On the coach journey over to London, I was extremely sceptical about seeing Yung Lean. It had nothing to do with Leandoer or his music – I think Warlord is actually a great album and at this point, Yung Lean has such a substantial back catalogue that I won’t get bored.
My scepticism stemmed partly from my hatred for London – it’s too busy and full of wankers, and that’s often the case with gigs there too. I’m a Midlander living in Southampton, so Birmingham and Manchester are unfortunately out of the question. Secondly – and this is perhaps where my misanthropy really hinders my ability to enjoy live music – Yung Lean fans are insufferable millennials dressed head to toe in streetwear, documenting their entire lives on Snapchat out of fear they’ll cease to exist if they put their fucking phones down.
The awkward young memester from the ‘Ginseng Strip 2002’ video is not the same green-haired guy wearing a dress and shawl combo we see today, but his fans seem to have barely changed. They’ve mostly swapped out bucket hats for dad caps, yet a cursory look around Koko’s exterior confirmed my worst fears – they’re still Tumblr-core losers.
Waiting for support act Adamn Killa, I watched as teenagers that had evidently sold their souls to Palace had an existential crisis. I’m guessing vaping is not allowed inside Koko, because the pain on these kids’ faces as they were forced to keep their billowing vape clouds a secret was palpable. For me, this was the archetypal characteristic of Yung Lean fans – a crippling addiction to being seen by anyone and everyone – and it annoyed the fuck out of me.
Adamn Killa came out and didn’t say much, but he didn’t have to. The crowd mimicked his bounces, turning up just as hard as Adamn. It struck me at this point that I was perhaps being a hugely judgemental cunt. Here was a rapper from Chicago on his first ever supporting tour in the UK, and the crowd I had so much beef with were doing their damn best to make him feel welcome.
Between his set and Yung Lean’s was a lull in which I took the time to carefully analyse everyone around me. Are these people actually alright? Would I be able to hold a conversation with that person wearing a fisherman beanie in a sweltering venue without wanting to throw up? Could that girl with the dickhead fringe actually be my future best friend? I wasn’t about to find out, because I got so lost in analysing other people that the raucous chant of “SBE!” completely sideswiped me as the lights dimmed. The ambient rainforest noises of ‘Hoover’ swelled until the opening clangs signalled the vigorous swaying and circling of the crowd.
I was astounded by the unanimous roars of “WAKE UP WITH SOME LIQUOR IN ME,” because I assumed Yung Lean’s fans would hate Warlord. It’s decidedly darker, weirder and definitely less meme-y. The initial fan base that Yung Lean attracted were drawn in by the Arizona Iced Tea cans and floaty production, and all of that shit is nowhere to be seen on Warlord.
By this point, I knew I had underestimated Yung Lean’s fans. I’d previously heard about a Yung Lean show in Bristol where some fucking idiot in a bucket hat climbed on stage and pretty much ruined the show by being a filthy memelord, and was surrounded by other similar hurr-durr-drugs-and-Arizona shitstains. There were a handful of these types at Koko, but they were definitely a minority at a sold-out show.
I was beginning to understand that Yung Lean’s fans are ride-or-die, and what attracted them to him in the first place wasn’t the memetic and bountiful social capital to be harvested, but the way in which Yung Lean conducted himself, doing what he wanted to do even if it seemed silly to others.
I’m finding it hard not to side with the people I previously held disdain for, because society for young people is vicious. If you’re not doing something different and exciting, you’re nothing – a boring waste of space that is already six feet under. It’s a uniquely awful situation to be in, because on one hand, everything exciting is in our face (Coachella this, Yeezys that), and on the other our government will leave us to die if we don’t earn £44,000 in our first year of working. While we all try to defy our fate as corporate shells and simultaneously navigate the social minefield that is being young in an economic wasteland, it’s unsurprising young people can turn to Yung Lean for inspiration.
As Yung Lean powered through a set composed mostly of new tracks, the cuntish feeling that crept into my brain permeated through my veins and I felt awful. I saw everyone under the elegant dome of Koko going HAM, screaming back as many lyrics as their lungs will allow. I felt a sweaty arm come from behind me, and it went around my shoulder and neck as a hoarse, high-pitched refrain of “S-A-D-B-O-Y-S” rang in my ears. I don’t know who this girl was, but in that moment I reached an understanding of Yung Lean fans, then and now, from Tumblr to humbler.
As Young Lean memed unapologetically, so did they. As he grew and evolved through Unknown Memory, they did too. Warlord sees Yung Lean coming of age and understanding his changing self, and the self-awareness is reflected in his fans. As Yung Lean becomes more confident yet self-effacing, his fans reach an unpretentious level of self-assuredness.
If this experience has taught me anything, it’s that the (seemingly) most superficial things often have an intense complexity to them. I should’ve already known this from listening to Yung Lean, but it took that sweaty arm reaching out to me from behind for the realisation to hit: the shallowest part of the sadboy pool of tears was where I was standing, by myself. We’re all sad. How can we not be, facing what we face as young people? It’s better to stand together, and Yung Lean fans are intensely aware of the importance of solidarity.