Boy bands come in all shapes and sizes. On one side, there are the K-pop groups like BTS and EXO who deliver futuristic sounds and insane choreography; on the other side, there are western groups like NSYNC and One Direction who emphasize heavily on individualistic songwriting and ability. Despite these differences, the music that many boy bands release is usually commercial, with an end goal of trying to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. Most boy bands who have made their debut in recent years have become cookie-cutter as a result, making it hard to distinguish one from the other. There are groups like these, and then there’s BROCKHAMPTON.
BROCKHAMPTON was created in 2010 under the name AliceSinceForever before rebranding to the current name years later. Some of the group’s members had met before as teenagers, as they attended the same high school in The Woodlands, Texas; the rest of the members were recruited on a Kanye West forum. The group released several tracks from 2014 to 2016 before releasing their debut mixtape All-American Trash. While there were some decent slow-burners and smooth hooks on this project, it was rough around the edges as a whole and easily forgettable. It wasn’t until the following year that BROCKHAMPTON burst their way through the scene and skyrocketed in popularity.
With the help of Viceland’s series that focused on the boy band as well as praise from music critic Anthony Fantano, BROCKHAMPTON’s debut album SATURATION created massive tidal waves within the industry. This album was a clear showcase of what each band member was capable of and what makes them so unique, and it presented a style that was unheard of. This is mainly in part due to founding member Ian Simpson a.k.a Kevin Abstract and his feverishly inventive imagination. As an openly gay black man, Kevin is very familiar with what it’s like to be different from most people; he embraces these qualities in his songwriting rather than shy away from them, and this forward-thinking spills over into the band’s music.
Dom McClennon is BROCKHAMPTON’s best lyricist. Compared to the rest of the band members, his songwriting is the most eloquent and consistent. Each one of his verses is complex, but also full of substance. He is able to translate his stream of consciousness into lyrics that are rhythmic and metrical, and they have a great deal of emotional weight attached to them. In a similar way, Russell “Joba” Boring also delivers a lot of emotionally charged verses. However, he prefers to lay everything out on the table and be as straightforward as possible. What makes him really stand out is his versatility. Joba is vocally capable of just about anything; he can scream at the top of his lungs like a true maniac on one track and gently sing on another. He is the true wildcard of BROCKHAMPTON, and his unpredictability keeps the listener’s attention throughout every track.
Merlyn Wood is also capable of being versatile throughout his features. While he isn’t as extreme as Joba, Merlyn brings the most amount of hype in each track he’s on. His lyrics are the grooviest, and even though they may not appear it, they have a lot of depth and meaning contained within them. Matt Champion is an underdog among the vocalists; he chooses where to sit back and let others do the work on some songs and shine on others. Tracks like RENTAL and 1997 DIANA are perfect examples of where he unlocks his true potential and steals the show. Lastly, Ciarán “Bearface” McDonald gives BROCKHAMPTON that traditional boy band feel. He was originally known for writing the band’s closing tracks, but he has taken on a more prominent role in their recent projects. He has rapped on their newer releases, but his singing is where he truly comes into his own. Bearface has a distinguishable singing voice, and the softer composition on plenty of his features acts as the rainwater that puts out the fire caused by the other group members, creating a comfortable steam that warms the listener.
Each one of BROCKHAMPTON’s vocalists has a distinct quality or characteristic that no one else can match, but at the same time, no one member creates an imbalance within a track. Every single one of these artists jell perfectly with one another. This was first made evident in their debut album SATURATION, released in June 2017. SATURATION was an immensely colorful arrangement of performances and slick, layered production, which is credited to producers Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, and Kiko Merley. The beginning of this album is aggressive and heavy-hitting, with tracks like HEAT, STAR, and BOYS delivering high-octane energy. As the album progresses, the tracks become more gentile; MILK, FACE, and WASTE carry a softer vibe that evoke the listener’s emotions and are perfect closing tracks for the album.
