At first glance, Doncaster, England native Yungblud has all the makings of a rock star. Twenty-three-year-old Dominic Harrison looks like an approachable yet high-fashion weirdo, using the magnetic appeal of pop-punk to speak to the troubles of an anxious generation. His first album, 2018’s 21st Century Liability (which followed a brief stint on the Disney Channel), employed the Twenty One Pilots model of using hip-hop elements to discuss mental health in varying shades of cynicism. But it was an energetic debut delivered with exhilarating recalcitrance, and Yungblud began amassing a loyal following that calls itself the Black Hearts Club (or BHC for short). His second album, Weird!, feels like an ode to his audience of self-identified misfits, but it isn’t as boundary-pushing as his look—and too often, it’s a shallow imitation of more popular songs you’re already tired of. Pop-punk isn’t dead, but Yungblud’s charm gets buried.
It’s a problem unique to his music: In interviews and on social media, Yungblud is forthcoming about his own struggles; he addresses fans intimately, with a palpable, infectious excitement that mirrors his increasing popularity. What’s missing is the connection between Yungblud’s amiability and his actual songs. Instead of thoughtfulness, Weird! delivers the type of third-eye-opening phrases that your middle-school boyfriend might have texted you after his very first beer: “Not gonna waste my life, ’cause I’ve been fucked up/’Cause it doesn’t matter.” It’s almost impressive how Yungblud manages to reduce serious topics to Hallmark Channel clichés, like on the acoustic ballad “mars,” which attempts to sensitively convey the story of a transgender fan with a rehash of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” and original lines like, “Yeah, this story told too many times, it makes me sad.”
Musically, Yungblud is swallowed by his own penchant for maximalism, screeching unintelligible phrases over crashing drums with unearned punk bluster. He co-opts distinctive sounds from all over the map, but he doesn’t really know what to do with them: “acting like that” is a less catchy version of Metro Station’s “Shake It,” “superdeadfriends” combines a poor impression of the Beastie Boys with a reference to Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids,” and “cotton candy” is just Post Malone’s “Circles” with higher sugar content. The shoddy genre experimentation quickly grows frustrating, replacing Yungblud’s unique bombast and earnestness with intrusive questions about where you’ve heard that song before. It’s harder to care about Weird! when the album is busy reminding you how great Channel Orange is.
A really good pop-punk lyric creates a liberating rush of kinship, puts angry, honest words to that gross feeling you’ve been hiding: Think of Tom DeLonge crying out, “Where are you?/And I’m so sorry,” or Joyce Manor’s Barry Johnson floundering through life until he finally spews out, “One perfect night’s not enough/It’s just a constant headache.” The uncreative homages that clog up Weird! also blunt Yungblud’s star power, but he is capable of this type of vulnerable lyricism when he puts his mind to it on “it’s quiet in beverly hills.” By comparison to the rest of the album, the emotional effect is jarring: Yungblud’s voice shifts to the sort of tenderness you reserve for intimate conversations with close friends, and an acoustic guitar twangs lovingly underneath. Sounding a bit rueful, he sings, “I don’t want them to believe that I am different.”
It’s the album’s most honest moment: Yungblud without the bravado, just a regular, insecure 23-year-old in search of acceptance. This is the embarrassing universal truth smothered by the rest of his loud attempts to convince his listeners that he’s strange and proud. Yungblud has all the tools in hand—a loyal following, a fan’s clear love of music, and a beguiling ease in the public eye. If he knew how to use them, he wouldn’t have to work so hard.
Buy: Rough Trade
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