After woman’s death at Taylor Swift concert, a search for accountability

After woman’s death at Taylor Swift concert, a search for accountability

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BRASÍLIA — Concertgoers waited for hours in temperatures that reached a heat index of 138 degrees to see Taylor Swift’s first show of the year in Brazil. Many of them were anticipating the concert experience of their dreams: Swift’s Eras Tour had finally come to their country after crashing ticket servers in the United States and inspiring its own movie.

They didn’t expect to leave feeling like they survived a nightmare.

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Nilton Santos stadium felt to many like an oven. Some said event staff made them ditch their water bottles, fans and umbrellas at the gates. Inside, metal sheets covered part of the ground in the $400 ticket VIP section, burning some people who tried to sit on them. Stifling air and growing throngs made it hard to breathe. Some had to pay $2 for a small cup of water, while others found themselves stuck in crowds too dense for vendors to reach.

Dehydrated fans chanted for water and held up signs pleading for help, hoping Swift would see them as she sang under colorful stage lights. The singer did, pausing her performance to tell staff to help distressed people, and once tossing a bottle out to the crowd herself.

Amid the chaos, an early-entry VIP ticket holder named Ana Clara Benevides Machado tried to enjoy herself. A friend remembered how the 23-year-old jumped, sang and cried when she saw Swift — then fainted in the middle of “Cruel Summer,” and died of a cardiorespiratory arrest at a hospital. She was the only reported death from the show, but firefighters said more than 1,000 others had passed out by the end of the night.

A week later, the international Eras Tour appears to be back on track. Swift has performed three more shows in Brazil, including two in the same stadium — even as the country has sought accountability in the wake of the Nov. 17 show, and the Brazilian company that organized the show, Time4Fun, is the subject of government and police investigations.

Serafim Abreu, the chief executive of Time4Fun, appeared to take some share of blame in a statement that also offered condolences and assistance to Benevides’s family.

“We recognize that we could have taken some additional alternative actions to all the others we did, such as creating shaded areas out of the stadium, changing the time initially scheduled for the shows [and] placing greater emphasis on allowing people to bring disposable water cups,” Abreu said in a video posted to the company’s Instagram page on Thursday.

Swift’s team, meanwhile, has continued to work with Time4Fun on subsequent concerts in Brazil, according to promotional posts on the company’s social media accounts. The star was back at Nilton Santos stadium on Sunday, where she performed a piano version of the emotional ballad “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” for the first time on her tour, a gesture some fans saw as a way to honor Benevides.

No one in the Brazilian government or among Swift’s fan base that The Washington Post spoke to blamed the singer or her management team for the disaster. But some have criticized the megastar for not doing more to acknowledge the tragedy, beyond posting an Instagram message on the night of Benevides’s death — “it is with a shattered heart that I say we lost a fan earlier tonight before my show” — and postponing the next night’s performance due to the extreme temperatures.

In fan group chats and on social media, Swifties debated whether to protest with a moment of silence and “Justice for Ana” signs at Monday’s concert in Rio de Janeiro, but decided against it.

It is not Taylor’s fault. It is 100 percent the company’s fault, the company that organized the event,” said Maria Hortênsia Villasboas, a 29-year-old attendee. “But I think she should have helped the family. I know Taylor is devastated, but so is Ana’s family. Nothing will bring Ana Clara back, but some help from Taylor would be meaningful.”

In a statement, Benevides’s family said all the costs of their trip to Rio de Janeiro and the transfer of her body “were paid only with help of family, friends and a crowdfunding raised on the internet, without any collaboration of the event organizer, T4F, nor municipal and state public bodies in Rio de Janeiro.”

A person with knowledge of the situation said Swift and her team have communicated with and donated to Benevides’s parents, and the family was invited to meet the pop singer at a show this weekend.

It’s unclear what safety precautions, if any, the Eras Tour staff implemented before the deadly show began, or how Time4Fun was selected to organize Swift’s shows in the country. A person with knowledge of the situation, however, said Swift’s team didn’t directly hire the company.

Brazil’s National Consumer Secretariat launched an investigation after the concert to determine which party, or parties, needed to be fined for violating fans’ rights as consumers. Based on the evidence so far, National Consumer Secretary Wadih Damous said Time4Fun is a subject in the case.

The agency is specifically investigating how the company distributed water at the concert and its use of metal sheet flooring, which could have increased the heat index inside the stadium. (Time4Fun hasn’t explained why metal sheets were used for concert flooring.) Depending on “the severity of the facts, the failure itself and the damage caused,” Damous said, the responsible party could face up to a $2.6 million fine.

Police also opened an investigation this week into whether Time4Fun’s actions could be considered a crime that endangered attendees’ lives or health, police in Rio de Janeiro said.

Time4Fun is a well-known entertainment company in Latin America, and was once considered one of the top concert promoters by Billboard magazine. It offers services for event promotion; box office operation; food, beverage and merchandise sales; and the operation of the venue at live concerts, art exhibitions and sporting events, according to its website.

In a statement posted to Instagram, Time4Fun argued that “the ban on entry of water bottles into stadiums is a requirement made by public bodies.”

That’s technically true. The country’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security prohibits venue entry with items that can be thrown and injure a concertgoer, such as capped water bottles. The rule serves as a common safety measure at venues in Brazil and around the world. But some Brazilian music festivals, including Rock in Rio and The Town, have let fans in with less hazardous capless water bottles.

“In developing markets, both local and international content providers do not have the scale and/or physical structure to promote their own content and therefore seek to form partnerships with local event promoters, who have proven execution capacity and financial capacity, in order to enable quality events on a viable economic scale,” the Time4Fun investor website states.

To prevent another disaster, government officials announced Nov. 18 emergency measures including increased medical presence and expanded access to drinking water at subsequent Eras Tour shows, which Time4Fun agreed to comply with. A government-issued ordinance published on Wednesday enshrined many of the new practices, allowing people to enter events with bottled water for personal use and requiring the provision of easily accessible hydration stations free inside venues.

Benevides’s death has sparked increased awareness of concert casualties, including a woman who died after injuring herself at Robbie Williams’s Australia concert on Nov. 16, a day before Swift’s first concert in Brazil. The woman had tried to step over a row of seats at the end of the show and lost her footing, a spokesperson for the venue said.

In 2021, Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert in Houston became one of the deadliest concerts in U.S. history after 10 people died and hundreds more were injured in a crowd surge.

In the case of the Nov. 17 concert — linked to an extreme heat wave that was widely known of in Brazil — it’s possible that better preparation could have prevented tragedy.

Kristie L. Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, emphasized that heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. But it requires coordination among community leaders, event organizers and emergency personnel to monitor attendees and let them know how they can protect themselves.

Many major cities such as Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles have hired heat officers, personnel who are dedicated to preparing for extreme heat events and ensuring information reaches everyone who will be affected, Ebi said. Early warning and response systems, which alert to extreme weather, can also be a proactive way to inform communities.

With climate change, she said, combating heat illness and death is increasingly necessary.

“According to climatologists, more of these heat waves are already occurring. Heat waves have increased in frequency, intensity and duration,” she said. “And the projections all indicate that this will continue.”

Meanwhile, in Brazil, many who attended the Nov. 17 concert say they’re wrestling with trauma.

“I cried a lot after the show,” said Mariana Luz Dantas, a 22-year-old veterinary student. “There was a feeling of disrespect toward us, anger and also fear that Taylor would never want to return to Brazil again.”

Jennifer Hassan in London contributed to this report. Dias reported from Brasília.

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