Boy Band Breakdown: Brockhampton

Boy Band Breakdown is a series of articles that look into how iconic boy bands as we know them today came to be. From The Jackson 5 to BTS, musical styles, production, and theatricality around boy bands have changed drastically but a core formula that dictates what they are, still exists. They’ve been around for decades and are products of the market forces of music, creativity, demand and supply. In this article we look at Brockhampton, and the DIY, collaborative approach to boy bands.

A boy band like Brockhampton has not existed before. They don’t have the corporate polish of One Direction, nor the spectacle of BTS. But, they have the creative strength of 14 members including musicians, rappers, photographers, filmmakers, and producers that all come together to create every aspect of the boy band. A record label has not had a say in what they make, how they make it, and how they reach their audience.

How then, has this boy band managed to be successful? Can they even be called a boy band? Why do their fans love them as much as they do?

Because of the internet

Brockhampton has one of the most interesting origin stories of any group in the age of the internet. Founding member Clifford Ian Simpson, who goes by the stage name Kevin Abstract (he also has a dope solo career with new releases expected this month), posted on a forum about Kanye West in 2014 talking about wanting to add members to a group he was already a part of. The resulting entity would go on to become, in their own words, “the best boy band since One Direction”.

They released a few singles and a mixtape, All American Trash, in 2015 and 2016, but their breakout year was 2017. They dropped their first album three full-length albums that year, toured extensively, had a show made about them, and began working on their next album.

 

But the success of the first three albums, the Saturation trilogy, wasn’t simply because the albums were made available to audiences and they played shows to support them. A large part of the band’s success is to be found in their music videos. Each one from the Saturation trilogy ties into others and is different from what you might expect from a music video.

The role of the visual-focused members of Brockhampton cannot be understated. The videos they produce are connected through narrative and aesthetic, and because they do not take themselves too seriously, fans have been able to engage with the world that Brockhampton tried to build.

People really enjoyed the boy band, and it showed. But with how different their sound is, and how far removed from the clean, sanitized realm of conventional boy bands they are, can you even call them a boy band?

Are they really a boy band?

Of course, you can.

Their sound might be about as far away from the straight-jacketed pop music boy bands have become associated with as it possibly can be. But that doesn’t make them any less of a boy band. Brockhampton is a group of boys that make music together.

But really, the thing that makes Brockhampton a boy band is them saying so. Members have, in the past, talked about how the idea of calling themselves a boy band is a reclamation of the word. The idea of what a boy band could be was very narrow. By building up everything about the band themselves, they change the idea of what that term means.

The expansion of the idea of a boy band doesn’t stop there though. If you think about who Brockhampton calls a member, you see just how different that is from any other boy band out there. The idea that your producers and music video directors are equal collaborators in the group is massive. It truly gives you a sense of how much goes into creating a boy band’s image and the people that don’t normally figure into it.

Why people love them

Things like this make Brockhampton incredibly relatable for people that listen to them. This relatability is part of the reason that they have managed to build and sustain a massive fan base. The boy band’s lyrics have the same effect.

Far from rapping about an imaginary lover or about how much they love someone (I’m looking at you, One Direction), some of the themes Brockhampton’s lyrics deal with are queerness, ambition, drugs, and loss (sometimes though they’re just having a good time). The lyrics are delivered with a good deal of vulnerability and honesty that only help convey what they’re trying to say.

 

Another reason the band wins fans easily is by proving that they’re not just all talk, and aren’t afraid to do what they feel is right. When allegations of sexual abuse came out against member Ameer Vann, the group removed him. This is something that the band’s base appreciated when it happened because it showed that an integral member of the band was not above facing the consequence for his actions, and the rest of the band wouldn’t stand by and enable it.

Brockhampton’s fourth album Iridescence is part of the Best Days of Our Lives trilogy and released in September 2018. While no word on when the next album will drop, given the band’s work ethic, it shouldn’t be too long from now.