The Kid Laroi Situation Is Escalating Rapidly

Steve Cannon

The Kid Laroi Situation Is Escalating Rapidly

Steve Cannon

It has been less than a year since this website published an article headlined “Meet Australian TikTok Emo-Rapper The Kid Laroi, The Sad-Rap Silverchair.” The idea was that this teenager from Waterloo, Australia represented a tipping point for genre-meltdown emo-rap descended from the likes of XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, and Juice WRLD, the poppier side of the music we used to call SoundCloud rap. (It’s more of a TikTok phenomenon now, but then, isn’t everything?) Laroi, my colleague Tom Breihan argued, was analogous to his fellow Australians Silverchair, the teenage rock band that showed up on MTV a year after Kurt Cobain died, marking the point when grunge had become completely commodified. Tom heard in Laroi’s debut album-or-mitxape-or-whatever Fuck Love the full-on corporatization of this emo-rap wave, but he also heard potential for the project to linger in the top 10 the way releases from numbed, melodic sing-rappers like Lil Baby and Gunna and obvious Laroi predecessor Post Malone do:

The album fits so many playlist-friendly algorithmic sweet spots that it’s easy to imagine it having the same kind of legs. And anyway, the Kid Laroi is firmly pitched at the same kids who love those albums. Laroi’s artwork is all anime-based. His collaborators are fellow TikTok rap kids like Lil Tecca and Lil Mosey. His haircut is a messier version of the early-Bieber shag. He’s got Cole Bennett directing his videos. He’s built to stick around, at least for now.

He has more than stuck around. Still a few weeks off from his 18th birthday, Laroi has become not just a rap star but one of the biggest names in all of pop music. He was already making significant headway on this front before 2021. First, a series of collaborations with the late Juice WRLD, who mentored Laroi during Australian tour dates in 2018 and 2019, landed the Kid his first few Hot 100 entries in the US. Fuck Love — with an array of charred nasal melodies, booming minor-key trap beats, and wound-licking distraught howls that positioned him as a mini Post Malone — debuted in the top 10. Three months later, the project shot up to a new #3 peak with the release of its deluxe edition Fuck Love (Savage). And just before Christmas, Laroi released the single that would be his pop breakthrough in earnest.

“Without You” is kind of like “Wonderwall” as sung by Machine Gun Kelly: basic acoustic chord progression; hoarse, almost grunted vocals pushed to the upper limits of their range; a melody that drills straight to your frontal lobe. It is, like most Laroi songs, about the aftermath of a breakup, seasoned with plenty of spite: “So there you go,” he sings on the line that made the track a TikTok hit, “Can’t make a wife out of a ho.” Laroi tears into every bar with a rock-star confidence that belies the self-doubt at the core of the lyrics, almost like folk-rock performed from a nu-metal posture. It is not a rap song in any way, and, as if grabbing the baton from TikTok, pop radio latched on to it fiercely in the early months of 2021.

By the time Miley Cyrus hopped on a remix and invited Laroi to perform it with her on the Elon Musk episode of SNL — at which point people started to notice that Laroi looks at least as much like Thurston Moore as he looks like Justin Bieber — “Without You” had already climbed to #23. The Miley duet pushed it all the way to #8, making it Laroi’s first top 10 hit as a lead artist. All summer, Top 40 stations have kept blasting “Without You,” usually the original solo version. Turn on your local iHeartRadio affiliate and you cannot avoid it. It is one of the biggest hits of the year, and the Kid Laroi has already eclipsed it.

Given all the Justin Bieber comparisons Laroi has attracted, it was perhaps inevitable that the two of them would team up on a song together. And given the stan power and music industry promo energy swirling around the two of them right now, the chances of that collaboration flopping were basically zero. It helps, though, when the too-big-to-fail pop single is also maniacally catchy — which tends to happen when you bring in Charlie Puth as a co-writer and Cashmere Cat as part of the production team.

“Stay,” released two Fridays ago, is pegged for a third version of Fuck Love set for release sometime this summer. It finds Laroi bringing a jolt of pop-punk energy into the brisk ’80s-vintage synth-pop that made Bieber’s recent Justice such a refreshing listen. The hooks are abundant, most notably the upward-darting keyboard riff that serves as the song’s spine and eventually becomes the chorus melody. It’s an intensely fast-paced song — think “Mood” gone “Maniac” — and that tempo works as a launchpad for each singer’s emotional outbursts as they plead with lovers to stick around as an act of charity despite their inability to change.

As far as the lyrics go, “Stay” is a typical Kid Laroi song; begging an ex not to leave despite his own hopeless dirtbag status could not be more on brand for him. But musically it feels like him blasting off into a new frontier of crossover success, planting his flag in an even broader sphere of influence than the Lyrical Lemonade scene where he’s already a superstar. Like Post Malone — and really, so much about Laroi is like Post Malone — the Kid is working multiple lanes at once, recording with street rappers like YoungBoy Never Broke Again and G Herbo while also serving up full-blown assaults on the middle a la “Circles.” It’s working. “Stay” just debuted at #3, becoming by far the biggest hit of Laroi’s career so far.

