The angelic shine of his rounded cheeks and bright sea green eyes are counteracted by his burning red hair, and the scad of tattoos covering his neck, forearms, and hands, that peek out from beneath his black button-up.
He is dressed like a low-level waiter from an upscale steakhouse.
He looks good.
It’s a warm night in late January, and I’m standing outside the Bluebird Theatre on Colfax Ave., in downtown Denver, Colorado. It’s in the lower forties (that’s warm for Colorado), and it is clear no one is appropriately dressed for the weather. They are clearly uncomfortable waiting in line.
“So like, who listens to him?” Tan asks us, as she looks from me to my brother.
I look at my brother, Joel, who is sporting a Chicago Bulls snap-back and a gnarly 80’s purple and aqua-marine geometric sweater, his brows knit in thought. Suddenly, a large discordant procession of white teenage boys pass by us. All have different lengths of waving hair, flowing with the airs of self-entitlement. They are wearing slim jeans distraught with rips and holes, and size L t-shirts that hang off their intentionally gangly frames. Each of them has a unique walk: some throw their shoulders to the rhythmic swaying of their neck, while others keep their necks taut, and gulp their adams apples as they swing their barely-toned arms to and fro. They laugh as they make their way behind us to the back of the line that has now curved around the corner of the block. Joel and I look at each other knowingly. I answer Tan, “That. Them, (motioning with my thumb) that’s the target audience right there.”
We are about 10 steps from the entrance, when the two guys behind us light a joint and pass it between them. I step forward slightly, not wanting them to burn the ends of my loose hair off. I look toward the front of the line, shifting my feet, hoping that this slight movement will warm my cold limbs. I stand on my tippy toes and peer ahead to the front of the line, it hasn’t moved. I grab my phone and snap a picture of the theatre sign, “SOLD OUT YUNG LEAN AND SAD BOYS.”
The two girls in front of us are about my height, but I have at least five years on both of them. I wonder if they need a fake ID. This was a 16+ concert, and you needed ID to get in. One of girls peers back at me with a look of “you want something?” and I quickly divert my gaze to the window on my left. Did she hear me? Ha! I shake my head and peer around careful to avoid her in my line of sight.
Once we pass the bouncer, who looks barely 23 and who seems very dissatisfied with his night so far, we enter the theatre. The entry way is crowded, with the original ticket counter make-shifted into a merch booth. It is covered with black, blue and red shirts with the title of Yung Lean’s third studio album on them, Stranger. We decide to buy merch after the show. If there’s any left by then.
We clear the entryway and walk into the theatre. My hand is securely attached to the back of my brother’s sweatshirt. The inside is small, about the size of average church youth room. A small crowd has collected to the front by the base of the stage, in the “pit,” and above in the standing area that is separated by a railing and two sets of stairs on the right and left sides.
The stage is dimly lit and barren except for two podiums that sit in the back corners. They test the array of colorful lights that shine from above. Blue, red, and purple. The sound guy, we fittingly call “Lean’s Cousin” looks strangely like the Swedish rapper, and is speaking lowly into the main mic staring down the guy in the sound booth on the other side of the room. Music is playing overhead on the speakers, and the lyrics seem to line up with the movement of his lips.
“Just imagine if this is the show. Like, he’s just up there singin’,” Joel jokes.
“He’s good. His mouth is barely moving,” I respond.
We laugh, and consider this for a short moment. No one seems to be paying any attention to the maintenance work taking place on stage. Everyone’s probably too strung out to notice anything over the dim lights and blaring music. As I look back down on the “pit” below me, a girl standing directly beneath me blows her chunks. Ewwhh. The vomit ricochets off the hard floor and licks the shoes of the guy in front of her. He groans in disgust and looks down at his bright Reebok Club C Vintage sneakers, that are now unclean and speckled with alcoholic vomit. It’s natural yellowish gray color is illuminated by the flickering blue and red lights overhead, as Yung Lean’s opener takes the stage.
Thaiboy Digital, which as his name would suggest, is of Thai descent, has a complexion of dark caramel, complimented by plum lips and a buzzed down Mohawk. He is Yung Lean’s “opener,” touring with him on his “Stranger” tour, with a voice that is older [than Yung Lean’s], a flow more uneven, and a stage presence that is un-matched by his counter-parts.
Wow. He is good. I stand on the balcony, in awe of Thaiboy Digital and the unknown lyrics he is shouting out. The sole purpose of an opener is to pump up the audience and get them excited for the following performance and Thaiboy Digital was doing just that. He just peeled offstage, taking off his red hoodie with “Yung Lean & Sad Boys” encrusted on the front (reppin’ the merchandise), leaving on a black and red striped scarf that reads “Stranger”. You cannot possibly have a bad time with Thaiboy Digital around, as seen by his performance. The majority of the audience doesn’t know his songs, but this doesn’t deter his enthusiasm. He convinces us to participate by ecstatically jumping up and down and chanting his vocals in an easy learnable repetition, “Baby yr so beautiful, what you want a marriage for?”
