To many, the contents of the black Moleskine notebook that sits atop my bedside table would appear nonsensical. The collection of quotes that lies within (each accompanied only by the date on which the entry was added) seems utterly enigmatic. However, for me personally, it’s a much-needed—and welcome—reminder of where I’ve been, and where I plan to go in the future.
Each night, before bed, I’ll add song lyrics to this ever-growing assemblage, something that inspired, energized, or otherwise impacted me that day. And yet, while no two days are exactly the same, there is one set of lines that I end up adding, time and time again, to this makeshift journal.
“MILK,” the 15th track from BROCKHAMPTON's 2017 album SATURATION, is an exercise in candor. It is an exploration of each individual member’s flaws, and an anthem of self-acceptance. While BROCKHAMPTON's many followers appreciate the self-proclaimed boyband for a variety of reasons, from the diversity of its members to its cutting-edge sound, I’ve always been drawn to the themes of self-improvement and self-assurance that are present throughout the group’s discography.
There is perhaps no song in which these messages are more apparent than “MILK." The chorus, sung by the group’s frontman Kevin Abstract, is a promise—to himself and to others—to rise above these shortcomings:
“I gotta get better at being me (being who I am) / I gotta get better at everything (being who I am)”
I distinctly remember listening to the first installment in BROCKHAMPTON's SATURATION trilogy on my long journeys across Georgetown’s hilly campus, sweating in the heat of summer in Washington, D.C. The marketing and philosophy courses I was enrolled in at that time marked the beginning of my full return to school; I had just taken an entire semester off, in the hopes of finally overcoming the many insecurities that had made my first year and a half at the university so exhausting, both emotionally and physically.
The competitive nature inherent of Georgetown’s culture, both academic and extracurricular, meant that with each and every disappointment (and there were many), I was plunged deeper into self-doubt. Exacerbated by then-undiagnosed depression and anxiety, I even convinced myself that my friendships were facades, that I could never justify the care and concern of those around me. Somehow, the loneliness became a kind of solace; space far away from my peers and (what I perceived to be) their constant judgment.
And yet, further isolation was the only viable solution. During my hiatus, I was able to realize just how unhealthy my tendencies were; however, I knew my recovery wouldn’t be complete until I could learn to trust the sincerity of those who I decided to surround myself with. But which version of myself would allow that to happen? Which role would I need to play?
One of music’s greatest powers lies in its ability to have the answers when you least expect them but are in need of them the most. The honesty of “MILK” gave me the certainty and stability that would dispel my doubts once and for all. It was proof that I would only find genuine acceptance and comfort by adhering to the truest form of myself.
Merlyn Wood taking me through “the pitfalls of a college student,” Dom McLennon assuring me “you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be,” and, most of all, Abstract admitting his faults on the chorus all showed me that in order to find the acceptance I so desperately sought, I would need to openly acknowledge my flaws—and not merely wallow in them.
It’s been over a year since I first heard “MILK,” but the song has maintained an enduring relevance. With each passing day, I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with who I am, and—much like BROCKHAMPTON—I’ve been able to find friends who are willing to lend me their unwavering support, in exchange for mine.
It’s clear to me now that the pursuit of self-improvement is an ongoing one. While it may seem futile at times, the most satisfying and empowering progress is born out of these feelings of despondency. Similarly, despite facing some criticism from loyal fans for signing a major-label contract with RCA (read: “selling out”), and in light of the fact the literal face of the SATURATION trilogy is no longer in the group, BROCKHAMPTON has and will continue to endure.
Hearing “I gotta get better at being me” now, I recognize that's exactly what I need to do.