Explaining Brent Faiyaz’ Winning Brand of R&B

Brent Faiyaz’ newly-released sophomore album, ‘Fuck the World,’ is a colorful look into a life distorted by celebrity.
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Celebrity blurs personhood and disfigures “authenticity.” We expect artists to simultaneously bare their personal lives to us while we disregard their needs for the space to connect with the people around them. On his most sophomore album, Fuck the World, fame turns Brent Faiyaz into a misunderstood Lothario—a womanizer whose impulses reign supreme.

The music on Fuck the World sounds comfortably fit for R&B playlists titled “[insert descriptor] Vibes.” Still, Faiyaz spends the beautifully claustrophobic, but too short, 27 minutes stewing in an inability to connect with anyone around him. The album finds him floundering with the belief he must open up while also withdrawing himself from the world. The collateral damage is all the women he comes across amid this internal struggle.

On “Clouded,” he fucks girls on the floor of his closet without ever mentioning a word exchanged between them. All of these women have and make choices, but trust, as seen through Faiyaz’ eyes, is hard to come by. He sings his distrusts to the world on “Fuck the World (Summer in London)” (“Just cause I fuck you, that don’t mean I trust you, I don’t”) and his priorities on “Lost Kids Get Money” (“Got too much to lose fucking on these fans”).

At its core, Fuck the World is about comfort or its absence. Listening to Faiyaz, we feel his distrust, feel the tug to send a message to that person we haven’t spoken to in a while, feel how people turn into emotional tethers when we’re groundless. In his world, visibility means no one knows who you are while clamoring they do. The music is the only place where Faiyaz can be comfortable and honest.

In a recent interview with Kristin Corry, Faiyaz said, “It’s very difficult to be present in an environment when it’s people looking at you doing shit. That’s why I don’t understand how motherfuckers can act natural when it’s people obviously staring at you and looking away.” Fuck the World expands on his failures to be present in the celebrity milieu. These failures manifest in the near-Future level sexual villainy bleeding into Faiyaz’ relations with women.

In contrast to this disconnected heartthrob version of R&B, in which the artist turns sex into a destructive force, stands Miguel’s 2015 standout Wildheart. The album—an undermentioned masterpiece of the ‘10s—doesn’t mine sex and passion for topical fodder. Instead, it chooses to live the interiority of those desires within the context of a more abundant life full of moments of quiet intimacies and sometimes comically loud ravishings.

Faiyaz doesn’t reach the relational intimacies of Miguel’s Wildheart; his world is more fragile and stunted by the weight of celebrity. Sex is not always the goal, but desire propels both artists throughout the world. In the interview, as mentioned above, Faiyaz, when asked about the way he tucks vulgarity into a painful narrative on “Rehab,” called himself “a freaky motherfucker.”

Traditionalist R&B—however we draw that canon—sees sex and sexual partners as a memory board of achieved release, which is driven by, as Anupa Mistry puts it, “the primacy of male pleasure.” Miguel navigates then tables celebrity on Wildheart. Having worked through fame allows him to step outside himself when he thinks about relationships. His pleasure works in tandem with that of his partner.

Faiyaz’ celebrity moves him differently. The pressures of fame have shortened his freedom and made it harder for him to connect with everyone, but especially himself and the women he finds in his bed. His desire is prime because his celebrity makes it hard, if not impossible, to trust anything, and the music bears the stuffy sounds of self-isolation and confinement.

In a contemporary R&B landscape that has shed love as a topic and is still male-dominant, this relational mistrust makes sense. Patriarchy’s tendrils distort love, relationships, and physical intimacy. Men become doers; women are objects. And in the case of Faiyaz, celebrity worsens this power imbalance.

In his inability to be present, Faiyaz croons to hold onto women and thinks about how little he can trust them in the same measure. Seldom do these women speak, or does Faiyaz think about their perspectives. But we don’t expect him to think about more than himself because he’s so honest about the limits of his abilities to be present. On “Let Me Know,” he asks questions related directly to the driver of this lovelessness: “Who can I love when they tell me I can’t love myself?/ How in the hell, could I possibly love someone else?”

With “Skyline,” Faiyaz opens Fuck the World with a litany of questions resembling journal confessionals. He asks if we “know what makes this world go round,” attempting to make us see how our actions affect others, how we “all come from the same.” But there’s never an answer to his first question. Faiyaz only crawls close enough to be paralyzed by the debilitating realization that we are all connected before saying “fuck it” and going back outside to try and live. His music succeeds because he carries us to that point with him.

Fuck the World is a colorful look into a life distorted by celebrity. The tensions twist into different forms as Faiyaz shifts the kaleidoscope. But opening with a question forces us to see every sung moment of lust and mental turmoil as background music to the answers he can’t get.

Being unable to connect with others drives insecurity. For Brent Faiyaz, it’s partly a product of celebrity. Still, at risk of ringing the oft-rung bell that the Internet is bad, one can’t help but wonder if the Internet is actually creating over-connectedness—a roadblock that’s stopping us all from coming together.

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