What exactly makes a band a “boy band?” Perhaps it’s uniform dancing, youthful harmonies, or a primarily teenage audience fawning over members in hysterical fashion. Maybe it’s simply the presence of five or more “boys” in the group itself or the collective group emitting a certain pop-music sound. There doesn’t seem to be a particular set of criteria that defines a band as a “boy band,” but despite the commercial success that usually accompanies the moniker, the label has become one that is strenuously avoided by some bands that want to be considered “serious” musicians.
BROCKHAMPTON, however, is not one of those bands. Rather than steer clear of the label, the band leans fully into the boy band persona in an attempt to redefine its meaning. Founded in 2010 by singer Kevin Abstract, the 13-member collective is defined by its abundance of diversity. The current lineup consists of vocalists Abstract, Dom McLennon, Matt Champion, Russell “Joba” Boring, Ciarán “Bearface” McDonald, and Merlyn Wood; producers Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, and Kiko Merley; designers Henock “HK” Sileshi and Robert “Roberto” Ontenient; photographer Ashlan Grey; and manager Jon Nunes.
BROCKHAMPTON is not your typical boy band for reasons that extend beyond its large size. The band is diverse in its members’ array of different races, sexualities, musical stylings, and overall outlooks on their future in the music industry. The band’s tenure comes to a close with its final and most recent album release ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, which debuted on Friday.
It’s nearly impossible to classify BROCKHAMPTON’s music into one genre given the wide variety of styles showcased across its six previous albums, but hip-hop probably best represents the band’s focus. Its music is characterized by aggressive rap and deeply introspective lyrics alongside poppy melodies and feelings of self-loathing. The band’s music has swayed between darker and lighter tones as they mature together as a band and independently as artists. BROCKHAMPTON’s 2018 album iridescence was energetic. Its 2019 album GINGER was filled with lyrical poignancy interwoven with smooth rap. ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE is an impeccable mix of the two previous albums’ styles.
ROADRUNNER starts off rough with the opening track, “BUZZCUT” featuring rapper Danny Brown. Released as the first single off the album at the end of March, “BUZZCUT” is a distinctly angry track. Layered over scratchy-sounding backing tracks, the band speeds through rap lyrics that disclose struggles with identity, race in America, its place in the music industry, and even a mention of the pandemic as the band sings, “A platinum record not gon’ keep my black ass out of jail” and “I love my mother, drove all the way to Cali’ just to check up on me / Made her go home, felt the virus.”
While this has worked in the past for BROCKHAMPTON—see “BERLIN” and “NEW ORLEANS” off of iridescence—listening to “BUZZCUT” is sort of like listening to nails on a chalkboard. That’s not to say the lyrics aren’t great—they are—but the song is lacking with its chaotic blend of beats on its backtrack. Thankfully, the album picks up immediately following the ending of “BUZZCUT.”
“CHAIN ON,” featuring rapper JPEGMAFIA, is a smooth-sounding track full of clever and powerful wordplay backed by a catchy electro riff and Abstract’s gruff vocals channeled into the song’s chorus. As McLennon raps, “Hangin’ from a chandelier in Babylon / We don’t believe in white gods, they gettin’ rattled on.” McLennon’s voice is saturated in austerity and pride while he sings on this track. “CHAIN ON” is a song that shows the band members contemplating the state of the world. It isn’t just a song that should be listened to, but also one that requires contemplation over topics from the political and racial polarization in America to ideas about male friendship.
The rest of ROADRUNNER follows suit, drawing listeners into the band’s lyrical precision and vulnerabilities. Standouts include the single “COUNT ON ME” as well as “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY,” the former of which is a wildly catchy tune about old friendship and features lyrics co-written by A$AP Rocky and vocals from Shawn Mendes. In comparison, “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY” is a sardonic plea about gun violence and racism in the United States, on which Abstract opens the song rapping “All-American self-hatred runs deep / White boys all I see whenever I sleep.”
Ultimately, ROADRUNNER is a perfect exit for BROCKHAMPTON. With over a decade of trailblazing behind it, the group finally finds its identity, as the album hones its hip-hop sound on its way out. Although the band will be missed, its music will live on in infamy—as many of the best boy bands’ music does.
Photo Courtesy of Def Jam Recordings