The right way to break up a Boyband: a BROCKHAMPTON Retrospective

9 mins read

Following the abrupt announcement of their “indefinite hiatus” in January, BROCKHAMPTON have been winding down, slowly bringing their rollercoaster career to a close.

2022 has been a year of lasts for “the best boyband since One Direction”: their last headline shows at the O2 Academy Brixton in February, their last festival appearances at Coachella in April, and their last album due to drop this week.

Ambitious and encompassing from its inception, BROCKHAMPTON reinvented the concept of the rap collective as we know it.

BROCKHAMPTON’s Origins

The impact of the band makes its origin all the more surprising. BROCKHAMPTON can trace its roots back to a 2010 post on a Kanye West fan forum.

Kevin Abstract, aged 14 at the time, asked if anyone was interested in joining a band with some friends at his Texas high school.

This group was known as AliveSinceForever until 2014, when a portion of its members separated and renamed themselves BROCKHAMPTON.

This was an expansive group not just of vocalists, but also of music producers, photographers and designers. In the official line-up of 14 members, everyone was included.

They adopted the label of “boyband” in an effort to redefine the term and began to release their first singles. In 2016, they released their first mixtape, All-American Trash. A cult fanbase was slowly building.

SATURATION

2017 was the year that made BROCKHAMPTON.

Over a six-month period they released the SATURATION trilogy – three full-length, genre-blending albums which demonstrated their originality, creativity, striking independence and willingness to stand out.

Fans were drawn to the band’s DIY spirit, which extended to their colourful, ‘homemade’ music videos filmed locally in their neighbourhood of South Central, Los Angeles.

Another factor was the chemistry between the band’s seven vocalists, led by Abstract and comprising of Matt Champion, Dom McLennon, Joba, Merlyn and Bearface. Appearing alone on the cover of all three albums was Ameer Vann, who had become the band’s figurehead.

BROCKHAMPTON built momentum as quickly as they released their albums, and became the subject of a Viceland documentary series, American Boyband. SATURATION I, II & III were all critically acclaimed, and the band was thrust into the spotlight.

A $15 million record deal with RCA was signed and promises of a new trilogy of albums were made, but all came grinding to a halt in May 2018 when Vann was accused of sexual misconduct.

BROCKHAMPTON responded to the allegations by kicking Vann out of the band, releasing a statement of apology and cancelling the remainder of their Summer 2018 tour dates.  

After Ameer

The band’s passionate new fanbase were divided on the issue of Ameer’s removal. Many argued that, in a world increasingly aware of abuse in the entertainment industry, it was the right decision. Others thought the group would not survive without one of its founding members.

The remaining members of BROCKHAMPTON took some time to regroup and consider the band’s future. The decision was made to continue, and reinvent themselves with their next album, iridescence.

The album was recorded over two weeks at London’s Abbey Road Studios and finished at a retreat in Hawaii, away from mounting media and fan scrutiny.

On its release, iridescence was very well received by music critics and earned the band its first BRIT Awards nomination for “Best International Group.”

Critics recognised that the experimental record was at its most successful, and the group was at its most cohesive, when they vented their feelings about their major label record deal, the rising attention and pressure they felt.

However, the fan consensus was that the record didn’t live up to the standards set by the SATURATION trilogy, that it was unfocused and inconsistent. The rift in the fanbase remained.

SUGAR: New Highs

The following summer, BROCKHAMPTON released their fifth record, GINGER.

The album was a processing and confrontation of the emotions they had gone through over the previous 12 months, and widely considered to be the album that put them back on track.

With features from slowthai and Deb Never, it was equally triumphant and despondent, confident and reserved.

It is a heartbreaking but healing listen. The band performed the album in full on a YouTube livestream – tellingly, the show was called Friday Therapy.

The album also gave BROCKHAMPTON – and long-term collaborator Ryan Beatty – their first Platinum Record and TikTok hit with SUGAR.

A complex, multi-layered and evolving R&B pop song, SUGAR perfectly summarises what BROCKHAMPTON is about.

It demonstrates their confidence as a boyband, a hip-hop group and a collective of talented producers and artists. It is deserving of its place as their most mainstream-popular track.

The band rode into 2020 on the success of the track, and a remix with Dua Lipa was released just in time for lockdown.

Technical Difficulties was BROCKHAMPTON’s lockdown project, a mixtape of 24 short tracks shared over livestreams, and made available for free download on the band’s website. The mixtape also featured the vocal debut of producer Jabari.

BROCKHAMPTON at their last ever show, Coachella 2022. Image Credit: G Noire, Courtesy of Coachella

The end of the road

Technical Difficulties served to preview material which would make it on to their next album, ROADRUNNER, released April 2021.

ROADRUNNER was another solid BROCKHAMPTON record and, through Joba’s verses about the passing of his father, one with a strong emotional core.

However, it had a curiously low-key release and didn’t seem to have the same fan impact as previous records.

Fans appreciated the high-profile guest features on the album, including Danny Brown, JPEGMAFIA and A$AP ROCKY, but there was a feeling that they came at the expense of the dynamic between the band members.

The first signs that all was not well came when the band announced in late 2021 that they were cancelling the majority of their tour dates, choosing to perform only two shows in London and two slots at the Coachella festival.

Then, on January 14, a message announcing the break-up of BROCKHAMPTON was posted on social media. A whirlwind career was coming to an end.

I miss the band already

Throughout their career, BROCKHAMPTON spoke openly in interviews about their temporary nature.

The band existed to allow a group of talented individuals to implement a collective artistic vision, but always with the knowledge that they would eventually separate to pursue their own solo careers.

What an achievement it is that such a large group was able to push the envelope until the very end, surviving a stratospheric rise and recovering from a fanbase-dividing controversy.

Fans can at least take comfort in the fact that the band is breaking up on its own terms, and doing so before ever producing anything less than excellent.

That fanbase will look forward to whatever Kevin, Matt, Dom, Joba, Merlyn, Bearface and Jabari choose to do next, and wish Producers Romil and Kiko, Creative Director HK, Webmaster Roberto, Photographer Ashlan and Manager Jon all the best in their future endeavours.

To quote a few short messages left on BROCKHAMPTON’s official social media pages, “The show is over”, “All good things must come to an end”, “I miss the band already.”  

BROCKHAMPTON’s final album, The Family, will be released November 17.

Featured Image Credit: Conor Cunningham

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