He frowned. Click here to subscribe. It was five o'clock somewhere, but not in L. Anyway, the store was fake: Post was on set, running lines for a commercial being filmed—amid military secrecy—for the Super Bowl. Post Malone has been hawking Bud Light since , and drinking it for a good deal longer than that, and so Anheuser-Busch InBev had chosen him to help announce its newest product, Bud Light Seltzer: a watery beverage for people who find Bud Light too beery. Designers had converted an auto-body shop into a fake convenience store, which looked just like the real thing, except that all the brand names on the shelves were fictitious, besides Bud Light.
When Post was finally dismissed for a lunch break, he ambled out into the parking lot, which was surrounded by a fence that had been comprehensively tarped, for privacy. Post Malone is taller and more imposing than many people might expect, and he gained a few extra inches from the rich brown cowboy boots he was wearing.
In conversation as in song he exudes a warm, stoney charisma. He found a seat on a cooler and dug into a pack of Camel cigarettes, paying little attention to the spread of cheesesteaks and fried-chicken sandwiches that had been brought in.
The shoot was going well. He doesn't love delivering dialogue, especially in front of a group. Post Malone knows that he is not generally perceived as shy, and not just because he is one of the most popular musicians in the world.
Spotify named him the most streamed artist of , and according to Nielsen, his album, Hollywood's Bleeding, was the most-listened-to album of the year, though it only arrived in September. Even as his music dominates the planet, Post Malone cultivates a gregarious image.
He is only 24, and he has reacted to success with amusement and amazement while taking care to reassure fans that he hasn't lost his taste for cheap thrills, now that he can afford expensive ones. He is now a global celebrity, but Post Malone still acts like an interloper in this exclusive club, wandering through A-list parties with heavy eyelids and a sheepish smile.
In the abstract, Post Malone's music might seem obnoxious. But even skeptics have discovered, over the past few years, that he is surprisingly hard to hate. Indeed, just about every song in his catalog has a melancholy streak, which is part of what makes it so easy to root for him. In the Bud Light commercial, Post was allowed—in fact, obliged—to be himself: He played Post Malone, a thirsty superstar trying to decide what to drink. The shoot stretched on into the night, and Post, who was operating on about two hours of sleep, tried to stay focused during the short camera segments, and during the long breaks in between.
Post Malone's first album was called Stoney, which was what some of his friends used to call him, but he says he quit smoking marijuana after a pot-induced anxiety attack that never completely subsided. The first line of the first song on Stoney goes: I done drank codeine from a broken whiskey glass. He says that his diet has changed since then—he now likes to consume nothing stronger than alcohol. And, it sometimes seems, nothing weaker. And by the time the shoot wrapped, sometime around midnight, Post's day was just beginning—he disappeared into the Los Angeles night, ready to find something to celebrate.
Post Malone was still celebrating a few weeks later, when he arrived in New York. Near his hotel, he was set upon by a TMZ cameraman, who broke the news that Post had added to his face-tattoo collection: a ball-and-chain flail, covering much of his right cheek. Viewers at home didn't see the moment when Post fell into the gap between the stage and the crowd and had to be rescued by security; he smiled the whole time. Post wasn't tired yet, nor was he tired by the time the city's bars closed, so he met up with his friends from Beach Fossils, an indie band he loves.
A friend of theirs had a bar that was willing to host a private party, which turned into an impromptu karaoke session as the sun rose. As one of the music industry's most reliable hitmakers, Post is surrounded by a number of industry professionals, not all of whom knew in advance about his trip abroad, which functioned as both a restorative vacation and a wildcat strike. That's the difficult part of being in this situation: You don't have a moment to yourself.
When Post Malone finally stopped to catch his breath, after his intercontinental trip, he was in Utah, in a grand and angular mountainside house that has been his hideaway for the past two years—a few hours by airplane from L. On a gray afternoon, he rolled out of bed around dinnertime, wearing white long johns and a Dallas Cowboys jersey No. In theory Utah is where Post goes when he needs some time to himself, although in practice he is rarely alone; on this day there was a small group of people working quietly on various household tasks, including Post's father, Rich Post, a garrulous guy with impressive muttonchops, who seems to have transmitted both his obsession with music and his easy self-confidence to his son.
Post's real name is Austin Richard Post, and he was raised around Syracuse, New York, where his parents lived, separately. On his own, Post mastered Guitar Hero and eventually got his mother to buy him a real guitar. When Rich Post got a job as a concessions executive with the Dallas Cowboys, he moved to the Dallas area with his son, who eventually fell in with the local metalcore scene, led by bands like Crown the Empire. Post played guitar in a shouty band while using hacked software to produce beats and rap over them.
By the time he graduated from high school, in , he was starting to think that he might be able to scrape together a music career, so he soon moved to L. One of the people Post met in L. Dre signed on as a manager and has been guiding Post's career ever since. In the early years, not everyone was inclined to make that subtle distinction.
