Could Yung Lean fill up a huge venue the way he might have been able to a couple of years ago? Probably not. But there is something about the nature of a small venue, packed to the brim that seemed to suit his concert last Saturday perfectly, lending it the energy of people bouncing off each other in a small space but also the intimacy brought by close proximity.
Many are surprised to learn that rapper Yung Lean's actual legal middle name is Leandoer, as in one who does lean. While this might make his career choice seem inevitable, apparently Leandoer is a pretty common name in Sweden. Jonatan Leandoer Håstad had been uploading tracks to Soundcloud produced by fellow "sad boys" Yung Gud and Yung Sherman when he released his first mixtape, Unknown Death 2002, in 2013, and quickly gained acclaim, which he has recognized is due in a large part to the shock factor of a Swedish person rapping in mediocre English about Mario Kart and being sad. Since then, he has released three full length studio albums.
His concert in Spirit Hall on Feb. 10 marked the last show on his tour promoting his latest album, Stranger. His openers were Thaiboy Digital and Bladee, both members of "Drain Gang" alongside Yung Lean. Contrary to the moniker, Thaiboy Digital and Bladee were an uplifting part of the evening, playing banger after banger, before being brought back during the encore for a energetic end to the Stranger tour.
In an interview with Complex, Yung Lean called his past album, Stranger, his Pet Sounds and, though I do not count myself as a devoted fan who can chronicle his growth from a young (yung?) teenager dropping tracks from his parent's house, it is pretty easy to see how he has developed lyrically, rhythmically, and emotionally from his earlier days. Despite his belief that he has peaked in this era, his set included a lot of his classics, if songs from the early 2010's can be called classics. Perhaps this was a choice to pacify his fans, who have stuck with him through many artistic phases and life crises, but it sent the message that Yung Lean was not, by any means, attempting to bury his meme-y roots.
Where Thaiboy Digital and Bladee seemed to know that their job was to keep the crowd excited, Yung Lean was not afraid to shift the mood many times. Sometimes this meant a lull in the concert, but this was a lull I was occasionally grateful for because my face is the perfect height for being shoved into sweaty hoods of various sweatshirts. Accompanied by large inflatable sad boys on either side of the stage, as well as an audience member that clambered up to join him, Yung Lean sang favorites like "Afghanistan," "Kyoto," and "Oreomilkshake" as well as the most successful song from his new album, "Red Bottom Sky" and a personal favorite from Stranger, "Metallic Intuition."
Stranger is worth a listen, though I'm sure that some of the weaker moments translated better to a hazy, crowded, venue and the excitement of live music than, say, listening on a bus or a morning run. Maybe Yung Lean's insistence that he is producing his best work now is not surprising, given that someone who markets themselves as a sad boy while relying on cliche to the point of absurdism will eventually have to have a reckoning where he decides if he wants to be viewed as a serious artist or a novelty. Or maybe he is just not a teenager anymore and his music reflects the growth and trauma of maturing in the public eye.
Either way, this concert showcased both tortured artist Yung Lean and quirky weird Yung Lean from the internet, and proved that, though neither of those facets were life-changing for me, both were pretty solid. Bra jobb Yung Lean!