Taylor Swift’s mega-tour, symbol of the “world before”

Posted on September 02, 2023

A hundred dates, millions of spectators traveling around the world and unprecedented economic influence: Taylor Swift’s international tour could break all records, including carbon impact. While some artists try to take environmental issues into account in their tour, the sector is slow to question its model to begin a real transition.

She plans to explode all the scores. From the sale of tickets to the first concerts in the United States, Taylor Swift’s international tour has been delighting social networks and fans around the world since its launch last spring. With 131 scheduled dates, the American artist could become the first to exceed one billion dollars in revenue on a tour. A real cultural event, but also economic. Despite prices of up to several hundred euros per seat, ticket offices are stormed during each sale. Over two million tickets were sold in a single day in the United States alone.

And spectators are ready to do anything to have the opportunity to attend the show, including traveling thousands of kilometers if by misfortune they were unable to buy a ticket near their home. The airline Air New Zealand thus claims to have had to add 14 additional flights in February 2024 in order to allow New Zealand fans to travel to Australia to see the artist. The phenomenon is such that the performer causes a boom in the local economy wherever she goes, filling hotels and restaurants to record levels since the pandemic.

“Eventization of culture”

Elevated to the rank of mega-tour, the event nevertheless raises questions about its environmental impact. According to a document written by the Syndicate of artistic and cultural enterprises in 2022, the movement of the public indeed represents the largest part of the carbon footprint of live performances, at the rate of 66% of greenhouse gas emissions. “The attractiveness of projects (…) has led to an eventization of culture with, ultimately, a permanent growth in gauges”explains the Shift project in a report published in 2021. Result, “the more visitors a cultural event attracts, the more international its audience (…) and the heavier the carbon footprint becomes”add the authors.

Faced with this observation, some artists are trying to begin a transition to a less carbon-intensive model, not without difficulty. We can notably mention the example of the British group Coldplay which, after having canceled its tour in 2019 for ecological reasons, has set itself the objective of reducing its direct greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. Reduced programming, use of transition fuels and photovoltaic panels, kinetic floor for spectators… Although the intention is laudable, certain measures are nevertheless proving “cosmetics” according to David Irle, eco-advisor to the cultural sector.

Refusal to query the model

“They had no approach to sobriety and did not want to question the philosophy of the projectexplains the expert to Novethic. They want to change things within a model that can’t become sustainable, and that’s where greenwashing is.” Because it is the very model of these ever longer and more spectacular colossal tours that we need to question. If reducing the carbon emissions linked to the transport of the public is today “at the limit of the impossible, for lack of adequate technologies”believes David Irle, certain levers can still be activated.

The eco-advisor thus proposes to avoid creating scarcity by scheduling more dates, to reduce the size and ambition of the projects and to communicate with the public through demarketing strategies. “We would have to manage to engage in a discussion with the spectators by referring them to their responsibility: do they want to dance until the end of the world or do they want to take this subject head on?”asks the expert.

These measures, which are still very rare, are nevertheless beginning to make their way within the cultural sector. Evidenced by the creation of the collective “Music declares emergency” joined by nearly 6,900 signatories for “supporting the cultural transformation necessary for a sustainable future”, or the recent decision of the French group Shaka Ponk to cease their activities for environmental reasons. But to really change scale and embark the entire sector on a more sustainable trajectory, it remains above all to create a “new imaginary of success” argues David Irle.

Florine Morestin

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