He congratulates us on our participation, and our energy as an audience and walks offstage. There is a slight stirring in the crowd, and the pit starts “moshing” with the overhead music in stifled excitement for the main show. As the “moshing” grows, I peer around curiously, taking in the images that fill my eyes. There is a (different) girl below me in the “mosh-pit” that is trying to shield herself from the harsh jolting motion of the “moshers”. She is with her friend, but is clearly unhappy and has tears running down her cheeks. It’s probably cuz you’re standing in vomit, honey. She is right on the vomit spill, but now it is mixed with some type of detergent, which has reduced the noticeable smell. Before her tears can mix and rehydrate the dried vomit, she exits the “mosh-pit.”
Lean’s cousin is on stage again, with two other stage hands setting out water bottles and two cans of soda on each of the mixing podiums. Got to keep the mixers happy. And hydrated. The tension is thick in the room, and the people in the “mosh-pit” are getting slightly bothered by Yung Lean’s apparent stalling. Three young guys start chanting his stage name, but stop out of sheer embarrassment when only a few people join them.
My fingers tap on the wooden railing of the balcony to an unrecognizable song with obnoxious bass that plays over the speakers. The stage hands are moving to and from the back of the curtains that shield the backroom of the stage. My eyes follow them and I see a glint of red. My breathe halts in my throat. I spin back to Tan, who is absentmindedly dancing to the music, “I saw HIM! I SAW HIM!” I don’t wait for her reaction to my statement, and spin back to face the stage, craning my neck to see behind the swaying curtain. The guy besides me smiles, tapping me with his elbow, “The PINK HAIR? I saw the pink hair!” I nod enthusiastically, and agree, “Yea!! The pink hair!”
Yung Lean is the Frank Sinatra of this Rat Pack posse called “The Sad Boys.” He has retired his usual stage dress; gothic-hoodlum costumes of overcoats, graphic XL tees, horrific face-paint for a prototypical uniform of a black button-up, black belt, black slacks and ugly black tennis shoes.
As he runs on stage his “pink” almost red hair roars like a fire underneath the red pulsing lights. He is followed out by two bashful looking giants, Yung Sherman and Yung Gud. They are Yung Lean’s mixers and they take their positions behind the podiums.
Yung Sherman looks like one of those classic unidentifiably foreign bad guys in a crappy crime movie. He is pale, with severe black greasy hair, an infinitesimal mustache and a sick grin. But tonight, he is hidden under layers. His black and tan coat is zipped completely, with only the area around his eyes and nose showing beneath his drawn-up hood. (Throughout the show he patiently unzips the very top of his coat to take sips from his drink, zipping it right back up afterwards.) His counterpart, and best friend, standing opposite him on the other podium is Yung Gud. Yung Gud is tall, dark and handsome. Unlike Sherman, his hood is off, letting his abounding set of brushed-out curls stretch out in a soft cloud around him. Although almost expressionless during the show, Yung Gud appears relaxed, and even enjoying his time on stage, which complements nicely with Yung Sherman’s brooding appearance.
We are almost eye-level. I had the view that everyone wished they had at any concert, I could see him and he could see me. I couldn’t help smiling and tried to look at him like I would anyone I genuinely liked as a person. Not that it was hard for me. I had been listening to him since 2014, and had grown attached. Not in a “this guy is ‘the second coming’ and someone who I idolize,” but in a “this kid is something, and I like his music” way.
I wanted him to feel the warmth in my eyes. Hey.
The soft noise reminiscent of vintage video games grew as he steadies himself with both hands around the microphone in the center of the stage. As Yung Lean sings the audience slowly sways and a couple people lift up their lighters in the “mosh-pit” which makes me nervous. I re-focuse my attention as he sings “We can go up to the stars, see clouds and fall through, Money in my pocket and you know I want you.” I catch his gaze for a couple of seconds and then lose it. “Hennessy and Sailor Moon, I just wanna be with you.”
Yung Lean tries crowd-surfing. He doesn’t like it. His body-guards really don’t like it.
“Kyoto” is arguably one of Yung Lean’s most known songs, and his fans prove this as they sing every word of the song back to him. I try to do this as well, but I can’t remember all the words so this results in me screaming the ones I do know- “IM WARIO WHEN IM IN MARIO KART”.
He continues to rap at a comfortable speed,
“I don’t wanna be here, my life’s more of it
There’s more of it.
“S-A-D-B-O-Y-S (This part is felt tearing through the room as every voice in the room screams the letters.)
