The unlikely hitmaker closed Voodoo Sunday night with an hour and a half that made clear why he had that slot.

post malone photo by steven hatley for my spilt milk
Post Malone at Voodoo 2019, by Steven Hatley

A couple from Clemson saw me taking notes and wanted me to know that they thought Voodoo was the best festival they had been to, and that Post Malone was the best mainstream artist out there. Malone closed Voodoo 2019 on Sunday night in New Orleans as he performed an hour and a half set onstage by himself, and while some on Facebook thought that playing to tracks as he did was bullshit, Malone was hardly the first to do so. Last year, Travis Scott did so with so much energy that no one complained, and in 2017 did the same in a show that was so conceptually tight that there were no complaints. It’s hard to imagine Malone working as hard as Scott or as smart as Lamar, but he was an easy presence who seemed far less lost than The Weeknd did when he played alone in 2016.

Besides, Malone wasn’t alone. He drew the biggest crowd on the weekend at Voodoo’s Altar Stage, and there were far fewer dads in the audience than showed up for Guns N’ Roses on Friday night. He was the reason people attended Voodoo Sunday as people started flowing in around 5 p.m. and went straight to his stage. Some stopped for Sheck Wes at the Wisner Stage, but once he played his biggest song, "Mo Bamba" four songs in, the crowd flowed out en masse, so much so that Sheck bailed a song or two later.

Malone last played Voodoo in 2017, and that year he drew a massive crowd to the Wisner Stage, where looked at the time like he was working on his Kid Rock-hood. He presented himself as a hard rock hip-hop knucklehead and the voice of fucked up working class aggrieved masculinity. It wasn’t a pretty posture, but it was a popular one and the crowd was bananas for him. 

The couple from Clemson showed me their hands and told me that they got engaged at Voodoo and I asked if it happened during his set. No, they assured me, and I was relieved. Love doesn’t work out well in his songs. “I want to dedicate this to each and every person here who’s had their heart broke,” Malone said when he introduced “I Fall Apart,” but really, he could have used that introduction for almost every song. Love doesn’t work out well in Post Malone songs, and it’s usually the woman’s fault. “You never took the time to get to know me,” he sang during “Hollywood’s Bleeding,” and variations on that are threaded through his songs.

post malone photo from voodoo 2019 by steven hatley for my spilt milk Post Malone alone on stage at Voodoo 2019, by Steven Hatley

Malone hasn’t changed at his core. Women and the world hurt him in his songs, but since getting wrecked is part of his musical story, you get the feeling that they’d tell a different story. In the set-closing “Congratulations,” his valedictory thought to his audience before it went home was to rub your success in the faces of the doubters. “They said I wouldn't be nothing,” he sang of his own family. “Now they always say congratulations.” None of these lyrical tropes arrived with Malone, but they’ve also been critiqued for more than 50 years. Continuing to play the victim might land differently if we didn’t have a president who has been a millionaire since he was seven talking every day about his victimization, and white supremacists who use the victimization they feel to fuel their attacks on people of color. In that context, the small-minded self-centeredness feel more dangerous and problematic than they did in past iterations. He’s not dangerous, but you can easily draw the line from his POV to more threatening ones.

Still, I could see why the couple from Clemson loved Malone. He’s a genial presence onstage and a bit of a goof. He’s got some self-deprecating game and introduced himself, saying, “My name is Austin Richard Post and I came to play some shitty fucking music and get fucked up doing it.” After pyro popped off to bring “Take What You Want” to an abrupt ending, he observed, “Fire is fucking cool.” Both lines came off as jokes and not dopey or charmless. He sounds like a guy who’s very comfortable lowering people’s expectations of him, and who has made it work for him for a long time. Hollywood’s Bleeding is changing things though, so much so that he’s finally even getting some critical love. Musically, he has aimed higher than Kid Rock, and there’s a deceptive musicality in his songs. If you take them at face value, they’re hard to deny. Since he performed to his tracks Sunday night, he was too, if you didn’t think about them too much.