The Week In Pop

The Time Has Come To Discuss Yungblud

The name “youngblood” has a rich history in pop music. First there were the Youngbloods, the critically acclaimed folk-rockers best known for their 1967 hit “Get Together.” Decades later along came the YoungBloodZ, the Atlanta rap duo best known for their 2003 smash “Damn!” alongside Lil Jon. Many others emerged along the way including Sydney Youngblood, Mary Youngblood, Gene Youngblood, Grant Youngblood, Conner Youngblood, Lonnie Youngblood, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Youngblood Supercult, Hal Galper & The Youngbloods, and various bands also adopting some variation of the Youngbloods moniker. Last year Australian pop-rockers 5 Seconds Of Summer scored their first top 10 hit with “Youngblood.” And now we can add to that list the guy who sang, “I just wanna die for the hype/ Crucified like Jesus Christ,” and immediately followed it with, “Yeah Polly, I just wanna suck on your lolly.”

Yungblud is Dominic Harrison, a 21-year-old musical artist from the English town of Doncaster, South Yorkshire. His severe features and wild mop of hair make him look like a cross between Johnny Rotten, 6ix9ine, and Syndrome from The Incredibles. Combined with a Kurt Cobain wardrobe, his visual aesthetic is so SoundCloud rap that my brain drew in face tattoos that are not actually there. There’s a healthy(?) dose of that genre in his music, too, particularly Lil Peep’s dazed emo ruminations. But Yungblud’s songs are far too bright and crisp and radio-ready to pass for SoundCloud rap. He’s also under the spell of Twenty One Pilots, whose slick pan-genre pop-rock touches on hip-hop, reggae, and EDM. And he grew up loving the unapologetically brash buzzsaw rock of early Arctic Monkeys.

Those are some of the big ones, but a wide range of suburban mega-hits from the ’90s and ’00s make their way into Yungblud’s music. I hear echoes of everything from Lo Fidelity Allstars to Gym Class Heroes, all of it updated for the Spotify era while forgoing that platform’s usual chill vibes. The resulting jumble is undeniably potent in a way that turns some people into instant fans and inspires involuntary physical revulsion in others. 21st Century Liability, Yungblud’s 2018 debut for Interscope, is catchy and chaotic and convinced of its own profundity. He’s big on socially conscious protest songs, but also on snotty punk posturing, which results in lyrics that may cause teenagers to punch the air and adults to punch themselves in the face.

Over acoustic chords inherited from Pixies and Weezer, Harrison sings, “All I wanna do is kill somebody like you.” Xylophone trills not unlike the ones from “Still D.R.E.” pave the way to parental putdowns a la: “I don’t understand/ How I can respect you when you’re such a twat.” On a floating trap groove like something that might have taken over alternative radio in the wake of Odelay and Sublime, he raps, “Doctor doctor give me a lobotomy/ So sick of my autonomy.” Health professionals come up again one track later: “Doctor says that I’m so lonely/ A mistake on the painting of my family/ But that big smudge is what I love/ Give me a grenade, and I’ll take it to my face.”

That track, “Medication,” is such a blatant ripoff of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” that I was stunned to see no one thought to credit its writers. The chorus even mimics the gunshot and cash register sounds! Not that many of this guy’s fans are old enough to recognize the resemblance. If Yungblud’s blunt takes on school shootings, rape culture, and (repeatedly) overmedicated youth seem elementary, they’re also designed to resonate with kids who aren’t all that far beyond grade school, who haven’t yet become jaded enough to roll their eyes. Scoff at his broad, theatrical messaging if you want, but the points he’s making aren’t wrong. They’re just precision-engineered to penetrate impressionable young minds that might not have ever considered these matters before.

That delivery system involves blown-out but cleaned-up 21st century junkyard pop and weapons-grade hooks built to be slogans. It’s all extremely on-the-nose and clearly the work of skilled professionals. I probably would have loved it when I was 14, and the thought of blaring it earnestly in my thirties makes me feel gross. On that note, “Psychotic Kids” — a DnB-inflected rap-rock slow-creep where the Peep influence comes through loudest — rebukes adults who dismiss their children’s passions and preferences: “My mum thinks I’m on heroin/ And my dad just thinks I’m gone/ But they don’t know fucking anything/ Say ‘Youth is wasted on the young.'” It’s normal rebellious teenager stuff, except Yungblud dissects the hypocrisy of his elders more sharply than most: “Why can’t you see/ That I am OK, you take more drugs than me/ Chewing your cheek/ I can’t believe you put me in a straightjacket.”

Yungblud has been in the news lately for a rumored romance with Halsey. The two of them covered Death Cab together on Australian radio, and on Valentine’s Day they released a duet called “11 Minutes” featuring Travis Barker on drums. They make a good match, musically speaking, given Halsey’s debatable self-conception as an alternative artist and her shared interest in grandiose generational statements. (Who here remembers “New Americana”?) “11 Minutes” is gloomier than anything on Yungblud’s album, like an Eminem/Rihanna duet for the Juice WRLD generation, laced with emo arpeggios rather than acoustic strums. Content-wise it’s Romeo + Juliet with a car crash instead of suicide, a story they supposedly nicked from the headlines.

