Yung Lean’s video for “Kyoto” has more than 13 million views on YouTube. Stop and let that sink in for a moment: Many millions of people have been drawn to the music—and the world—created by a Swedish rapper otherwise known as Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, who, until recently, lived at home and wasn’t old enough to legally get into the venues he was invited to play in. Who knows what “AF1’s,” which you can listen to here on Vogue.com, will generate?
In town for Stockholm Fashion Week, I sat down for a conversation with the young star and the de facto leader of the Sad Boys movement.
So what is it that keeps those views coming? It’s more than the music that gets people clicking. The fancy cars and good-looking posse are draws, for sure, but it just might be the bottle of Arizona Iced Tea, one of Håstad’s favorite beverages, that’s the most important prop of all. To the super fans who turned Lean and his homemade-feeling “Hurt” video, released in 2013 when Håstad was 16, into a meme, it’s anything but a silly detail; it’s a Sad Boys symbol, and recognizing it bestows a sense of belonging.
“You definitely get dragged into a world of craziness,” says Håstad, when I ask him about his followers. “It’s like going to Hogwarts, definitely.” As for who or what the Sad Boys are, Håstad says, “I would just say it’s a group of friends.” To be specific, they are Yung Lean and producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman. All of them do their own thing, and they all work together in addition to being closely aligned with other creatives like the Gravity Boys. And why are they sad? They’re not really: Emotional is the word. “Don’t be sad, be happy. Be whatevr u feel like,” the Sad Boys have written on their Tumblr feed.
Fronting is a huge part of Yung Lean’s persona. At 16, some of his lyrics were decidedly NSFW. Just don’t make the mistake of categorizing his posturing as machismo, like I did. “Not very macho. I’m not a very macho guy,” Håstad says gently but firmly. “I think you shouldn’t get my music confused with who I am or who we are, because Yung Lean, from the beginning, is like a character created by me. Yung Lean was everything that Jonatan wasn’t. And so me as a person and my views on things are certainly different than Yung lean’s views, so you should definitely not get those two mixed up.”
Point taken. It becomes clear what Håstad means when I read through the entire Sad Boys Entertainment (SBE) feed. All three Yungs respond to fan queries, often hilariously. And while there’s some bravado, it also becomes clear how “open” Håstad’s world, the Sad Boys movement, is. Anyone can be a Sad Boy, regardless of gender—or age. Discrimination based on sexual preference is taboo in this world.
Not only do the Sad Boys have a philosophy, they have a distinct style, and through SBE a line of gear created in-house, as well as a kit created collaboratively. An oversize shirt created in collaboration with Visible by o’D Möngke (a Mongolian-born, Sweden-based garment designer and close friend of SBE) recently sold out. And future projects, including one with New York–based Lightwork Productions, are in the works.
When I meet Håstad, he is wearing an SBE top, Acne jacket, Nike Air Force 1s, and painted pants custom-made in Tokyo from a store called Dog. “I think there’s only one pair of these,” says Håstad as he points out Freddy Krueger on one leg and “a little devil wearing a Fendi hat” on the other. Håstad’s relationship to fashion might be more complex than he lets on. “I don’t know what I wear. I don’t think much about fashion,” demurs Håstad. On the other hand, he readily admits that he likes “spending money on clothes.” In “Hurt,” a Louis Vuitton bag is set upon a throne; on Håstad’s Instagram, there are photos of him in flowered Gucci sandals. “I do love my Gucci slides,” Håstad says. “I wear them inside, I’m like an old Russian man who wears slides in his house.”
Håstad says he grew up wearing North Face jackets and bought his first A Bathing Ape shirt in eighth grade, inspired by The Neptunes’s Pharrell Williams. These days, kids are learning about fashion from Håstad. “Apparently,” says Yung Gud, “there are these 13-year-old boys that say, ‘Check out my Yung Lean–core outfit.’ Someone called it post-chavcore.” And it’s not only kids paying attention, but brands, too. “I didn’t really realize if I just rap about brands I would get their clothes,” says Håstad. “But that’s kind of like a secret hidden move, so if you name-drop something, then it might come back to you.”
Håstad’s belief that music has power goes way beyond swag, though. “Whenever I talk to fans, they’re like, ‘Yeah, so when we started listening to Yung Lean, like, the whole school’s dress style changed, everyone’s attitude was different.’ I think it’s good, it’s healthy for people to just be open-minded . . . I think you can really see how much music affects society.”
Not yet 20, Håstad, who is working on getting his driver’s license, has already made his mark. But, I wondered, how does a teen idol evolve without disappointing his fan base? It’s a nonissue for the rapper. “I think it’s definitely interesting for fans to watch me grow up,” he says. “A lot of people can relate to, like, a 16-year-old just rapping about his favorite things and, you know, just being sort of stupid . . . As I grow and I definitely get more comfortable with myself . . . the music is expanding . . . I’m just growing as an artist, and I think Sad Boys just comes naturally. As long as you stay real and stay with your friends, the people you created your art with, then everything’s fine.”
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