You probably hate Post Malone. It’s what we do now.
A couple years ago we all hated Ed Sheeran. Next year we’ll hate some new overachieving mediocrity. He (it’s always more fun when it’s a he) won’t especially deserve our hatred, he won’t deserve his fans’ love either, and while this perpetual misallocation of positive and negative intensity hardly restores any cosmic balance, it does provide perspective. However many millions of Americans love a star, that still leaves hundreds of millions more to hate him.
And so, even as Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys (that’s got the cadence of lost Jane Austen title, no?) streamed with frictionless profitability into so very many ears, it “received mixed reviews from critics,” as the traditional Wikipedia euphemism puts it. In fact, Post was the recipient of the most hilariously vicious autopsy to be performed on a live human in 2018 . He’s a constant and unwelcome radio presence, his one-groan-fits-all delivery as endearing as the slap of a sweaty foot against a flip-flop in an otherwise silent room, and I’d say that “Rock Star” still sounds like it should soundtrack a slow-motion video of one barely ambulatory teen after another failing to reach a toilet before he pukes if that didn’t make the song sound kind of awesome. Which it is not.
But—and I apologize preemptively for using italics twice in the same sentence—how much do I really hate Post Malone? I was forced to reexamine my preconceptions when freethinking City Pages Web Editor Jay Boller casually expressed his moderate enjoyment of Posty’s “Better Now” the other day on Gchat (or, whatever, “Hangouts,” you know what I’m talking about). What was I to say? (I believe my exact response was first “Jay.” and then “hmm”.) Malone’s persistence annoys me—he’s the roommate who's always playing video games on the couch every time. And I respect fun way too much to allow today’s youth to believe that listening to Post allows them to have it. But “hate” is a strong word for such weak music.
(When I asked if I could expose him as a Post apologist here—only a true monster violates the sanctity of chat by quoting without permission—Jay not only consented but threw down with "'Better Now’ is the cuck-emo anthem of the century,” an opinion I definitely enjoy more than any Post Malone song.)
So when I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse last weekend my hereto mostly unexamined aversion to Posty had been jostled into my conscious thoughts, and a response I’d once classified as hatred was debating whether to wade into the lukewarm shallows of mere dislike and latent hostility. And then, after a movie that’s as smart and fun as you’ve probably already heard, there he was, Post Malone, in the credits. He played “Brooklyn Bystander.” I looked it up. He had one line. A joke. It was a good one. Your kids won’t get it.
More significantly, the movie uses Malone’s new hit as part of the funniest headphone-singalong gag since Eddie Murphy tried to screech both lead and backup on “Roxanne.” When teen Spider-Man-to-be Miles Morales first appears, he’s at his desk, rap-singing along to “Sunflower,” or rather, trying to—the song’s slurred delivery means he can only make out the vowels. The gag’s even funnier now than it must have been in production, since “Sunflower” has become an actual hit and so many of us have made similar incoherent noises in its presence.
Like the movie itself, the soundtrack to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is self-aware, knowledgable about its milieu, and rarely pandering. (Still, what idiot didn’t just call it Spider-Verses?) Here’s modern rap reimagined as music that might be marketed to a kid whose nervous system isn’t flooded with testosterone or THC—a kid, in other words, like Miles. (And apparently a kid who’s pretty clued- the-fuck-in if he’s listening to Thutmose—if you’re an increasingly out-of-it rap fan who’s heard the names Denzel Curry or Ski Mask the Slump God but hasn’t had time to investigate further, here’s your way in.)
In fact, just as the soundtracks of the ’80s did with power ballads and synthpop strive-rock, the Spider-Verse soundtrack streamlines hit music for cinematic effect. The druggy haze is aired out; the aggro edge is dialed down. What remains is the artery-thumping anthemry and devilishly simple sing-song elements. (Though when it’s time for a mock training sequence, the movie heads back to the Age of Reagan for John Parr’s “Man in Motion”—like I said, self-aware.) Of course, this music is cooler than ’80s schlock, and even when it’s not, I’ll still take Juice Wrld over Kenny Loggins.
But back to the “Sunflower” gag. Not since the CW used Michelle Branch’s “Goodbye to You” for the commercials leading up to the Buffy finale—and that’s what, 16 years ago now, sheesh—has an effective song placement like this softened me up on an unremarkable hit. But you know what, now that I think about it, the part where Miles stumbles over the lyrics? That’s Swae Lee’s voice he’s trying to keep up with. So how much credit does Posty really deserve here?
Is it too late to change the headline to read “6% less”?