Since emerging in 2012, singer, songwriter, and producer Blackbear has earned a reputation as something of an enfant terrible of the Twitter era through his wanton alt-R&B albums Deadroses, Digital Druglord, and Cybersex — each extolling the pleasures of sex, drugs, and luxury consumerism. His streaming hits, the platinum-selling “Idfc” (If you’re over 25, it stands for “I Don’t Fucking Care”) and the double-platinum “Do Re Mi” (“Do Re Mi, I’m so fucking done with you girl”), further established the 28-year-old as the libertine face of a Juul-dependent, weed-addicted, Instagram-obsessed generation that is checked out while trying to survive a government hellbent on denying basic human rights and choking the planet to death in the process. His dissolute posturing peaked with the wildly popular “Do Re Mi” video, which is set in an oceanfront mansion and finds Blackbear making out and arguing with a sullen brunette in front of a group of angelic-faced children. (She gets her revenge by spray-painting a penis on the windshield of his Range Rover.)

He may have engaged in parent-baiting shenanigans, but Blackbear is no musical lightweight. His bratty trolling belied a major talent. He’s an effortless songwriter with a keen ear for melody, a knack for distilling complicated ideas into tight, precise lyrical spaces, and a relentless perfectionist who prizes technical excellence as a producer and mixer. The industry certainly took notice of the Daytona Beach, Florida, native, who dropped out of high school in the tenth grade to tour with and manage his first band, Polaroid, making his first million before his 21st birthday. Aside from his own prolific output of singles and EPs, Blackbear earned his bones working with the likes of Pharrell Williams, Nick Jonas, Childish Gambino, Linkin Park, and — most notably — Justin Bieber, for whom he co-wrote the 6x-platinum single “Boyfriend” with his friend and Mansionz collaborator Mike Posner. A savvy entrepreneur, who also runs his own label, Beartrap Sound, Blackbear became the first recording artist ever to monetize his own Soundcloud.

But a funny thing happened to Blackbear (born Matthew Musto) on the way to world domination. He realized that he didn’t want to be the Pied Piper of Nihilism any longer. And what might not have been readily apparent to millions of casual fans, but which was glaringly obvious to anyone truly paying attention, was that a well-defended sadness was lurking beneath the louche surface of his songs. “I was a confused person crying out for help, but didn’t really want it when it was offered to me,” he says now. “I was being a hopeless romantic with my art and my music, but I was playing some kind of game with myself. Misery loves company and I was the only person I invited to the party.”

On his new album Anonymous, Blackbear has discovered that the antidote to the pity party is vulnerability. “There were hints in my earlier albums of who I really was, but I had a wall up,” he says. “The wall’s been torn down for Anonymous. I’m calling it that because I want to take the ego out of the process. I wanted to make a human album, by a real person, not hide behind the character of this sad ‘Blackbear’ guy.”

Anonymous finds Blackbear moving away from the angry depression of his earlier work and finding ease sitting in the discomfort of his constantly whirling emotions. He also holds himself accountable for his past actions. He admits to cheating on a girlfriend on “Swear to God” and declares, “I’m sick of taking drugs and feeling bad / I swear to God I’m gonna change.” “It’s about really trying to repent, like tail between your legs, complete surrender,” he says. Blackbear also accepts that it might not be enough and an ex might still be pissed on “Hate My Guts.” “I’m saying if you still hate me that’s fine, I’m just going to have to own up and be better person,” he says. “I would love to think of this album as an amends to anyone for whom I made bad choices seem cool. Poor choices are not cool. Living a long time and being happy are cool as fuck. I think my sick brain found enjoyment in being sick.”

As Blackbear reckons with the wreckage of his past, self-acceptance appears as a theme on songs like “High 1x” when he sings: “I been feelin’ me / I been feelin’ free,” then encourages his listeners to try it out for themselves: “Mainly for the freaks / If you feelin’ yourself / Let me hear you sing that shit from the belt.” “1 Sided Love” could be interpreted as Blackbear’s kiss-off to a girl who loved the idea of him more than the real him, but “it’s more about my relationship with myself than anyone else,” he says.

But Anonymous is not all unicorns and rainbows. “Dead to Me” teems with resentment (“You’re dead to me / Left me here with nothing / Took the best of me”), while “Sick of It All” is an existential lament (“I’m sick of my girl / I’m sick of my dogs / I’m sick of my crib / I’m sick of this love that got me fucked up…I’m sick of everything that’s in my life.” And he calls himself out on his old tricks on “Burnt AF” when he describes how he “woke up at 7 pm in a mansion next to a girl I thought I’d just dance with.” The track features an actual voice mail from Blackbear’s ex-girlfriend, which he had to pull teeth to clear. “I don’t know how much more vulnerable it gets when you use the voice of the person that the song is actually about as part of the production,” he says.

“I definitely wasn’t gunning to make a goody two-shoes album,” he says. “And I don’t think I ever will. That’s just not who I am at my core. Newsflash, I’m a dramatic person. I’m still an extremist. If I get depressed, I don’t leave my bedroom for days. That still happens. But I’ve learned ways to move through it.” Blackbear is also clear that he’s not interested in telling anyone else how to live. He’s just sharing his own experiences and trying to remain humble in the process.

“When a fan tells me that my music saved their life or that I saved their life, I’m like, ‘You know what? You saved your life. I was just the soundtrack.’ So I try not to own those things or let them go to my head, because I’m doing this therapeutically and, in all honesty, kind of selfishly. And I’m so grateful that it’s my job to be vulnerable and to not have to lie anymore. I used to think my job was to keep up the façade of the depressed rich kid. It’s an added bonus that I can grow from my music and somehow it helps people. I want to inspire everyone to be more unapologetic about who they are.”


[April 2019]