by Emma Kang
Stardust album cover
[originally published April 22, 2022]
Yung Lean is a Swedish rapper, singer, and songwriter who first became popular back in 2013. He garnered his following through YouTube, Tumblr, and SoundCloud and is attributed to be one of the founding figures of “cloud rap.” Cloud rap is essentially lo-fi rap with a picture of a fairy made out of lightning on the song cover. It’s usually somewhat digital, floaty, and chill. His songs “Ginseng Strip 2002” and “Kyoto” blew up in 2013 and have made their way to being viral TikTok audios within the past few months.. He recently put out an album Stardust that has brought him back into the limelight once again.
A big part of Yung Lean’s appeal to American audiences is the fact that he’s not American, even though he raps in English and is obsessed with American culture. His early videos feature American brands including Gatorade, Coca Cola, Arizona Ice Tea, Oreos, and North Face. He said that the American audience was more accepting than the Swedish, which seems to be why he has so fully embraced the American consumer lifestyle.
I’ve been seeing Yung Lean come in and out of relevancy every few years since I was in
high school. With his popularity rising on TikTok alongside the release of Stardust, I
feel like he’s back on the radar. It’s weird he hasn’t changed what he’s doing over the past nine years, and yet his aesthetic of sadboy white rap has maintained its cult following. Overall, I thought the new album was pretty good. About half of the songs held my attention, while the rest I thought were kind of a wash. The first song on the album, titled “Bliss,” stands apart from the rest of the album. It features FKA Twigs, but sounds just like a Grimes song. It’s way poppier than the rest of his music, with the cutesy synth beat and FKA Twigs adding a fairy-girl vibe to the track. I really liked this song, rip off of Grimes or not. It’s different from the rest of his discography while still maintaining the elements that he’s really known for.
The music video for “Bliss” was equally captivating. It was directed by Aidan Zamiri, who worked as the creative director for FKA Twigs’ album Caprisongs. The video is all about movement: Yung Lean picks up FKA Twigs in a car with two chandeliers attached to the front, they ride horses, there’s bikes, there’s a couch strapped to a truck. She’s wearing a wedding dress and he’s wearing an ugly purple T-shirt, and the whole thing looks like it was shot on VHS tape. Because the song is more upbeat that a lot of Yung Lean’s other music, the video has a lot of energy, and there’s a surprising amount of chemistry between the two artists. The video feels like a true collaboration between the two artists' respective styles and work.
I don’t know if this new album means that Yung Lean is finally taking his music in a new direction, but his brief stint with FKA Twigs was a welcome, albeit unexpected change. I think the whole ‘drain-boy’ clique is on its way out, and I would love to see him fully embrace this new direction Stardust brought to the table. The genre of music associated with Drain Gang was considered innovative when it was brand new way back in 2012, but ten years later it seems like nothing more than a response to pop and hardcore scenes. Nowadays, any old idiot with a computer can do what Yung Lean does. I think that there’s better music that’s being made that can still be assigned to that same aesthetic without sacrificing musicality.
Maybe Yung Lean is trying to save his Swedish ass and is using FKA Twigs as his lifeline to mainstream popularity, because I think this genre is on its last leg.