In four years time, Post Malone’s undoubtedly become The Most American artist in pop music; he’s cannonballed into a genreless world, supercharged by white male angst and amplified by the perils and pleasures of mainstream success. Undoubtedly, he’s delivered an array of potent earworms scattered across the backend of this decade, whether via high-execution of garden-variety machismo or his signature longing croon with a Western touch. (In context, the latter extends a drastically different Yeehaw Agenda.) To reckon with Post Malone is to indulge the catchy spoils of his labor, often paired with the concession of living in a reality where one will likely hear him against one’s will. Gas station, strip mall, satellite, algorithm. Frat lawn, gameday, cookout, kickback. Pair your favorite Post Malone song with an Anheuser-Busch product. Be cigarette-and-Croc-ready. Fuck every last one of your enemies (or don’t).
Ah, yes: Austin Post — my Favorite Friend — returns with another blockbuster for the keyboard-huddled masses.
Hollywood’s Bleeding grants Post Malone a new opportunity to embody everything The Most American Artist should: confusion, paranoia, hedonism, patriarchy, and Spider-Man. Thankfully, Post’s managed to synthesize the genreless aesthetic and repackage his range in a manner that’s more cohesive and unique. No matter how hollow the cliché, Post Malone songs no longer sound like hollow renditions of his influences; he now swings alongside them, for better or worse. Whether scumbag or cowboy, Post thrives and flails depending on his commitment to the bit; Hollywood’s Bleeding fluctuates often, much like its predecessors, but there’s a reason why the Spotify visualizer’s cramming stadium footage into the glass... Posty’s got hits! He’s also nursing a permanent shoulder chip for criticism, which in turn fuels his best hypercapitalist antihero turns. “Wow.” radiates the “Fuck you!” energy that mainstream pop music demands from someone in his position; the first act two-piece of “Saint-Tropez” and “Enemies” resonates in a similar fashion, some convincing audible clapbacks to The Haters that feel as massive and impenetrable as the egos of their creators.
Leaning in on the team of Louis Bell, Brian Lee, and Frank Dukes among others, Hollywood’s Bleeding finds Post Malone reconfirming his center in the trap standards as a baseline for his experimentations. The poppier strides feel less like outliers, but the overall sonic identity leaves minimal room for new risks or surprises. Despite the relative predictability of this album’s darker streaks, it’s often enjoyable until some moments steer the journey off course. The pop-punk tint of “Allergic” comes off grating and annoying around the hook, but eases up to brighter pastures. The Ozzy/Travis romp “Take What You Want” lets the arena rock beat build into a guitar solo that’s equally grotesque and epic in a can’t-look-away fashion. Much like Post himself, his co-stars check in at variable rates that prove difficult to control for: Meek Mill phones completely in, but Lil Baby charges ahead. Ozzy Osbourne revels in his glory, but Travis Scott lends another mid feature in a string of mid appearances.
There’s also the lingering question of how much Hollywood has to do with the bleeding. Post’s masochistic rich shtick is threatening to gnaw away at his potential, as evidenced by the sub-narrative of heartbreak and betrayal that plays out like Gaslight Grillz without a DJ Drama tag in sight. Despite his oft-catchy exploits, there’s a bitter immaturity lingering through Hollywood’s Bleeding that simultaneously attempts to incite empathy for his character while digging no further beneath the surface of it. After a while, the tales of scornful lovers and haters become worn tropes with minimal depth to support their vapid arguments. There’s plenty of what the proverbial You did to make Post this way, and almost no attempt to absolve the blame or decode the logic behind why Post continues to revert to such toxicity. Sure, “Goodbyes” finds Post comparing himself to Cobain, but can he articulate the ills he needs saving from in an intriguing manner? We know he’s suffered “A Thousand Bad Times” at the hands of manipulative women since coming to fame, but he’s done nothing wrong? How does “Im Gonna Be” sound so nondescript with self-empowerment via thousand-dollar Crocs at stake?
By the time Hollywood’s Bleeding speeds to a close, we somehow transition from an extended romp through celebrity gallivanting to a drastically bright tonal shift accompanied by the algorithmic tuck of near-billion-stream singles. A SZA duet comes before “Sunflower” which comes before a song about the internet, and eventually we leave with no clear statement on anything. Nonetheless, this album will sound good enough from a Bluetooth speaker, or a white teen’s Airpods in an UberPool back to suburbia. The Post Malone Project (as an artist) dictates neither clarity nor happy endings, but Post manages to bury his mission statement in broad daylight via the second verse of “Myself”:
“All of this American dreamin’
Everybody’s sick of believin’
Oh, let’s not give a fuck ’til
Givin’ a fuck has no meaning”
The second half of the verse offers an intriguing counterpoint as Post shifts to the “I” pronoun:
“Oh, I’m sick of believin’
All of this American dreamin’”
Post Malone can purchase a car before my morning oats, spend $80k on a mink, has Bud Light coursing through his veins, but alas… he’s sick of this American shit, too? The prior 40-odd minutes aggrandized the myth by telling us the complete opposite — as Post Malone is America — but I... now I’m intrigued!
Where’s that album at, Posty? Hollywood could have bled out by your hand!