Rise of the sadboy: Yung Lean’s place within pop culture

Photo Courtesy of Molly Kiefer/ Pioneer LOg
Photo Courtesy of Molly Kiefer/ Pioneer Log

BY CADE MILLER

YUNG LEAN is the perfect example of an artist that could’ve only existed and rose to prominence through the power of the internet and meme culture. Known by most as “that weird guy with the bucket hat who’s always drinking Arizona iced tea,” Lean (real name Jonatan Aron Leandoer Håstad) achieved mainstream success after his music video for “Ginseng Strip 2002” went viral in early 2013, with the focus being centered on his slow, off-kilter rapping style and unique aesthetic. The mixtapes “Unknown Death 2002” and the “Lavender EP” followed shortly after. In 2014, he released his debut album, “Unknown Memory,” and the well-known single “Kyoto,” and he is currently on tour in support of his new album “Warlord,” which just dropped this past February.

Saying that Yung Lean is a controversial figure would be the understatement of the century. Since the release of “Ginseng Strip 2002,” countless music blogs and reviewers have decried his music as “not being hip hop” and focusing on style over substance. While there is some truth to the second criticism, it cannot be denied that Lean fills a niche in hip hop that makes him stand out from his musical peers. Whether you take him seriously or not, he serves as an important figure in the progression of pop culture; not to mention his perseverance in making the music he wants to make despite the abundance of detractors is nothing short of inspiring.

On April 1, Lean played a show at the Hawthorne Theatre. The venue itself was pretty good overall, serving as an intimate space for a smaller-scale show. There was plenty of complimentary ice water, as well as space to breathe and dance. My only complaint was that it was horrendously ventilated, and before the show had even started I was already drenched in sweat. Thaiboy Digital, frequent collaborator and member of fellow Sweden-based crew Gravity Boys, served as the opener, and he was … OK. His voice was heavily auto-tuned and his lyrics unintelligible, however he did bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy that the crowd really fed off of; his set was also incredibly short, clocking in at only about 20 minutes, ensuring that he didn’t outstay his welcome. After some time of gleeful anticipation, Yung Lean himself took the stage with his in-house producer, Yung Sherman (as far as I could tell, Yung Gud was not there). And he killed it. They played a good amount of new material (which I’m personally not a big fan of) as well as performing fan favorites such as “Yoshi City,” “Kyoto,” “Sandman,” and “Ice Cold Smoke.” Plus, for an encore he made the crowd to lose their minds (myself included) by performing “Hurt” and “Ginseng Strip 2002.”

Yung Lean has an admirably unique style and sensibility, but he also treats his fans very well and knows how to put on a great show. Even if you have only a passing interest in Lean, or perhaps listen to him “ironically,” I highly recommend going to see him live next time he’s in town; it’s a ton of fun, and you’ll have a terrific story to tell your friends and future generations, who’ll probably just give you a confused look and say something along the lines of “Wait, you mean that weird guy with the bucket hat who’s always drinking Arizona iced tea?”

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