Yungblud is fond of that approach. Early single “I Love You, Will You Marry Me,” where he most resembles a young Alex Turner, runs back the story of a real-life Sheffield graffiti proposal that was co-opted by corporations and local authorities; meanwhile the guy who scrawled the message went homeless not long after his wife passed away. The song’s capitalism smh message is again easy to write off, but I imagine a very different response if lines like “We got the love but they put out the fire/ ‘Cause they expect us to walk on the wire” were presented in more “respectable” packaging. There’s some genuine talent burbling beneath Yungblud’s tacky bombast, and his version of adolescent uprising feels damn near wholesome, geared more toward proactive change than anarchic destruction.

As for the one about dying for the hype and sucking on Polly’s lolly? My empathy for idiot kids and their bad taste only extends so far.

CREDIT: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella

CHART WATCH

The Billboard charts should be in for some significant change at the top next week with the arrival of Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie’s “ME!” and Pink’s new album Hurts 2B Human. For now, “ME!” is at #100 based on Thursday night radio plays alone. In the meantime, this week offers more of the same.

Billie Eilish’s WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO? returns to #1 for a second nonconsecutive week thanks to 88,000 equivalent album units. Other former #1s from Khalid and BTS are at #2 and #3. Beyoncé’s Homecoming: The Live Album, which debuted at #7 last week on two days of tracking, is up to #4 in its first full week on the chart. After Ariana Grande at #5 comes the #6 debut of Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You with 41,000 units and 24,000 in sales. It’s her first top 10 album.

After Nipsey Hussle at #7 and Juice WRLD at #8 comes another Beyoncé album at #9. Lemonade shot back up the chart after finally appearing on non-Tidal streaming services three years after its release. Per Billboard, it’s the first time Beyoncé has had two albums in the top 10 simultaneously. Rounding out the top 10 is Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys.

Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road” holds on to #1 on the Hot 100 for a fourth straight week. According to Billboard, its 114.4 million on-demand audio streams represent the fourth-best streaming week ever. The past two weeks of “Old Town Road” hold the top two spots, while Drake’s “In My Feelings” the week of July 28, 2018 remains third-best. Taylor Swift may come calling for #1 next week, but with a Diplo remix, a debut live performance, and the promise of a video coming soon, Lil Nas X is not going down easy.

“Wow.” and “Sunflower” and “7 Rings” hold steady at #2 and #3 and #4. Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” and Halsey’s “Without Me” have swapped places and now rank #5 and #6 respectively. Sam Smith and Normani’s “Dancing With A Stranger” remains at #7. At #8, Khalid’s Disclosure-produced “Talk” reaches a new peak, becoming his fifth top 10 hit. The rest of the top 10 comprises Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and J. Cole’s “Middle Child,” while Lil Dicky’s star-studded publicity stunt “Earth” thankfully failed to crack the top 10.

POP FIVE

The Chainsmokers – “Do You Mean” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign, bülow)
This is the best Chainsmokers song in a very long while, once again proving that Ty Dolla $ign is the secret sauce that makes everything better.

Bastille – “Joy”
Bastille came back in a big way last year with the Marshmello collab “Happier,” which outpaced “Pompeii” to become the biggest hit of the British band’s career. So of course the follow-up single is called “Joy.” This one sounds like a hit too, like what Frightened Rabbit might have come up with had they ever been interested in selling out.

PRETTYMUCH – “Phases”
I feel like these new boy bands are figuring it out!

Zara Larsson – “Wow”
“Wow” is what I said when I heard another pop star was releasing a song called “Wow” this year, and I said it again when I heard trap-rave TNGHT/Yeezus horns in the mix. It’s the first Larsson song to really grab me in a minute, though, so now I have to say “Wow” earnestly, with a proper modicum of respect.

Kim Petras – “Got My Number”
So, who’s gonna call 949-331-0609 and report back?

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie released a “ME!” vertical video. We’re still doing vertical videos apparently. [Twitter]
  • Yes that was Swift’s new cat — her third — in the “ME!” video. [WaPo]
  • More “ME!”: In addition to teasing a Dixie Chicks collab, easter eggs in the video reveal Swift’s new album’s title. (Any guesses?) [Twitter]
  • Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran appear to be teasing a new collaboration. [NME]
  • Britney Spears returned home after a 30-day stay in a mental health facility. [TMZ]
  • Jonas Brothers announced their first tour in almost a decade. [Jonas Brothers]
  • In other JoBros news, Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner get married in Vegas after the BBMAs. [Buzzfeed]
  • Logic’s “Homicide” featuring Eminem is out tonight. [Twitter]
  • Zedd announced his 2019 Orbit Tour. [Zedd]
  • Lil Nas X finally met YoungKio, the Dutch producer who sold him the “Old Town Road” beat online. [Instagram]
  • The first night of Pharrell’s VA beach fest Something In The Water was cancelled due to inclement weather. [Pitchfork]
  • Offset reunited with his estranged father for the first time in 23 years. [Miss Info]
  • Madonna launched the #medellinchachachachallenge on TikTok. [Twitter]
  • Pentatonix made an “Evolution Of” medley for Ariana Grande’s catalog. [YouTube]
  • Future released a video for “F&N.” [YouTube]
  • “I Hate U, I Love U” singer Olivia O’Brien released her debut album Was It Even Real? [Spotify]
  • Dua Lipa joined Blackpink onstage in Newark last night. [Twitter]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME