When sexual assault allegations surfaced against Ameer Vann in the late spring of 2018, America’s favorite boyband faced a serious dilemma. Within a few weeks, BROCKHAMPTON announced that Vann had been kicked out of the group and that they would be forfeiting their slots on the summer festival circuit. In light of the #MeToo Movement, many, including myself, thought that this marked the end for the band and that their highly anticipated fourth studio album Puppy would never arrive. Well, we were right about Puppy never coming to fruition.
By the end of the summer, BROCKHAMPTON began teasing The Best Days of Our Lives trilogy. In the fall, they released iridescence, a powerful treatise detailing depression and their struggles with superstardom. While iridescence is an outstanding album, it demonstrated that BROCKHAMPTON was still in the process of redefining themselves.
Back in April, Kevin Abstract, the group’s frontman, released a solo album entitled ARIZONA BABY. The album is deeply personal and discusses Abstract’s alienation from his family and his relationship with his boyfriend. But the most potent lyrics arrive on the song “Corpus Christi:” “I wonder if Ameer think about me, or what he think about me … I’m sorry Dom / I probably shouldn’t be puttin’ all our problems in the front lawn.” In this moment, you can feel a shift in Abstract and BROCKHAMPTON. This epiphany culminated Friday with the release of GINGER.
Commonly, the color red has been used to symbolize passion in media. In cartoons, characters’ heads turn red when they fill with anger and a red heart is the universal symbol of love. The parallels between the album’s title and redness are easy to spot. And in the simplest terms, you may look at BROCKHAMPTON’s GINGER as an exploration of the color red.
The motif-like lyrics of “I’m sure I’ll find it / No one help me when my eyes go red” highlight the opening of Ginger. There is a sense on “NO HALO” that their red passion is not sensual like love, lust or anger, but that it is deeply rooted in their numbness to depression and anxiety. On the opening track, Matt Champion and Dom McLennon relay how they opt to smoke through their demons and search for meaning in weed. Bearface and Joba discuss finding solace in alcohol and washing themselves clean.
This theme of unrequited love continues into the second track “SUGAR.” It acts as a confession, especially for Champion, that a life of drowning one’s sorrows is not sustainable. Abstract makes his first significant appearance on “BOY BYE,” which was released as a single prior to the album, and he acknowledges sobriety as an eye-opening property: “Being sober made me realize how poorly I been behaving.” But as many others have pointed out, Abstract seems shy and is no longer the pivot point of the group. If anything, the potent opening of GINGER is carried on the shoulders of Champion. His flow and lyrics are unmatched by any other member on the group’s fifth album.
After the opening three songs, the rest of the album feels rather familiar. The themes emphasized on “NO HALO” are largely lost, and the band falls back on their routine of satirizing fame and being the metaphorical sad boys of the music world. Although all of the songs on GINGER are enjoyable for some reason or another, Romil Hemnani and Jabari Manwa’s production is both eclectic and clean, the album feels like a lower energy Saturation I. It continues the despair and deepness of iridescence and ARIZONA BABY but acts as a return to what gave the group their start. Maybe this is a sign that they have finally found a way to be themselves again sans Ameer. Only another album will be able to tell us for sure.
In a review of GINGER, Pitchfork contributor Sheldon Pearce writes that BROCKHAMPTON and GINGER would “benefit a lot from [the group] … figuring out what they have in common.” He elaborates that their “unwillingness to find some semblance of comfort in the bond they’ve made, to reconvene as an oddball in-group, feels like a huge source of their dysfunction as a unit.” While I wholeheartedly agree that their songs often feel like each artist is working independently, I challenge the notion that this represents dysfunction. It’s their ability to share a space while all individually battling their own demons that make them so revolutionary as a group. There is no reason that BROCKHAMPTON should be making music together other than the fact that they are friends and outcasts, but they make it work. And the production reflects this as well; the beats are weird, and there’s very little similarity between how each song sounds.
GINGER very much demonstrates a matured version of BROCKHAMPTON. Yes, it’s sad boy stuff, but I doubt I will see as many high schoolers at this tour as I did at the last. But, especially since BROCKHAMPTON’s catalog will only keep growing at exponential rates, GINGER will largely become a forgotten album. It’s a transition and very much reminds one of Pink Floyd’s Meddle, on which Roger Waters completed his takeover and prepared the world for The Dark Side of the Moon. If history serves any purpose, it would seem as if BROCKHAMPTON’s next album will prove to be their defining moment. Let’s just hope they can capitalize on their maturation.
Peter Buonanno is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He currently serves as the arts and entertainment editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at [email protected] and on twitter @peterfredericb.