Okay, why is this still happening? Why does Yungblud continue to be paraded around like some kind of musical wunderkind when such a negligible amount of his output has shown even the slightest hint of promise? Well, marketability is definitely a factor and how he’s able to boil down a sense of rebellion to the lower common denominator and appeal to kids who’ll lap this stuff up (and who are too young to remember when Jamie T did this exact same thing so much better), but beyond that, there’s absolutely nothing here. He’s got a horrendous voice that he can barely control; his writing never elevates itself above one-dimensionality and tedium; and the instrumentation and production that he works with feature some of the most grating, unworkable indie-rock and alt-pop tones put to record in some time. And yet, the fact that Yungblud has had so much of a push in the industry, both in the UK and the US, and has been thrust into a position of rubbing shoulders with far bigger and far more talented artists screams of an industry plant being cultivated in the exact way its behind-the-scenes handlers want it to. It’s frankly embarrassing, and to see so many fall over themselves to sing the praises of the mediocre-at-best singles released in the run-up to new EP the underrated youth paints a dire picture of just how much trash Yungblud is going to continue to get away with.
And so, to some extent, it’s not even worth getting all that riled up about this EP, because it’s exactly what it was indicated to be. This is Yungblud pressing all the right buttons to make the young kids swoon and the press fall at his feet, and while the kernel of believability in what he’s serving might make an appearance occasionally, the fact that it’s gussied up in such a way to present it as some grand statement of intent, when really all it’s delivering is bottom-shelf platitudes in a less-attractive packaging than normal, falls somewhere between raucously laughable and mildly terrible. And when it’s pretty much a crapshoot when or if anything will actually land, the underrated youth feels like the work of an artist whose burgeoning empire is going to be the permanent safety net needed to get away with dreck like this. It’s what’s already seen Yungblud dubbed as ‘the next Gerard Way’, when all he really is is the modern embodiment of pandering, overwrought emo that’s borderline impossible to take seriously.
Because, when it comes to a release like this that’s intended to be driven by the emotionality of its creator, the onus really does rest on how that’s conveyed and whether the nexus between said emotionality and the delivery comes across as convincing, and Yungblud himself comes across as a pretty gigantic hurdle between both sides. His gurning, snotty delivery might be his own personal approximation of punk and the unpolished nature of the genre’s earliest acts, but paired with production that’s only become more clean and shiny since his debut, and any intent simply drowns in an obnoxiousness that, frankly, feels put on to sell the image. Each laborious, dragged-out syllable on braindead! or ‘stylistically’ slurred note on casual sabotage comes imbued with a certain amount of pain, and when Yungblud is paired with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds on original me, the resultant blaring vocal pile-up just makes the clattering thwack of the instrumental sound even more annoying. Quite who vetted these creative decisions is a mystery (though given how head-cavingly obnoxious some alt-pop has been this year, a fine guess would be people who’ve been paying attention to the wrong places), but when there’s so little that even feels thought over, let alone considered a good idea, it makes the already waning appeal feel even more diminished. If nothing else, there’s a decent amount of pop-rock swell and gallop to hope for the underrated youth that, with a competent performer at the helm, could amount to something decent, but with the bass-boosted clang of parents, the jerky grind of original me that has Imagine Dragons’ fingerprints all over it, and the honestly worthless acoustic snoozer waiting on the weekend, finding anything resembling even a decent or listenable tune across most of this EP proves more effort than it’s worth.
But more than that, it’s the writing that tips the underrated youth into pretty insufferable territory, and how shameless both Yungblud’s pandering and image maintenance feels with nothing of substance to back it up. He clearly wants to be both a voice for the downtrodden, misunderstood kids in his audience, but also the sort of transgressive firebrand looking to make some kind of change, and it’d be difficult to say he gets even remotely close to either of them. You only have to look at parents, in which the general sentiment of younger generations being misrepresented by their elders is solid, but between shock-value imagery which just doesn’t click and a keystone line like “parents ain’t always right”, the dead-centre aim on some form of stereotypical angsty teen feels almost like a parody of itself for how blatantly on-the-nose it is. It’s by far the most laughable example here, but the lack of any sort of detail woven into feelings of inadequacy and depression on original me and casual sabotage, or the very generic self-esteem anthem template on hope for the underrated youth is very telling when it comes to Yungblud’s overall aim. It’s all the sort of safe, broad fare that’s easily applicable to anyone who can even slightly relate, and it’s where the lines between genuine intent and hyper-cynical pandering to those who will inevitably spend the most money to extol the virtues of Yungblud become basically nonexistent. That’s not to say that Yungblud doesn’t believe what he’s selling either, but when this exact lyrical field has spawned some of the most manipulative, money-grubbing artists seen in some time, painting Yungblud as something different when the tangible evidence simply isn’t there doesn’t seem all that reasonable. It’s simply another flavour of what the Warped Tour production line has been churning out for years, and the fact that seemingly no one has brought that up implies just how rapidly the industry machinations behind Yungblud are actually moving.
That’s what really goes down the wrong way about this EP as well; even its artwork implies it to be some grand gesture from an artist ready to take the world by storm and become an icon, when really all Yungblud is, is the newest industry cash cow who’ll get milked dry and sloughed off when the next one comes around. Of course, given the furore around the underrated youth, it looks as though there’ll be a bit more mileage in this one, but just from the perspective of common sense, there is absolutely nothing offered here that hasn’t been done exponentially better in so many other places. It’s still a badly-produced, poorly-written void of a release that can’t hit the heights it aspires to, and so relies on being artificially boosted to form the implications that everyone wants. It’s never not exasperating regardless of how many times it’s happened, but when Yungblud as an artist feels like a considerable downgrade even over those who’ve been in similar positions before him, the whole situation is vaguely nauseating. But that’s how these things work – the industry plant continues to bloom, and the faith in the listening populace to not let hacks like this become famous wilts more and more.
For fans of: Twenty One Pilots, grandson, Imagine Dragons
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘the underrated youth’ by Yungblud is out now on Locomotion Recordings.