Film Reviews

“Brave, Bold And Undeniably Important” – Film Review: Yung Lean: In My Head

Gemma Cockrell

Directed by Henrik Burman, Yung Lean: In My Head tracks the Swedish cult rap star Yung Lean’s compelling rise to fame. He “was on top of the world, but behind the scenes he struggled with fame, drug addiction, and mental health issues. This is his coming-of-age story told with unparalleled access on his road to recovery”.

When Yung Lean, real name Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, began to release his music on YouTube, it was an instant viral sensation. The unprecedented success of the unique internet phenomenon which he crafted was something that had never quite been seen before – especially not from a group of teenagers hailing from Sweden.

At the time, Lean was a 15-year-old baby-faced teenager wearing a bucket hat, whilst rapping about depression, drugs, and pop-culture over dreamy cloud-rap beats, produced by his best friends Yung Gud (Carl-Mikael Göran Berlander) and Yung Sherman (Axel Tufvesson). Together, the three friends called themselves the ‘Sad Boys’.

At first, the media and viewers alike didn’t know what to think. Who really were the ‘Sad Boys’? Was Yung Lean’s music a meme, a parody, a joke? Or was it something much deeper than this? Unsurprisingly, Americans were fascinated by his references to Western pop-culture, and it was this factor, alongside their affiliation with Barron Machat’s record label ‘Hippos In Tanks’, which enabled the ‘Sad Boys’ to win the world over.

However, in a story which fans of the group will already know all too well, things took a very dark turn, as the Swedish boys’ fantasy of the American dream very quickly turned into a brutal and harsh reality. Despite fans having already heard this story many times before, most notably in the Fader’s article ‘Yung Lean’s Second Chance’, In My Head sees it vividly brought to life.

The use of footage recorded by ‘Sad Boys’ collaborator and ‘drain gang’ member Ecco2k truly and accurately visualises the dangerous lifestyle that the ‘Sad Boys’ got drawn into as they extensively toured the US and Canada, until the situation reached a devastating climax whilst the group were recording an album in Miami.

This story must have been incredibly difficult to reflect on for the ‘Sad Boys’, as well as Barron’s father, Steven Machat, who was interviewed in the documentary to provide his side of the events that took place. The tragedy which happened in Miami created an irreversible rift between Steven and the ‘Sad Boys’, which is still alive to this day.

In My Head gets as close as it possibly can to the events that unfolded – so close, that you feel like you witnessed it yourself at the time. It is a brave, bold and undeniably important documentation of just how dark the music industry can become when things spiral out of control, and how quickly both life on the road and drug use can turn from ecstatic creativity to destructive chaos.

The mental toll of these events is depicted through animated drawings designed and created by Yung Lean himself – an incredibly personal touch to the documentary, which truly allows an insight into his mind during these times. In My Head is entirely unafraid to dig deep into the psychosis and trauma which he suffered.

Throughout the first half of the documentary, the story is told entirely through the eyes and words of Lean’s friends and collaborators. However, at the halfway point, the perspective flips, and Lean himself is given a voice. The focus shifts from the music to Lean himself, exploring how he recovered from these events to reach the point that he is at today.

The story of Yung Lean is incredibly unique, and yet it can simultaneously be related to the music industry as a whole. Anyone who witnessed and followed the rise of the ‘Sad Boys’ will undoubtedly enjoy In My Head. However, even if you aren’t familiar with them, it remains an eye-opening watch for anyone who is interested in modern music trajectory. Either way, Yung Lean’s story is one that needs to be told.

Yung Lean: In My Head can be watched on YouTube here.

Gemma Cockrell

Feature image courtesy of  Brannon Naito via Unsplash.Image license found here. No changes made to this image. 

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