The boys of BROCKHAMPTON would like you to refer to them as, per the group’s founder Kevin Abstract’s words, “the best boy band in the motherf-ckin’ world.” After just three songs into their set on Sunday night — with the entire crowd chanting along at ear-piercing volume, with girls, boys and non-binary folks alike in the front row hoisting signs of adoration, with security rescuing exhausted fans from the front row and handing out bottles of water to others — the description certainly fit.
For the uninitiated, BROCKHAMPTON is a Los Angeles-via-Texas 17-member collective made up of rappers, singers, videographers, producers and designers who have amassed a young, adoring fanbase from their self-released, self-produced mixtapes and music videos. Their oldest member is 24, they are multiracial, queer and straight, and wildly prolific. Up to nine of them, at any given moment, were on stage last night, Sep. 24, at the Social Hall in San Francisco — their first show ever in the city.
Perhaps it would be fitting to pinpoint each boy, as with any boy band, through mere archetype. Of the collective’s seven singers and rappers, you’ve got Kevin, the group’s de facto leader and hypeman; JOBA, who’s got the sweet Timberlake falsetto; Dom, the man with the quick tongue and the wit to match; Matt, the stoic; Ameer, the man with the hooks; Merlyn, the dynamite stick of the group; and Bearface, the token balladeer.
But this undersells BROCKHAMPTON’s biggest strength. The thing that, beyond individual selling points, makes this nebulous agglomerate of teens and twentysomethings worth keeping an eye on as their star invariably rises: They genuinely care for each other, and by necessity, they really, truly make each other better. Best of all, they might just make the crowd better too.
The night, as with every stop on their inaugural tour thus far, was a showcase of their exuberant mutual enthusiasm, mouthing each other’s verses, ensuring that everyone in the group gets their individual shine. Really, what other rap collective would cede the stage entirely for one of its members to perform an alt-rock guitar ballad about a gay summer romance, complete with teenage audience-members waving actual lighters in support?
Pitchfork ratings be damned, they’re putting on one of the most dynamic, vivacious and celebratory shows — rap, boy band, or otherwise — I’ve seen in a long time. (On that note, the shirts that are adorned with the middling Pitchfork review of SATURATION were a nice touch. So too was the “F-ck Pitchfork” chant early on in the set.)
Nearly everyone in the crowd sang and rapped and moshed along the entire set, a feat that would be less impressive if they hadn’t dropped two mixtapes in the past six months, with a third coming in mid-October. For at least three songs — “JUNKY,” “GOLD,” and “STAR,” by my tally — there was hardly a person in the room that wasn’t, at the very least, singing along to the endless barrage of hooks they’ve snuck into nearly every song. (Or, in the case of “STAR,” singing along at least seven times — an act of Jay-Ye-inspired wish fulfillment.)
And this is what makes shows like this one so electric. BROCKHAMPTON's unabashed glee at hearing their lyrics recited back to them reverberated back to the crowd. I, for one, couldn’t stop grinning.
Their sense of humor — weird, snarky and profoundly goofy at once — certainly did amplify the delirious feeling of the evening. At one point, they burst into that move-it-move-it theme song from Madagascar, before commanding everyone in the crowd — yes, even the security — to “shake their ass.” Then, they dedicated the whole song, “JELLO,” in honor of One Direction, a song that, of course, features a line about “making out with Zayn in a lawn chair.”
In all fairness, BROCKHAMPTON will probably never become a boy band to the magnitude of their idols. But I could believe that they’re the best one, if only because, for a minute, they got a critical mass of teens to sing along to lines like that. Where else would I have heard hundreds of young fans rap along to Kevin’s “I don’t f-ck with no white boys / ‘Less that n-gga’s Shawn Mendes” line in “STAR” once, let alone seven times?
This is the level of total openness and radical acceptance that the biggest boy bands, the ones engineered by The X-Factor brain trust, could only hope for.
BROCKHAMPTON plays the Social Hall in San Francisco again on Sunday, Oct. 1. The show is sold out.