Is NBA YoungBoy emo now, or is new song Emo Rockstar a one-off?

Bruno Cooke December 22, 2021
Is NBA YoungBoy emo now, or is new song Emo Rockstar a one-off?
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

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NBA YoungBoy’s new song Emo Rockstar came out five hours ago, and it’s already approaching half a million views on YouTube. But, while its lyrics and video do contain some of the tropes of emo-dom, it may not convince Paramore and Evanescence devotees. Is NBA YoungBoy staking his claim on emo music?

Is NBA YoungBoy’s Emo Rockstar actually an ‘emo’ song?

YoungBoy Never Broke Again (real name: Kentrell DeSean Gaulden), or NBA YoungBoy for short, is an American rapper. 

He’s from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and gained popularity between 2015 and 2017 with the release of six independent mixtapes. Now, despite being only 22, he’s worked with several high profile artists, and reportedly earned a net worth of $6 million.

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Genre-wise, he’s not an emo artist – NBA YoungBoy sits fairly firmly between rap and hiphop. He’s worked with the likes of Birdman (a rapper and record producer from New Orleans), Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg. 

His new song, Emo Rockstar, does represent a minor foray into the emo genre for NBA YoungBoy, although there are few who would place it next to artists like My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday.

What are the lyrics of NBA YoungBoy’s Emo Rockstar?

Emo Rockstar does contain several references to what you might call “emo tropes”. 

Its lyrics include lines like “they should just leave me ‘lone”, “please don’t judge me because I’m me” and “I […] just wanna be free”.

And its video marks a temporary departure from what one expects from a contemporary hiphop artist. NBA YoungBoy is in a starkly lit studio space, but it looks more like a spare room or garage. There’s a drum kit and an electric guitar – sometimes someone’s playing one, sometimes the other. YoungBoy is wearing makeup and looking solemn; at one point, one of his accompanying musicians makes the sign of the horns.

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Its mood in general is vaguely emo, with NBA YoungBoy telling the camera that his life isn’t all that, and that people don’t get him. But alongside all that, he’s also waving dollar bills around. The lyrics mention “b*****s” he apparently has, having enough money to “fill up a grotto”, and having “all them models in so many cars, they all can’t fit at [his] house”.

None of which sounds particularly emo.

Is emo making a comeback?

Earlier this month, prompted in part by an “emo test” that was doing the rounds on TikTok, The Atlantic published a piece about the apparent resurgence of emo sensibilities in popular music.

It cites Olivia Rodrigo’s Good 4 U (which borrowed heavy-handedly from Paramore’s Misery Business) as evidence that, whatever “emo” really means, it’s seen something of a renaissance in the last 12 months.

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If there is a single unifying factor in what can be called “emo”, reads the article, it is “voice”.

“Many of this past year’s stars sang in ways that recalled punk rock. Their tones were shredded rather than smooth. They sang around, rather than always neatly on, the notes of their melodies. … To sing emo is, basically, to waver.”

Wavering and auto-tune may not be able to exist wholly within the same song.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.