Writer: Misaal Irfan
This short essay discusses how Brockhampton represents an ideological shift currently occurring in the music industry. This band exemplifies how defying genres and boundaries to music can end up being extremely successful and powerful.
A Shifting Music Industry that Subverts Music Structures and Crosses Over Genres: As Seen in Brockhampton
The Music Industry is without a doubt constantly evolving and changing. When it comes to identifying where a certain piece of music fits in, there are no strict or clear guidelines as to what determines whether something is hip hop, indie, modern pop, rap, etc. It has become increasingly difficult to categorize newer upcoming artists like Brockhampton, Tyler the Creator, and Frank Ocean due to their independent, unique, and abstract musical styles and techniques. These musicians, though having been categorized primarily into Rap or Hip Hop, have clearly subverted these boundaries and turned them on their head. With their ability to blend genres and even crossover from one to the other, it makes it difficult to categorize them and has allowed hundreds of lesser well known independent artists to enter into the industry. Benee, a nineteen year old Auckland born singer, who refers to“genre bending” artists as her inspirations, is an example of an artist who is contributing to this new age of what is called “modern pop”. Increasingly, these types of artists with independent sounds and musical personas have been able to self brand themselves beyond their musical endeavors. This growing subgroup of artists has been able to establish themselves as more than just singers or rappers. They have been able to contribute to the video direction, merchandise designing, photography, and many other brand building aspects of their music that typically are not designated roles of the artist. This shifting change has allowed for more original, raw, and boundary pushing work. It is up to the reader to decide whether they support this turn in the Music Industry. There is something occurring that is not exactly identifiable; it could be revolutionary, and Brockhampton helps to indicate the ascent of this change.
Brockhampton is a music group of thirteen members consisting of singers, rappers, producers, videographers, photographers, and designers who consider themselves an All American Boyband. Though they stereotypically defy the tenants of a boyband through their looks, musical styles, and size. Their ability to self create the entirety of their music within their thirteen person group defines their individuality and recent rise in the music industry.
There are six members who have maintained the band’s on stage performance presence: Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, Merlyn Wood, Don McLennon, Joba, and Bearface. The rest of the group is made up of producers Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, and Kiko Merley, graphic designer Henock Sileshi, photographer Ashlan Grey, web designer Roberto Ontenient, and manager Jon Nunes. Typically, these positions remain in the background, but all the members have almost equally maintained the image of Brockhampton and have also been equally appreciated and loved by fans. Ultimately, their strange process of music making and how they publically self label has set them apart and contributed to their success. Historically successful music groups like The Beach Boys, Hall and Oates, and The Beatles simply made music. It is noticeable how the increased involvement in the entirety of publicity and media outreach can create a highly personalized, rounded, and a technologically influenced 21st century listening experience for fans. These musical artists had a sole emphasis on the music they were creating and had little priority on proponents like their outfits, fan base participation, or merchandise. These aspects were not always intended to be the role of the artist. This intentional decision by Brockhampton could have possibly been what helped them to independently create their first project: All American Trash in the way they wanted without any forced direction from an enterprising label. The journey that Brockhampton has taken since releasing All American Trash in 2016 to their most recent album Ginger in 2019 can help explain their evolution and rise in the music industry. In an informative and interesting article in the Spinoff, Reilly states that “in many ways, Brockhampton is a microcosm of the journey that pop culture has taken over the past few years”. Their music incorporates features of hip hop, modern pop, rap, and often culturally unique samples that draw from Middle Eastern, Caribbean, and Bronx influences. Naturally, and quite unfortunately, the public always finds way to negatively associate modern pop with ruining the state of hip hop and staining it with a lack of meaning. Brockhampton has created music that touches on genuine heartfelt topics like mental health, depression, sexuality, the two sided nature of fame, and even the fact that one of their members, Ameer Vaan, was subject to multiple serious allegations like statutory abuse, and sexual abuse. In contrast, they have even created numerous upbeat dance inducing songs like BOOGIE and BOY BYE that are undoubtedly crowd favorites.
Having been to one of their concerts during the Heaven Belongs to You tour in 2019, I was able to observe the effect their music and stage presence had on each person in the audience. The combination of lighting, stage design, and outfits with the six different vocalists on stage: Joba, Kevin Abstract, Dom McLennon, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, and Bearface made for a performance with no dull moments. Almost every person in the audience knew every word, and those that did not were jumping in unison to the consistent and infectious beat. The lyrical artistry and steady bass allowed for an experience that involved the audience as much as it did the performers. Their genuineness is even seen in the way they dance. Since they technical dance skills, the way they moved looked as though they were completely taken over by the music. The characteristics of Brockhampton’s growing and dedicated fan base even helps to demonstrate the effect they have on their listeners and the modern way in which fans are united in their love for Brockhampton: their music, style, personalities, and everything in between. Justin Robles describes it best:
“There is a stark and irreconcilable disjunct between the experience of being a casual Brockhampton fan and the experience of being a Brockhampton fan. It’s the difference between admiring organized chaos and joining the collective consciousness— the frustration and sorrow— at the center of that chaos. Certain fans can rattle off each member’s name and quirks like they’re talking about cousins and siblings. They speak about the band members on a first-name basis. And Brockhampton, for their part, faces this fandom with awe and generosity, expanding their nimbus around anyone hoping for a connection.”
This connectedness is something I noticed while audience members were standing- rather constantly jumping and swaying- in the crowd. It was a group collaboration and there were clear instances where the power that Kevin Abstract held over the audience was inspiring. At one instance, the entire crowd cheering “We are gay” to one of their most popular songs - QUEER - and everyone followed along freely and fully. The pride and joy with which Brockhampton has made music about sexuality is similar to the evolution of a similar individualistic artist- Frank Ocean. Massagli explains the ideology that Frank Ocean embodies perfectly and succinctly: “With Channel ORANGE he musically and even more importantly, lyrically, flipped the script with how we now understand the reach of hip-hop and R&B music. By understating the sexuality and overemphasizing the raw emotion between two people who love each other, Ocean allows himself to dive into the hearts of a diverse sea of listeners. It is the key to his success. Ocean once said, “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and a woman but between love and love.” . His way of transcending his beliefs through his work speaks to the greater purpose of creating music in the first place: to get your message across and break down walls. The concept of breaking down walls is what has allowed for these musicians to raise and has pushed an entire generation of artists to realize that worrying about where or if your music will fit in is pointless. When music has purpose and meaning it becomes most important, and this has clearly been demonstrated by the response of fans to Brockhampton’s music.