The Color’s Gone: How BROCKHAMPTON Grew Up

For BROCKHAMPTON, growing up meant making more reflective, honest music.
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The Color’s Gone: How BROCKHAMPTON Grew Up

Since birth, my eyes have betrayed me. Along with my inferior vision, I also have a form of color blindness called Protanopia. This deficiency greatly affects my ability to distinguish colors, and consequently, analyze art. Thankfully, color doesn’t exist in a vacuum. BROCKHAMPTON’s multifaceted use of color allows someone like me to understand its power without being able to see it correctly.

For example, I don’t need to decipher what shade of blue the group uses to understand the symbolism they apply to their work. Each of the self-proclaimed boy band’s albums since Saturation has, to various degrees, referenced color. But their two most recent releases—iridescence and Ginger—strip away color in exchange for more experimental ideas and mature themes. This creative decision was not by accident.

The Saturation-era basked in color, with each project cover featuring ex-member Ameer Vann either painted or dressed in blue. The group soaked their visuals in an amalgamation of every paint can available at Home Depot. Their love for color bled into their music, specifically during the aforementioned Saturation series, which contains some of the group’s most electric performances and eccentric, playful instrumentals.

“GOLD,” from the original Saturation album, relies heavily on color, with Dom McLennon rapping, “We rock pink now on Wednesdays / Green looks good with your envy / Mix with white ‘cause you salty but this stainless / I’m like platinum and it’s painless.” The video also features several sequences of the backdrop quickly bouncing between different hues as each member raps their respective verses.

Even when the group settles into slower jams, like Saturation II’s “SUNNY,” color still plays a large part in the overall feeling of the track. A single guitar string leads the song’s instrumental. It feels like a drive home under an open roof as the sun sets; a feeling that would then be reciprocated on the bearface-led outro “SUMMER.” These songs, released in August 2017, sound like the end of the brightest season as the dark, lonely days of winter approached.

While Saturation III was not a departure from BROCKHAMPTON’s infatuation with color, standout track “BLEACH” foreshadowed a bleaker future for the boy band. To bleach is to remove color. In the group’s case, this was their first foray into the removal of color from their music. From McLennon’s rhetorical questions about mistakes and change to Kevin Abstract’s longing for a pretty sky after forgetting his passport, the smooth cut displays BROCKHAMPTON at their most vulnerable and their lowest points yet.

In May 2018, a series of abuse allegations against Vann surfaced which led to his removal from the group. After several months of silence, BROCKHAMPTON released their fourth album, iridescence, a project whose title is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a lustrous rainbow-like play of color caused by differential refraction of light waves that tends to change as the angle of view changes.”

The first track released from iridescence, “J’OUVERT,” features a video shot entirely in infrared, with a focus on reds and blues, colors that represent anger and depression, respectively. While fans regarded the record as one of the best on iridescence, the production was a departure from the light-heartedness of the Saturation series. JOBA, who typically delivers novel, idiosyncratic melodies, approached this record with a kill-or-be-killed attitude. In fact, he provides a verse so aggressive, it makes his yelling on “HEAT” seem soft in comparison.

The rest of iridescence follows the experimental groundwork laid by “J’OUVERT.” Tracks like “NEW ORLEANS” and “WHERE THE CASH AT” stray from the accessible production found on Saturation that established BROCKHAMPTON as one of the decade’s most energetic, bubbly, and carefree acts. The band shot the video for the former track in dimly-lit areas, adding to the paranoid, irate feeling iridescence exudes.

The centerpiece of iridescence, “WEIGHT,” opens with a violin-led instrumental backed by Kevin Abstract’s most personal verse up until that point. The stripped-back beat allows for Abstract’s voice to take over, highlighting his shared struggles with the group. After a glitchy break in the middle, the beat becomes more intense, paving the road for McLennon’s impassioned bars about speaking to his mother and dealing with unprompted hate.

iridescence is a decidedly less colorful project than any of the three Saturation installments. BROCKHAMPTON flipped their formula on its head. Gone was the fun-loving, party-friendly music fans came to love in 2017. In its place, the group crafted angry and self-reflective tracks. They were no longer just friends having fun, making music together in a cramped house in Los Angeles; they’d become a tightly-knit family where problems were not only shared but solved. BROCKHAMPTON was ready to grow up.

After almost a full year of silence, excluding the release of Abstract’s solo album ARIZONA BABY, BROCKHAMPTON returned earlier this month with Ginger. The title of their newest effort moves in lockstep with the color theme presented on previous projects. It is also the most uncomplicated reference to color they’ve used so far. While Saturation indicated too much color and iridescence referenced a vast array of it, Ginger is simply a mix of orange and red.

Ginger is far less experimental than its predecessor but also much bleaker. As soon as the ominous strings begin on opening track “NO HALO,” it’s apparent BROCKHAMPTON isn’t interested in creating party jams or bangers. Matt Champion’s verse about his ex-girlfriend raiding his apartment for belongings sets the tone early, while Merlyn sings “No one help me when my eyes go red” in the chorus alongside Deb Never. These brief moments of darker themes foreshadow a much heavier album; one that is seeming without hope.

Ginger also follows iridescence’s path to complete color removal. The cover features a seemingly depleted Joba embracing wardrobe designer and creative assistant, Weston Freas, on a rooftop covered by grey skies. The group released Ginger at the tail end of summer, but it’s very much winter-ready. The few light-hearted moments across the 12 tracks are overshadowed by dark, brooding tracks like “BIG BOY” and “DEARLY DEPARTED.”

“BIG BOY” deals in the harsh realities of growing up, with Joba penning a lengthy verse about suppressing his problems and being forced to man up because he’s older, while “DEARLY DEPARTED” is a stunning confessional about moving on from the loss of a loved one. Two verses, one from Abstract and the other from McLennon, are directly pointed at Ameer Vann and the issues they’ve harbored since his removal from the group. There’s a pain in each line; pain that helped them mature.

The colorless motif sprayed across Ginger becomes even more apparent in the video for “I BEEN BORN AGAIN,” which the group filmed in black and white. Bearface whispers his intro, Abstract opts for a monotonous flow, and Joba’s verse has been pitched down to oblivion. The eerie instrumental makes for a creepy listening experience. Think abandoned circus in the middle of a forest.

Ginger is deeply rooted in dealing with depression, a disease known to make those who suffer from it unable to process emotions. This dissociation closely resembles grey as it represents the lack of color in the same way depression represents the inability to feel. Despite the lack of hope instilled throughout Ginger, the album’s closing track, “VICTOR ROBERTS,” ends with a simple, yet uplifting piano riff. Guest Ryan Beatty sings about his gratitude and gives thanks to God for his ability to keep going. The outro outlines brighter days ahead for BROCKHAMPTON and, by all accounts, they truly do deserve them.

For BROCKHAMPTON, growing up meant making more reflective, honest music. On Ginger, it’s evident they weren’t trying to make a fun, bright album. Instead, they crafted a colorless project that’s meant to depict the harsh realities of depression. By stripping away color from their music, BROCKHAMPTON has expertly painted the clearest self-portrait of themselves yet.

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