I was waiting to be reminded that I am no longer young, and Brockhampton’s ACL Fest evening set at the Miller Lite stage was exactly the place where it happened. But the good news for me, and all of us, is that the young people are doing okay, at least if we’re judging by the hip hop collective’s vibrant performance and adoring crowd.
Brockhampton boasts over a dozen members, but the six that performed tonight delivered on their claim of being “the greatest boy band on earth,” going hard from the first moments when Dom McLennon burst on stage (despite a sound mixup preventing his vocals from coming through at first) to the band’s final ecstatic dance celebration.
For the uninitiated, Brockhampton is part 90’s boy band, part rap crew -- like N’Sync meets Odd Future -- and their themes and attitude are purely Gen Z. As explained by 19-year-old Austinite Jeremiah Arias, a crowd member who kindly described the group’s background and ethos to me, Brockhampton’s guiding force is the openly gay Kevin Abstract, who cites both Justin Timberlake and Odd Future’s Tyler the Creator as influences.
Abstract sung and rapped with fierce vulnerability about his experiences. All the group’s members did, really, balancing raucous, delightful pop culture braggadocio with reflections on insecurity, paranoia, suicidal ideation, and the challenges of being a broke artist and of skyrocketing to fame.
Abstract often spoke directly to the crowd -- sometimes right to a single person -- and he and the rest of the crew built a communal atmosphere that was was equal parts about having the time of your life and taking care of one another while you’re doing it. At one point, the camera zoomed in on a young man in the crowd making a heart with his hands who had a disarmingly serious look on his face. For him and so many other teens in the crowd, Brockhampton is personal -- even more so for locals like Arias, since the group got their start in San Marcos, TX. “They told us that shit was not gonna work out,” one member said with pride.
The group appeared to be wearing shirts printed with the faces of different artists who have passed, and the fashion choice was a perfect representation of how Brockhampton functions onstage: they are one entity, totally in synch with one another, but also each working the stage and rapping their verses with individuality and independence.
Abstract also took a somber moment to allude to a controversy from earlier in the year, when founding member Ameer Vann was kicked out of the band after allegations of sexual misconduct. “We didn’t even know if we were gonna be a band anymore,” Abstract said. But their ACL set shows they’ve carried on and flourished, taking the harder parts of life seriously while spreading generosity and good times.