Before the first of his two back-to-back shows at London’s O2 Arena, Post Malone seemed to spend most of his day on Twitter, just like the rest of us. But while the Great Facebook and Instagram Outage of March 2019 was causing most to flock to the social network in order to lament at not being able to flex on the ‘gram, Post was instead showing off ridiculously expensive-looking watches, spouting inspirational quotes and engaging in a live, as-it-happens beef with Yelawolf, the Alabama rapper who had recently called him a “poser, biter [and] appropriation thief” in a diss track. Responding, Post fired back that Yelawolf was a “nerd” and that he wouldn’t help promote his counterpart’s album sales (which, in doing so, he probably did).
This wasn’t the first criticism Malone has faced, and Yelawolf certainly isn’t the only one to hone in on the star’s apparent cultural appropriation. In a scathing takedown titled ‘Post Malone is the perfect pop star for this American moment. That’s not a compliment’, The Washington Post wrote last year: “The most popular young artist in the most unpopular young nation is a rhinestone cowboy who looks like he crawled out of a primordial swamp of nacho cheese,” calling Malone an “avatar of algorithm culture that rewards pleasant banality over the creatively vexing” whose music is “one of the shallowest bastardizations of rap to date”. He’s also experienced a backlash for appearing to downplay the lyrical value of hip-hop, all the while being an artist who has profited from rap’s rich cultural heritage.
Despite this, Post Malone’s star continues to rise unhindered. He’s perhaps rap’s biggest crossover star at the moment, rivalled only by Drake. Since his 2014 debut single ‘White Iverson’, Post has produced banger after banger, all perfectly primed for streaming age consumption. His 2018 second album ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’ went No.1 in 11 different countries, smashing streaming records and spawning two chart-topping US singles (‘Psycho’ and ‘Rockstar’). Want to get a vague sense of just how big Post Malone is? Well, last May he broke a US chart record previously held by The Beatles.
At his sold-out O2 London show, Post Malone-as-hit machine is on full display. “This next one is probably my only good song,” he tells the crowd whilst introducing the still-fan favourite ‘White Iverson’. His self-effacing nature is clearly only for comic effect though, as nobody else in the crowd would agree with his faux-modesty. After naval-gazey opener ‘Broken Whiskey Glass’, Post launches right into his set at full pelt. Bounding up and down a single strip runaway in a typically garish shirt, he reels off tune after tune: the trap swagger of ‘Too Young’ into rap-rock fist-pumper ‘Over Now’ before the first mass singalong coming with ‘Better Now’. The lack of filler here is certainly striking for an artist only two albums deep.
Despite the general phones-in-the-air party vibe though, there are also poignant moments during the set that show just why Malone resonates so deeply with his fans. Post often cuts a solitary figure in his songs, like the soundtrack to the end of a party, and this feeling is reproduced during ‘Blame It On Me’ where, alone on the stage against a minimal set-up, Malone spends the entirety of the song with his back to the audience, singing – and screaming – into a single camera lens, his face projected in heavy contrast onto the big screens above.
Malone’s biggest strength, though, is this versatility – his adeptness at producing both raucous, nihilist anthems as well as more darkly introspective numbers, all finely tuned to reflect the full spectrum of the Gen Z experience. Over the course of his 60-minute set, he switches up styles and leaves no doubt that he can blend together different genres as seamlessly in a live setting as he does on record: as proficient in his chart-rap bangers as he is in the odd emo ballad or country ode, like a teenager amid an identity crisis trying to fashion a Supreme hoodie with a skater chain and cowboy hat, yet somehow just about managing to pull it off.
His bright personality shines through during his live shows too. The strange thing to witness about Post Malone’s warring with Yelawolf was that rap beefs really don’t suit his character. He might look like a beer-drenched hellraiser, but Post’s whole USP is that he’s a pretty likeable figure. Kanye likes him, Bieber likes him, heck, Weezer even like him. Too often, big arena concerts can fall flat from a lack of engagement, leaving a rather clinical feel. Malone doesn’t have this to worry about though, punctuating his hits with natural charisma. Sure, there’s the odd generic comment like “you guys kick ass. I love you guys,” but also some truly comedic off-the-cuffs as well. He owns up to his stripped-back acoustic rendition of ‘Stay’ being “the part that many people find boring,” advising: “if you need to take a piss, go do that now”, while also explaining that he was going to treat himself to an onstage cigarette because “this next song doesn’t have many words”.
Near the very end of the set, whilst introducing ‘Congratulations’, Post delivers a speech painting himself as the plucky underdog. “People are always trying to say shit to put me down. They said I’d never go gold, never win any awards, never tour all across the world in front of thousands of people. They said we’d never play the O2 Arena two nights in a fucking row!” Whether you believe Malone’s started-from-the-bottom spin or not, the night does have the feeling of a victory lap or a celebratory party. As fans start to filter out, he takes the mic again: “It feels good to come to a safe place where we can leave all the bullshit behind, have fun and party.” In a world where escapism is needed more than ever, a Post Malone show undoubtedly provides that.
Post Malone played:
‘Broken Whiskey Glass’
‘Blame It on Me’
‘I Fall Apart’