Words by: Matthew Griffiths
“This documentary feels like he is dead, but luckily he isn’t” – has a documentary ever given you this feeling? Well for many “In My Head” did just that.
In February 2021, VICE dropped the highly anticipated Yung Lean doc, “In My Head“ on their Noisey YouTube channel. Although the film premiered at a handful of international screenings back in November 2020, it became apparent that this was not something every Lean fan had seen, nor mentally prepared themselves for.
What would you think if this thumbnail and title unexpectedly appeared in your recommended?
Obituaries, or any digital news announcing the death of someone we know, have a way of immediately striking dread within. It can feel as if the news has silently crept up on us, only to dramatically present itself, like spiders, who seem to suddenly materialise on our bedroom walls out of nowhere.
Did “In My Head” announce the death of Yung Lean?
Thankfully, it didn’t.
Well, not literally.
The story that Henrik Burman’s 1 hour and 37 minute documentary tells us is not about the death of Yung Lean, but rather, his rebirth. Sadly, the events leading up to this inward change are devastating and macabre.
The Documentary Was “Too Close”
The first half of the film drags viewers along at speed in a fast paced, gritty, intimate view of Lean’s rise to fame.
Talking to VICE founder Suroosh Alvi, “In My Head” Director Henrik Burman said, “I wanted the first part to be as crazy as his life was during the first years. I really wanted the viewer to feel how it was to be in their situation. To be on tour in the U.S.” (1:40:38). The movie does exactly that. As Henrik puts it, “you’re definitely with them in that tour bus” (1:47:07).
That is, the tour bus that carried them amid a drug-infused whirlwind of a lifestyle that culminated in the death of Lean’s friend, Barron. This disaster in Miami was the tipping point into Lean’s decline in mental health.
Asked about the reaction to his film, Burman revealed he’d received some sombre feedback – “Someone said, like, ‘It’s too close.’…it’s too much. You’re getting too close to the drugs, to the illness, to the darkness.” (1:44:41)
Alvi saw the doc as more of a warning:
“You know I see this film as a cautionary tale, right? When like, so much success comes to these kids who weren’t really ready for it so fast. They were just on this rocket ship with no supervision, and outta control and you know how Mac Miller, Lil Peep – that end could have easily have happened to any one of the Sadboys.” (1:40:00)
Viewers concurred. YouTube comments also discussed how Lean almost ended up like Lil Peep, the American-Swedish music artist who died from an overdose in 2017.
Where Was Lean?
Aside from the obvious themes of drugs and mental health, “In My Head” gives off more subtle vibes that Lean is no longer with us. The first half of the story is told exclusively by Lean’s friends and contemporaries. It doesn’t even contain an interview from Burman with Yung Lean. So, where is he?
Burman explains –
“I also wanted the viewer to kind of get a feeling of how Lean felt during this period – and hear other people tell the story…I think that was the way to make that happen. You can feel more with him in the second part when you’ve heard about him in the first part.” (1:41:03)
But viewers were still concerned.
In the second half, we see an older, wiser, “present-day” Lean. The voice of Emilio Fagone, (Lean’s manager) describes what he was like post-Miami: “He was like a totally different person. I barely recognized him. Extremely paranoid and worried all the time.” (49:45)
Yung Lean’s real name is Jonatan Leandoer Håstad. When he created Yung Lean, Jonatan rejected writing about himself, preferring to go to his imagination for inspiration.
“That fantasy world was much more fun, way more fun than Jonatan…I didn’t feel an obligation to rap about the ordinary part of my life…I hated that part of myself, found it boring.” (1:18:05)
But after Miami, Jonatan needed to take some time away from being Yung Lean, and look within himself. So he began another project – JonatanLeandoer127.
Emilio: “JonatanLeandoer127 was something I think he needed to start because Yung Lean was so emotionally charged for him. So he needed to express himself, still through music, but in a different way. A lot darker, more honest and personal. It was kind of a thought cleanse from that time. A way of getting out what needed to get out. To be able to start over.” (57:30)
But the problems weren’t over entirely.
In early 2016, Jonatan went on another world tour as Yung Lean, “and before long, it all started falling apart again.” (1:02:20). At this point, he suffered another serious blow to his mental health and was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Sweden.
“I was a convalescent for two months.”(1:04:30), he confesses. “I was in the Huddinge psych ward. They said, ‘We’re going to put you on lithium. You’re bipolar.’ It was like being admitted for a paper cut and learning you have cancer.” (1:06:50). So Jonatan made a choice to prioritise his health. Elsa Håstad, Jonatan’s mother, put it beautifully: “He chose life, he chose health, he chose his friends, he chose art. He said, drugs don’t make you creative. Creativity comes from within.” (1:10:30)
Eventually, Jonatan could begin doing shows again as Yung Lean. We see footage of him outside, taking pictures with fans. His face looks serious, combined with an air of groundedness and humility as he asks Micke (long time friend and producer, ‘Gud’) for a beer. “If you find a non-alcoholic one, grab one for me!”(1:27:46) he yells, as another fan waits for her photo. It appears that this Yung Lean is substance-free.
“Alright, have a good night.”(1:28:00) he tells her earnestly as she walks away. She doesn’t look back. The next fan is ready immediately and doesn’t hesitate to pose triumphantly next to Yung Lean. Jonatan points to him, looking at his fan. It’s a subtle moment of acknowledgement, and perhaps even gratitude. It’s clear that Jonatan cares about his fans – many of whom even feel deeply connected to him beyond mere selfies. “He saves my life.”, said one fan, shown waiting outside of a show. ”Every day I listen to him, he saves me. Like literally.” (54:05)
So why did In My Head make fans feel like Yung Lean had died, even after they finished watching the film?
Maybe it’s because, like so many artists who have come and gone too soon, Yung Lean has provided us with a legacy in an extremely short space of time. “In My Head” shows a journey of success, loss and recovery. The story magnifies what Jonatan’s music tells us. It provides us with a lens to see moments past that contributed not only towards musical changes, but also massive personal growth.
“I remember asking my grandma, what’s the most important thing in life? I was sure she’d say, having a daughter or a family, or to love or whatever. But she said, to evolve.” (1:15:44) – Yung Lean