It’s not a new phenomenon for popular artists to release documentaries about their life and their creative journey. For fans, it is an insight into the mind of their idol; for the artists themselves, it’s a chance to become closer with their audience and promote some of their work. Yung Lean’s new documentary In My Head is no exception. Providing the viewers with the story of Yung Lean’s formation and breakthrough, it is a formulaic, but nonetheless exciting deep-dive into the Swedish rapper’s world.
Yung Lean is the alias of Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, a Swedish musician and rapper. At just 16 years old, the music video for his song ”Ginseng Strip 2002” went viral on YouTube, setting off waves in the media. His youth and his infatuation with American culture caused heads to turn. However, it wasn’t just the drug-heavy lyrical content which attracted attention. Many found solace for their sadness in the monotone manner, which Yung Lean used to rap; fans say this themselves in the documentary. Others, saw this as the beginning for rise of SoundCloud rappers, influencing a generation of new artists.
The documentary lets the viewers in on everything preceding that fateful moment. We are taken on a tour through personal archives of the Håstad family, featuring a young Jonatan performing for the camera. The footage is intercut with videos of Yung Lean’s packed concerts, juxtaposing his creativity then and now. In a way, this almost seems clichéd. Certainly, everyone would like to believe that they were destined for something from childhood: be it creativity or something else. Yet, considering the breakthrough ”Ginseng Strip 2020” caused for Yung Lean at just 16, it is hard to believe that Yung Lean was never meant to be.
Fame took Yung Lean and sucked him in, like a hurricane. Soon, he was touring across the US and Canada along with his collaborators. However, the dream soon turned into a nightmare, as the group gradually descended into drug abuse. The documentary doesn’t show a lot of archive concert footage; instead, it features a twisted highlight-reel of these young rappers, smoking weed, popping pills or talking about wanting to buy some crystal meth. ”Miami” is mentioned ominously by the interviewees.
Despite the documentary not discussing this, Yung Lean didn’t first try drugs when he became famous. In fact, he was put on probation for smoking cannabis when he was 15. Yet, one can see how the busy tour schedule, a lack of proper management and the boys’ young age (Yung Lean turned 18 on tour) caused them to spiral into a lack of control. They mention themselves how their tour and later, their stay to record another album, became not about music, but about drugs.
One could argue that the first part of In My Head romanticises drug-abuse. The group of boys are having fun together, under the influence, as they live in a luxury penthouse and make music. The interviewee’s frequently use terms such as ”dark” or ”nightmare” to describe their time in Miami. For young and impressionable fans, though, this may not seem nightmarish — after all, drugs make a consistent appearance in Yung Lean’s music. The terrible consequences of this lifestyle become apparent soon enough: one death and one overdose. Years of recovery for Yung Lean follow these events
Rising from the ashes
He didn’t crash from the high forever — on the contrary, he rose from the ashes and returned to the spotlight. Releasing new work, collaborating with other prominent rappers, performing in shows and even featuring in fashion campaigns, Yung Lean gained more and more popularity. Nevertheless, the path to his most recent album, Starz, still remained rocky.
In My Head sticks true to the title, featuring extensive interviews from Yung Lean himself, his family and his friends. While, it does get intimate about significant issues, such as mental health and drug addiction, it exposes little about his creative process. Of course, there’s archive footage, but it does little to provide an insight into how Yung Lean creates his music, especially considering his collaboration with a wide range of artists.
To some extent, the documentary feels more fixated on Miami and its effect on Yung Lean’s life and art. Certainly, it was a major experience in his life and it would be incorrect to deny its importance. Nevertheless, it does at times feel like the central point, around which orbits everything else. What happened in Miami shouldn’t be something that will shadow Yung Lean for the rest of his life, contrary to the picture the documentary seems to paint.
In My Head is not a bad documentary: just one, which has a lot of non-chiseled edges, despite taking the easiest approach to a music documentary. Several fans noted how it was unnecessary for it to go into such extensive detail about Miami, since it was a well-known fact already. Perhaps, the extensive narrative should have shown the profound effect this event had on Yung Lean’s life and yet, I still stand by my point that not enough time was devoted to the creative process behind his work.
Yes, the film is full of clichés. It features a quick rise, a similarly-quick fall, a return to spotlight and redemption — you’d expect somebody saying ”it all went by so fast!” in one of the talking head shots. This, though, does not strip it of its potential for enjoyment. For newer fans, interested in Yung Lean’s personal life, the documentary might provide just enough new information. For mature fans, it’ll be just one more excuse to listen to Yung Lean’s music and admire his creative progression onscreen.
In My Head takes a common formula to music documentaries, sprinkles it with archive footage and interviews, to tell a story of a tortured artist with an immense talent.
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