Brockhampton's 'Iridescence' No. 1 Debut is a Victory for the LGBTQ Community
This has been dubbed the year of queer artistry. Ever since Hayley Kiyoko coined the phrase "20GayTeen," fans have seen their favorite LGBTQ acts making their way into the forefront of pop culture, with artists like Kiyoko, Troye Sivan and more making regular appearances on late night talk shows, magazines covers and embarking on massive tours. The only place they couldn't be found this year is on the top of the charts.
That is, at least, until Brockhampton came along. The Texas-based hip-hop collective and self-proclaimed boy band hasn't found it's way into the same kind of mainstream recognition as some of the Kiyokos and Sivans of the world. And yet, this week the group managed to accomplish a feat that the new wave of queer artists have yet to achieve — their fourth studio album Iridescence debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
For many, the group’s achievement is a question mark -- how did a relatively obscure hip-hop boy band with no charting songs and at least one openly gay member manage to break through the mainstream and earn a No. 1 album?
Sivan's Bloom serves as a perfect example for this confusion. The Australian pop star's sophomore effort was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year, and received critical acclaim upon its release in late August. But, when it came to the charts, Bloom debuted at No. 4, with 72,000 equivalent album units. Comparatively, Brockhampton's new record was significantly less-buzzed about, but earned 29,000 more units than Sivan's for a whopping 101,000 equivalent album units.
In fact, in a year where multiple LGBTQ artists have penned and released seminal works exploring the complexity of modern queerness, Brockhampton's Iridescence is the only one to achieve this career-making feat. Kiyoko’s Expectations peaked at No. 12, despite significant critical buzz; Janelle Monaé’s Dirty Computer made it to No. 6; Years & Years’ Palo Santo reached a mere No. 75 (it's important to note that Panic! at the Disco's Pray for the Wicked did debut at No. 1, but frontman Brendon Urie didn't publicly come out as pansexual until after this feat).
Even when squaring off against an album sales juggernaut like opera-pop star Josh Groban, Brockhampton still managed to emerge the victor — they earned 5,000 more equivalent album units, even as Groban earned 15,000 more in traditional album sales.
What makes Brockhampton's No. 1 debut even more unprecedented is not simply the fact of having an openly gay member, but that they were able to openly talk about modern queerness on a hip-hop record. In a genre that has a history of homophobia, the fact that a group rapping and singing about coming out, gay sex and same-sex attraction earned the highly-coveted spot atop the Billboard 200 means more than just success for Brockhampton.
Take, for instance, the Iridescence song "Weight." While other male artists in the industry regularly rap about sexual encounters with women, Brockhampton's de-facto frontman Kevin Abstract turns that idea on its head. In the song, Abstract raps about how he was trapped in the closet in high school, dating a woman that he didn't love and couldn't satisfy. “And she was mad cause I never wanna show her off/ And every time she took her bra off my dick would get soft,” he says.
This is a regular occurrence in the group's music and message; they never back away from the stereotypes or negative messaging that surrounds their sexuality, race or appearance. In fact, during their performance at this year's Coachella, Abstract stormed the stage wearing a police vest with the gay slur "f----t" written across it.
Homophobia in hip-hop is still not a thing of the past. Most recently, Eminem released his surprise album Kamikaze, where on the song "Fall," he levels the f-word at fellow hip-hop star Tyler, the Creator. "Tyler create nothin', I see why you called yourself a f----t, bitch," he raps on the track. But despite the massive controversy the song inspired, Kamikaze still achieved a No. 1 debut (on the same weekend as Sivan's Bloom was released, no less).
Em is not the only artist to court controversy from the LGBTQ community this year. Travis Scott, whose album Astroworld made its No. 1 debut a month ago, was criticized for removing transgender club icon Amanda Lepore from his album art. Cardi B, who saw her first album Invasion of Privacy debut at No. 1 back in April, was recently accosted for a transphobic meme that appeared on her official Facebook page (Cardi denies posting it, and said the post was made by a former team member).
All of these artists saw their controversies come and go without affecting their star status. For LGBTQ listeners, it was hard to see that even when an artist made directly offensive comments toward the queer community, they were still rewarded for their work. So to see a hip-hop group that is celebrating what it means to be LGBTQ have their album debut at No. 1 shows that all hope is not lost.
There is some explanation for Brockhampton’s major victory — each of the group’s 14 members have an extremely active presence on social media, taking time to talk to and communicate directly with their fans. Much of their album sales came from bundle packages, where fans would purchase tickets to their upcoming tour and receive a copy of the album and merch along with the tickets.
But even with a winning album-sales strategy and an intimate fan-artist relationship, the group still managed to overcome odds that were stacked against them. The stars of Brockhampton have only had one major late night television performance, have never been featured on the cover of a major magazine, and before this year were considered to be an lesser-known group working its way toward more success.
To see a band that takes responsibility of their image, openly discusses LGBTQ themes and blends genres and expectations to make innovative new music achieve a No. 1 debut is likely more meaningful than even Brockhampton realizes. It is specific, clear evidence that with support from passionate fans who embrace a clear message of inclusivity and diversity, music created by queer people doesn’t have to be relegated to a lower position of cultural importance. While others may be heralded as the archetype of LGBTQ music, Brockhampton is the group that is finally proving their point.