As a writer and creative, I have big dreams. My goal when I'm at my best is to positively influence as many people as possible to live good lives, but if I'm honest, intertwined with this positive desire is the desire to be worshiped. I want people talking about me and my work, to know who I am and to love me. Who doesn’t want to be a household name? Celebrities are the gods of our era; Hollywood our Mount Olympus. The pantheon of actors, moguls, and musicians command the worship of the masses and wield great power in our capitalist society. Their lives create quasi-religious communities dedicated to their brands. This holds especially true for musicians; often, cultish devotion is poured out at the feet of artists. We move according to their movements and we follow their every word and deed.
It must be nice to have all that love which comes from popularity, right? On his new album, ASTROWORLD, Travis Scott comes down from the holy mountain to make a proclamation: love at the top is fake and fragile.
“STOP TRYING TO BE GOD”—both the song and its accompanying music video—is very simply about developing a God complex, but the layers are rich and nuanced. Teaming up with CuBeatz (“goosebumps,” “sweet sweet”) and legendary “Dirty South” producer Mike Dean (“Antidote”), as well as Stevie Wonder’s harmonica and Kid Cudi’s all-time hum, Travis spotlights the eternal struggle between wanting to be loved and wanting to be worshiped, between wanting to do good and wanting to be God. The structure of the song presents a meditative version of Scott that is interluded by Kid Cudi and then concluded by James Blake.
Cudi’s chorus features his luxurious hum and repeatedly exhorts, “Stop trying to be God / That’s not who you are / That’s just not your job.” It essentially functions as the “gospel” of the record, the resounding, inarguable truth which Travis reflects on throughout his verses. The words call him to remember his identity—he is not God and never will be, and as Travis comes to realize, that’s a good thing.
Travis fleshes out this truth in the verses. He is honest about his goals: he worked hard to achieve the fame and fortune he’s desired his entire life. He has become a world-renowned rapper and producer, and that success comes with diamond-faced Rolexes and high-end hookups, but not love.
“It’s never love no matter what you try,” Travis raps. The public is fickle, and he understands this. We worship without true love. Say a false word and you might lose some of your fanbase; release a “wack song” and the rest might follow. Even high-profile romance, Scott concludes, has more malice than love: “She say she love me but want to really burn me.” (It’s not clear who he’s talking about here, but based on the first verse, it’s relatively safe to assume it’s not the mother of his child, Kylie Jenner.)
La Flame also tells us that love doesn’t come from celebrity worship, masquerading as love, but from his day-one crew. “Fuck the money, never leave your people behind,” Scott maintains, adding, “Stop trying to play God almighty / Always keep your circle tight.” Love is a gift given by people who know you, not by those who don’t. Celebrity worship does nothing to solve that desire for acceptance; it only exacerbates our longing for love by posing as a solution while really being a shaky affection contingent on our success. Those who love us before fame will love us whether we succeed or fail. Those who love us because of fame will only love us when we succeed.
On the record’s bridge, we learn the difference between doing good and wanting to be God. UK singer-songwriter and producer James Blake, a versatile and perennial featured guest in hip-hop, loops in and provides a closing reflection. His lyrics interrogate: “Is it the complex of the saint that’s keepin’ you so, so still?”
Great question. What is it that drives our actions? Do we want to do good, or be a saint? Or do we want to be God?
An artist might believe that he or she has a lot to offer. They might believe that their voice must be heard for the good of those around them and the world at large. But those desires often get mixed up with the poisonous desire to be worshiped. Blake’s voice once again cuts in, “And did you see the void in the past? And can you ever see it comin’ back?” I need love and I often think that void will be fulfilled when everyone knows my name, but on the other side of fame and fortune, Scott reminds us to “stop trying to be God,” that the love that accompanies fame cannot fill that void. Celebrity worship is a shadow of love; the love that comes from those who actually know us—that’s the one that fills that void and keeps us grounded.
The visuals, directed by veteran Dave Meyers, develop the dynamics of celebrity worship further. The video begins with Travis walking amongst a herd of sheep, possibly taking from Christian imagery which portrays all humans, including Travis, as sheep guided by God. Later, he is baptized by a divine fire to represent his gifting. He is held by a golden Kylie amidst a burning world and begins to embrace a type of godhood through a series of three images rooted in Christian tradition. Acting as God, Travis stands in front of a crowd which imitates his every move, again, possibly alluding to the Christian trope of a “Sermon on the Mount.” Then, he baptizes a line of people into his image; they emerge from the water, buoyant with joy and freshly adorned with his trademark braids.
With his head filled with power, the Houston, Texas native then rides on a dragon and burns the suburbs below, possibly symbolizing an act of judgment, before being taken down by the real God. As Travis’ face disintegrates under the gaze of a true God, Blake begins the song’s bridge and the camera pans to a manger scene alluding to Jesus’ birth with Kylie holding a lamb instead of a baby Jesus, presumably representing Stormi, who says with finality, “Stop trying to be God.” Travis is chopped down from his desire to be a public God and brought back to his family.
Like Travis, I sit here with two inextricably intertwined desires. I want people to read my words, because I know I have things to say which, I believe, need to be heard, but I also want to become a celebrity for the worship. With ASTROWORLD, Travis Scott has reached the pinnacle of his career, an achievement that duly serves as a warning about the character of celebrity worship. Those who don’t know you can’t really love you; love is found behind the scenes, in a setting so lowly as a manger with your ride-or-die family.