The continued success of Yungblud is less infuriating now and more just exasperating to witness. Sure, it’s annoying that so many are yet to clue in that so many ‘lucky breaks’ are more likely than not the work of an industry with an artist on their hands whose marketability is through the roof, but the stench of flavour of the month that radiates around him implies that it’s just a matter of time before the drop-off. With that in mind though, he’s done well to stay on this path for as long as he has, despite embodying the ‘edgy teen’ archetype with no tact or depth whatsoever, but the fact that’s a result of undergoing such a radical sonic reinvention is remarkably telling of how aware both Yungblud and the team behind him seem to be that he’s more or less running out the clock at this point. So while his initial scrappy Jamie T impressions showed an artist that wasn’t all that great but had a creative focus in mind, the harsh pivots to uber-polished pop-rock and alt-pop feel like a conscious effort to artificially lengthen his open shelf life, and continue to lock in the big-name guest appearances and collaborations by worming his way into the right spheres of influence. It’s where the exasperation really begins to kick in, in how Yungblud’s blatant opportunism is being ignored because he connects to a young audience on a very shallow level, and how that only leads to the impression that he has barely any stock in the music he’s actually making. For the voice of the outcasts and the downtrodden that he projects himself as, his approximation of that is the glossy, tied-up stereotype that’s as easy to see as it is difficult to buy, and titling his new album weird! (complete with all lowercase stylisation, because of course) just feels like an even more brusque smack to the face in how little of an effort is being made to do something meaningful.
And here’s the thing – weird! is without question Yungblud’s most accomplished collection of songs to date, but as always, the calculated nature of it that continues to grind beneath the surface is really too distracting to ignore, or to give this any sort of pass. Even further than that, it’s impossible to ignore, when – yet again – an artist who’s trying to present himself as real and punk seeks to do so through a vehicle that, on the very surface, feels custom designed to have as much mass appeal as possible, and paint itself neatly into a modern pop-rock box with nothing out place. It’s Ed Sheeran in a punk cosplay; right down his own sneer that’s been taken directly from Billy Idol, Yungblud is using the idea of ‘punk’ to legitimise an otherwise pandering and shallow product, and even though he’s become better at faking it, the obviousness of what he’s managed to get away with really is a sight to behold.
And as always, it’s not a case of there being anything wrong with what Yungblud is actually saying. It’s arguably the only place where any sort of perception of Yungblud as a punk holds any water, in speaking on issues of identity and personality that have a lot of pertinence. Hell, with songs like god save me, but don’t drown me out and it’s quiet in beverly hills, there’s an openness and rawness of emotion that actually feels believable, and that he can pull off well. But those two moments are very unrepresentative of what weird! is on the whole, where Yungblud’s adopted persona as a snotty outcast is where any deeper examination begins and ends, and the toothlessness comes through in earnest. Take a song like mars, about the experiences of a transgender fan who detailled her struggles to Yungblud face to face, and yet apart from maybe one line (“Her mum and dad, they couldn’t understand / Why she couldn’t turn it off, become a better man), the song is broad enough to apply to virtually any young person undergoing some form of hardship. It’s the glancing blows to serious topics that make Yungblud such a frustrating artist and have done for years; there’s clear some form of application that can be offered, but rather than jeopardise the mounds of crossover appeal he’s picked up, it’s safer to paint in brush strokes and use his own convenient obnoxiousness to fill in the gaps and make it seem a lot stronger. It’s the method of choice on ice cream man and charity, where Yungblud being an awful singer and generally grating presence is used to mask the fact that not a lot is being said apart from the typical outcast pablum, while the title track and the freak show pretty much give any such pretensions for bland, safe fare about falling away from the norm is okay, and the world can be strange – such insight! By comparison, songs like strawberry lipstick and god save me, but don’t drown me out feel more fully-formed, if only because they go a bit more personal and don’t try to feed the martyrdom complex that Yungblud has affixed to himself. As the opener teresa implies, he wants to be the one to provide solace and comfort for anyone who might relate to his music, and the way that he can wring the most out of that is to make it as wide-reaching and flavourless as possible to maximise that relatability.
That isn’t anything new in pop songwriting, obviously, but it’s the fact that Yungblud is simultaneously trying to market himself as away from that, as a more ‘real’ artist, that really makes it tough to defend. In the mainstream space that Yungblud operates in, his brand of pop-rock really isn’t all that different from the rest, even to the degree where it’s roughened up artificially through compression to mask how much of fashioned product this actually is. There’s clearly been effort made to pull out what could be seen as more terse pop tones on superdeadfriends and the title track, but there isn’t any real depth or anything visceral or organic there. It’s just a different flavour of pop-rock, which isn’t inherent bad when it can be reshaped into solid pastiches of punk or arena-rock on strawberry lipstick and god save me, but don’t drown me out respectively, but all too often can’t even reach that level. It’s very reflective of Yungblud himself, trying to accomplish a lot more than it has the rightful means to, and resorts to occasionally reshuffling to basics in the hope that something can come from it. That might be the case sometimes, but weird! overall just feels like an extrapolation of what Yungblud has been doing for the past few years, with no concessions made to any sort of evolution. It feels a bit bigger this time around, but it’s not more raw or exciting, or indicative of any punk flair beyond the very surface. It’s just vapid and hollow most of the time, trying to convince its audience that its something more, but utterly crumbling when placed under any kind of scrutiny, or when placed next to artists who can convincingly pull off a punk sound.
It all circles back to Yungblud using punk as a costume to benefit off more than any real punk artist ever would. That isn’t coming from a purist’s perspective, but just a realistic one; when Yungblud has all the marketing momentum in the world behind him, making himself out to be more of a transgressive artist than he actually is is exactly the next logical step. He’s been doing it for years and it’s always felt obvious, with the only difference on weird! being that he’s gotten slightly better as tidying it up. Because really, weird! is nothing special, certainly not on the level that the media circus in its run-up would want to convey; it’s just another Yungblud release, where all the same criticisms pop up again, and where they’ll all ultimately be meaningless because the enterprise behind him has gotten so big that failure is effectively impossible now. It’s honestly just boring to talk about now, especially when nothing ever changes and the whole thing just feels like shouting into the void, where no one really cares and Yungblud will continue to thrive because he’s so easy to promote and market. And really, for an artist who so many tip as one of the shining lights of modern music, that should be enough to label Yungblud the complete opposite.
For fans of: Machine Gun Kelly, Palaye Royale, The Hunna
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘weird!’ by Yungblud is out now on Locomotion Records / Interscope Records.