Pics by Peter Darnley-Stuart
People have been saying rappers are the new rockstars for more than a decade now but with hip-hop overtaking rock last year as the most popular genre in the US that statement means more than it ever did. It's not exactly true though. While there are many rappers capable of filling stadiums themselves, there are few rappers that embody the original energy of rockstars - the urgency, recklessness, intensity and individuality.
During Lil Uzi Vert's Sydney show, he declared himself the last living rockstar, giving a shoutout to the late Lil Peep who he believes was the one who could claim the title too. He's not claiming he's the best rapper or best artists on the planet. He's simply saying that he's the new rockstar. And he might be right.
Uzi takes influences from rock music in all facets of his music. He takes great inspiration from Marilyn Manson, who he is apparently planning a collaboration with at the moment. At 23 years-old, Uzi grew up in Manson's peak and was also around for the rise of emo bands like Paramore and My Chemical Romance. That's where his style intersects. He takes cues from both heavy metal and emo, fusing it with the punk attitude of Virgil Abloh, who's brand Off-White is a staple Uzi fit. The satanic symbolism is also something that ties him to metal music.
While his music is less attached to rock, it's the product of someone who grew up in the era of rock. It's got a roughness and a darkness to it that he brought to the stage in Sydney. "I really don't give a fuck what nobody says about me," he says on opener Two with his gravley, auto-tuned voice. Later cuts like Early 20 Rager and Do I Want rumble through the speakers with this intensity that encourages chaos. Like '70s punk shows, chaos is at the core of Uzi's live aesthetic. Death circles open for the majority of the set and Uzi stirs the crowd up-front with tongue out and devil horns in the air.
Even his singalong tracks like XO Tour Llif3 and The Way Life Goes carry the anthemic nature of a stadium rock song. It's unexpected but it feels right to be howling the chorus of those songs at the top of your lungs. You can imagine these songs working in a stadium, whether he be with a band or simply with the same set up he had at the Enmore Theatre.
Rock is quickly becoming a legacy genre and rock fans are understandably going to be wary in opening their arms to this new phase. The reason rock lasted so long though is because it consistently reinvented itself. At some point it became stagnant. Nowadays the Foo Fighters are arguably the biggest current rock band in the world and they really haven't refreshed their toolkit since the early 2000s. This could be the refresher rock needs, if it's embraced.
Uzi still has a way to go but his live show proved that, while he still may be a few classics off being the biggest rockstar in the world, he's on his way. His stage presence is undeniable. From the minute he stepped on stage to the minute he left, he roused the crowd beyond belief. Unlike many rap shows, he didn't need a hype man because he's capable of raising the roof by himself. The intensity of Manson mixed with the showmanship of Bowie and peppered with the emotion of My Chem's Gerard Way makes for a potent cocktail and one we'd happily drink again.