At the time, SoundCloud and other outlets were clogged with mysterious upstarts specializing in hazy vocals; Post Malone might have seemed like just another sing-rapper, alongside Lil Yachty and Spooky Black and iLoveMakonnen and Yung Lean. By the time Stoney arrived, at the end of , it seemed as if the music world might have moved on. The song started to find an audience early in , and kept growing, becoming one of that year's biggest hits.
It established Post Malone as the pop-music equivalent of a universal donor. He was well versed in hip-hop but not, as Dre London realized, a rapper. He was a convivial white guy who didn't come across as a frat bro, a moody codeine sipper who didn't scare away mainstream listeners, and a teen favorite who was no one's idea of a pretty boy, least of all his own. A casual Post Malone fan might show up to one of his concerts expecting a party. A devoted Post Malone fan would probably know better.
During a recent appearance at Madison Square Garden, he arrived onstage alone: no band, no DJ, no hype man. He is a surprisingly delicate presence onstage, dragging his toes like a dancer, and taking care to emphasize the introspection in his music.
Many of those hits were created with the producer and songwriter Louis Bell, who was with Post from the start and has since become a key member of his musical team. But he says that Post has a singular ability to hear a beat and find a melody for it nearly instantly. That doesn't really work with other artists. It's like David Byrne said: The better you sound, the less people will believe you. He was a white guy who was enthralled with hip-hop, which means he was also enthralled with African American culture.
In the video, he wore cornrows and gold teeth, not as a goof but as a form of wishcasting. Dress for the job you want, they say—and Post wanted to be a hip-hop star. This kind of transracial identification has lately fallen out of style; if Post had emerged just a few years later, the cornrows alone might have overshadowed his music.
Obviously, Post has apologized for having said the N-word. And just as obviously, he has declined to apologize for loving hip-hop culture enough to want to become part of it. Indeed, it seems perverse to expect young musicians, including white ones, not to be influenced by hip-hop, and not to reflect that influence in their own music, and maybe even on their own teeth.
Before he was a great singer, Post was a not-so-great rapper, emulating his idols. Sometimes, for Post, that process meant tacking away from traditional hip-hop. He was particularly drawn to Mac Miller, a white rapper who became an early supporter and a friend before his death, by drug overdose, in Post noticed that Mac Miller made musical connections with the non-hip-hop world—one of his first hits was based on a sample of Sufjan Stevens, the indie-rock singer.
Post's grainy vocal quaver, sometimes mistaken for an Auto-Tune effect, has become one of his most valuable musical tools, especially when he wants to evoke melancholy. He jokes that it makes him sound like a goat, but it also makes him sound like another of his musical idols: Conor Oberst, from the beloved emo band Bright Eyes. Oddly enough, it was this kind of sentiment that earned Post the harshest criticism of his career. In a interview with a Polish outlet, he suggested that contemporary hip-hop lacked emotional range.
So whenever I want to cry—whenever I want to sit down and have a nice cry—I'll listen to some, like, Bob Dylan. Post tries to be more careful now when he talks about hip-hop; he is quick to acknowledge hip-hop heroes like Young Thug, who helped expand the idea of what it means to be a rapper.
But the real reason for the skepticism that Post sometimes faces has less to do with his music and more to do with the perception that white hip-hop acts have an easier time earning mainstream success than their African American counterparts. Certainly Post now outshines—and outearns—most of the figures who inspired him; in America it's often more lucrative to be White Iverson than black Iverson.
In his rise to the top, Post didn't do anything more objectionable than make a bunch of notably unshitty songs, inspired by his favorite music in the world. But like any successful person in America, he now has cause to consider the history and the system that enabled his success.
He admits this, although he also admits he is only now starting to think about what that might mean. It is easy to forget just how successful Post Malone has been, especially when you are hanging out with him. One afternoon in Utah, he noticed that he was running low on Doritos and considered making a trip to restock. He never made it to Costco, but Post loves to shop. Like most pop stars, he has an enormous closet where his footwear collection is carefully arranged: sneakers, Crocs, cowboy boots.
Unlike some pop stars, he also collects firearms. Half a dozen were laid out on a bar counter, including a few rifles and a SilencerCo Maxim 9, a handgun with built-in noise suppression. In three men broke into a California house where Post had recently lived, shouting his name; according to TMZ, they robbed and pistol-whipped the occupant. Post is an easygoing presence, but his music suggests a paranoid streak: He has been singing about the pitfalls of fame and riches since long before he was famous or rich.
It was getting dark in Utah, and Post, still jet-lagged from his Japan trip, was starting to wake up, assisted by plenty of Bud Light and one can of Bud Light Seltzer Mango, which he was trying for the first time. I tried to drink some beers to get rid of that shit, but it just never goes away. And I don't think that's anybody's fault; it has to do with something predisposed in you.
Post has decided to talk more explicitly about the importance of mental health, even as his own remains a work in progress. But he knows, too, the risks of self-medication. But when asked whether he was getting help for his own mental health problems, Post was vague.
Through my songs, I can talk about whatever I want. But sitting here, face-to-face, it's difficult. Five years ago, when Post announced his intention to become a hip-hop star, lots of people didn't take him seriously. And perhaps people don't always take him seriously now, when he talks about his chaotic life and his fitful efforts to find peace.