The Week In Pop

For Better Or Worse, Post Malone Sounds Like Right Now

Tired: a Post Malone posse cut with Meek Mill and Lil Baby. Wired: a Post Malone posse cut featuring Halsey and Future. Inspired: a Post Malone posse cut aligning Ozzy Osbourne with Travis Scott. The blessing and the curse of Hollywood’s Bleeding is that it contains all three pairings and more. Every level of the galaxy brain is present here; to listen is to cycle through all of them yourself, constantly recalibrating your own assessment of the man and his music.

Pardon all this memery, but it feels appropriate for an artist who has become just as ubiquitous, intuitive, and occasionally absurd as the internet’s native art form. At a time when the dominant strains of pop, rap, rock, and even country increasingly seem like one big amorphous genre, 24-year-old Austin Post has come to embody them all. After ostensibly emerging as a sing-songy rapper, his is now the heavily tattooed face of the modern mainstream — a distillation of the FM radio dial who so thoroughly dominates streaming platforms that his first album was still in the top 10 when his second album came out 18 months later.

In four years of fame, Posty has firmly established himself at the center of today’s untethered stylistic swirl. As a musician he is easy to criticize, particularly the way he, a young white man from Dallas first spotted wearing cornrows in his “White Iverson” video, has exploited hip-hop’s look and lingua franca despite his apparent contempt for the genre. He’s also hard to dismiss outright, a master craftsman of melodies that sound perfect trilled and warbled through vocal processors against miasmic trap beats, garnished with the occasional guitar solo.

Like his genre-defiant predecessor Drake, Posty is an unlikely hip-hop lodestar who makes overstuffed blockbuster LPs about how successful he’s become and how sad he nonetheless remains, a chameleonic yet unmistakable presence. Like Drake, you may quite reasonably find his music and persona insufferable but probably enjoy at least a handful of his songs. And like Drake, he’s now one of music’s most reliable chart titans at both the single and album level, with five top-10 singles this year alone, a number that’s likely to increase when Hollywood’s Bleeding impacts the charts next week.

So Austin and Aubrey have a lot in common, but Post Malone’s aesthetic preferences emphasize what an impeccable sonic palette Drake and 40 have developed by comparison. I’m surprised he’s never made a song with Ed Sheeran, whose recent No. 6 Collaborations Project attempted a similar game of musical hopscotch but lacked the shameless Guy Fieri energy necessary to pull it off. I am not surprised he covered Oasis onstage with Twenty One Pilots, the hyper-modern alt-rock duo who have been approaching the same intersection of genres from a different starting point. I can’t wait for him to collaborate with the Lonely Island, a vision that manifested when I mistook a lyric about “Versace boxers on my dick” for a reference to “Dick In A Box.”

Perhaps the truest comparisons for Posty are in the past, not the present. He is the most popular white rapper since Eminem, but other than an antagonistic posture toward ex-lovers, his music bears little resemblance to Marshall Mathers’ splenetic provocations. I have a different inescapable fixture of 1999 in mind: Posty has become his generation’s Red Hot Chili Peppers, unstoppable and undefinable and unapologetically corny, widely beloved and wildly easy to parody. With Hollywood’s Bleeding he has delivered his Californication, a stack of hits (and misses) that showcase his versatility and fully transcend his native radio format. Although rooted in the sound of modern hip-hop, Post Malone has never been a rapper in the straightforward sense, and his music has never sounded less like rap music than it does on Hollywood’s Bleeding.

That contrast comes into stark focus when certified MCs like DaBaby and Meek Mill show up to spit, sounding like they’re delivering the requisite rap verse on a Top 40 single. But it’s the traditionalists, not Posty, who seem partially out of step with their moment. Rap has fully internalized the line-blurring that began with T-Pain some 15 years ago and went supernova when Drake became the genre’s biggest star. Along with contemporaries like Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert, Post Malone feels like the culmination of that trajectory. Even when he comes closest to rapping, as on the hit album closer “Wow.,” it feels like he’s steered his 720S off into some post-rap realm.

Hollywood’s Bleeding acknowledges the path that led up to it by featuring forebears like Future, Young Thug, and Travis Scott, whose “Sicko Mode” is echoed in the album’s beat-switching title track, and it follows down various forks in that road toward some new larger-than-life easy-listening ideal. Back to back duets with SZA and Swae Lee, “Staring At The Sun” and the #1 single “Sunflower,” are basically adult contemporary for people who’ve never lived without the internet. Ditto the Young Thug duet “Goodbyes,” which transmutes the sentimental gloop of songs like Jay-Z’s “Young Forever” into something like a Gym Class Heroes power ballad.

Things go full rock ‘n’ roll on “Take What You Want,” the one with Ozzy’s iconic howling and some searing hair-metal guitar. But more often than not the classic rock parallels run closer to the Eagles. The hazy soft rocker “Circles” drains the post-rock artistry out of Broken Social Scene’s ecstatic elevator music “Pacific Theme,” while “Allergic” could be mistaken for the ’80s-revivalist pop-rock of Walk The Moon. “I’m Gonna Be,” “A Thousand Good Times,” and “Myself” all could just as easily be Imagine Dragons songs if Posty’s signature yodel was a bit burlier. Consecutive tracks shout out the Jonas Brothers and Fall Out Boy by name.

