How the ethereal artists try (and, by their own metrics, fail) to make pop songs on ‘Good Luck’
By Eli Enis
Bladee and Mechatok like to think of luck as a paradox. The 26-year-old cloud-rap icon and the 23-year-old producer are sitting in a Swedish hotel room talking about how their new album documents their simultaneous failure and success at creating perfect pop music. The eight-track project is simply titled Good Luck, but they dont subscribe to the idioms optimistic connotations. When you say good luck to someone, youre kind of implying that theres a good chance that it might not work out, Mechatok says with a smile. Youre not saying that, if youre confident, its going to be fine.
At the very least, the albums existence is the result of some good fortune. The two artists met a few years back through a mutual connection in the London club scene. The Berlin-based Mechatok, real name Timur Tokdemir, was an auxiliary member of the dynamic Bala Club electronic music collective, which cross-pollinated the ethereal rap movement that Bladee, born Benjamin Reichwald, and Yung Lean were spearheading in Stockholm. As they tell it, it was only a matter of time before they worked on a project together, and when it finally happened, their chemistry was extremely intuitive.
We quickly discovered that we have the same habits where, if you hang out, you either listen or make music, Tokdemir says.
Despite emerging as a distinctly internet-based artist and developing his career in the early days of SoundCloud, Reichwald is a uniquely private and elusive figure for a rapper of his generation. Until last year, he refused to do interviews; his lyrics have never revealed much about the man behind the misty, celestial delivery. His social media pages mostly consist of arcane images with esoteric captions. While speaking with MTV News via video chat, hes about as soft-spoken and reserved as he sounds when hes performing, but his decision to share more about himself with his fans aligns with his shift toward making more accessible music.
Since forming the Drain Gang artistic collective in 2013 with rappers Thaiboy Digital and Ecco2k and producers Whitearmor and Yung Sherman, Reichwald has fostered a cultish following of international listeners who devour anything he puts his name on. The dreamweaving production, fairy-dusted Auto-Tune, and short, simplistic song structures of his 2018 records, Red Light and Icedancer, have become sacred texts for the emerging wave of hyperpop artists led by Glaive, David Shawty, and Ericdoa. Even if his earlier projects werent direct influences, Bladees melancholy spaciness can be heard in Post Malones 2015 breakout White Iverson, and his sound feels spiritually in tune with the extraterrestrial psychedelia of American rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, and the late emo-rap pioneer Lil Peep.
Unlike the other artists who propelled themselves out of the SoundCloud trenches to attain major label deals and sponsorships, Reichwald has always remained in the periphery. All of his projects have been released on the Stockholm indie label YEAR0001, hes rarely collaborated with anyone outside of his Drain Gang cohort. Despite the considerable popularity of his labelmate Yung Lean, his monthly listeners on Spotify alone amount to little more than half that of his longtime collaborator. To him, thats perfectly fine, and he thinks it correlates with his personal philosophy as of late: a rejection of materialism in favor of universalism, a pivot from two years back when he was doling out tag-poppin flexes on Red Lights Steve Jobs.
Benjamin Reichwald, a.k.a. Bladee
After spending two years in London and another in Berlin, Reichwald moved back to Stockholm at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and has since released two other albums. Aprils Exeter featured the most docile vocal delivery hes ever employed over plush instrumentals that channel the coziness of the Sleepytime tea bear. Julys 333 was more akin to the transcendental hip-hop of his older material, but both albums contain some of the catchiest songs in his whole catalog.
Looking at Exeter and this project [Good Luck], I wanted to make something more approachable in a way, Reichwald says. But also I always want to make it more true to my expression.
Tokdemir says hes always heard a curiosity for something grander in Reichwalds melodies, and on Good Luck, the producers sweaty club instrumentals allowed the rappers icy cadences to thaw into warm, steamy pop hooks. Songs like the Italo-disco banger Rainbow and the techno-thumping God are the type of light-show EDM you could imagine thousands of people jumping to at Tomorrowland. Even the rap-based track Drama has a sexy buoyancy far more upbeat and punctuated than the lowercase sadness of Bladees 2018 album Icedancer.
Its not like a Britney Spears album, Tokdemir says while mentioning the hymnal ambient songs that bookend the record. And hes right. As accessible as the songs are compared to some of Bladees other albums, its unlikely that any of these tracks will scrape the Billboard Hot 100. However, the fact that theyre pop songs that could have been taken to that level is what Reichwald and Tokdemir find so interesting about them.
Timur Tokdemir, a.k.a. Mechatok
Were trying to make these pop songs but also were not managing to, Tokdemir explains. Its more about the tragedy of trying to make the pop song than the pop song itself. And then, of course, in a bigger way, its more so the tragedy of trying to make it and [the dualities] of winning and losing at the same time.
That idea seems to almost contrast with the concept of luck, which is predicated on one of two results you either win or lose; youre either lucky or unlucky. Tokdemir and Reichwald think theres more nuance to the concept. There is no winning, Tokdemir says. Even if you become a millionaire, youre probably going to have some other problems.
[Luck] is a metaphysical thing that doesnt exist, Reichwald adds. But everyone speaks of luck and can feel lucky.
In that sense, the album is more about the mechanic of luck than the success of a given pop song. That dualistic theme is visually represented on the albums artwork, which features a coin with a demon on one side and two angels high-fiving on the other. In promotional video graphics, the coin is seen spinning, a symbol that the record lives in the limbo between heads and tails. Following that meta-narrative to its logical conclusion, Reichwald feels the interstitial zone between winning and losing is a reflection of where hes at in his career.
Im happy with where Im at even if Im not the most successful, or whatever, Reichwald says with thoughtful consideration. I feel like I havent compromised and done stuff I wouldnt be comfortable with. So Im happy with where Im at.
On Good Luck, Reichwald freestyled almost all of his lyrics in the studio, and those careerist reflections came swimming out of his subconscious. On Rainbow, he sings the phrase, I could have had it all / I didnt wanna have it, which articulates his resistance to sacrificing an iota of his artistic integrity, and a conscious choice to remain in that spinning limbo.
To strive for something is, for me, the most beautiful thing, rather than to achieve something, Reichwald says. Because then youre at this place when you have nothing.
The other themes that are sprinkled throughout the record love, loneliness, oneness can all be interpreted through the lens of luck and its inherent dichotomies. On the muted club track Sun, Reichwald sings, Not a fault / Not a wrong / Nothings off, which is his way of challenging ideas of right, wrong, lucky, and unlucky with a commitment to the eternal in-between. During the chorus of Rainbow, Reichwald asks the simple question, Do you believe in love?, which sounds like a parallel to asking Do you believe in luck?
To me, all of this stuff is still the same coin-spinning kind of mechanic, Tokdemir says. Its not about saying the one thing or the other thing, its about portraying the tension of these ways of seeing it. Its more the relation of two things than it is the one or the other.