparent failure to adapt the event to the baking weather conditions.

According to concert-goers, screens covered vents in the usually airy stadium, seemingly to prevent people outside from getting a peak of the show and the grass pitch was covered with metal sheeting which had heated up in the sun.

The audience were banned from bringing in their own food and water; 300ml cups inside the venue were expensive and hard to get a hold of. Despite the already dangerous heat, pyrotechnics were maintained during Swift’s performance of Bad Blood. “The vision and heat sensation were hellish,” wrote the journalist Marcella Ramos.

Time For Fun have not responded to the allegations, and an attempt to contact them for comment was unsuccessful.

In such conditions, the entertainment industry must accept that the show can’t always go on, said Anita Carvalho, director of the Music Rio Academy, a school of music and entertainment business. “The producer should have postponed or cancelled … as it was evident no one was prepared [for this kind of heat].”

Carvalho added: “I have no doubt that [this show] will be a watershed for the events industry.”

Nathalia Valladares, a keen concert-goer who has tickets to see Paul McCartney in December and McFly next year, believes Brazil’s famously fervent fans – who think nothing of spending hours, days or even longer in line to snag the best spot at a gig – will have to adapt too. “I saw people wearing boots and gloves [at Swift’s Friday show],” the 33-year-old designer said in disbelief.

Armond hopes that the intensity of Brazil’s latest heatwave, coming hard on the heels of another extremely hot spell in September, will wake up authorities and the general population to the silent danger of high temperatures and the urgency of the situation. A strong El Niño warming weather event helps explain the recent heat, but “there are very strong indications that this event was influenced by climate change”, she said.

Fans wait for the stadium doors to open to watch Taylor Swift perform in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Fans wait for the stadium doors to open to watch Taylor Swift perform in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Silvia Izquierdo/AP

Brazil is by no means the only country facing these heat-related considerations, however. Various concerts were cancelled earlier this year in Phoenix, as the US city experienced its hottest and deadliest summer ever. Elsewhere in South America, festivals held during two separate heatwaves in Argentina and Chile saw people faint, artists pause their shows, and criticism of inadequate infrastructure for the heat.

Swift – whose private jet emitted more CO2 than any other celebrity in 2022 when not on tour, according to data analysis by Yard – has come under criticism from observers in the US for failing to talk to her fans about the abnormal heat, raising questions about the responsibility of influential pop stars to communicate on the climate crisis.

“Climate change doesn’t just impact abstract aspects of our life,” said Armond, the climate expert. “Our leisure activities, like exercise but also live music, are affected.”

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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