Yung Lean and the Sad Boys - How a Group of Swedish Teenagers Innovated the Music Scene and Influenced a New Generation of Artists
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When Yung Lean first burst into the scene in 2013, no one was ready for it, and no one was able to fully understand his potential, similar to what people were thinking of Young Thug; even if some liked the music, only a few saw the revolution that these artists were bringing to the game.
Born in Sweden as Jonatan Aron Leandoer Håstad in 1996, Yung Lean is one of the few examples of European artists that were able to build a genuine and active fan base in the US. But, what separates Yung Lean from every other artist of his generation, and what makes him a true icon, is his ability to be ahead of the game and, in a way, show what was needed for an artist in the future.
While the idea of "sad boys" was popular since the era of romanticism, some trace back this trend to even Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Lord Byron; Yung Lean encapsulated the elements that characterized "sad boys" even further. Some people may say that he was influenced by the Emo wave of the early 2000s or even by the grunge era of the '90s. Still, the real peculiarity of Yung Lean is connecting all these dots while using an aesthetic that was the beginning of the "post-internet era."
What Yung Lean did was start a movement that, from the internet, had influence and repercussion in real life, and that, thanks to Tik Tok, is now more prevalent than ever.In a few short years, Yung Lean, together with his crew, the "Sad Boys," made mainstream many things and trends that are now obvious.
One of the strongest peculiarity of the group in its first days was for sure their vaporwave aesthetic; we don't have to forget that we were in the last years of relevancy of Tumblr, a social media that, even if today looks weird, has been one of the essential pillars of the development of the 2010's aesthetic. Through that, they were able to present themselves not only as innovative but also to be understood by a large global audience that recognized themselves as Yung Lean and the "Sad Boys."
Even more, they were able to connect the vaporwave aesthetic to the growing streetwear movement just a couple of years before it went mainstream.
This had both negative and positive results; while it's Yung Lean's fault for today's presence of low-quality Goku-printed hoodies on every Instagram Ad, Yung Lean was also one of the people that pushed more sportswear and streetwear together, while at the same time mixing European designer brands, with American lifestyle companies (if trappers wore UGG it's al thanks to Yung Lean).
The fashion influence of Yung Lean is probably unmatched in 2022 (apart from a few names like A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, or Travis Scott). The most significant trend of the year is Y2K, and Yung Lean fucked with that years ago, while it was still popular only in a few trash MTV reality shows. What Yung Lean did was take everything that he liked from the early 2000s and reinvent it, from the aforementioned UGGs to checkerboard design typical of the emo era of the early 2000s.
If we have to sum his style up in a couple of words, it is an ironic style built on fashion knowledge and aesthetic that allows Yung Lean to look comfortable and cool in everything he is wearing (if you think about Kanye's style in the last couple of years you can see more than a couple of similarities).
But, what made Yung Lean stands out from his contemporaries and the perfect example for an artist in the era of Tik Tok is his ability to become a meme while not becoming someone to make fun of.
While artists were still light years away from understanding the internet and its potential for marketing a new artist, Yung Lean took probably a few lessons from Lil B and Soulja Boy by being knowledgable on memes and the way teenagers were using social media, allowing him to stay relevant for almost a decade, while at the same time continuing to experiment with new sounds and styles.
His recent success on TikTok, where his 2013's hit "Ginseng Strip 2002" became a trend, confirms his ability to predict future trends and understand how teenagers are using the new ways of communication
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