Post Malone Is the Cheesecake Factory of Pop Music

Like the Cheesecake Factory, Post Malone offers something for everybody.EXPAND
Like the Cheesecake Factory, Post Malone offers something for everybody.
Aaron Thackeray
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Post Malone's favorite restaurant is, famously, Olive Garden. But nothing about his Sunday night Pepsi Center show suggested that the superstar is an endless fountain of bread sticks and salad. No, Post Malone is more Cheesecake Factory.

There's a lot going on, and all the odds and ends invite questions: What horror could cause a person to invent the cheeseburger spring roll? Are those purple garments printed with green demons a matching T-shirt and slacks set, or are they actually pajamas? Does this menu really need more than 250 items? Is this what Kid Rock would sound like if he actually tried to be palatable? Is that screen right next to the bursts of flames and fireworks flammable?

Post Malone's goals are simple: "I came here to play y'all some shitty music and get fucked up while we do it," he told the audience after his smoke-and-laser-heavy entrance. Self-deprecation is a major ingredient in Malone's charm. His lyrics are loaded with bling rap and emo pouting. Any less humility lumped in with the fast-car brags and blaming exes for his woes, and he'd come off like an insufferable jerk.

Like the Cheesecake Factory, Malone plucks inspiration from many sources. Some stand up to heavy adaptation and homogenization; others, not so much.

Hollywood's Bleeding, Malone's second number-one album, gave him a chance to get weird with his music, he said on Sunday. He claimed the song "Allergic" was the most emblematic of that oddness.

This isn't a song that's weird because it breaks new creative ground or says something unexpected. The lyrics are about drugs and bad relationships in a way that could have been cribbed from many songs about drugs and bad relationships written in the last hundred years.

I suspect it's the music itself that he's pegged as weird. Like an appetizer menu that offers fried macaroni and cheese and pot stickers, the song is stuffed with bits and bobs that people love, creating a Frankenstein's monster of mass appeal. There might be a reggae beat lost somewhere behind the electronic, dancey noises that start the song. It's kinda hard to tell. The chorus is set to a mid-twentieth-century girl-band melody. In the live performance, there was some extra "Hey, hey!" yelling that's missing in the studio version.

Look: Maybe it's not highbrow, but it's catchy. And catchy hooks and simple beats are Post Malone's bread and butter; it's a basic fat-and-sugar, fat-and-salt formula. Pure Cheesecake Factory.

His knack as an artist is in understanding that humans are predictable, and stringing together the things many of us like in a satisfying way. While Malone comes off as earnest to an extreme, his music feels as authentic as chain-restaurant lasagna.

Still, his music speaks to people. "I Fall Apart" produced the most heartfelt reactions. The tidy, mall-dressed boys behind me made sensitive, heartbroken faces and sang along with every word. The young women beside me folded their hands over their chests, closed their eyes, shook their heads. Even the thirty-something couples in front of me — men apparently outfitted by Cabelas and women in jeans with full-beat faces — held each other and swayed.

Malone's stage presence is as much of a hodgepodge sampler as his songwriting. Unlike Tyla Yaweh — one of his opening acts — Malone isn't much of a dancer. But he's got a closet full of walks down pat: a ball-gripping swagger; a femme, wrist-flipping prance; an open-armed rock-star strut. He does a great cradling-the-mic-and-squinting-because-he's-overwhelmed-by-emotion squat.

In another dose of self-deprecation, he joked about the interplay between his lack of physical fitness and Denver's high altitude, patting his rounded belly for effect. But you know what? This guy has extraordinary endurance for bouncing on the balls of his feet. His calves are probably fantastic.

Malone ended his hour-and-fifteen-minute set with generalized praise for non-violence and words of encouragement for the kids. He was glad so many people could come together, leave their differences outside and spend the night without conflict.

"Keep kicking ass," Malone told the young people with big dreams out there. "Keep living your life."

This might seem like the part where I finally circle back around to Olive Garden. Maybe: When you're at a Post Malone show, you're family...

But, no. As the lights came up, there wasn't a sense of camaraderie. It was a disparate crowd: mostly small packs of pre-teens and teens squealing in pure delight. Fun moms whose plastic, LED-lit mixed-drink cups had been emptied. Befuddled dads, each trying to trace the pack of kids they were assigned to. Couples in their twenties or thirties groomed for a big night out, holding hands and squeezing paths between larger groups. 

It was an odd assortment of people you might pack into your family vehicle and haul to the Cheesecake Factory, because everyone — no matter how different — will find something to eat. And once they're sitting behind a sweet mountain of dessert, they'll probably feel pretty good about it.

Hear Post Malone, Tyla Yaweh and other reviewed artists on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.

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