When I arrived at Outside Lands festival in San Francisco last weekend, I was skeptical of whether Post Malone would work as a Sunday night headliner on the main stage. This is the same stage that acts like Stevie Wonder, Metallica, and Arcade Fire have closed down before and now this guy was gonna follow suit?
I’ll admit, I haven’t been the biggest fan of Post Malone over the years. He always struck me as an artist who benefited from being white (he did), sliding from hip-hop to rock to country and back seemingly on a whim. But now, as he has become one of the biggest pop and hip-hop stars in the world, the challenge is to present himself with authenticity.
It’s hard to be at a concert these days and not wonder what the “new normal” is that we’re living in. With COVID rates still all over the map, what are we risking by being at a concert, let alone a festival with tens of thousands of people around you for a headlining set? I’ve found that you really need to surrender to the circumstances to be able to approach the connection we used to feel with artists before March of 2020. Surrender to the music, surrender to what might be in the air, and just let go. It’s a slippery proposition, but we need live music right now more than ever. And there’s not a more powerful concert moment lately than when an artist helps get you over that hump of anxious energy so you can be in the moment.
As Post Malone walked out onto the stage, with a red cup in hand, one of the first things he said to the crowd was, “I’m here to play some sh*tty music and get f*cked up!” The crowd of tens of thousands roared. I sorta rolled my eyes and wondered if this was just a shtick. But what I soon came to realize about him, is that he was absolutely wrapped up in the moment the entire time.
You see, the thing that’s the most fascinating about Post Malone on stage, is that he’s up there by himself in front of a wall of lights and the occasional pyrotechnics that erupt around him. There’s no DJ, there’s no hype man, no band, etc… So it really raises the stakes because the attention is always focused entirely on him.
He stood there in white Chuck Taylors, a T-shirt with Cameron Tucker’s face from Modern Family emblazoned on it, and cut-off jean shorts that showed off all of his lower body tattoos. He opened with “Wow,” from 2019’s Hollywood’s Bleeding, then went into “Wrapped Around Your Finger” from the newly released Twelve Carat Toothache, followed by “Better Now” from 2018’s Beerbongs & Bentleys. It struck me just how much the Post Malone discography had grown and when I looked around during “Better Now” especially, the most diverse crowd of the weekend was easily the biggest, too. And everyone was moving. The crowd was gripped.
As Posty’s performance kept going, I found myself increasingly interested in everything he was going to do next. On “I Fall Apart,” he bent over and straddled the mic with his mouth, hands behind his back, while singing as loudly as he could. When that song ended, he grabbed an acoustic guitar and took a seat to sing “Stay” and “Go Flex,” a cigarette in between his fingers the whole time. It was a pure display of emotion.
I loved the way he danced and moved and worked the crowd; losing himself, his happiness was galvanizing. When he played “White Iverson,” the song that first put him on the map eight years ago, it felt like a real moment of togetherness for the crowd. And even if it has its limits sometimes, his leaned-out Gen Z falsetto was endearing and pure.
But it was the way that he was unapologetically himself that stuck with me the most. He sings about getting f*cked up (and sometimes about the ramifications of it, too) and he presents himself like he’s in the same mind-state as the crowd when he’s on stage. He’s beaming, he’s partying, but he reflects on his insecurities, too. “Thank you so much for your love and support over the years,” he told the crowd. “The world has been such a sh*tty place and it just feels so beautiful to be out here with you to have a good time. I feel like I’m the luckiest f*cking guy in the world. How everyone was so patient with me and supportive of me. You know…this long stretch we’ve had.”
He presented the notion that he needed this just as much as we did and in that moment, the stage sort of disappeared. By the time he closed with “Rockstar” and “Congratulations,” it felt like we were all there getting f*cked up together, except one of us was singing and their gratitude showed. Here was an artist who had to be misunderstood before he could be accepted. Surely we can all relate.
And I came around to Post Malone that night. When he smashed his guitar and then set it afire in a controlled blaze, then smashed it some more to extinguish it and gave the pieces to the crowd before walking off? I felt that. And there was something especially powerful seeing it all with 20,000 other people. Because we’re all still trying to figure out what the new normal is in this world and Post Malone’s wild performance made so much sense in its own chaos.
Because it’s ok to party your face off and lose your mind for a while. This generation has been privy to way too much BS and it’s not stopping anytime soon. But if we can just let go, and surrender together, we might still make it.