Ariana Grande x Fortnite Rift Tour: the Apogee of Pop Culture or Just the Beginning?
In the time of the pandemic, live streaming has grown exponentially in popularity, but gradually, virtual concerts are becoming a spectacle worthy of its own place in pop cultural history, and not just a stand-in for in-person events. On August 6 to 8, Ariana Grande headlined a virtual concert series called the Rift Tour on Fortnite, marking the first time in nearly two years since the last time the pint-sized diva had a concert. Her last in-person concert was for the Sweetener Tour on December 22, 2019. While she’s not the first music artist to have hosted a virtual concert on the game (last April was Travis Scott’s, and DJ Marshmello had a set the year before), her concert was unique in that it was the first time attendees would also participate in minigames, such as racing and target practice.
The fact that Grande, who holds the Guinness World Record for most songs to debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, chose to break her concert “fast” speaks volumes about the cultural impact of Fortnite. Of course, the game’s 350 million monthly active users is also nothing to scoff at. It’s definitely a mutually beneficial relationship. According to Billboard, the number of streams of Ariana Grande’s songs used in the event rose by up to 123 percent during her concert. Other artists’ songs were also used in the event, especially “Victorious” by the Australian rock band Wolfmother, which saw the largest percentage increase in streams with a 663 percent increase.
In other words, Ariana Grande’s Fortnite Rift Tour is the perfect marriage of two pop cultural phenomenons — and also a serious income generator. It’s estimated that the singer made over $20 million in profits from the three day event.
How it went down
The “Rain On Me” Grammy winner performed eight songs in 12 minutes, including some covers of songs by other artists.
(Screencap of Ariana Grande’s Rift Tour racing game)
After the countdown leading to the event ended, the players were sucked into a pink space to participate in a surf-like race on a colorfully painted course.
(Screencap of Ariana Grande’s Rift Tour shooting game)
Then, after the race, players land on an island populated with pink vegetation, where a shooting game with Storm King commences, a boss character that has appeared in Fortnite before. Eventually, the game continued onto a jet plane.
(Screencap of Ariana Grande’s Rift Tour performance)
After the shooting game, Ariana Grande’s avatar appeared and performed her hit “7 Rings” before an interstellar background, before commencing with the rest of her performance.
The Confluence of Pop Music and Gaming On Fortnite
Marshmello was the first recording artist to hold a virtual concert in Fortnite. The event was attended by 10.7 million players, and while the American DJ has hosted sold-out shows before, that number of attendees was unprecedented.
Marshmello’s live performance at Fortnite made use of the unique virtual effects that video games offer over live performance. It allowed players to fly in the virtual sky during his song “I Can Fly.” (Minute 6:58 in the video).
The following year in April 2020, Fortnite hosted the Astronomical event featuring Travis Scott. Scott’s event was held at the beginning of widespread lockdowns around the globe, and after the cancellation of his much-anticipated headline appearance at Coachella 2020. The concert was attended by 27.7 million unique users and 12.3 million concurrent access players. The archived YouTube video has been viewed over 160 million times as of August 2021.
Scott capitalized on the opportunity and debuted his song “The Scotts” featuring Kid Cudi during his Fortnite concert. It debuted at number one on the Billboard The Hot 100 Chart the following week (It was also the first number one hit for collaborator Kid Cudi). Even without “The Scotts,” his discography streams increased by 38 percent in the week following the event.
Virtual Concerts Generate Serious Profits
In addition to concerts, Fortnite also released Scott’s outfits, emotes, gear and other accessories for purchase, which all helped the rapper net a tidy estimated $20 million. Fortnite has also had collaborations on items and in-game events with characters and people from Marvel’s most famous IPs to star athletes like Neymar.
And there are others following in Fortnite’s (lucrative) footsteps. Last November, another online game company, Roblox, held a virtual concert by Lil Nas X, whose songs were popularized by TikTok attended by 33 million people (the number of unique users is unknown).
While it’s not certain how much money Ariana Grande will receive from her concert, many media outlets, including Forbes, are predicting that she will receive more than the $20 million that Travis Scott is said to have received.
This figure is also quite a step up when compared to the $1.7 million maximum revenue per show for Travis Scott’s tours in 2018 and 2019. Furthermore, it is said that the entire tour has generated $53.5 million revenue, meaning that Travis Scott earned roughly 37 percent of his four-month tour in just nine minutes—which is about how long the virtual event lasted.
Furthermore, a traditional concert often requires considerable prep work such as choreography, rehearsals, booking an event venue, sound checks, light designing, set designs, background dancers, etc., all of which can incur significant costs before the singer even steps onstage. However, in a virtual concert on Fortnite, even though it requires a certain amount of work and cooperation from the artists, much visuals are done by Epic’s animators with minimal in-person preparation and much lower overhead.
Of course, there are significant differences between real and virtual events for artists and their fans, but from a business standpoint alone, virtual events are far more profitable.
Pop Cultural Milestones, the Metaverse, and the Future
Although the term “metaverse” is often used to describe virtual events on Fortnite, including Ariana Grande’s concerts, these virtual events aren’t technically in the metaverse themselves as they fail to meet some key criteria that are broadly agreed upon at the moment to warrant such a description. One such limitation is the fact that a virtual concert in Fortnite can only show 50 people in the same virtual space, regardless of how many people are connected at the same time (compared to 100 in a normal FPS).
Matthew Ball, former Head of Strategy at Amazon Studios and Managing Partner at EpyllionCo, sums it up neatly in his blog, “The Metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, data, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users.”
Unfortunately, entertainment has been always constrained by the limitations of technology. For example, before the invention of gaming consoles, it was impossible to store games for continued play, and it was thanks to technology that we now have games such as “The Legend of Zelda” and “Final Fantasy VII” that allow for long periods of gameplay.
The same goes for the music industry. Music has evolved with its distribution technology, from radio broadcasting to records, from tapes to discs, digital downloads to streaming, all of these transitions have had an impact, down to the fundamental aspects of music, such as the song length and audience. These days, the latest form of music distribution is TikTok. The social platform has given birth to a number of hits and made bonafide celebrities out of the artists. In fact, many musicians now write songs specifically with the intent to go viral on TikTok.
With the evolution of the metaverse, a new form of music distribution may emerge and frankly, we can’t wait to see it.
If you missed Ariana Grande’s Rift Tour, you can watch the official video version in full here.