Published Jan 18, 2021Anyone who was on the internet in 2013 will likely remember Yung Lean as a babyfaced, bucket hat-adorned Swedish teenager, rapping about Mario Kart and Gatorade over dreamy trap beats. In the years since, Jonatan Leandoer Håstad found himself on tracks with the likes of Frank Ocean and Travis Scott, embedded himself in a creative constellation with friends and collaborators Sad Boys and Drain Gang, and developed his music from hazy meme rap towards more authentic and "of himself" modes of expression.
In My Head, however, shies away from spotlighting the development of Lean's artistry, instead focusing on the experiences and journey of the man himself. The movie casts Lean in an almost mythic arc, familiar to anyone who's even had a whiff of VH1's Behind the Music — humble beginnings are followed by a meteoric rise, leading to an inevitable crash when the high wears off. And then, redemption.
Director Henrik Burman elevates In My Head above typical music biopics by weaving concert footage and interviews with cinematic shots of Swedish landscapes and intimate cellphone footage shot by Lean and crew. The visuals of the documentary do well to capture the emotional turbulence of a young artist. The candid footage of drug use and tour van partying create a chaotic sense of foreshadowing for the darkness to come, and provide a stark contrast to later long shots of a recovered Lean enjoying idyllic the Swedish countryside. Hand-drawn animation, apparently based on Yung Lean's pencil drawings, underscores the artist's experiences with psychosis and bipolar disorder.
The film is of course soundtracked by Yung Lean's music, and the aesthetic development of Lean's sound further illustrates his psychic development. And while the aesthetics of In My Head do well to evoke the rapper's journey, certain structural choices feel under-developed. The aftermath of Lean's American manager Barron Machat's 2015 death feels notably unresolved. While recording an album in Miami, Yung Lean spiralled into a state of psychosis, had a mental breakdown and was checked into the psych ward. Machat died in a car accident on the way to visit Lean in the hospital.
Machat's father Steven, nipples protruding in a tight white shirt, is quick to cast blame for his son's car accident on Lean and crew, characterizing them as "weasels" and "bad kids." Not much is said on the matter on Lean's end, although his Swedish managers allude to lawsuits and shady dealings with Steven Machat, and any further subtext between the relationship amongst Barron, Steven and Yung Lean is left to the deduction of the viewer. Furthermore, the film seems to struggle to fill its 90 minute runtime, begging the question of whether or not a feature-length was truly necessary to document a musician who is still less than 10 years into his career.
In My Head is unlikely to convert any skeptics of the Sad Boys, who might find it hard to relate to middle class Swedish teenagers dealing with the aftermath of affecting the hard-partying lifestyle they heard in the American rap music that they were obsessed with. Even still, the uninitiated are likely to find something to enjoy in In My Head's thoughtful visual treatment of Lean's coming of age. Better yet, for dedicated fans, the film will stand as an essential visual and narrative accompaniment to Yung Lean's growing discography. (Momento Films)