It’s been almost a year since Yung Lean embarked on the White Marble Tour in 2014, and a hell of a lot has happened since then. His UK live debut at the 250 capacity venue Birthdays in London is a stark contrast to his upcoming show at the Barbican, which has a capacity of almost 2000. The show is pretty much sold-out at this point, and it looks to be his biggest performance yet. Yung Lean deserves this success.
Misunderstood from the beginning, Lean has had a weird path to success. Gaining fame due to his outsider status and Tumblr-driven visuals, he’s come a long way in the two years since he emerged. His aesthetic has shifted slightly, his music has improved, and he’s performing to bigger audiences. Even if his shows now attract bandwagon Tumblr princesses and vain dudes in wavy clothes, there’s no doubting the progression he’s made as an entertainer and an artist.
During his show last night in Bristol, UK, Lean performed alongside hypeman Bladee with a sense of commitment that even some of the biggest rappers don’t bring to the stage. Between getting as close to the audience as possible and sad squatting during the opening of pseudo-ballad “Leanworld,” he’s committed to putting on an entertaining show.
Things have changed since he performed in the UK last year: there was moshing to “Volt,” all over black Nike outfits, and girls were screaming at the sight of him. The subculture that he created has mutated into an appropriation of his early aesthetic-heavy music videos, and Lean has seemingly moved on from this already. Before the gig even started, kids with vacuous looks on their faces were mumbling, “Oh man, this show is going to be so sad.” But Lean’s existence is well past irony at this point, and the jokes his fans are repeating ad-nauseam aren’t funny anymore.
Lean came out wearing sparkly Ed Hardy style jeans and a relatively normal t-shirt, proving how much he’s over Photoshop edits of Fiji water labels and CGI internet landscapes. The appeal isn’t all about his aesthetic anymore, and any hints of irony are gone completely by the time he takes to the stage to perform. Sure, his squats and surreal lyricism still provoke a laugh or two, but his performance is no different from that of any of successful hip-hop artist hellbent on delivering for the ticket-buying audience.
Many of the infatuated fans, however, took things a bit too far. The fashion choices were certainly severe, but the lack of respect for Lean’s music demonstrated by so many of his “fans” was surprising. At one point during the gig, around twenty people stormed the stage, and Lean didn’t appear too happy about it. So desperate for their chance to dance with their favorite internet phenomenon, crowd members were climbing over each other and attempting to take selfies with Yung Lean.
He was having none of it, clearly looking annoyed at those who thought it’d be alright to make their way on stage with him, as if their Tumblrs dedicated to reblogging pictures of Arizona Ice Tea warranted them the chance to do so. It was a weird situation, and it even lead to me getting kicked in the eye. Concert goers that only care about themselves are common these days, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a show where the fans were as confrontational and vain as this one.
Regardless of the fans, Lean continued to put on a great show, returning everything to normal as he requested everyone leave the stage. A few people pushed their luck and stayed on the sidelines before security intervened, but Lean didn’t seem to be too bothered by what was happening around him. His selection of songs was on point, with some unpredictable selections and the usual bangers intertwined. It might not have had the accuracy and focus of a Run The Jewels show, but it did have every bit the energy of a performance from Danny Brown.
Regardless of his music’s intentions, it’s pretty clear now that Lean is in it for the long haul. His initial performance in the UK felt a little bit surreal, as if the internet had come to life, whereas this show seemed more like a pit stop on a long journey that’s far from done yet. Lean is no longer an internet artist at this point, he’s just another modern artist making outsider music that appeals to misfits worldwide.