YUNGBLUD at The Fillmore in Minneapolis: A Review
A large, gauzy black-gray cloth hung at the front of the stage, obscuring everything behind it. It hung there for twenty minutes before the show began. I’d never even heard of this guy before, so I didn’t know what to expect. My boyfriend likes going to concerts, and I just agreed to join, like a very tiring date night. The lights dimmed, and an overexaggerated pair of red lips appeared on the cloth to speak to the crowd, though I couldn’t pick up what they were saying. The large lips dissipated, and a silhouette sat at a piano in the bottom right corner before the sheet fell. The silhouette was then a person.
YUNGBLUD, clad in rubber or leather skinny jeans, a crop top, and ankle-high pink socks, addressed the crowd with a crazed but caring grin. His voice rang in my ears, fully British and unlike anything I’d heard before: WHAT’S UP MINNEAPOLIS?! There was some sort of raspy-ness to it that just took me in. He began with the song fleabag, the chaos turned down as the crowd before him settled into their personal rhythms and bumps. One older woman even stood at the balcony a few feet diagonal of where I was, all the while she waved her hot pink, sparkly scarf in the air and sang along. His words nestled their way into my ears: I’ll dance around the truth / I’ll be a ballerina boy for you / no matter what I do / you twist— and I was reminded of the years when I too had to dance around the truth, around the fact that I had an undiagnosed mental disorder. I hadn’t thought about those times in years.
I’m back in high school health class, 9th grade. I’m watching the teacher tell us about injuries like burns and whatnot. My eyes are locked on the burn images, which were getting worse— first degree— second— third. I take notes on all of them; the pink of the skin around the welts and bubbles, which are yellowing at the rounded tops. But— the navy-blue lines of the page begin to fade. Then the red margin. Then the whole notebook. My vision is gone. Well, not exactly. All I can see is TV static and faint outlines of people and objects. The teacher has no face now, only gray fuzz. I try to focus on the cute guy sitting in front of me, hoping my strong crush for him will bring me back, but I still can’t see. I realize now that I should’ve asked to go see the nurse, but growing up, I’d only go if I was physically sick. And this wasn’t a cold or a fever. I decide I must take care of this myself.
I raise my hand to ask to go to the restroom. I wait, my face warm and sticky. I had only experienced fainting two times before: once when my mom showed me a tampon, not even unwrapped, and the other the previous year, also in health class— I slammed my head on my desk involuntarily at the sight of a condom, luckily waking myself back up in the process. But those moments were snappy, quick; they came with no TVs or my body sticking to the plastic chair I sat on.
The teacher waves me on, and I manage to wobble my way down the hall. The bathroom is close, maybe a few steps away. I make it there and douse my face with cold water, restoring my vision. I am pale. Warm. Scared. I put some more water on my face before heading back to class. It’s just the images, maybe you’re sensitive to them. I bring it up to my mom when I arrive home: you’re just overreacting, you’re fine she tells me.
The concert softened further with Medication. The song wasn’t as loud or insane, but he keeps the crowd interested by having everyone sing quick blap blap blaps within the chorus while he pranced around stage, hiking his legs high into the air with every step. During the song, he seemed to emphasize the lyrics: You cannot pretend there’s no dirt on your shirt / ‘cause that’s not how it works / that’s not how it works. My dirt is my anxiety disorder.
My family sits at the dinner table, and I tell my mom what had been happening at school since that day in health class. I tell her that every day I nearly faint at least once for seemingly no reason, that I can’t make sense of it, that I want her to take me to my doctor to get it checked out, how my water bottle saves me most days, how those sips of cold water are barely calming enough. It’s nothing to worry about. My parents are very traditional, so topics like mental health or feelings aren’t common discussions. If they are brought up, they are dismissed 99% of the time. I can’t talk to my parents about what was going on, and I was just scared. Almost passing out in Spanish class while taking the final is nothing to worry about? Even if you’re not used to them, you can’t ignore them when they become more intense issues, especially physical. I want to be seen, acknowledged, helped. I learn that my cries for help will fall on deaf ears.
There’s something about YUNGBLUD’s voice. Some artists can go between screaming and clean vocals easily, but he seemed to do the same between cleaner vocals and a raspier version, almost like he swallowed a handful of thumbtacks. After a speedy outfit change, donning a black, long-sleeved mesh top and a black plaid skirt, he asked if we had ever dealt with questionable parents, as I’d later found out his song parents suggests (it can be hard to understand lyrics at a loud concert). He reassured everyone with that surreal raspy-ness: it’s alright, we’ll survive, because parents ain’t always right.
I tried. I tried to listen to believe my mom, maybe I was just overreacting, but it never worked. The headaches, light-headedness, and worry persevered, overshadowing her suggestions.
