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I've been thinking a lot about Brockhampton.
And no, not in that way. As opposed to dreaming about Kevin Abstract holding me close at night, rather I've been thinking about what they mean—what they're trying to tell us. With their fourth album Iridescence having come out last month to both critical and commercial acclaim (it went so far as to debut at number one on the Billboard chart), it's clear that the Saturation trilogy wasn't just a flash in the pan for this large group of boys living out of LA (or more recently London), but that the internet are clearly connecting with them musically.
On that side of the coin it's easy to see why. With approximately 14 members, you'd think the whole "too many cooks" analogy would be taken to a whole different level, but what we find with Brockhampton is every unique beat brings a new performance from all of the handful of vocalists that the group have to offer—from rapping to singing to mumbling to shouting—the band are an eerily-perfect reflection of the unpredictability of the internet. Sometimes crying out for help, sometimes crip-walking on Tumblr's grave, they embody the peripheral areas of the industry that young people can really attain to.
Is it really just the performance though? Is it all the charisma and charm of their various front-men that's attracted the wandering eyes of ex-one direction and hip-hop fans alike? Or is there something about Brockhampton that's right under our noses that we're missing? Are they just a bunch of fake sad boys or does it go more inherently deeper than that? For me, the secret to the self-proclaimed "best boy band in the world" is hidden behind some transcendental veil that hides a Lovecraftian-style cosmos of unspoken sentiments that drive the group's creative force.
Having formed via a Kanye West fan page on Tumblr, their rocketing and sudden success is so akin to an underdog fairy tale that it's almost hard to believe. With Brockhampton being the twisted product of the internet's erratic sensibilities (or lack thereof), they encompass the sense of superficial image that masks the confused and lonely beast underneath. On first listen of a song like "STAR" from their debut album, you'd be forgiven for mistaking them for an Odd Future spinoff attempting to replicate the notorious high energy of that same LA-based (now apparently defunct) group—but then on the same album, the song "MILK" sees the vocalists bare their very souls and insecurities on a pop ballad.
Acting quickly in order to trump any sense that their status of "hot new product" of the industry was ephemeral, they followed up Saturation with two sequels within the same year, forming the now complete Saturation trilogy. It's this distinct work ethic (as well as the quality of music) that seems to have drawn a lot of fans to the group. Setting aside their content, however, I wanted to focus on this nature of work. In an interview with BBC Radio 1, Abstract revealed that Iridescence (recorded at Abbey Road studios) took a mere 6 weeks to make. Weeks before this though, they'd just finished the "Love Your Parents" Tour of America and were in the middle of doing the European festival circuit. This constant stream of work, whether it's touring or making an album, has the many members in a constant pendulum state that sees downtime kept to a minimum.
For some, this may be an indication that they're a young, hungry act that's doing their best to embed themselves into a world that loves it's one-hit/one-album wonders. For me though, this work ethic and seemingly never-ending schedule of recording, promoting and performing is more telling of the boy's desire to work themselves into a consistent mindset of focus and moving forward. Listen to a handful of Brockhampton songs and you'll see that the various frontmen aren't shy about laying down their personal issues, from the aforementioned insecurities all the way to an uncomfortable telling of their consideration of suicide.
This potent concoction of non-stop work and transparency sees Brockhampton become something far more than "an alternative hip-hop group that has a gay front man;" they become a centrepiece of internet-based creatives that are unafraid in the face of vulnerability—in fact, I would argue Brockhampton thrive in this claustrophobic space that forces them down the dark path to confront their own humanity. In finding themselves through their own expression we connect with not only their artistry but then also their person—this transparency is symbiotic for both parties as it alleviates the weight of trying to put on some sort of front in order to seem "safe" when in reality it's the cracks in the frame that draws us to appreciate something's genuineness.
It's heavily believed as a collective audience we gravitate towards the stories of the most troubled of our species. Books, movies, TV shows—and in this case music—are all rife with the stories that make us sympathise with individuals or groups that haven't met some predisposition of normality. Each member of Brockhampton embodies some sort of tear in this collective picture. Kevin troubled upbringing as a closeted homosexual, Dom's struggle with depression and mental health, Joba's relationship with prescription meds, Matt's jaded worldview, Merlyn's struggle to find belonging because of his racial identity and Bearface's loneliness and longing for love all occupy different corners of some twisted gallery of imperfection. But it's in this imperfection that we, the listeners, see them as more than performers on a stage, but as confidants willing to show that they're just as broken as us.
Perhaps then the effort of trying to pin a purpose onto Brockhampton is destined to be fruitless. This strange force of nature is moving through the world, just like the rest of us, to an ever-changing soundtrack that experiences the highs and lows that comes with existence. Perhaps the various members—whether rappers, singers, producers, graphic designers or simple photographers—are merely putting markers on their personal experiences through the art of expression; and this declaration of their state of being has attracted mass audiences that want to know someone just feels like they do. Their transparency is our strength and their almost knee-jerk reaction to every obstacle they face as some twisted, male-dominated form of the nuclear family is also faced by us with every stream we give them.