We Got Freaky with Yung Lean

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I only thought I had experienced Internet culture before Yung Lean and the Sadboys’ first North American concert. It turns out that I knew nothing, that I am completely irrelevant. For those who knew even less than I did, Yung Lean is a 17-year-old Swedish rapper who has built a name for himself by singing about a variety of commodities like Gatorade, Arizona, and North Face over Robitussin-slow trap-inspired beats. Lean and his crew, the Sadboys, have developed an Internet cult of personality based around early 2000s net art aesthetics, Tumblr-inspired fashion, and wistfully melancholic lyrics like “When the neon lightning strikes and then I’m on the floor crying, crying / Why do I gotta be alive / I ain’t about that life, I ain’t bout that life.”

Though Yung Lean boasts that he “only attracts an older clientele,” the line outside Webster Hall was mostly composed of barely post-pubescent male youths swagged out in Arizona Iced Tea wayfarers, bucket hats, and Sad Boy apparel. Every time my photographer took a picture of the line, all the teenage boys automatically—and simultaneously—rap squatted. I loved it.

The majority of the crowd displayed the markings of the underage.

All jokes aside, I think it is important to note that, after seeing Yung Lean live for myself, I would like to respond to two recent articles on the young Swedish cyber star: the Pigeons and Planes review of his London show and this article from The Fader. The first article asks, “How many people were actually there because they genuinely enjoy Yung Lean’s music? It’s hard to tell, as the lines between genuine enjoyment and frivolous appreciation continue to blur.” The second, responding to the P&P piece, says about Lean, “My hunch is that there’s definitely a lot more going on than a post-ironic rap music parody.” I agree with both writers; there is no intentional irony in this music.

But this is not (yet) another think piece about  Yung Lean’s existential apathy. This is a review of Yung Lean’s first US show. I wanted to hear from the people whose opinions really matter: the YOUTH. I briefly chatted with two devout fans, whose names I unfortunately did not catch. They enlightened me about a type of sadness I will probably never understand.

Why do you like Yung Lean?

Boy 1: Because he’s rad.

What makes him rad?

Boy 2: He [gesturing to Boy 1] got me interested in Yung Lean a while ago and it’s just a new style, it’s something new. I’ve never heard anything like it so I was instantly interested in it.

What do you think about all the brands he name drops?

Boy 1: I wear them all.

Why do you think Yung Lean is sad?

Boy 2: He lives in Sweden, it’s a dark place, he says it makes him sad. I don’t think he’s literally sad. It’s like a new meaning of the word.

How does he change the meaning of “sad” for you?

Boy 1: I have no idea.

Boy 2: It’s almost not even an actual sadness. I don’t think of him being actually sad at all. I mean, he has a lot of stuff. All those name brands…

Thanks dudes!

Once inside the Marlin Room, it became obvious that Arizona Tea was sponsoring the event. Imagine attending a concert where every beer is replaced by a 23oz can of Arizona iced tea. My photographer asked Peter, a very kind Arizona representative, how the company became involved with the event. He responded that when Arizona found out how much Yung Lean and the Sad Boys loved their product, they decided to sponsor the show, handing out free cans of iced tea to every Sadboy and Sadgirl in the vicinity. Every time an Arizona photographer went onstage to take a picture, the crowd would throw their hands (and their cans) in the air. Even the Webster Hall bar embraced the Sad Boy spirit; the night’s drink special was a vodka/Arizona cocktail. We could all be Arizona iced out boys!

Arizona promotional ad? Photo by Sam Williams

Following great sets from Suicideyear and DonChristian, plus a surprise appearance by Le1f, the anticipation of their Yung leader’s presence became too much for the audience. As the crowd chanted “SADBOYS,” I imagined being crushed in a sea of tea cans. Since this actually seemed like a realistic possibility, I joined the photographers onstage as quickly as possible.

I had assumed that Yung Lean’s set would be 45 minutes of brand names, street wear, and fuck bois. But as soon as Lean burst onstage and ran a triumphant victory lap, I realized I was wrong. He is actually an incredible performer. This should not have come as a surprise; Lean works with some of the most-hyped producers around: Yung Gud, Yung Sherman, Denzel Curry, and SpaceGhostPurrp. But the likelihood of an eighteen-year-old Internet superstar actually delivering seemed slim. On recordings, Lean’s voice is sluggish like syrup, spacey and sleepy, but live he was surprisingly aggressive, spitting verses like with the ferocity of a seasoned rapper.

Based on the amount of energy Lean put into the early show, it was hard to remember that in 2 hours or so he would be back on stage with a whole new crowd of Sadboys. Lean was jumping almost the entire time, either while delivering lines like “My money, weed and green. Bitch call me Yoda / Popping ecstasy like pimples / Drinking Arizona” or when jumping into the crowd, which he seemed to instantly regret. The stage suffered a constant influx of kids high on Arizona (or just high) climbing up next to Lean, taking a selfie, and then diving back into the throbbing masses. The crowd treated him like the Swedish Justin Bieber: they grabbed him, threw their bucket hats at him, and one lucky girl even gave him a kiss. They had been waiting years for this moment.

Photo by Sam Williams

In honor of my brief transformation into a Sadgirl and the fact that I was unable to grab an interview with Lean and the Boys, I have written a brief piece of Yung Lean FanFiction, possibly the first of its kind. I’m sorry.

It was a steamy New York City evening and the Arizona was flowing. As I waited in front of Webster Hall (without my mom for the first time!!), I was surrounded by the pinnacles of male perfection: sickly, pale, and with a penchant for bucket hats typically worn by babes of a much younger variety. Sadboys. Hundreds of them. Mmmmmmm. But the only thing tastier than the yummies around me was the free Arizona iced tea! Double mmmmmmmm!! Mom never lets me have sugar HAH SUCK IT MOM!! Suddenly, the doors flew open and the crowd poured into The Marlin Room. I took the opportunity to grab onto the Supreme shirt of a boy in front of me, “to avoid getting lost” 😉 But I am digressing from the focus of this story, my main man: Yung Lean, Swedish dream boy #1. I had been waiting MONTHS for this moment. I watched every YouTube video, memorized every lyric, and even made my mom buy me a North Face jacket. Thank god the show was 16+. I would have died if I missed Yung Lean’s FIRST US SHOW! Finally, my emotional shawty came on stage. He was wearing the perfect outfit for his big US debut: white Acne jeans, low-top Air Jordans, and a black graphic tee. So fresh. Lean was so sweet! He gave everyone in the front row attention. At one point, he even poured some water on an overheated fan. I can’t say I’m not jealous! I was a little annoyed at how crowded the show was. I didn’t really have the space to cook to my full potential. Those sweaty hotties were cramping my style. I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t been practicing! But Yung Lean’s devoted fans just prove why we all love him so much: he is a super cute foreign boy with an accent that is in touch with his feelings and has a sick flow.  

I wonder what the Boys did during their stay in New York. I hope they did cute touristy things while wearing Statue of Liberty crowns 🙂 I don’t think they went to the Supreme store, I waited there all day… : /

Special thanks to Lori from Webster Hall and Suicideyear for being so kind to me backstage. And shoutout to that cool security guard!