I Bonded with Teens over Lil Yachty and Almost Died

When my friend first asked me to go to a free pop-up Lil Yachty performance, I was skeptical. Lil Yachty is the current alt-rap internet darling whose first mixtape “Lil Boat” wormed its way into people’s hearts with a combination of plunking nursery rhyme melodies and some fire features. Obviously, I am a fan. But I pause – anything free in New York City is most likely going to be a shit show, and “pop up” just implies disorganized chaos designed to incite tweets. When we added that it was at the VFILES store, I knew this was going to be not just chaos, but teen chaos – a centrifuge of internet-addicted teenagers with great outfits and perfect eyebrows whose entitlement would be apparent even among the fashionable streets of Soho. Maybe it was the allure of people watching, or maybe I just wanted to leave work early, but I was in.

The event said the lines started at 6. I arrived at 6:15 to find the entire block filled with a parade of well-dressed teens. There was no line – rather a mass of Supreme and O-Mighty clad hopefuls forming a mass at the door. A woman, apparently the keeper of the line, emerged and hands shot up, waving their phones in the air. She looked down upon us with judgment. “You!” she pointed to the chosen one. “Come here.” A scrawny by well-coifed teen climbed to the front where he gained the coveted admittance to the VFILES store. Then, she proceeded to ignore everyone else. A collective sigh went through the crowd. I smelled some blunt smoke.

“Maybe this will be like a street party!” quipped my friend. That was exactly the opposite of what happened.

About 6:30 Lil Yachty himself walked up, and the real chaos began. He cut his path right into the already hype crowd, trying to head to the main door. Once everyone caught a glimpse at his trademark red dreadlocks, the mobbing began. Girls and boys alike rushed toward his small figure. He had security and an entroage around him, but Yachty himself seems to be trying to move without them. He smiled, waved and dapped every fan he could before being ushered into the building. The message is clear – Yachty is a star for the people.

After the teens had known Yachty was right there, and that he was on their side, things began to escalate. The crowd became tighter around the door. A kid in a Thrasher beanie broke our a portable speaker and began playing Yachty’s song “Wanna be Us”. Suddenly a window in the VFILES store opened, and a red-dreaded head poked out. Yachty swung out the window, waving to the fans. The people went insane, waving up to him like he was Evita on a balcony. Just then, the cops pulled up.

Four patrol cars pulled up from each side of the street, and officers stepped out. They immediately began corralling us away from the street, breaking up the mob into different sides with tape. Naturally, everyone wanted to be in the section closest to the store entrance. Still, we were hoping against hope to get inside. The cops pushed kids, yelled at us, and generally acted like cops. My friends and I ended up close to the door, sandwiched between some not-so-clean teen boys and the guy with the portable speaker. He was still optimistic. We could see through the windows to the stage, and as we all stood outside waiting, we saw Yachty grab a mic and start performing from through the window. The store was barely 1/3 empty. Why didn’t they let us in? The metaphor of being an outsider was so strong I was choking on it, along with the rancid smell of teen boy.

Maybe it was seeing Yachty perform, or the fact that we were literally packed together in small taped off areas, but people started getting restless. The cops tried to take charge – “The line is over here!” they proclaimed suddenly, pointing to a barricade down around the corner. Several kids began to run, but I didn’t take the bait. We went to the side entrance, where we could at least watch the stage. The cops kept yelling that we “were not in line”. At this point I knew no line would save us. As we stood by the side doors, a VFILES employee, who was not aware of the police-made line, started letting people in.

When that side door opened, I truly felt like I might get crushed. We were about 5 people back, and about 100 people behind us decided that pushing forward was their best bet. People started to squeeze in one by one, getting ever closer to their idol. Just as my friend Tiffany was about to get inside, an angry cop came up, slamming the door shut.

“You all have to get in line!” he yelled. “Get to the back of the line!”. By now the barricade held a line of people all the way down the block. We tried to comply, but the “line” was more unruly than ever. One especially active fan started rapping on top of a dumpster. Then I heard a countdown “1…2…3…” and he jumped into the crowd, surfing on the bodies of Yachty fans like he was the rapper himself.

After the acrobatics, a man came out from VFILES. “Guys” he addressed the line “You aren’t getting in. This is over.”

“But we waited… we were here at 4!” a devoted fan pleaded. “Sorry” he shrugged. The crowd seemed perplexed. Why did they make us line up? Why did we come? Why are we alive at all? All these questions and more swam in my head. The shades were pulled at Vfiles, blocking the window view of the rest of the concert.

All that was left was a cobblestone street filled with blunt wraps, police tape and sadness. We had all been through so much, a solid force united to see Yachty. Now, we were just a mass of teens in an exodus through Soho. Some lucky ones touched Yachty for a moment; some got a quick Snapchat. But even a casual participant saw the power of this rising star, and of relatable internet sensations, to draw a highly devoted crowd. Perhaps VFILES wasn’t ready for the IRL onslaught, or maybe they knew what they were doing by causing a mini-riot. The real winner was Yachty himself, whose smile from a second story window as he saw a mass of fans filling the street, said it all.

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