Ground zero for 27-year-old Lina Abascal’s crush on the ultra-popular, constantly faded Post Malone is a recently unearthed 2013 YouTube video where the rapper, who was then going by Austin Post (his birth name), covers the Bob Dylan classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” on an empty soundstage. Draped in an American flag, a red button-down and a few modest chains, he unfurls Dylan’s jungly lyrics with a bookish attention to detail. It’s quite a departure from the gloppy, OVO-ian flex-raps that got him famous, and you learn several things after watching it: 1) He’s an improbably good fingerpicker; 2) his North Texas accent is resonant and piquant when married with slow folk songs; and 3) he’s actually kinda charming.
“The description of the video was, ‘Please excuse my hair, it looks bad,’ and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the cutest thing,’” Abascal says. “If it was a video of him playing a Sublime song at some college party, I’d be repulsed. But if I saw an ugly dude who wasn’t scared to really bomb at Bright Eyes karaoke? Then I’m like, ‘Maybe I’ll fuck with you, maybe I’ll give you a shot.’”
Abascal, a content strategist and Twitter personality who lives in Los Angeles, is a mild fan of Post Malone’s music, but she’s developed a schoolgirl’s faith that he has potential to be an excellent boyfriend. Last month she posted a brief video to her account detailing their hypothetical first date: They meet at an Emo Night, he buys her a Pabst Blue Ribbon, and they leave together for dollar slices next door.
It’s a remarkably healthy fantasy for a dude in the music industry, especially for someone who comes with so many classic red flags. Post Malone is a pudgy white 22-year old who keeps his hair bundled in extremely unflattering (and culturally questionable) cornrows. He raps, kinda, though it’s more of a heavily autotuned moan. He’s friends with Bieber and Quavo. He has ridiculously troubling tattoos: a Playboy Bunny on his wrist; the faces of Kurt Cobain, John Lennon and Elvis Presley on his knuckles; a crown of thorns on his forehead; and a freshly inked JFK profile shot above his thumb. (Malone explained the last one by saying, “[Kennedy] was the only president to speak out against the crazy corruption stuff that’s going on in our government nowadays.”)
When he first broke through with “White Iverson” back in the already hard-to-remember summer of 2015, most of us suspected his time in the spotlight would be infinitesimally small as the universe self-corrected. Sickly white teenagers donned in filthy curls and unforgivable grills aren’t supposed to be pop stars, right? Right?
Malone has the number one song in America (“Rockstar”), which to me, serves as the culmination of his journey from “self-proclaimed one-hit-wonder” into “whatever the boy version of It Girl is.” Along the way, he’s also become sexy, and that, too, is a difficult thing for me to reckon with.
I started noticing Malone’s newfound cuddliness earlier this year when he made an appearance on the hugely popular H3H3 YouTube channel, documenting an endless night of Bud Lights and bleary rap instrumentals. He sits in a courtyard and gently explains the physics of a beer bong to the show’s host, Ethan Klein. Recently, he tweeted out his customized Dallas Cowboys Xbox One controller with the words “I am cool” quietly embossed below the D-Pad. Malone’s best moment, however, might be his episode of Complex’s “Hot Ones,” where he candidly fields inane interview questions while brazenly downing brain-destroying chili sauces. “Megadeth is a great band,” he says, eyes watering, as he stares down a bottle of Blair’s Mega Death Sauce.
This is weird for me, because I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid being someone like Post Malone: No problematic haircuts, no conspiracy theories, no performing of a cover of Green Day’s “Basket Case” at a house party. I’m a millennial male, and I’ve seen the carnage those character traits have wreaked on the friends I left behind in high school. Tom Breihan, writing about how Malone won him over in his Stereogum column, nails it when he says, “Post, with his bad tattoos and his tendency to do live acoustic covers of entry-level 1990s alt-rock songs, really is a recognizable white-kid type; I’ve known countless dudes just like him.”
I wouldn’t stop there. Post Malone is the urtext of fuckboidom: The worst kind of Drake fan, an anthropomorphic bong rip in a cul-de-sac backyard, the kind of guy who would invite you over to watch him noodle around on his guitar for an hour and a half. He has the market cornered on a very particular type of allure that loses its luster the second or third time you come home from college. And yet, Malone has managed to ball up his immensely discouraging ennui and turn it into something some people find genuinely adorable.
Helen Donahue, another Twitter personality who has made her unironic thirst for Post Malone clear, says she often finds herself attracted to people who are bad for her. “I’m really into guys who look like they don’t have their lives together,” she admits. “But I kind of like Post because he seems more wholesome than other Soundcloud dudes.”
“He’s very radiant,” she adds. “He kinda radiates a good personality. He’s always smiling. That’s nice and weirdly rare. It shouldn’t be rare, but it is. Most dudes are just brooding in the corner and not talking to you, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would do that.”
