DALLAS — Him?
The most popular young artist in the most unpopular young nation is a rhinestone cowboy who looks like he crawled out of a primordial swamp of nacho cheese. Post Malone is a Halloween rental, a removable platinum grill, a Cubic Zirconium proposal on the jumbo screen of a last-place team.
His music — one of the shallowest bastardizations of rap to date, and I don’t say that lightly — has the creative tension of associates at a downtown law firm complaining that $150,000 a year just doesn’t cut it. He looks like he got clubbed over the head by a cartoon peacock. He just turned 23.
And America just can’t get enough. Nielsen recently named the suburban-Dallas-raised rapper 2018’s most popular musician. So it was only a matter of time before Malone had his own festival, a contemporary rite of passage for nearly every major pop-rap star who has his face plastered across Spotify’s Get Turnt Playlist.
The inaugural Posty Fest was held Sunday night in Dallas’s Dos Equis Pavilion, and it was less a festival than a behemoth SAE rush mixer held on a few acres of corporate-branded concrete. Many festivals pride themselves on offering non-music diversions such as art installations or novel culinary options. There was none of that here, but there were $5 Jell-O shots. There was little to separate it from a regular Post Malone concert other than the big-name opening acts (Travis Scott; Tyler, the Creator; Lil Skies) and True Religion-sponsored Post Malone bandannas featuring an extreme close-up of Austin Post himself, glazed and squinting, as ever.
This should have ostensibly been a coronation, his unequivocal ascension to the A-list pop superstardom of mono-named visionaries. There are artists who dictate the zeitgeist and those who reflect it. Post Malone is decidedly the latter, an avatar of algorithm culture that rewards pleasant banality over the creatively vexing. At his own festival in his hometown, he had the opportunity to lucidly state his mission and values. Instead, he revealed himself to be Jack Johnson with 808s and nakedly grafted hip-hop slang.
By 9:30 p.m., chants of “Posty! Posty!” filled the amphitheater. Fifteen-year-old blond girls in Daisy Dukes and “Champagnes and Blunts” shirts shrieked as if Post were the next in the lineage of the Backstreet Boys, the Jonas Brothers or One Direction. The main difference this time is that they honored their hero with matching temporary face tattoos — barbed wire on their foreheads, a knifelike crucifix on their cheeks, and his trademark phrases inked in cursive: “Stay Away” and “Rest Easy.”
Bros in Troy Aikman jerseys and “Beerbongs and Bentleys” merch grunted with simian glee. Twenty thousand people rocketed up, stood on their seats, and for a brief moment there was the palpable fear of being stampeded to death at a Post Malone concert (which, of course, requires the deceased to be buried in a racecar-shaped coffin wrapped in the Rockstar Energy drink logo).
Three Eminem songs served as his intro music — presumably a tacit nod to his fandom but also a heavy-handed reminder that Malone is the most popular white guy in hip-hop since Marshall Mathers. At the moment when the hysteria seemed in danger of waning, Post Malone took the stage to deafening cheers, scorching jet flames and billowing clouds of smoke like a Groupon version of a Kiss concert from 1975.
Sipping from a red Solo cup, he soon began slurring “Too Young” with a voice like bong water bubbling and the casual misogyny of a member of a Red Pill subreddit: “My whip fast/my b---- bad/I skrrr skrrr, that coupe fast/My coupe fast, your b---- know/My b---- slow/she do what I say so and she always keep me on my toes.” Those lines are as good as any at representing what Malone is working with on a lyrical level.
On recordings, his falsetto is afforded a modest four-cylinder strength. But onstage it comes off slurred and sloppy, twitching like roadkill, limp off-key notes underscored by a booming backing track that operated like a life preserver.
“I’m going to get f----- up tonight. Who is f----- up tonight? If I forget the words because I’m too drunk, help me sing along,” he told the crowd.
It’s the same applause line that he used at Coachella. His entire set list was essentially identical to what he played at every festival all summer long, right down to the monosyllabic, curse-laden, between-song babbling about haters and the importance of rawking out and turning up.
Even if his voice barely slithered past the 10th row, it didn’t matter to fans who knew every word. They were there to commune to songs such as “Better Now,” his latest anthem to interchangeable heartache, presumably made for streaming at the Wahoo’s Fish Taco kiosk at LAX. The problem isn’t necessarily that it’s crass but that it’s meaningless. It’s not that it’s stupid but that it’s vacant. It’s the losing difference between appropriation and outright theft.
Post Malone’s music is dead-eyed and ignorant, astonishingly dull in its materialism, an abandoned lot of creativity with absolutely no evidence of traffic in his cerebral cortex — and there’s also a negative side. Even if his intention is sincere homage, the bludgeoning witless imitation can’t help but feel like minstrelsy. White people will inevitably appropriate the most culturally relevant music genre, one that’s become almost intrinsically bound to the modern conception of pop, but it’s not asking too much to attempt modest synthesis or the incorporation of a single new idea, or at least to not be so grotesquely desolate. We went from Eminem to Cheddar Bob. If Post Malone were black, he wouldn’t have sold half; he simply wouldn’t exist.
He introduced “Candy Paint,” his song from the “Fate of the Furious” soundtrack, by telling the crowd that, “it’s a little something that we know about in Texas,” before flounder-crooning: “Candy paint with the white on top/Lambo doors of the oo-op drop/If you busy plotting on what I got/Kick in your door, that’s SWAT you thot.”
