“In every film I watch I’m on the side of the bad guy.”
It’s understandable that Austin Post would feel that way. His musical style fueled his rapid ascent to the heights of mainstream success. When an artist rises that quickly there’s an immediate backlash questioning whether or not they deserved it. Did they sell out to go pop? Did the record label pay radio stations to play the music? Did a section of the audience support the artist ironically just for the lolz? Did the artist rip off the sound and style of others while getting a better marketing campaign than the originators? Add to that an endless obsession with the minutia of anyone labeled a celebrity, to the point you’re every move is filmed by someone with a cell phone and shared online, you’d feel like a “villain” in no time. I don’t envy the pressure that Post Malone feels in his life on a daily basis.
The fact that the video for “One Right Now” featuring The Weeknd plays out like a villain’s revenge fantasy makes perfect sense. It’s Post Malone having his Tony Montana moment, firing a high powered weapon at everyone trying to take him down, blood spraying on the concrete walls. The return fire draws blood and stains his perfect white suit, but at the end he shrugs it off and walks away head held high, having achieved his victory at any cost. That’s definitely villainous. Scarface didn’t survive the finale of his flick. What may be even more interesting is that the song borrows from the same 1980’s playbook as “Blinding Lights.” The production team of Louis Bell, Brian Lee, and Andrew Bolooki give the song a throwback synth funk perfect for pop radio, paired with explicit lyrics that are anything but.
The second single “Cooped Up” is different visually but similar in almost every other way. This time the guest star is Roddy Ricch, and it’s a joint venture in more ways than one with Post and Bell co-producing the track. Malone described the inspiration for this album as “everyone in America is going a little bit crazy sitting at home all day” during the pandemic. The song’s title makes that clear even though Ricch tells a much different story. “Post he took me on my first damn tour date/he had me rocking every day, sold out arenas.” I suppose that’s the post-vaccination rebound, and that bounce can be heard in the thumping bass of the track. There’s definitely not any social distancing in the video. Ricch and Post stand in the middle of a throng of people living their best life to the beat. That’s what Malone is doing even in the songs that only have a “visualizer.”
“I was wrapped around your finger, wrapped around your finger, then I shot back down to earth.” It’s tempting to look for deeper meaning in the 43 minutes of “Twelve Carat Toothache” or songs like “Wrapped Around Your Finger” until you find it. “This means something. This is important.” Does it though? For better or worse Malone is the same as he ever was, except his pop music sensibilities have been refined even further. “I Like You” featuring Doja Cat hasn’t been released as a single yet, and I’d be stunned if it wasn’t.
It’s clear that Post Malone struggles with the celebrity spotlight. You wouldn’t title a song “Love/Hate Letter to Alcohol” if you weren’t using it as a coping mechanism for the intense pressure. Even that is an echo of his past albums though. Singing about the excesses in his life is what has made him relatable to his audience. His bank account may not be comparable, but the YOLO mindset has a foothold in our increasingly turbulent world. Why not live for today if World War III is tomorrow?
Post and his fans are both “Waiting For a Miracle” that’s unlikely to come. There’s no quick fix for war, infectious diseases, daily mass shootings, the opioid epidemic, systemic racism and police brutality. No “finger snap” can change all of that.
Even if Post Malone was inspired to create by being cooped up at home, I don’t hear a significant difference in his style or his content. “Twelve Carat Toothache” doesn’t reveal a new facet of Austin Post, it just shines an even brighter light on the jewels that he drops. I can’t really classify those gems as knowledge though. There are certainly moments of reflection and introspection, but nothing Malone is singing about suggests that the events of the last three years changed him as a person or as an artist. That’s fine. I’m not looking for some great revelation from a guy who sings about the self-inflicted emotional roller coaster he rides on. The ride is the point. His music is about the journey, not the destination.