Over the last two weeks America’s favorite boy band Brockhampton has uploaded three singles that are all tied together by their titles. The first song was titled “1999 Wildfire”, followed with “1998 Truman”. The most recent in the series, called “1997 Diana”, came out last night complete with a video directed by Kevin Abstract. In classic Brockhampton style the track starts with a chorus and then a main verse, but quickly moves into multiple Brockhampton members trading 8 bar verses that loosely hang together thematically but are matching in energy. The group’s leader, Kevin Abstract sings the chorus, repeating, “Niggas talk shit, talk a whole lot of shit/Need to stop talking shit and give us more, more” over and over. The video, which is set in a gymnasium and a locker room, drips with masculinity so intense that you can almost smell it.
In May, Brockhampton kicked out founding member, Ameer, over sexual misconduct allegations and cancelled a handful of upcoming tour dates. They had already announced an upcoming album titled Puppy before the hiatus, but since then the album itself has changed and so has the title. In June, they appeared on Jimmy Fallon and announced that their upcoming album will be called The Best Years of Our Lives. What is interesting about the three tracks that they’ve released so far, is that the titles have been going in descending order starting with 1999, with a pop-culture reference from each year. “1999 Wildfire” is a reference to a documentary from 1999 called Wildfire: Feel The Heat. Next, “1998 Truman” refers to The Truman Show which was released in 1998. “1997 Diana” is a reference to the widely seen and publicized death of Princess Diana. The other single that they have released was simply called “Tonya”, but if the other tracks show a trend it may be called either “1994 Tonya” in reference to the actual events or “2017 Tonya” if the movie references continue.
The song names poise an existential question about public tragedy and memory. It seems that Brockhampton is challenging the soft nostalgia that internet culture places on the 90’s by bringing tragedy to the forefront. Rather than the warm blanket of “only 90s kids remember” that is thrown over the decade, they point to a time when it wasn’t normal for our lives to be in the public eye, and the paranoia and fear that came with the idea that we are moving into a future where everything is always public. Think about why Diana died, running from tabloid scandal, or the central theme of The Truman Show where Jim Carey lives his life as a part of a show for everyone’s entertainment. Then think about the Kardashians and how normal that is now.
The album is called The Best Years of Our Lives and the tracks are all named after years that the members have lived through so it may also be a question of how we qualify a year. What makes a given year better than another? This has been a prominent part of the national dialogue since Trump took office in 2016. I’ve seen 2016, 2017 and 2018 each called the worst year of all time, but the internet (and thereby public opinion) is full of hyperbole. However, that hyperbolic view of existence goes both directions. We are so quick to label things as “the best” these days that it has come to mean nothing. In an age of oversaturation how are we ever sure that anything is really the best? And in the internet era, how are we ever sure what is private and what is public? Brockhampton knows this all too well after being surrounded by controversy for the past 3 months. It will be interesting to see what the rest of the references are, and if they answer the questions that they are bringing up.