From the artists in the Screwed Up Click to UGK to Swishahouse, anthems consecrated to candy-painted cars are a fundamental component of Texas hip-hop. It’s a tradition that’s cut across racial lines to include Houston rappers such as Paul Wall and Riff Raff, who carved out singularly flamboyant lanes. They were originals. Post Malone is not.
There was no backing band and not even any set design for this victory-lap performance. Just smoke and fire and yellow sodium stage lights that seemed to expose his limitations. On “Over Now,” he compared sex to body bags in a way that makes you wonder whether his entire sum of carnal knowledge comes from Pornhub.
A brief cameo from Swae Lee for their collaboration “Spoil My Night” felt like an SOS flare. When the member of Rae Sremmurd followed it up with “No Type,” it offered a stark reminder of everything Post Malone aspires to and brazenly imitates. He makes Vanilla Ice look like Luther Vandross. He makes Macklemore look like Mac Dre.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, Post Malone posed a question to the crowd: “Do you guys mind if I play my guitar for you?” he asked rhetorically, smoking a cigarette, sitting down for the part of the show where you are supposed to believe that he’s an artiste because he can competently strum an instrument.
“This is usually when people start walking away at festivals, but I hope you stay. . . . This song is about feeling really sad.”
What followed sounded like Bon Iver cosplaying as Bon Scott right before he tried to drink himself to death. What Post Malone is selling is the chill-bro relatability of the third-most-sensitive member of a frat house, softly crooning acoustic guitar rap covers to seduce Gammas after a pledge paddling. He is the dynamite hack — the platonic playlist substitute at the Duke University coffee shop so the vice president doesn’t fire you for playing Young Dolph.
What’s most damning is Post Malone’s bloodless abyss of soul and funk. His attempts at being emotional feel like hollow gestures. When he tries to be turned up, it feels inert and airless. His songs completely lack volatility and swing, leaving him as a little boy trying on oversized sequin suits and Versace loafers alternately trying to be a fake musty Elvis, a swaggering baller, a redneck backcountry rebel, but flailing somewhere in the doughy middle. It can’t help but bring me back to his quote given late last year to a Polish interviewer, where Malone said if you’re looking for lyrics that make you want to cry or think about life, you shouldn’t listen to hip-hop.
One would almost expect him to say something that ignorant and off the mark. In fact, the best rap is nothing but emotion. Whether it’s Boosie articulating the struggles of oppression and systematic racism in Baton Rouge or Young Thug conveying the Easter-pink euphoria of celebrating all the things you did just to live this lifestyle, this is the bible material that burrows into your mitochondria. It’s Open Mike Eagle articulating the inequities of capitalism and the staggering difficulty of surviving as an artist. It’s Future drowning in codeine as a nepenthe for post-traumatic stress and romantic decay. By contrast, Post Malone offers every bad mash-up of toxic Americana, the perversion of proud outlaw genius warped into a sentient barbed-wire stick and poke tattoo.
Post Malone’s problem isn’t that he’s a bad person or even completely untalented. It’s that he stands for nothing at all. He can afford to feign the swagger and cool of hip-hop when it’s convenient and opt out when it’s time to see who’s riding for the cause. It’s always been a fairly straightforward compact when it comes to hip-hop: If you’re a white person eating off what has historically been black culture, you have a certain obligation to repay that creative debt. Eminem continues to attack the hypocrisies and contradictions that allowed him to leapfrog equally gifted artists. Macklemore may have lacked subtlety or a rudimentary understanding of when to share text messages, but there was no questioning his dedication to confront his white privilege. Even G-Eazy — repeat, even G-Eazy — dropped out of that racist H&M advertising campaign.
Malone predictably ended Posty Fest with the trio of his biggest hits: “Rockstar,” “White Iverson” and “Congratulations.” He introduced “Rock Star” as about being really wasted and trashing your hotel room, the cliched fantasies of half a century of guitar-god rot coming home to roost in rap. During “White Iverson,” I surveyed the humanity surrounding me and spotted an elementary-school-age kid passed out atop a Cowboys blanket, surrounded by crumpled Red Bull cans, water bottles and Bud Lights. Approaching the conclusion of his set, Post thanked the crowd, telling them they are “kick-ass.” Then he launched into a rote, well-rehearsed diatribe about how no one believed in him but now he’s a No. 1 artist with his own festival. Suck on that, haters.
It is true, after all. Post Malone has won. He’s received wealth and fame with little accountability. He’s reaped the extreme benefits of a system that allowed him to flourish yet asserts his privilege to remain purposefully ignorant. He knows he won the lottery but doesn’t understand that it was rigged in his favor. This is what the zeitgeist demanded as the latest whole-milk hip-hop avatar: a proud non-voter, a nonreader of books, the type of person who gets a JFK tattoo without knowing about Kennedy’s role in the Voting Rights Act while bizarrely claiming that he was “the only president to speak out against the crazy corruption stuff that’s going on in our government nowadays.” In other interviews, he’s repeatedly espoused tangled Alex Jones conspiracy theories about chemtrails, the government coming to take our assault rifles and secret guns that can give people heart attacks. He’s also a doomsday prepper, because of course he is.
What Post Malone so perfectly represents is the idiotic currents that have carried us to this present cultural submersion — where an objective notion of the truth has been systematically muddied, facts are negotiable and any hint of criticism — be it for lacking integrity, dignity or talent — can be brazenly dismissed as the pitiful cries of the “haters.” So congratulations, I guess. Who allowed this to happen? What hole in the system allowed this greasy discarded barbecue wrapper to prosper? A fake pale king sitting on a tinfoil throne. Return to sender.