GQ called Post Malone "the most reliable hitmaker in America" when it published an interview last week with the superstar singer.
Having sold over 65 million records since his career skyrocketed in 2015, Malone has won three American Music Awards and six Grammy nominations.
But the interview's strongest, saddest takeaway was Malone's revelations of what even casual observers could call low self-esteem.
“I'm a ugly-ass motherf*cker,” he told journalist Kelefa Sanneh. Asked about his many facial tattoos, the 24-year-old singer—whose real name is Austin Post and whom Sanneh describes as "no one's idea of a pretty boy, least of all his own"—replied: “It does maybe come from a place of insecurity, to where I don't like how I look, so I'm going to put something cool on there so I can look at myself and say, ‘You look cool, kid,’ and have a modicum of self-confidence when it comes to my appearance.”
To me, that may signal body dysmorphia. And I'm an expert-by-experience. If I had $10 for every time I've ever thought or said I was hideous, grotesque, disgusting, or some other variation on ugly, I'd be as rich as ... well, Post Malone.
I'd also be as wrong. He and I share almost cartoonishly average, ordinary faces—not that we'd readily concede this: because people such as us can't see it. Instead, in mirrors, we see nightmarish hell-masks that must be hidden, hated, changed.
Down what trajectories we bring our body-hatred: Starvation, which I chose for years—the arguably cheapest yet most lethal option, but mercifully reversible. Expensive surgeries. Some, not all, categories of body-modification and tattoo.
Facial tattoos are currently a fashion trend. They're also an ancient tradition among the Maori, Inuit, Yurok, and other indigenous peoples. Increasing gradually since 2017, Malone's facial tattoos include playing cards, a bloody buzzsaw, a knife, a gauntlet, a spiky ball-and-chain flail, a smiley face, a heart, the words "stay away," "always" and "tired," the nickname "Stoney" and barbed wire.
Screamingly prominent among these inkings—and belying any smiles they might surround—are images of deadly weapons, looming like imminent punishments less to others than to the self, perennially poised to cut, slash, smash the brain they frame.
During a 2018 interview with NME, Malone criticized his appearance by saying, "I got a face for radio."
While a persona that Sanneh calls "resolutely unpretentious" might be refreshing compared to celebrities' stereotypical arrogance, what if this man is really sad?
Further self-image struggles surfaced in the GQ interview.
Despite Spotify having named him the most-streamed artist of 2019, and despite the successful releases of Post Malone-branded Crocs clogs and Doritos chips, "Post Malone still acts like an interloper" in the "exclusive club" comprising A-list celebrities, Sanneh observed.
The singer recently — and not atypically — told a Madison Square Garden crowd that he was about to "play y'all some sh*tty music."
But was it? Is it? Spanning several genres from hip-hop to emo, Malone is nothing if not controversial. Fans and haters alike made a viral phenomenon of recent footage showing him tripping and stumbling onstage.
And despite the gleaming Lamborghini Aventador, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Bugatti Chiron, and McLaren Spider that Sanneh saw in Malone's garage, "Post talks and sings about misery so much that it sometimes sounds like shtick. ... But he insists that, for most of his life, he has reckoned with a sadness that seemed unconnected to anything in particular."
The superstar told the reporter that in "middle school, I would cry myself to sleep every f*ckin' day. ... High school, the same thing. I tried to drink some beers to get rid of that sh*t, but it just never goes away. And I don't think that's anybody's fault; it has to do with something predisposed in you.”
If this isn't shtick, it confirms that cash, cars, and superstardom cannot win self-esteem. How long before we learn what can?