I finish the writing portion of the Spanish final, and I’m waiting for my turn to do the speaking portion with my teacher at the front of the class. The problem is that it’s quiet. Quiet enough for everyone writing to hear me and every time I mess up. I know this because I’m staring at the boy going before me and can just barely hear him, so everyone must be doing the same when I go up there. The teacher’s eyes are locked onto him, writing as she listens to every. last. word. The static returns.
And it’s worse, because I don’t know what to do. I’m up next, so I can’t retreat to the bathroom like I’ve come to rely on. I blink over and over, my vision clearing slowly. My basketball shorts begin to adhere to my increasingly humid skin. My heart, I feel it throughout my entire body. My hand reaches down to my water bottle, it’s touch reassuring, the water even more so. I make it to the end of the period, but I don’t remember doing the speaking portion. How did I do?
After every couple of songs, YUNGBLUD would just stand on the stage. He smiled before everyone. We were all absolutely ecstatic. It reminded me of Michael Jackson’s entrance to his Super Bowl Halftime Show. Machine Gun was interesting to experience live; everyone formed finger guns, threw their hands up in the air, and flicked them all back and forth during the chorus. We were all one, all together. As YUNGBLUD said, this is a community, a family. There was a feeling of togetherness, of care for each other. I wanted to throw my fingers up too, but I didn’t. I’m just not one of those people who dance at concerts (as my boyfriend says, I bounce in my seat). Even so, I still felt the energy, the familial bond throughout the whole venue. Right before the song, he reminded us all of the single rule for the mosh pit: if someone falls over, you help them up. And the mosh began with the chorus.
But I was not so lucky those years ago; I had no one to help me up.
Since my mom will not take me to my doctor, I begin to scower WebMD for answers. While I don’t diagnose myself, because I’m not a doctor, I learn that anxiety disorders are a thing. I find out the most common disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which comes with symptoms such as often feeling like you have a cold, feeling worried constantly, often feeling light-headed, etc. As soon as I learn these points, all that runs through my head is could this be what was going on? Have I developed some sort of disorder?
I wake up every morning with cold-like symptoms: primarily a headache and an upset stomach, just feeling under the weather really. Growing up, my mom always told me that if I feel sick in any regard, to pop some iBuprofen. So that’s what I do. Everyday. For three years. By the time I go off to college, my body becomes immune to regular iBuprofen, so I have to take Naproxen Sodium if I ever got a cold. But the painkillers make the headaches go away, and I feel decent enough to maybe get through the day without losing any vision or overheating. Then I realize that I can’t get through a day without them— they calm my brain and body; they make me relatively functional. All I can do is take these pills every morning, even if that’s all I have before leaving for the bus.
ice cream man started off full force with an upbeat, collective chant: ice cream man! This song brought the concert back to that chanty-chaotic feeling from before, but it was more positive this time, more uplifting. It was during the instrumentals; I saw my parents telling me you are just an ice cream man, and YUNGBLUD reminded me what was done those years ago: take my dreams and get them banned. Yes, I was just a high schooler, and over and over I heard the typical you’re fine, you’re not a doctor, you don’t know what’s wrong; but I had the most experience with this body. I knew something was wrong, even if I was just an ice cream man. Even so, for years, my dreams of seeking out a doctor were indeed banned. But on that fateful day—
I’m walking into that office scared, nervous, worried, as my anxiety had groomed me to be, but I’m relieved. Excited. I feel a tension leave my chest as I explain to my new doctor, with no one there to stop or doubt me, what I’m dealing with now and have been for the last couple of years. I meticulously rub my fingers together as they begin to warm like a rainforest, explaining that it takes me hours to go to bed. “I get up every five minutes to double check my phone is off.” I knew it was off every time, but I also just didn’t. I bring up the disorder I found online. She agrees that there is an issue, and I leave that office with a prescription to start Lexapro.
YUNGBLUD then pulled out his own guitar, a white body with black accents. He prepared for I Love You, Will You Marry Me, a song with more of a soft rock or a ballad feel to it. He was still able to bounce in place due to the upbeat tempo, probably in cut time; however, every time he sang the chorus, the white stage lights behind him tilted their heads upwards, enlightening the entire venue for a few moments. I could see nearly every single face, or I guess every back of the head from where I was sitting. Still— I saw that entire family of strangers. During the verses of the song, they’d push and spin into a mosh pit again. I watched— the scene was energy-inducing, but I definitely didn’t want to be down there myself. Still, I saw them help each other up, just as YUNGBLUD explained. There was no discrimination, no reasoning needed. Someone falls, so you help them up. I saw my younger self in that pit, being shoved around and pushed onto the floor. I wanted my mom to be above me, reaching a hand out to get me back on my feet. But she continued to thrash in the pit, ignoring the body on the floor. Just as YUNGBLUD sang turned the mess into a dreamland / with a quirky act of romance, I thought back to that person in that doctor’s office; the prescription I left with was, still is, my lover. My act of romance was swallowing one tablet every day, and I had to get myself up off of the floor of the pit.
