Travis Scott proves this isn’t your dad’s Osheaga

The festival strays from its indie rock roots and makes a hot, hyped rapper its Friday headliner — finally.

For lucky edition number 13, Osheaga is doing something it hasn’t historically done: give a headliner spot to someone who isn’t a sure bet. Arctic Monkeys and Florence have headlined before, and everyone knows what they’re getting from those two. Nice and safe.

Day one, though, belongs to American rapper Travis Scott. Other than day three hitmakers Post Malone and Dua Lipa, no one is coming to the festival with as much wind in their sails as Scott, who recently appeared on the cover of GQ with partner Kylie Jenner. He’s a recognizable face with a growing catalogue of hits, but it’s unprecedented to see an Osheaga headliner without another big local show under his belt, and who actually has a recent blemish on his resume in Montreal. None of this is important to his young fanbase, mind you, and one could make the case that this is the first Osheaga where the opinion of anyone over 30 years old is utterly irrelevant (present company included).

Before we get to Scott’s Montreal moment, it must be said that this year’s Osheaga is the most they’ve ever veered away from their indie rock roots. Rap and R&B are all over the line-up and it’s about time; we’ll give last year’s rained out edition a pass, but the last-second cancellation of Lil Uzi Vert robbed the fest of a fair bit of current-day hip hop cachet. Even with a couple of inevitable dropouts, that won’t be the case this year: lots of chart-toppers will be present and rock will be taking a deserving backseat.

The easiest way to look at it is: The old Osheaga is dead, the more dance and rap-oriented ÎleSoniq has graduated into the new Osheaga, and ÎleSoniq is now some pagan ritual for condemned youth with Lil Xan and Bhad Bhabie.

Where Travis Scott fits in all this is he straddles the line between genuine artist and meme, and that’s what sells these days. The 26-year-old has actual hits – check “Goosebumps” and “Pick Up the Phone” from his most recent full-length if you’re unfamiliar – but he’s also the GIF raising his mic stand to a backdrop of flames like the Coachella braveheart, and as previously mentioned, is a Jenner-Kardashian.

If you saw Scott zip around like a hamster on a side stage at Osheaga in 2014 after nearly no-showing and arriving late, you’d maybe be less surprised to see him headline five years later. Sorry to say I missed it, and most of my colleagues tellingly did as well, but those who knew swear it was a revelatory moment. Since then, Scott’s profile has only increased as he’s gone from mixtapes to LPs.

Also in that time, there’s a Montreal visit that did not go according to plan. There was an incident at an abbreviated set at a New City Gas party in late 2016 that captured the attention of American rap media, where Scott, displeased with the house DJ’s gaffes, gave him the business before assuming double duty. The worst thing about it for fans was he only played for 20 minutes. To compare, he’s scheduled to play 70 minutes on Friday.

Scott also rather famously fell down a giant hole at a show with Drake in London (another meme-able moment) and was sued by a fan who was pushed off a balcony at a show in New York. But if his set at Osheaga is anything like his appearance at premier rap fest Rolling Loud, then Montrealers are in for a wild ride unlike anything they’ve witnessed in a headline slot at Osheaga. But he’s also a rapper with a lot of guest verses, and since Kendrick and Thugger won’t be there, expect abridged versions of songs with abrupt conclusions. Not his fault, but par for the course when you’re a collaborative rapper playing live.

Osheaga is also getting a pretty fortuitous bounce from this performance as well: Scott’s highly anticipated album Astroworld is coming out Aug. 3, the same day as his Montreal set. One would’ve thought his follow-up to Bird in the Trap Sing McKnight would be out by now, considering single “Watch” (with a verse from Kanye) came out in May. It had been mostly crickets from Scott on that front, so to finally get that big announcement on the eve of the fest must have organizers grinning from ear to ear. If he plays new tracks from the album for the first time here, prepare to get those phones out.

Either way, Scott represents a change in Osheaga’s booking of rappers in the top slot. He’s undoubtedly a big name, but he doesn’t necessarily have that track record of slaying Montreal audiences. He’ll get his chance to do so on Friday and enter an exclusive club of successful Osheaga rap headliners with Kendrick, Eminem, Outkast and Snoop.

Whether or not Scott is up to the challenge, this is the first time in years Osheaga’s big name comes with a little bit of risk attached, and that alone makes it an intriguing proposition. ■

Travis Scott plays Osheaga‘s River stage on Friday, Aug. 3, 9:45 p.m.

See our festival highlights here.