With the release of his debut album gelato, avant-R&B crooner boylife (aka Ryan Yoo) has seen the culmination of over four years of work come to fruition into a dually earnest and honest self-portrait. And like the album’s cover — a photo series showing Yoo bloody and bruised after a boxing match — its songs are concentrated vignettes conjured up by the Gen-Z artist to capture snapshots of some of the most vulnerable parts of himself. On “hey,” boylife sways breezily along to an ode to the frozen dessert from which the record takes its name, and in the process, introduces listeners to the ethos of the entire album.
“I like that gelato melts and you have to enjoy it while it still holds a shape,” Yoo explained. “I tried to catch the moments at the center of each song the same way, gentle but knowing it’s only here for a little bit.”
For Yoo, that meant cramming everything — from his struggles with depression and manic periods of bipolar disorder since the age of thirteen, to the pressures of conforming to stereotypical images of American masculinity as an Asian-American, as well as the inherent prejudice he faced because of it — into each of gelato‘s twelve-songs. With a nonchalance that is refreshingly candid and without a trace of ego, Yoo manages to honestly piece together the distinct experiences of a person of color with immigrant parents growing up in Los Angeles.
And in his journey to create that self-portraiture, Yoo stumbles across a phenomena often catalysed by such cutting and anxiously honest art: the paradox that one’s own intimately unique experiences are near universal to so many more people than we realize. Yoo crystallizes and captures, like lightning in a bottle, all the confusing, numbing, and overwhelming emotions young people grapple with. But like a boxer in a ring, the struggle in Yoo’s life is matched only by the fights he has with himself to wrestle some understanding from his experiences — his life.
On “church,” he cuts a scathing path through the self-righteous and ignorant bliss of organized religion between its ecstatic chorus and electronic concussiveness; while on the incisively brooding and shuddering ballad “peas,” boylife tugs at the heartstrings with the image of a concerned parent bringing their child some pieces of cut-up fruit.
But undoubtedly its the rapid-fired and razor-sharp lyricism of “superpretty” that is one of gelato‘s centerpiece tracks, revealing a rabid, anxious, and deliriously confident side to Yoo’s previous introspections. Wearily self-aware of both his own shortcomings and the vast failures of the world around him that will hound him all his life, boylife blooms into something rapturous and euphoric. “Bitch, I’m a star and I’m super, super pretty, go crazy in the paint but got nothing in the bank,” he howls into the cacophony of static around him.
The music video for the song, directed by David Jung, captures all of Yoo’s agitated rambunctiousness placing him on a frenzied rollercoaster that cuts between shots of him dancing solo in front of screen-projections, facing down speeding cars in the desert and bloody punches alike.
On gelato boylife finds not only freedom but strength in cataloging the messy strife of his youth, documenting his experiences as a male youth of color with the simplest and most difficult of goals in mind: to grow into a better person.
Listen to boylife’s new album gelato below!