See me in the club with it tatted on my chest
At this point the “mosh-pit” looks like a body of water, people are ramming each-other to the beat of the bass. This is insane. The room shakes with the intense level of the bass and the sound reverberates off the walls and shakes my core.
Some guy tries to “crowd-surf” so he can make his way on stage and do who-knows-what there. As his feet near the stage, one of the stage hands, “Lean’s Cousin” no less, notices this and crouches at the back between the two mixing podiums. The fan makes footing on the stage and “Lean’s Cousin” pounces like a tigress protecting her young, that is Yung Lean, and thrusts him offstage.
The guy next to me and his girlfriend leave and are quickly replaced by those on my left side who want a better view. I notice this and quickly slide to the left to reserve comfortable space for Tan and me to stand at the balcony. This is a mistake. The guy who is insisting on scoot-ching my way is about 5’11′, and weighs over 200lbs, and is blatantly ignoring my attempts of reserving comfortable space to stand. He slowly shifts his body weight toward me, but I try to ignore this and watch the show. After about five long minutes I am unable to ignore the sick sensation of his lingering eyes on my body. My jaw clenches and I move slightly to my right. But he takes this as an invitation and moves closer.
I stare at Yung Lean, trying my hardest to ignore my surroundings. A lady has lit a joint while standing in the middle of the moving “mosh-pit”. I look at the security team on the wings frantically, but they seem oblivious. Wow. Great job guys. I look back down and another person is lighting a joint. In the “mosh-pit.” Are you kidding me?! Onstage Yung Lean is glistening with sweat as he invites Thaiboy back on stage as the growing sound of strings fill my ears. Ahhh! It’s one of the only Thaiboy’s tracks I know by heart, “Diamonds”. As soon as the song hits the chorus, the entire room bursts into rhythmic chanting,
“Got diamonds on my back account, they know where I come from
WHEN I WALK IN THEY THINK LEANY IS A PROBLEM!!”
I scream in response and look over my shoulder at my brother, I mouth “Oh my GOD.” He pumps his fist in response. When I introduced him to Yung Lean this was one of the first songs he listened to, now we were listening to it- Live.
A July baby of the tender age of 22, Yung Lean, whose birth name is Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, hit the vaporwave, cloud rap scene after becoming viral in 2013 for his music video for “Ginseng Strip 2002.” Since gaining recognition for “Ginseng Strip 2002”, “Kyoto”, and “Yoshi City” back in 2013, the Swedish rapper has released three studio albums (six albums in total), with his group, Sad Boys. He produces with his long-time friends Yung Gud and Yung Sherman.
Yung Lean has been described by many, as a soft-cheeked angel who spits dark depressive vocals over hard beats and electronic wave backdrops. This image has been altered through his six plus years of being on the cloud rap scene, with bizarre haircuts (and colors), and the growth of tattoos appearing on his body. These tattoos include “SAD BOYS” tattooed on his chest, “2001 (what he calls one of his most formative year)” and “1996 (his birthdate)” on his outer forearms, as well as his birth name “Lean-doer” across his knuckles. One of his newest is an outline of Pluto, Mickey Mouse’s dog, on the right side of his neck. Tattoos say a lot about a person, and that is important in Yung Lean’s case, because his tattoos ultimately showcase the juxtaposition of the relation between the grimness of his lyrics and his auroral personality.
The show is over before anyone watching realizes. Yung Lean calls Thaiboy on stage (to sing a duet we imagined, if you can call rapping together a duet), who is shaking his head from offstage right. Lean begins mumbling incoherently into the mic, spitting rap jargon about Denver and the crowd that is staring at him expectantly that this has been “great.” People cheer and holler in response, but before we can gift Yung Lean the parting applause and adulations for his performance, he strolls off stage.
There is a pause of confusion and hum of chatter, and then the overhead lights glare on. That is it. A guy starts chanting, and I can only hope it was the same one who had failed previously, “ONE MORE SONG! ONE MORE SONG!” But like before, this chant only grew to 1/3 of its full potential, much like the theatre’s capacity at this “’sold out” venue.
With the lights on, the look of dreaminess is replaced by one of dreariness. People are sweaty, and some stick around in huddles to share what I can only imagine is leftovers of their night’s hit and kick.
Similar to the artificial “high” you get after watching a movie, leaving a concert works in the opposite way, making you feel worse as you walk the street after. God I wish he would’ve done an encore. I grab my sweatshirt from my brother as we walk through the doors to outside. The cold air is now inviting and cools my shaking body, blowing through my hair and down my back. I look down and admire my sweatshirt, it’s the same one Thaiboy Digital wore on stage.
It was $60. But now me, Yung Lean, Thaiboy and the Sadboys all match. That’s priceless.
If you are a listener, or if you are just curious, here is a personal playlist of my favorite Yung Lean tracks: