Las Vegas residencies used to be where mature musicians — either in the twilight of their careers or poised for a comeback — would sign a contract, settle in for the next few years and perform a concert a week at the same venue. These were huge performances, with ornate costumes, custom-built sets for the stage, an army of backup dancers and a reputation for putting on a show. Musicians like Shania Twain, Céline Dion, and more recently, Aughts darlings Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and The Backstreet Boys have inked multimillion-dollar deals at stadium venues like Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theater and Park MGM’s Park Theater.
But Vegas residencies have taken a new turn recently, redefining what it means to have a show at a hotel in Sin City. Some of the hottest hip-hop and rap artists — Cardi B, G-Eazy and Drake, who’s had rumors swirling around his residency for months and who confirmed them late last week — are getting a slice of the pie. French Montana just sealed a series with Drai’s nightclub, and Travis Scott, Cardi and Alicia Keys will perform opening weekend in April at the Palms Hotel’s new club Kaos.
Every week it seems a new artist announces his or her Vegas residency. (Last Tuesday, Janet Jackson unveiled the news of her upcoming residency at the Park Theater.) But, according to some industry insiders, the big hotels are late to the game. Vegas nightlife over the past three years has shifted to reflect the changing landscape of pop culture — one that favors hip-hop and rap over bubblegum boy bands or DJs. The larger venues that are tapping rappers to come perform are just a mirror of that oscillation in society’s taste.
G-Eazy, a rapper from Oakland, Calif., who’s found major mainstream fame, is one of the newest crop of rap artists coming to Vegas — along with a young audience and a pop fan base. He will join Cardi and Travis Scott at Kaos with a residency of his own.
Comanager Matt Bauerschmidt says G-Eazy has dates scheduled at Kaos throughout the year and a “special production” planned for all his shows.
“The nature of Vegas residencies has switched a little bit for us in the hip-hop world,” Bauerschmidt says. “[Residencies have] always had the heritage acts with crazy catalogues. But I think since hip-hop has grown so much over the past few years, it’s such the popular culture right now that it makes sense for them to bring on exclusive hip-hop acts.”
Residencies also speak to another one of Millennials’ and Gen Zer’s interests: live performances and related experiential events, like music festivals. This renders a residency the perfect opportunity for an artist to reach an out-of-town crowd. Social media, Bauerschmidt adds, has shattered the hierarchy that once stood in the music industry.
“In my mind, I always think of the Tony Bennetts and Frank Sinatras way back in the day, when you had to be at such a high level to be able to support [a big residency show],” Bauerschmidt says. “Now, you have artists at every tier of fame, whereas back then, you had more gatekeepers getting a song recorded in the studio, getting it to radio, getting it to the label and out to the public.”
When Drai’s nightclub opened in 2014, electric dance music, or EDM, was king in Las Vegas — Calvin Harris and Tiesto ruled.
“Everybody was listening to these big EDM festival companies and hip-hop wasn’t as popular as it is today,” Dustin Drai, the director of marketing for the club, says. Drai’s went with a new concept: R&B and rap artists would give the full concert experience in a nightclub setting. They signed The Weeknd and Trey Songz for regular shows.
Over the years, the club’s roster has expanded to include such acts as Migos and Meek Mill — and Drai says he sees this idea proliferating around town, four years later.
“Today, you have the Wynn and the new club at Palms and they’re completely copying what we’re doing,” he contends. “Years ago, they were like, ‘Oh, that’s never going to work. EDM’s never going to die.’ Big companies don’t understand the culture, so they’re scared. Eventually they were like, ‘We don’t have a choice. We have to get in on this.’ Otherwise they’re going to be left behind.”
In addition to cultural clout, venues are attracted to bringing in rap and pop artists for the cash payoff. Drai says he noticed early on that the fans who came to rap shows at Drai’s would spend $5,000 or $10,000 on VIP and table service.
The hotels have taken note of this, too, and are offering huge sums to musicians in efforts to bring them on. Drake was rumored to have been floated $1 million a show by XS, the club at the Wynn hotel where he will have a residency. Plus, these shows provide a high-net situation for the artists, who make the lion’s share of their yearly profits from live concerts rather than record sales. With a Vegas deal, they don’t have to tour multiple cities, spending money on buses, trucks and venues.
Dion — one of the first artists in the early Aughts to snag a residency, at Caesars Palace — will end her eight-year run on the Colosseum stage on June 8, after performing 717 shows for the first leg of her residency (which ran from March 2003 to December 2007), then 396 shows during the second. Dion’s concerts in Las Vegas follow the more traditional road for residencies: she’s a legacy act putting on a big performance, replete with ornate costumes and a full orchestra. John Meglen, copresident of Concerts West, the global touring division of AEG Live, was there from the beginning, brokering the deal for Dion’s residency with her late husband René Angélil.
“Part of our concept was, we’re going to build a show that can’t tour,” Meglen says. “This was the conversation: ‘Remember all of that stuff you dreamed about being able to perform live that you couldn’t do because it’s too expensive, you couldn’t move it on the road? This is the place where you can come and do all of that.’”
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