From Kanye West to Justin Bieber to Future, pop-up shops selling streetwear-inspired artist merch have flooded New York City. Over the past few months, stans and shoppers have lined up and down the city streets, all looking to cop the latest tees and hoodies from their favorite artists. As we’ve reported in the past, a healthy amount of those also snatching up product are resellers looking to make a quick buck. Coupled with artist merch reaching a near-saturation point, the question asked might be whether or not we have reached the time when too much of a good thing is simply too much; do people still care about merch? We decided to go down to Drake’s “Summer Sixteen” pop-up to find out. And what we actually found was a crowd full of dedicated fans—people who were there for Drake and his merch, not for the money.
When we asked, the crowd gathered made sure it was clear we knew that they were Drake fans, first and foremost. We ran into a group of friends who had arrived on the scene at 3:30am. “I’m here because I love Drake,” one member of the group, named Julian, told us. His friend agreed. “Yeah, I haven’t been to those other pop-ups,” he said. “I’m here because it’s Drake. Drake’s my dad.”
Because the line appeared to be full of Drake lovers rather than resellers, most didn't have the intention of leaving with armloads of clothing. Most shoppers we spoke to said they were willing to drop around $200, much lower than what we had been told at Kanye’s The Life of Pablo New York pop-up in March, where $600 seemed to be the average, anecdotally. $200 was enough to get about two Summer Sixteen hoodies, so when we saw people leaving the shop with more than two items, we had to ask if they planned to resell anything they bought. The resounding answer was no. One shopper named Vernon, age 23, said, “This is strictly for me. I’m not a reseller. I don’t want anybody in this line to kill me.” In fact, the interest in reselling Drake’s merch was so low, that another fan named Brian, who had driven in from Connecticut, stated that “there’s no way this stuff is reselling for as much as Pablo merch.”
Listings that have sprung up on eBay seem to support that. There are currently 115 items, and they're all going for only slightly over retail price.
For some attendees, this was their first artist merch pop-up of the season. A vast majority of people we spoke to didn’t bother going to Kanye or Bieber’s shops, so they weren’t aware that others would be camping out here. A majority of the people in line who spoke to us had tickets to Drake’s concert that night at Madison Square Garden, too, a stark difference from what we found earlier this year at Bieber’s Purpose Tour pop-up, for example. The general consensus was that the product selection here would be better than at MSG. As an OVO fan named Joe told us, “Sometimes, the merch at the concert is trash, so I’m just buying it here."
Among the crowd, there was a clear favorite piece: The simple black hoodie with yellow lettering spelling out “Revenge” seemed to show up in nearly every shopper’s bag. Available for less than $100, it was accessible to most people, even those with a tight budget.
Since this pop-up proved to be a testament to the fact that people will show up for an artist they love, we asked if there’s any other talent who would make them want to stand on the sidewalk for hours in the sweltering city heat. The answers were all over the place, from Lorde and Banks, to Kid Cudi and Lil Uzi Vert. But everyone agreed that a certain Atlanta rapper would be most deserving of his own temporary retail hotspot. “Definitely Young Thug,” said Vernon. “He has a great sense of style.”
In a time when it seems like streetwear is overrun with people trying to cash in, it was refreshing to see people come out and simply support an artist that they loved so much, rather than coming out strictly to buy and sell. Despite the abundance of merch pop-ups, concert merch is still important to fans as a memento of a specific place in their favorite artist’s career. And given the long lines the pop-ups still attract, it’s a significant place in a fan’s personal schedule, too.