While the signature tattoo on the corporeal canvas of “Goth Angel Sinner” Lil Peep is undoubtedly the scripted “Crybaby” over his right eye, there’s also artwork on Peep’s person that nods to our spookiest holiday — a pumpkin and a ghost on his left arm, bats behind his ear.
For an explanation of why Halloween is so significant to him, look no further than his stomach, where, just above “Love” is emblazoned “11-1”. Peep’s a Halloween baby — All Saint’s Day, to be precise — but the convergence of our night of the living dead and that most consequential of birthdays (his 21s) made for a momentous Tuesday night New York’s Highline Ballroom.
The conversation around Lil Peep — whose star has only risen since 2015 via a series of Soundcloud singles, EP’s and mixtapes, a slew of music videos that have ranged from charmingly homemade to, more recently, slightly more polished — has long been “Is he a rapper or a singer?,” “Is he hip-hop or is he emo?,” as though it’s a binary choice. The pre-show warm-up music was a knowing nod to his hybrid of influences: 21 Savage, Panic! At The Disco, Blink-182, Future’s “Monster,” even a night-appropriate “Halloween” from perennial horror slingers The Misfits.
The Peep army was of course out in force, and full voice. They take a back seat to no other group of fans, in their devotion to the scabrous kid from Long Island with his angst-fueled tales of drugs, girls and inner turmoil, and after chants of “Goth Boi Clique,” the welcome was deafening as Lil Peep entered on a set designed like a bedroom — rumpled sheets, posters on the wall, TV, a custom-carved birthday pumpkin, a Celtic cross and a tombstone. With flames projected on a video screen, he opened with “Hellboy”, the title track from his 2016 mixtape, and the first thing one noticed was how dressed-down he was.
You had to wonder what kind of wild costume would Peep rock for the big night. But true to his contrary nature, it was minimal. All black, head-to-toe, his famous inked torso fully covered by a button-down shirt, to which on this night he sported blacked-out zombie eyes and stitched-mouth makeup. (He would lose the shirt halfway through the show.) And although onstage he hardly took note of his impending 21st, earlier in the day tweeting, “It’s my birthday who cares”, the audience couldn’t contain itself: only two songs in, following “Benz Truck,” fans spontaneously broke into “Happy Birthday.” Peep seemed flummoxed, and touched.
From there it was a tide of fan favorites, from “Star Shopping” to “Belgium,” an old song and a new one, both of which mine the same territory — Peep’s conflicted feelings about a relationship that he often neglects. There were oldies (which in Peep’s case qualify as being from 2015-16) like “Beamer Boy” and “Girls”, but the set leaned heavily on the more recent, tuneful output on his debut album Come Over When You’re Sober, Part One, such as the rollicking “Benz Truck” — 700 people singing along “You can suck my dick” is something to see — “Problems”, the closest Peep gets to a ballad; and the plaintive and pill-popping “U Said”, which gets to the heart of the matter: “Sometimes life gets fucked up/ That’s why we get fucked up.”
These are the songs that have moved the artist this year ever more into an emo rock arena, including two that have emerged as Lil Peep anthems: “Awful Things”, which easily holds its own with the best of Blink-182 and Good Charlotte (Peep has recently expressed a desire to tour with the Maddens) and “The Brightside” — the irresistible single that, momentarily at least, showcases a Peep outside of the dark, depressive place he so often goes.
The pair of songs not only prompted the greatest singalongs of the night, but also showcased the artist’s musicality. I heard more than one first-timer last night remark something along the lines of, “This guy can really sing! Who knew?” As infectious as the records are, it’s the live show where Peep shines, and where those reductive questions of being rock or rap or neither are rendered irrelevant. The guy’s got gifts, and it’s odd that he’s as polarizing as he is, with haters among both hip-hop and emo purists. What’s with the rules? And what about Lil Peep is not to like?
As the minutes ticked down to Peep being of legal drinking age, on stage he seemed sober, remarkably mellow and grateful for the love in the room. Still, saying he seemed “happy” would be overstating it: He’s been refreshingly open about his battles with depression and his rampant drug use, and his last tweet, soon after leaving the stage at Highline, read “21 still depressed pray for me :)” But with Come Over When You’re Sober (Part 2) on the way, as well as reported collaborations with iLoveMakonnen and Lil B, there’s lots more to look forward to before Lil Peep turns 22.