If one takes a trip to Vegas anytime soon, they will no doubt be bombarded with ads from casinos, restaurants, and attractions from the famous Las Vegas Strip. Among these ads, however, are included concert shows from a famous singer–turned–actress, a recently–divorced British hitmaker, and a newly–formed super duo. No longer are these residency shows filled with artists of the past—Britney Spears, Celine Dion, or Elton John, for instance—but instead include headliners at the height of their careers: Lady Gaga, Adele, Silk Sonic.
Why is there such a sudden resurgence of the concert residency, a form of touring long regarded as an effort to sustain a dying artist? The answer to that question, as one might expect, is complicated. But one thing's for certain: The Vegas residency no longer has the stigma it once did.
Musical artists’ largest sources of revenue have never been album sales and successful singles, but rather touring. It’s common knowledge that streaming pays little to artists, even to big names like Drake and Taylor Swift, so artists often turn to gigs as a source of income. Touring often takes up between 75%–80% of the most–paid musicians' revenues, and offers a promotional opportunity for merch and album sales in the cities an artist visits.
Yet, Vegas used to be the last place any artist wanted to go. Way back in the 1940s, artists like Frank Sinatra and Liberace dominated the Vegas entertainment sphere, but as time went on, headliners were all artists past their peaks looking for an ounce of the fame they once had. Cher famously called Vegas the “elephant graveyard where talent goes to die,” and indeed, performers like Cher, Diana Ross, and The Osmonds had residencies long after their career peaks.
It wasn't until Celine Dion’s “A New Day…” residency when artists of higher caliber vied for a spot on the Las Vegas Strip. Commonly dubbed “the queen of Las Vegas,” Dion combined elements of a standard tour with the theatricality of other Vegas shows, notably working with Cirque du Soleil director Franco Dragone, to create an over–the–top, diva–like show that attracted tourists and visitors around the world.
There is no doubt that Dion played a monumental role in the revitalization of residencies. “A New Day…” remains the highest–selling residency of all time, raking in $385 million. But when Dion started her residency in 2003, she, too, had already passed the peak of her career. When Vegas attracted Britney Spears a decade later, she was also past her prime. Vegas residencies were where people could relive the nostalgia of the past, clinging to the relics of the early 2000s. Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen opted for New York City as their residential bases, but not even the rock icons could dispel the idea that residencies were only meant to elongate the second half of an artist’s career.
While the stigma persisted, the fact remains that residencies can make a lot of money. As time went on, artists like Bruno Mars, Jennifer Lopez, and Mariah Carey slowly made a home in Sin City, often signing million–dollar contracts and playing shows for multiple runs. But it was arguably Lady Gaga who ushered in the new wave of concert residencies. Gaga created the dual residency, “Enigma + Jazz and Piano,” at the height of her career. Following the critically acclaimed film “A Star Is Born” and her subsequent Oscar nominations, Gaga used her star power to sell out shows. When first launched, “Enigma + Jazz and Piano” was outselling Spears' and Dion's shows, both of which were on the final leg of their residencies, and had a record–breakingly high opening show gross.
Following the pop icon herself, more artists became interested in concert residencies as a form of stable revenue. Drake launched an exclusive 10–show residency in 2019, reportedly cashing in $10 million per show. Cardi B and J Balvin were tapped in for the half residency, half music festival at KAOS Nightclub at Palms Casino. What was once a place for dying artists became a place to find the biggest stars.
Another key factor in the revival of the Vegas residencies is COVID–19. The pandemic cut off touring as a source of revenue for artists, and live–streamed concerts weren't nearly enough to make up for the losses. But as restrictions eased and live events came back, it became clear that Vegas residencies seemed to be the perfect opportunity for artists to continue touring without the hectic scheduling and health risks of an international concert tour.
This would be the case for Katy Perry, who launched PLAY in late 2021. “I really wanted to be able to strike more of a balance—to have a child and take her to preschool—but also be artistic and play with that energy,” the pop star says in an interview with Modern Luxury magazine. This, on top of Perry’s stint as a judge on American Idol, would give her flexibility to manage the busy schedule of a pop star more easily, offering a more centralized location to manage her activities. Vegas residencies are now becoming more attractive to artists and it’s easy to see why: it reaps all the benefits of touring without the logistics that come with it.
This method also attracted Adele, one of the newest additions to the Vegas residency lineup. While her “Weekends with Adele” hasn’t officially started, the residency provided the perfect setting for the British pop star, who preferred smaller venues and disliked being on the road. Benefiting from a monumental album release following years without new material, Adele saw sky–high demand for her now delayed residency, with tickets selling out before being opened to the public and earning an estimated $50 million.
It’s important to note that Vegas residencies are not concerts. The venues that host these are smaller, offering a more intimate experience than a stadium or arena tour would. That would mean less wiggle room for compromising quality. In the case of Adele, she reportedly delayed her residency the day before it was originally scheduled to start due to conflicting artistic visions, subsequently dominating national headlines and sparking a conversation about the management of her residency.
The pressure that comes with playing at a smaller venue, where it’s much easier to discredit or gossip about an artist, is high. If done well, the residency can be renewed, ensuring a stable source of income. Lady Gaga, for example, extended dates all the way until 2022, long after its original end date in 2020. If not, an artist’s show might see plunging ticket sales, as was the case of Mariah Carey's “Butterfly Returns” residency.
What does this all mean for normal consumers? Artists settling down in Vegas means a more centralized location to see the biggest names in the industry. With Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Adele, and Silk Sonic all playing in Sin City around the same time, it translates to increased opportunities to see them all. Sure enough, the reopening of live shows partially contributed to an increase in tourism to Las Vegas in 2021. In a time when touring seems uncertain and people are willing to pay a premium for experiences, Vegas seems like the perfect place to get the best of both worlds.