In an era where conversations about diversity and representation are happening everywhere from the dinner table to the Emmys, it’s only fitting some of our most stereotypical American icons are being reimagined. In 2017, we know presidents can be black, supermodels can be transgender, and now, thanks to Brockhampton, that boybands can be brown, queer and sad.
On a somber September 11th in New York City, Brockhampton are gearing up for sold-out, back-to-back performances at the Highline Ballroom. Although it’s only 10AM on a Monday, there’s already a line of baby-faced fans gathered for every hour of the day that has passed. It’s a long wait until the 8PM show, but Brockhampton make a habit of meeting their fans. The chance for an autograph or a picture with their favorite band member before the show keeps the crowd’s Snapchat open and their spirits high. I can’t help but wonder if any of them have permission to be here on a school day, or what the boy who scribbles the catchphrase of frontman Kevin Abstract, “yeehaw,” across his entire body will tell his parents.
With a current roster of 14 members, Brockhampton is a group of musicians, rappers, producers, designers and other various careers who met online. Hand-picked and recruited by Abstract, they describe themselves an “all-American boyband.” All aged from their late teens to their early 20s, they have combined their separate styles and skills to create and produce three full-length albums, a long reel of music videos and a Viceland series about life as, naturally, an all-American boyband. In a few short years they’ve effortlessly generated a cult internet following and produced an impressive catalogue of work, particularly for a relatively new group. What took so long for industry heavyweights to take notice?
For starters, witnessing the magic of Brockhampton takes more than just one listen. It wasn’t until I put eyes on their video for “JUNKY” that I understood them for the creative powerhouse that they are. The 4-minute video – written, directed, performed, styled, and edited all by the members themselves – is a range of sounds and experiences. You’re taken on a ride with Abstract while he cuts you open with a vulnerable verse about his sexuality and gay hate. You sit fireside with Ameer Vann, the group’s bad boy, while he spits about cough syrup, and swims in a pool of Fruit Loops with an angsty Meryln Wood and all before the first two minutes. Their chemistry easily bonds the separate pieces into a whole, and I was hooked purely on wanting to know what happens next.
This magnetism is the most convincing element of Brockhampton’s claim to being a boyband. Sure, they are a group of boys making music, but this is not the bouncy, girl-chasing pop music that boybands are known for making. This music is hard. It has pain, violence, and sex, even gay sex. They favor heavy bass and controversial topics over kid-friendly content. Although my mom sat next to me once for *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, I can hardly imagine her making it through even the front door of a Brockhampton show. Maybe therein lies the whole point- Brockhampton is a boyband, but they are not your mommy’s boyband.
It takes audacity to adopt a word like “boyband,” a phrase that has carried such a distinct image, and turn it into a mixed bag of colors, sexualities, ages and styles. The assumptions that they must be managed by a skeezy record mogul, or crumble over a solo project is all but scorched by the story Brockhampton is writing. They aren’t afraid to add two members mid-tour, make jokes about being lovers on Twitter, or even even chant “F*** Pitchfork” at their shows before they’ve even hit their peak.
Kevin Abstract has made it no secret his vision for Brockhampton is not just a boyband. In his words, this is a pursuit akin to the biggest record labels and media companies, saying in a group interview “[Apple] started in a small room and it becomes this huge corporation. Basically how I wanna be.” With the release of their fourth album, Saturation III, on the way, a completely sold-out run of ‘Jennifer’s Tour,’ and a slot at Tyler, The Creator’s upcoming Camp Flog Gnaw, it is clear they are gaining the momentum they set out for.
Although it’s still early, Brockhampton is already pushing against the boundaries of boybands as we know them. By doing things like programming their own app, designing their own merch, and running their own tour, the group has shown their ability to imagine something and build it with their own hands. As they meet more people with more skills, their enthusiasm to experiment and collaborate will likely evolve them beyond a boyband and into a platform for showcasing the results. Whether it’s singers, coders, party planners, or accountants, every talent could open up possibilities for Brockhampton’s next move.
They are the evolution of one of pop culture’s most classic archetypes. They look different, act different, and sound different than any boyband before them. While they are often compared to an early Odd Future, it is their insistence to be called a boyband, not a collective, that reinforces this is meant to be a dismantling of an establishment. They wear no matching outfits on stage, give us no choreographed dance routines, and entirely skip over most press opportunities in favor of free meet-and-greets with their fans. For now, the screaming teenage girl fandom that has defined every boyband, from The Beatles to One Direction, is entirely absent from the show’s sold out crowd. In their place, there is a sea of mostly white, under 21 boys jumping and screaming lyrics like, “Heath Ledger with some dreads / I just gave my n*** head” back at the stage on a loop.
If Brockhampton set out to tip the idea of a boyband on its head, in that moment alone, they’ve done it.
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- Text: Meagan Dexter
- Cover Image: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images