After a summer of high-profile corporate partnerships, Travis Scott has returned to the music.
Today, he released his new single, “Franchise,” featuring Young Thug and M.I.A. The song—produced by Chase B, Teddy Walton, and Travis himself—arrived with a music video filmed inside Michael Jordan’s mansion. And, of course, there’s merch.
He hasn’t explicitly mentioned an album yet, but this is as close to a sign as any that Travis is preparing to roll out a new project. After giving this thing a few spins before the weekend, here are our five initial takeaways and first impressions.
The visuals outshine the song
“I never produce a song, whether writing it or making a beat, and give it a wack visual,” Travis Scott told Billboard in 2013. And in the years to follow, he’s repeatedly shown how much he cares about the visual presentation of his music. Before the arrival of “Franchise,” Travis excitedly tweeted about how American visual artist George Condo was “downstairs painting with da wine on tilt” while he was upstairs making music. Then he unveiled gorgeous single artwork created by Condo.
On Friday at midnight, the song arrived with a music video that will be screened in IMAX theaters during showings of Christopher Nolan’s new film Tenet. Nolan raved about the video in a letter, which Travis shared with his fans. Visually, all the hype was warranted. The “Franchise” music video, directed by Travis Scott and White Trash Tyler, was filmed at Michael Jordan’s Chicago mansion. In the first shot, Jordan drives through the front gates of his estate in a Range Rover while smoking a cigar. It’s the coolest opening sequence of a music video in 2020, and the rest of the visual is strong, down to M.I.A. wearing hundreds of flowers while thousands of sheep stampede around her. This a video of the year contender.
The song gets the job done in service of the music video, but it doesn’t come close to living up to the spectacle of the visuals. I might have to reconsider this take when we finally get a chance to hear this song in a crowd with thousands of people, but right now it feels like it’s missing something. For a song with Young Thug and M.I.A. on it, you would think it wouldn’t sound so ordinary. The Dem Franchize Boyz reference is a nice touch, but there’s nothing particularly catchy or quotable to latch onto. Travis is praised for pushing the limits of hip-hop production, so on a new single, you would expect him to usher in a new sound or draw some kind of a line in the sand and introduce a new sonic chapter in his career. “Franchise” doesn’t do that. It sounds like a cool album cut, but outside of the visuals, it lacks the excitement we’d expect from a song that’s being rolled out like it’s a single from a new album. Corny lines like “When we open gates up at Utopia (It’s lit), it’s like Zootopia” don’t help. —Eric Skelton
Brands are everywhere
Sprite gets a shout-out. Kawasaki gets acknowledgement. Nike gets a mention in the song and an appearance in the video. Even Google and Kodak get bars. After Travis’ McDonald’s and Fortnite collaborations, it looks like he’s not slowing down when it comes to brand endorsements. This is corporate rap. —Eric Skelton
The M.I.A. hate is overblown
Scrolling through the comments from fans this afternoon, one trend stood out: people are criticizing M.I.A.’s performance on “Franchise.” Maybe young Travis Scott fans aren’t familiar with her work and they’re thrown off by her unique style, but M.I.A. is an icon and the hate is overblown. Her vocals do stick out from the flow of the rest of the song, but it sounds like that might be more of a mixing issue than anything. She brings a much-needed switch-up to the overall energy of the song and she gives Travis a new stylistic texture to bounce his familiar tones off of. It’s different. Maybe that’s why Travis’ core fans are so repelled by it? As Travis told Zane Lowe, M.I.A. has been a major influence on him for years and this was a long time coming. The blowback for her performance is going too far. —Eric Skelton
It’s lacking energy
Overall, “Franchise” feels like a missed opportunity. Travis has attracted a lot of positive attention thanks to his recent business ventures, and with all the anticipation building about what he’ll do next, everyone expected a big hit. But based on the reactions online, even from his own core fanbase, it looks like that’s not the case. The beat is typical for a Travis Scott record, but he sounds more subdued than usual. Even the chorus, which is a reference to Dem Franchize Boyz, feels flat and forgettable. “The Scotts,” his chart-topping collaboration with Kid Cudi earlier this year, is more in line with what we’d expect from Travis right now. It had a swell of intensity and an obvious harmony between collaborators, whereas each verse on “Franchise” feels disconnected. To be fair, this isn’t an entirely awful song, but it just doesn’t hold the same level of energy Travis is known for. —Jessica McKinney
Travis’ most successful moments are coming outside of music
Travis Scott has transcended music. Neither his Kanye West collaboration “Wash Us in the Blood” or his Tenet song “The Plan” were as successful as some had hoped, and “Franchise” wasn’t received with as much excitement as some of his singles in the past. But when we look back on Travis Scott’s summer of 2020, it will be remembered as a wildly successful moment in which he became an even bigger cultural icon than he already was. His name is on every McDonald’s menu in America, his music is getting played in movie theaters across the country, his Fortnite concert drew 12 million spectators, and his merchandise is everywhere. Inevetably, as he becomes more popular, there is going to be some blowback from music fans. But at this point, he almost seems too big to fail. Even if the music doesn’t always soar to “Sicko Mode” heights of commercial success, it might not matter. It’s not all about the music for Travis anymore. —Eric Skelton