Within a few months, I had to check my phone only three times before going to bed, then two, and now only once, maybe two if I have an alarm set. I remember my junior year of college, when we had a reading for the launch of our Spring issue of our undergrad literary journal. The reading was in a large lecture hall. At the bottom of the hall stood a whiteboard, projector screens, and a permanent podium with Salisbury University School of Business printed in gold on the front. I stood at that podium, a single sheet of paper in hand. All I had to do was read this one paragraph. I took a moment to observe the crowd, luckily not every seat was filled, smile to myself, and I began to read; and it went just fine. My heart began to beat a bit harder maybe halfway through. But I told myself you took your meds today, your water bottle is at your seat to help afterwards, take your time, there’s plenty of room to breathe. Not five minutes later I was done. I sat back in my seat as applause filled the lecture hall, and I took a sip of my water. The symptoms had diminished, but YUNGNLUD would remind me at the concert: oh what a shame we gotta pay for reality / ain’t it sad, sad, sad? My reality is sad, but it is what it is.
Years later, after graduating from undergrad, reality would smack me in the face when I was massively unprepared. In grad school, I sat in a small room at the back of an art gallery, folding chairs arranged into rows below paintings, drawings, and string lights, before a wooden stage with a matching podium that stopped at my waist. The seats filled with professors and peers, people I was at least familiar with. I positioned my turn to read an essay I’d been working on right after the brief intermission— enough time to calm my mind and listen to everyone going before me, but not dead last where I would have time to worry all over again. I listened to everyone read what they also had been working on, and then it happened for the first time in years— my skin became white and clammy as I made tight fists with my hands. I felt my blood moving, creeping up to my head. My body tingled with it until my eyes threatened to stop working. I had no water, I had taken my meds for the day already, and all I could tell myself was I’m okay, it’ll only be a couple of minutes, and I can still breathe. This event surprised me; I thought I was done dealing with these episodes. The medication had helped for six years, why was it suddenly faltering? Was it the intimacy of the space? The unfamiliarity with this particular reading? Maybe reality really is just sad, sad, sad.
The concert quieted again, and the energy dimmed for a last song: mars. This one sounded even more like a ballad than the previous. The gentle strum of an acoustic guitar rang throughout the venue, all the way to the restrooms that hid behind a wall, separating the upstairs seating from the stairwell. His voice wasn’t as raspy this time; it was gentler. His eyes closed as he strummed and sang: every morning, she would wake up with another plan / yeah, her mum and dad, they couldn’t understand.
The way I can tell an episode is coming on is similar to the feeling of waking up your limbs after they’ve fallen asleep, but backwards. The tingles climb their way up my head, and if they stay there, that is when I begin to really worry— if I couldn’t get the tingles to go back down my head, my vision will go, and the tingles would turn into the TV static in my eyes. That top-of-the-head tingle is normally forced back down by my medication— Normally.
In that chair, in the back of that art gallery, standing at that podium, I felt the tingles awaken from their dormant state. With everyone’s eyes watching, ears waiting, I thought about high school, back in that health class, trying to focus on the cute guy in front of me to regain my vision, but this time I had to focus on my essay, the paper it was printed on. I did my best to glance at everyone when I could, but when I did, my voice gave in. The gallery grew smaller and smaller, the string lights became too warm. The blood stayed in my head, and when I stepped off that podium, my legs were not my own; they felt too light. I merely watched them move. I sat back down. My essay was a tissue consistency in my hands, and I wanted to cry into it. I hadn’t fought off anything for these past few years, I’d only subdued it.
Is there any life on Mars?— is there a way out of this now cycle? Is there a hope that one day I won’t have to be glued to my water bottle? When I won’t have to know these coping mechanisms by heart?
Do you feel like you’re just scaaaaaared as fuck?
Right when I’d managed to pull myself out of that mosh pit, I found myself back in. Down on the floor again, reaching a hand out to any of the people twirling above me, they just continued to flail around me, paying no attention to the person who had fallen over. But when I looked up, I saw him, YUNGBLUD reaching his hand down, that same crazy smile on his face. When I took his hand, he began to resemble me. Even with the hiccup in the medication, I can help myself out of the pit.
This piece was previously published in “Alien Buddha Gets Rejected Part 2” with Alien Buddha Press.
Aarron Sholaris a transgender writer who has pieces forthcoming and published in The McNeese Review, Thin Air Online, Dead Skunk Magazine, Sunspot Lit (awarded the Quarterly Editor’s Prize), Broadkill Review(nominated for Best of the Net 2022), Sierra Nevada Review, and others. He holds a BA from Salisbury University and is an MFA candidate in CNF at MNSU, Mankato, where he is Head CNF Editor of Blue Earth Review.