Lost at Sea

‘Teenage Emotions’ Finds Lil Yachty Stranded in Creative Limbo

words by Alex Wen

One’s teenage years are a fleeting time. It’s a period of rapid change, extreme emotions and whole lot of hormones. Lil Yachty exists in this messy haven of contradictory feelings. His carefree attitude towards self-branding and his willful ignorance on hip-hop’s past has drawn ire from some and praise from others. Yachty is a youthful free spirit and a corporate puppet–it just depends on who you ask.

Teenage Emotions doubles down on this divide. The project is a frustratingly long exercise in self-expression that teters between ignorant bliss and careless nonsense. Tracks like “Harley” or “Say My Name,” are easy standouts, burrowing themselves into the subconscious with chants of “harley” or “say my name” on repeat. Their repetition, and thus simplicity, magnifies Yachty’s penchant for coasting on just a vibe alone.

Lil Yachty’s appeal stems from this concept of happiness that surrounds his music and his brand; it’s what propelled him to be the face of Nautica and what carried him to star in a Target commercial. And it’s why his easy-to-digest bubblegum pop anthems are the one’s that work best. They’re minimal in message and intent, getting straight to the energy, an area Yachty excels in.

“Forever Young,” with some help from Diplo, follows a similar pattern. The dense autotune works well with the light, breezy productions, giving room for Yachty’s quick raps to ascend in parallel with the beat, climaxing in a bouncy chorus. Even as Yachty’s voice starts to strain with the autotune, it comes off as earnest, a trait that many other tracks lack.

Teenage Emotions’ more rap-heavy efforts, on the other hand, fall flat from the get-go. “DN Freestyle,” second track off the project, plays like a spiritual successor to “For Hot 97” from Summer Songs 2. The latter was an ill-conceived rebuttal where Yachty tries to prove his rapping chops to the Hot 97 crew, the former shows not much has changed. His mumble rap style betrays him as he struggles to keep up with his own beat, all while muttering a lot of nonsense.

It’s also easy to get caught up on the tracks seemingly engineered for success, a Migos-assisted heater in “Peek A Boo,” or the triumphant “All Around Me,” where YG has to assert how he fucks with Lil Yachty, not just once, nor twice, but three times. And that’s always been the dark underbelly to Yachty’s rapid ascent–one boosted by big corporations and large marketing teams. His music feels artificial at points, programmed to be good. That’s a damnation for an artist that depends on his authenticity to thrive, and worse still for teenagers, a demographic that can smell fake from a mile away.

Even so, and it may seem harsh, Lil Yachty’s eagerness to embrace brand endorsements may be his best move. When left to his own devices, Yachty doesn’t take long before veering into tired tropes of getting laid and making money. And even that devolves further into weird lyrics about incest and confusion about woodwind instruments.

Yachty’s young, he’s never claimed to be making anything more than what’s presented here, and yet it’s hard not to be disappointed in this project. From the album cover to the red hair, from the barrage of media coverage to his rebellious candor, everything around Lil Yachty seems to be saying something significant, something meaningful, or at least…something. So when the spotlight turns on the man himself only to find a large collection of middling tracks–many that lack the expression and uniqueness of Yachty, it’s hard to get past the loud, crass nothingness that is Teenage Emotions. The project has little to say. But maybe that’s just what the kids are into these days.