If this all sounds gross, it kind of is. Post Malone is no one’s beacon of good taste. But he often sells this grotesque convergence of styles thanks to his instinct for hooks and the skill with which he delivers them. His music sometimes sounds like a mall food court that lives inside your smartphone, but his emotional content never comes across as artificial, which is what matters most to a generation of listeners obsessed with their feelings.

Posty pours out his heart in a way that resonates with the masses, conveying the good, bad, and ugly of the modern human experience. On Hollywood’s Bleeding, that means gloating to an ex, “Now your mama needs tickets to my stadium show/ She love it when she hear me on the radio.” It means lashing out, maybe at the same ex, “It’s gonna take a lot more to kill me, bitch.” It means gently cooing, “So sad but true/ I’m friends with all my demons,” and confessing, “Give me a chance, I will fuck up again.”

Near the end of the album, on a song about staying off the internet for your own wellbeing, he asserts, “The world has gone to shit and we all know that.” It’s a funny sentiment coming from someone whose music is now the soundtrack for that world, whose album so naturally evokes the way social media has distilled all of life’s comedy, tragedy, and mundanity into the same endless scroll. He’s not wrong, though. The world has gone to shit, and we’d all benefit from spending more time offline. We know this, and yet many of us keep logging on in search of that familiar numbing stimulation. For the same reasons, perhaps against our better judgment, we keep coming back to Post Malone, too.

CREDIT: Travis Shinn

CHART WATCH

Tool’s Fear Inoculum is both the #1 album in America and the bestselling rock album of the year. As Billboard reports, the legendary prog-metal band tallied 270,000 equivalent album units in their first week, 248,000 of them via sales. It’s the best week for a rock album since Dave Matthews Band’s Come Tomorrow pulled 292,000 units and 285,000 sales in June 2018 — and unlike DMB, Tool did not employ the album-ticket bundles that are all the rage these days. Until the last day of the tracking week, Fear Inoculum was only sold in two formats, described by Billboard as “a digital download and a limited-edition CD, which was physically packaged with a 4-inch HD screen and exclusive video footage, a speaker and a 36-page booklet.” And the elaborately packaged CD retailed around $45-$50! No one can argue Tool fans aren’t dedicated.

At #2 with another strong showing is Taylor Swift’s Lover, followed by the #3 debut of Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! with 104,000 units/66,000 sales — her sixth top 10 album. Debuting at #4 is Lil Tecca’s We Love You Tecca, which becomes the 16-year-old first’s top 10 entry thanks to 68,000 units and only 4,000 in sales. The rest of the top 10: Young Thug, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Chris Brown, Ed Sheeran, and Travis Scott, whose Astroworld was boosted by the debut of his Netflix documentary.

Over on the Hot 100, Lizzo has the #1 song in America for a second straight week with “Truth Hurts.” Its predecessor at #1, “Señorita” by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, remains at #2, while that song’s predecessor, Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” stays at #3. The aforementioned debut of Lil Tecca’s full-length project results in a new #4 peak for his hit “Ransom,” while Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road” holds steady at #5. Chris Brown and Drake’s “No Guidance” returns to its #6 peak.

Post Malone’s “Circles” debuts at #7 — his eighth top 10 hit and fifth this year alone, both totals that will likely increase when Hollywood’s Bleeding hits the charts next week. And rounding out the top 10 are Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s “I Don’t Care,” Khalid’s “Talk,” and another Post Malone song, “Goodbyes” with Young Thug.

POP FIVE

Charli XCX – “2099” (Feat. Troye Sivan)
I love that the same duo who gave us one of the most fun novelty tracks of the past year are also capable of delivering pop futurism that appeals just as directly to the pleasure receptors. I also love the self-awareness of calling them “1999” and “2099.” I love it all.

Charlie Puth – “Mother”
The man has as many hooks as he has candles, which I’m told is a considerable number.

Tove Lo – “Really Don’t Like U” (Feat. Kylie Minogue)
I don’t know what I thought a Tove Lo x Kylie Minogue duet would sound like, but it wasn’t this. Good thing I was wrong; “Really Don’t Like U” is proof of how satisfying a restrained pop song can be.

Black Coffee & Usher – “LaLaLa”
It is still sad to me that we the listening public have decided Usher Raymond doesn’t get to make hits anymore. However, I’m not sure that this song deserves to be one.

Major Lazer – “Que Calor” (Feat. J Balvin & El Alfa)
After “Con Altura,” I’ve reached the point where the mere sound of J Balvin’s voice brings me pleasure.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Donald Trump called John Legend “boring” and Chrissy Teigen “filthy mouthed.” [Twitter]
  • Nicki Minaj tweeted that she was retiring, then deleted it later and apologized, saying “the tweet was abrupt & insensitive.” [Twitter]
  • Normani is joining The Voice as Kelly Clarkson’s advisor. [E!]
  • Meanwhile Clarkson covered Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” on her new talk show. [Rolling Stone]
  • Rihanna held a Savage x Fenty runway show for New York Fashion Week. [Vogue]
  • Miley Cyrus released a video for “Slide Away.” [YouTube]
  • Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph announced his wife’s pregnancy at Lollapalooza Berlin. [Twitter]
  • Hailee Steinfeld has been offered the lead in a Hawkeye series for Disney Plus. [Variety]
  • The Weeknd has a new look. [Twitter]
  • Christina Aguilera, Snoop Dogg, and Migos will have new songs on the Addams Family soundtrack. [Variety]
  • Selena Gomez surprised students at her old middle school. [Mansfield]
  • Jennifer Lopez and Jimmy Fallon did “the history of music video dancing.” [YouTube]

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