Katie Way, who recently wrote a searching, exasperated essay entitled “Why the Fuck Am I Attracted to Post Malone?” agrees. “He’s not really boyfriend material, because my parents would be like, ‘Why are you dating this guy with face tattoos?’ But he does seem like he’d be nice to spend time with,” she says. “Nothing about him screams like, ‘This is a guy with crazy sexual prowess,’ the appeal is more like, ‘Oh my God, he’s singing with a mariachi band!’”
They’re both right: Hip-hop has been mired in bad vibes this year. XXXTentacion, the moribund 19-year old nu-emo weirdo who put out his debut album this summer, was released on bail back in March for assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. His fellow South Floridian, Kodak Black, was indicted for first-degree sexual assault charge last month. Lil Peep tragically died after an apparent drug overdose after spending his short career fruitlessly elegizing his dependency issues. And while the Weeknd and Future are both geniuses, they also pioneered a rap landscape that favors numb, self-hating, dangerously medicated dirges — which I suppose makes sense for a world that’s been robbed of its last remaining shreds of optimism.
Post Malone, for what it’s worth, is not that. He’s a doofy college dropout from the Dallas Metro Area with weird horizontal bangs. He’s a talented musician, but his true appeal is how glibly he regards his star status. You saw it in September, where he and Vic Mensa belted out an ugly cover of the Plain White T’s anti-classic “Hey There Delilah,” like a kid who honestly can’t believe that he manages to keep winning. Fame hasn’t soured the joyous, nubile glee resting underneath those curls, and for someone like Donahue, who’s into the scumbag aesthetic without the scumbag emotional unavailability, I totally get why he’s appealing.
“He hasn’t been arrested for anything terrible, or for treating women poorly. I think we’re living in a time where you know immediately when something like that happens. You hear more about people’s characters, and you never hear that about him. He just seems really sweet,” she says. “[His] image, plus the, ‘I’m actually a pretty good guy’ thing is really hot right now.”
Masculinity certainly looks bad when one of the primary perks a pop star can bring to the table is the implicit faith that he’s not an abuser — that’s an extremely low bar. But outside of those obvious responsibilities, I do think men can learn from Post Malone. The decisions I make are all laughably impelled by the women around me. I’ve never gotten a haircut under my own prerogative, roughly 30 percent of what I say during a date reflects my truest opinions and the clothes I buy are all framed against a conception of conventional handsomeness resting deep in my psyche. This is a neurosis that afflicts us all: Men are terrible at investigating who they are, or what they want to look like.
Post Malone, on the other hand, has worn those chains since he was fingerpicking Dylan. In stardom, he’s only become a richer version of himself. He still drinks Bud Light; he still dresses in untucked button-downs, Mavs jerseys and Dickies shorts. “It’s cool that he doesn’t seem to feel dissonance between what he’s like and what he looks like,” says Way. “Even though there’s a perceived dichotomy going on.”
This isn’t to excuse him of his obvious shortcomings: Someone needs to have an honest conversation with him about his braids, and you really can’t blame anyone for interpreting parts of his brand as a callow minstrel show. Donahue is half-Iranian, Abascal is white, and Way is biracial — she in particular isn’t interested in fighting for Malone’s problematic sovereignty, but she does admit that he owns his style with a certain amount of respectable honesty.
“A lot of the cultural appropriation accusations are pretty valid, but I think Posty has demonstrated a decent understanding of what he’s borrowing from and influenced by. I guess it’s not enough to be a deterrent but definitely not a turn-on. I’m also not black [she’s half Asian], so I feel like the politics would shift a lot if I was,” she says. “Maybe not a lot. But that’d probably make me feel differently.”
There’s been a lot of scrutiny of Malone’s refusal — or incapability — to reckon with his position as a prominent white person in rap music. Last week he conducted a boneheaded interview in Poland where he absentmindedly kissed off the emotional resonance of cosmopolitan hip-hop in favor of old fogeys like, you guessed it, Bob Dylan. Critically speaking, he was wrong — if you can’t hear the generational suffering in 21 Savage’s words, you’re not paying enough attention. But Post has never worried much about what comes out of his mouth, a prognostic symptom of his white privilege. The buoyancy and immunity in which he carries himself, the very reason people fall in love with him, stand in direct opposition to how guys like Kendrick and Vince Staples carefully protect the culture. It’s one of the core advantages white people have when they participate in a protected space on a purely aesthetic level.
But still, to Way’s point, the one thing that reassures me is that Malone’s affability feels pretty guileless. He certainly strikes me as more of a weird art kid rather than an insensitive prick like Lil Dicky. Maybe someday he’ll smarten up enough to drop the cornrows, but in the meantime, I think I speak for the world when I say that Malone has beaten the odds: He’s marshalled his natural, carefree geniality, and along the way, he’s become the perfect role-model to save men from themselves.
“You might be surprised at how open women are to the non-traditional hot look. There’s some other things that can shine through,” says Abascal. “It’s never been a better time for different types of hot acceptance. Mainstream hot people are only action stars now. But nobody wants to see that shit.”