Who says boy bands can’t be activists?
Pop ensemble Brockhampton performed 90 minutes and 20-plus songs of spastic, adored choruses Saturday night at a sold-out Emo’s before a herd of stampeding teens. That included rapping bass-heavy standard “Star” five times to hammer home the chaos.
The DIY-collective, outfitted in matching orange jumpsuits, was described as the “woke Backstreet Boys” pre-show by a nearby patron as the line coiled around the block. Indeed the scene was an inclusive safe space, rich with lyrics about self-acceptance that celebrated ringleader Kevin Abstract’s homosexuality. The show was likewise a homecoming for the eight performing members: “We used to live in San Marcos about 30 minutes away,” the 21-year-old Abstract said.
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Existing somewhere between rap traditionalism and meditative Frank Ocean-era R&B, touring members Abstract, Ameer Vann, Merlyn, Dom McLennon, Matt Champion, Joba, Ciarán “bearface” McDonald, and MacBook-adorned DJ Romil Hemnani unfurled a robust catalog of occasionally infectious and boundlessly optimistic pop. The screaming fans, falsetto love notes, coordinated dance, a capella breakdowns, and assorted onstage chairs all harkened back to the golden days of Lou Pearlman.
“Y’all know this is the best boy band in the world, right?” Abstract noted.
These days Brockhampton is likewise a California-based hub of creatives boasting in-house graphic designers, photographers and producers. Whereas other populous rap cliques — from Public Enemy to G-Unit — amplify members of the inner circle, Brockhampton recruited creators online with a more streamlined vision. The 14-member crew is basically a tech startup without the WeWork.
Twitter on Saturday buzzed with young people eagerly hoping to get into Emo’s and joking about using student aid money to buy tickets. The groundswell is thanks to the onslaught of new music—the band released three albums in 2017.
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It’s an ambitious undertaking with lots of moving parts. There are calls to open up the mosh pit and shout-outs to gay fans. An hour in, McDonald performed a pair of ballads alone including the sway-ready “Summer,” which featured his strong Fender Jaguar solos.
“Is everyone OK out there?” Abstract asked. “Thanks for being patient.”
The playful stoner raps of “Gold” and “Gummy” landed with ample crowd participation. There were some growing pains, too: They started a song over after flubbing the words. Their digital presence recalls a gang of YouTube entertainers, and that commitment to building out personality-driven viral videos can mask dull and safe music.
But then Abstract will rap about his boyfriend’s fragrance on “Stupid” and the art turns subversive for the way it flips hip-hop conventions about masculinity. Lyrics about Aladdin and monocles on “Zipper” are pies to the face. “Heat” is a rattling, drum-and-bass song about police.
For all the competing ideas, the locals danced along to everything.
“Hey Austin can we pretend we’re at a party together?” Abstract said. The unifying element to Brockhampton’s familiar music is a commitment to the kinetic energy of Central Texas house parties. The youthful kind where some idiot sits drunk on the balcony railing while rap beats blare through paper-thin walls — it’s music that aches to be present.