In 2017, Kevin Abstract of Brockhampton proclaimed of the group, “Best boy band since One Direction/Makin' n***as itch like a skin infection, mm” on the song BOOGIE. Brockhampton is composed of rappers, producers, artists and designers. They’re edgy, innovative, cool. At first glance, they read as an art collective of 20-somethings, cranking out collaborative works at breakneck speed (five full-length albums in the two years they’ve been active). Some may want to label them as such, but the boys of Brockhampton beg to differ. They call their group a boy band.
In so doing, not only are they opening the “boy band” genre up to more than pop music for the youth; they are redefining the term entirely. Until the advent of Brockhampton, the term “boy band” conjured the image of small—but cute—white teenage boys (usually straight, too) singing in harmony and dancing in sync for hordes of teeny-bopping girls. It began, in large part, with the Beatles, and continued for decades with doo-wop groups and the like, all leading up to a crescendo of boy band popularity in the late 90s (a la *Nsync, Backstreet Boys, and 98 Degrees), and again with Green Day and One Direction in the early 2010s. These groups are made by straight, white men, for straight, white women, and they leave queer people and people of color behind in pursuit of greater commercial popularity and capital gain.
Brockhampton, by design, aims to flip that model upside down. The group contains artists of many racial backgrounds with diverse skill sets. The question may be raised, then, what brings them together? Putting their soul into all their products, staying true to their sound, and above all, a commitment to provide representation for queer men and people of color in a moment where it’s most necessary.
How does Brockhampton set itself apart from the tradition of exclusion in the boy band model? They prove their interest in and commitment to representation in their looks, their sound, and above all, their actions. Representation seems like an abstract concept that “woke” teens like to talk about, but in reality, it’s the very concrete idea that people should be able to see themselves portrayed dynamically in media (music, film, TV, books, ads, art, all that). This means that it’s not enough for an Asian-American character to be present if their only role is to be, as the stereotype dictates, smart and quiet. People of all identities deserve better than to see themselves reduced to a single (often inaccurate) dimension.
Thus, Brockhampton is a perfect example of good representation at work. As we are constantly inundated with content -- across all media -- the band delivers products that are deeply meaningful to marginalized people. They’ve harnessed their power and used it to spread their work in all of its forms -- more than music, even though that’s their main schtick. Brockhampton was born out of a consumerist and media-hungry society; they know innately how to navigate it through social media, art, and, of course, music. Beyond this sense of mastery within their craft, they’ve chosen -- curated, even -- exactly which pieces of the boy band model they want to keep, and furthermore those they want to transform. For example, as Kaitlyn Tiffany writes in a profile on The Verge, “They live together in a house in North Hollywood that they have dubbed — completely sincerely — the Factory.” Living in a communal space like brothers has a distinct boy band quality to it; it’s a conscious decision. At the same time, it’s clearly a vehicle for greater collaboration and creativity.
Media consumers of all backgrounds can see Brockhampton’s intentions as they innovate the classic boy band form, in all its white, heteronormative glory. We have the privilege to witness that work as it fulfills some part of the true need for representation of queer artists and people of color.
Amy Geiger, Fall 2018
artwork by Kate Kopf