Iann Dior grew up writing poetry and worshiping Paramore, hacking pop-punk and putting on headphones to drown out the world with Panic! At the disco. He dropped into a studio after a breakup and posted a mournful mixtape on SoundCloud; soon after, he moved to Los Angeles, and within weeks, he says, labels were coming to call him. He hooked up with the hip-hop production collective Internet Money, known for his work with Juice WRLD and Trippie Redd, and released one track a week, entwining songs about heartbreak and death with sultry chords and chords. candy coated hooks.
Some listeners thought Dior was a label accessory, designed to succeed in a porous streaming ecosystem; in 2019 his debut album arrived with the tongue-in-cheek title Industry Factory. As it grew more popular, scoring a feature on rapper 24kGoldn’s must-have 2020 TikTok hit “Mood,” Dior fit easily into a burgeoning pop niche where angst-ridden emo rap, frothy trap-pop, sunny top 40 choruses and hard-hitting pop-punk riffs freeze alongside peers like Post Malone, blackbear and the recent generation of Travis Barker proteges. The result is perky, digestible music about terror and suffering. Dior’s new album, to better things, struggles with the fallout of her newfound fame with serious mopey. At 22, he looks tired. “I’m picking up where Juice WRLD left off,” he said. NME. It is an ambitious and austere statement; much of the despair in his music seems to stem from artists whose successes have become tragedies.
Sorrow is the default in these songs. Dior spends most of the album walking on water as it broods over familiar feelings — fame is hollow, love is a trap, Instagram is boring. The momentum comes from how quickly it switches genres, swinging between blasted pop hooks, strutting bass lines and mellow synths. He tries a tortured rockstar aesthetic, interpolating Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” for an unconvincing breakup ballad (“She’s no surgeon, but she really took my heart out”). The stylistic plasticity speaks to its stable of production talent (Internet Money’s Taz Taylor, Cashmere Cat and Barker, who features on three of the 15 songs), but also to the conventions of the artists Dior emulates. He said he considered Machine Gun Kelly a mentor, and he did his best to borrow Kelly’s slick hooks and disused rasp. The “obvious” with Barker looks like a Tickets for my fall B-side with lazier lyrics. (“I feel wavy,” Dior sings, “Don’t fuck up the vibe tonight.”) his life “in the hills”; it sounds like a watered down version of Kelly’s “I Think I’m Okay”, until Kelly himself shows up to growl about getting high.
The guiding philosophy of the album seems to be if you can’t beat them, join them, or at least put them together in one feature. “V12” is the most effective song, a shimmering ball of TikTok bait that drives Lil Uzi Vert over thumping, breathy drums. “Remember who did this shit first,” Uzi sings, echoing Dior’s chorus but also stating the obvious – it’s a blatant copycat of his squelchy production and crooning flow. Dior glides on melancholy almost casually; it’s shocking, on a song like “let you”, to hear him throw a line about not wanting to die young between fiery acoustic strums and banal lyrics about the make-up break cycle. The stories that drive Dior’s writing – the anguish of ending a relationship, the exhaustion of depression – sink into an anesthetized blur. It’s less likely to sing of individual sentiments than to insert the occasional diamond or a pair of designer shades into the overall moody pattern. These songs have the gravity and specificity of a crying emoji.
Dior remains vague and empty throughout the album, invested in his feelings but short of interesting ideas. (Hollywood? Toxic! Heartbreak? Hard!) “I’m a punk with a twisted brain,” he moans, and asks us to take his word for it. But there was a sense of fun in the pop-punk Dior listened to as a kid and reveres now, a playfulness for all the skinny ties, side parts and melodrama. Dior seems so focused on convincing us he’s miserable that he leaves no room for character or charm. “Fame doesn’t look like I thought,” he sings. Fame seems to mean feeling nothing at all.
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