Pop-up events have long felt like a waste of time at least for the people who often have to go to them. It’s a strange place to be in as an outsider, clearly these events must be for someone, but no matter the event the audience is almost always the same; a bunch of teenage white boys decked out in Supreme box logo gear, who probably haven’t ever touched a skateboard. But that shouldn’t be an indictment of the idea of a pop up so much as the people who are putting them on, and the audience they are targeting.
To take it to a personal level, I work in events when I’m not writing these articles. My day job consists of making sure every single detail that could go wrong at an event, doesn’t. Because of that I tend to approach concerts, festivals and any other sort of experience with a different perspective than most, because I know what it takes to put on an event like that. When most people are thinking about what songs the next artist will play, I’m keeping an eye on the time, or watching the stagehands body language or I’m thinking about how well or poorly parking has been managed. When I end up at a pop-up event, I think the same things, and usually I walk away thinking that it was a waste of everyone’s time because it didn’t say anything new or do anything exciting.
That was typically how it went, until I went to Earl Sweatshirt’s pop-up event at Leimert Park. On the surface – it already wasn’t like a normal pop-up event – for starters it was mostly by invite or word of mouth, whereas a typical pop-up will advertise in advance to get those long lines that artists and designers crave. This pop-up was no such thing, in fact it barely felt like a pop-up at all. Sure there was merch being sold and music being played, but it really felt more like a community gathering, a place for people to loiter and hang out – not a place for them to spend their money and leave.
The interior of the space was sparse but inspired. Along the walls hung paintings reminiscent of Basquiat, all abstract human figures and paint blobs. At the center of the room stood a Babylonian statue, which referenced the title of his latest album Feet of Clay. Feet of Clay and by extension the statue, refer to a verse from the book of Daniel, where Daniel receives a vision in a dream of a statue with a head of gold, a body of silver, legs of bronze and feet of clay. The verse itself deals with the concept of empires, permanence and impermanence. The merchandise too reflected the theme, with sweatshirts and t-shirts boldly emblazoned with the word “COLLAPSE” with a smear on the “A” and “P.” The rest of the merchandise was a mish-mash of previous unsold apparel from the Odd Future days, lots of bucket hats and maroon floral button downs. But the main focus was the new “COLLAPSE” apparel.
What really sets this apart from other pop-up events though was the location. Leimert Park is squarely positioned in a largely black area of Los Angeles. Usually a pop-up will rear its head at someplace fancy like the Westfield Mall in Century City or the Platform in Culver City, not at a trendy coffee shop in Leimert Park. But the location is important. In reality the majority of people who are big fans of Earl Sweatshirt don’t look like me, they aren’t a lanky curly haired white guy in their twenties. But sometimes hip-hop artists and black superstars don’t acknowledge that.
As of late, some hip-hop artists have been getting a lot of (well deserved flack) for abandoning their communities. Many of them seem content to only draw on their community experiences when it benefits an image – a great example right now is Kanye West, who has weirdly pivoted from being the guy who said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” to the guy who praises Donald Trump’s “dragon energy.”
That’s a bigger example, but this kind of thing plays out in smaller places all over. Travis Scott isn’t putting up pop-up’s anywhere but the trendiest neighborhoods, because that’s where the people with money are, but it’s not where the people who care about you are.
I’m not saying that artists shouldn’t cater to all of their fans, or that they should feel bad that they made money and then left what might have been a bad situation, or a dangerous or otherwise untenable lifestyle. But they should give back to those people who have had their backs since day one, even if that just means letting them know that they still see them, and want to give them a chance to be involved.