SATURATION is the perfect blend of hip-hop, RNB, pop, and even sprinkles of indie rock. The album’s success can arguably be credited to BROCKHAMPTON’s sheer size and diversity, and this dynamic creates a style that cannot be unmatched by any other group. This also explains why they refer to themselves as a boy band rather than a hip-hop group like Run-DMC; they hope to redefine the meaning of “boy band”, a sign reflective of their persistent progressiveness. Even though SATURATION was a major success, BROCKHAMPTON didn’t stop there. They released a sequel album titled SATURATION II in August 2017 (two months after their previous album), and then another album following that one called SATURATION III in December. Both of these follow-up albums expanded upon the sounds that were present in the first one and showed how each member slowly evolved with their music. No band of their kind has ever released a set of projects so close within one another that were as great and consistent as these. The SATURATION trilogy is sure to remain a hallmark within the music industry, and BROCKHAMPTON experienced a surge of fame and stardom they had presumed to never attain.
A few months after the SATURATION trilogy, BROCKHAMPTON had announced they signed a deal with RCA Records. Everything had fallen into place for them to plot out their next successful run of projects. Unfortunately, things would take a dark turn. In May of 2018, several women had spoken up against ex-member Ameer Vann, accusing him of mental and emotional abuse. The group had kicked him out after they discovered that he had been lying to them in regards to these allegations, and this put them dramatically off course. They had cancelled all of their remaining tour dates, including a performance at the Governor’s Ball Music Festival, and their fourth planned album Puppy had been completely scrapped.
No one knew when BROCKHAMPTON would be releasing new music again. However, just two short months later, they announced a new radio show called Things We Lost in the Fire, where they premiered three new standalone tracks. It was also revealed that they would be working on new music, which would be put on an upcoming album later known as iridescence. Recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London over the span of ten days, iridescence came out in September of 2018. This album features the most experimental and bombastic production ever created by the group, but it was also the group’s most inconsistent. Plenty of the album’s bangers felt gimmicky compared to those from SATURATION, but the softer songs featured in the second half are some of their best yet; SAN MARCOS is guaranteed to put a tear in your eye when listening to it.
Despite not being as focused as their previous works, iridescence is still a powerful statement from BROCKHAMPTON. The fact that these guys were able to come together after the roughest period in the group’s history and still make a good album in a short amount of time is proof that they excel at adaptability and are showing constant maturation. They were not just revisiting or reusing old concepts but instead gave us a window of what they have got in mind moving forward.
The band took a much-needed hiatus in the first half of 2019, although Kevin Abstract released a solo album called ARIZONA BABY in April. Later that summer, they announced a new studio project titled GINGER, which would be released in August. GINGER was a return to the consistency that they had unknowingly deviated from with iridescence, and it featured the group’s most somber and emotional work yet. It seemed like here they were finally able to navigate their feelings from the Ameer Vann controversy and pack them together comprehensively, as shown in the song DEARLY DEPARTED where they seem to address it head-on. It was through this track where Dom McClennon revealed that Ameer had set up one of his friends to be robbed, the most shocking revelation to the listener. It also features SUGAR, the group’s most popular song to date.
By now it seems pretty obvious what makes BROCKHAMPTON so unique from all the other boy bands. They are the most diverse group of artists and talent yet, and unlike the vast majority of boy bands, they are not afraid of being as open and raw as possible. They address sensitive topics like homophobia, racism and racial injustice, and even feelings of depression and emotional doubt; they’re also more than welcoming of people from all different backgrounds who have experienced these issues firsthand. They are certainly redefining the definition of what a boy band is and what it even means to be one.
It is uncertain what BROCKHAMPTON’s future looks like. So far in 2020, they have only released a few new songs under a secret account outside of RCA’s control called Technical Difficulties Radio. Some of these tracks like baby bull and fishbone are pretty solid, but no one knows for sure if this is a taste of what is to come from BROCKHAMPTON. Whether these guys decide to stick together for the foreseeable future or not, it is more than clear enough that they have cemented their footprint within the music world, and people should keep an eye on these artists and producers for what they may have in store individually.
(Cover Photo: NME)