With the stan armies fully mobilized and the record labels pushing a wave of young stars in hopes of a post-pandemic boom, the Hot 100 is competitive right now. But I wouldn’t be surprised if “Stay” has the juice to surpass BTS and Olivia Rodrigo and become Laroi’s first #1, especially once radio gives it that “Blinding Lights” treatment — and given that “Stay” is basically “Blinding Lights” with the Weeknd’s poise and remove swapped out for heart-on-sleeve theatrics, it’s hard to imagine programmers not turning this song into one of those hits that lingers in heavy rotation for months beyond its expiration date. In terms of cultural imprint, it’s evident that the Kid Laroi is going to become a lot more than a footnote at the end of SoundCloud rap — in part because he may be the one that finally blurs the barriers of that sound so far that it ceases to be rap and becomes something else entirely.

CHART WATCH

BTS have replaced themselves at #1 — the first act to do so since Drake’s “Nice For What” dethroned “God’s Plan” in 2018. After “Butter” spent its first seven weeks at #1, the Seoul pop superstars have debuted atop the Hot 100 with their follow-up single, “Permission To Dance.” It’s the fifth #1 single for BTS, all within the last 10 months and two weeks, following “Dynamite,” “Life Goes On,” their appearance on Jawsh 685 and Jason Derulo’s “Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)” remix, and the aforementioned “Butter.” Per Billboard, it’s the fastest an artist has accumulated five #1s since Michael Jackson did it during the Bad cycle in 1987-1988. The Beatles did it fastest, racking up five #1 hits within just six months in 1964. BTS also become the fifth act with four #1 debuts, joining Justin Bieber, Drake, and Ariana Grande, who holds the record with five. “Permission To Dance” is also Ed Sheeran’s fourth #1 hit as a songwriter following his own “Perfect” and “Shape Of You” and Bieber’s “Love Yourself.”

Olivia Rodrigo’s former chart-topper “good 4 u” remains at #2, followed by a #3 debut for the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay.” It’s Laroi’s highest-charting single to date and third top 10 hit. For Bieber, its the 24th trip to the top 10, making him the 13th artist to reach that plateau. The rest of the top 10: Dua Lipa and DaBaby’s “Levitating,” Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More,” Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits,” BTS’ “Butter,” Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” the Weeknd and Ariana Grande’s “Save Your Tears,” and Rodrigo’s “deja vu.”

Over on the Billboard 200, there are no debuts in the top 10. Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour, which returned to #1 last week, spends a fourth nonconsecutive frame at the top with 83,000 equivalent album units. According to Billboard, Sour is the first debut album by a woman to spend four weeks at #1 since Susan Boyle’s I Dreamed A Dream went six straight back in 2009-2010. (Duet when?!) The rest of the top 10 includes releases from Doja Cat; Morgan Wallen; Lil Baby and Lil Durk; Polo G, Dua Lipa; Tyler, The Creator; Bo Burnham; the Weeknd; and Moneybagg Yo.

POP FIVE

Normani – “Wild Side” (Feat. Cardi B)
The video is naturally getting tons of attention, but don’t miss that hard-knock molasses-creep beat and those magnificently smooth hooks. Very excited to hear what else Normani has in store now that she appears to be off the shelf.

Conan Gray – “People Watching”
I love the way the drums morph on this, and jealously spying on happy couples is a good conceit for a pop song. Still workshopping an opinion on Conan Gray’s vocals at this time.

Swedish House Mafia – “Lifetime” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign & 070 Shake)
Were Swedish House Mafia really into Kanye’s Wyoming albums or something?

Diane Warren, G-Eazy, & Santana – “She’s Fire”
Man, it’s not a hot one.

Alessia Cara – “Sweet Dream” & “Shapeshifter”
Alessia Cara hasn’t had this level of production and presentation in a long time, if ever. “Sweet Dream” is so engaging that I didn’t even notice whether the song is any good.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • In her latest conservatorship hearing, Britney Spears was granted the right to hire her own lawyer. She celebrating by using the #FreeBritney hashtag for the first time. [Instagram]
  • Halsey announced the birth of her baby, Ender Ridley Aydin. [Instagram]
  • Lil Nas X shared a teaser for “Industry Baby,” a new single featuring Jack Harlow and produced by Take A Daytrip and Kanye West. [Twitter]
  • The woman who accused Diplo of forcing her to perform oral sex filed to dismiss her lawsuit. [Billboard]
  • Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett will perform at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall next month in support of an album out later this year. [EW]
  • Camila Cabello teased a new single, “Don’t Go Yet,” out Friday. [Instagram]
  • Rosé from BLACKPINK covered Paramore’s “The Only Exception.” [YouTube]
  • Her BLACKPINK bandmate Lisa will make her solo debut this summer. [Soompi]
  • A reboot of MTV’s Cribs will include a look inside of the homes of Big Sean, Tinashe, and Rick Ross, among others. [Deadline]
  • Madonna’s Madame X concert film is coming to Paramount+ in October. [MTV]
  • Billie Eilish and Finneas did an acoustic “Your Power” for Vevo. [YouTube]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

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