One of the best feelings when you’re getting into a new artist is learning that their albums are just as incredible as their singles, if not even more incredible. Post Malone is one of the best examples in that department! Not only are his biggest songs absolutely mind-blowing, to the point where he has eight Diamond single certifications so far, but his albums show even more depth to who he is as an artist and a person. He’s never shied away from difficult topics, but he manages to balance those dark moments with lighter ones to soundtrack the happier moments in your life.
2022’s Twelve Carat Toothache might just be the best example of his musical versatility yet, fluttering between airy pop jams and more raw moments that let you into the deeper parts of his mind. All the while, it hones in on one specific story about a young superstar finding his footing when it comes to not only his career but also his personal life, as his success puts him on a pedestal that he’s scared to fall off from.
Right now, I supposed the algorithm is set up for… the format right now, I guess it’s the more songs you have, the more you’re gonna stream. It’s almost like an accuracy by volume. ‘Cause you could throw 20 songs, or you could throw 20 blobs of goop at the wall, one of them’s gonna stick. Maybe more than one is gonna stick. But I think what’s interesting about this album is it’s 42 minutes, 14 songs. It’s a story, and I think moreso than anything I’ve made before. It’s a living, breathing entity almost.
Post Malone on Hot Ones
The album is strikingly human even while describing heights that very few humans ever really get to, gracefully addressing Post’s disillusionment with fame as he manages to reach new levels of success with every release. We’re watching his historic rise in real-time while also learning exactly how he feels about his position in the limelight.
Prologue: Hollywood’s Bleeding
As one of the biggest stars of the internet era, Post Malone is in pretty unprecedented territory, and he’s well aware of that. His third album, Hollywood’s Bleeding, brought him to new levels with hit singles like the indie-infused ‘Circles’ and the cultural moment ‘Take What You Want,’ which recruited Ozzy Osbourne for a haunting chorus. Elsewhere on the album, including on the eerie title track and the thoughtful ‘Internet,’ Post dives into what it means to be a star in the digital age, while obligations pile up and the whole world is watching your every move.
In a January 2022 profile with Billboard, Post explained that he felt “fed up” with living in Los Angeles and the high expectations for his work schedules and lifestyle – “there’s always something to do, and someone always wants something from ya.” He bought a new home in Utah in late 2019, around the release of Hollywood’s Bleeding, and just months later, the world shut down due to COVID-19. In the beginning, he felt drained and burnt out by the momentum of his music career, but once he started having some home studio sessions with his longtime production partner, Louis Bell, he started regaining his passion and tackling his next endeavor: Twelve Carat Toothache.
Where Hollywood’s Bleeding has a big focus on fame and external circumstances like the ‘Internet’ being evil, Twelve Carat Toothache takes a look at how those things have affected Post personally and behaviorally. Hollywood’s Bleeding sees Post in the midst of stardom and the negativity of that world, while Twelve Carat Toothache steps back and sees how he might’ve internalized those external circumstances. He’s unlearning the mindset he had to develop to survive and thrive in the spotlight and reflecting on how that lifestyle truly affected him.
[The songs on Twelve Carat Toothache] speak more to how I’m feeling at the moment: the ups and downs and the disarray and the bipolar aspect of being an artist in the mainstream.
Post Malone to Billboard
Notably, Post doesn’t directly touch on the darker side of fame on the album’s singles, ‘One Right Now,’ ‘Cooped Up,’ and ‘I Like You (A Happier Song).’ With what an awe-inspiring songwriter and storyteller he is, we think it’s definitely a narrative choice. We see it as a metaphor for how people view artists in the spotlight – many people don’t necessarily dig deeper into their full body of work or who artists are on a personal level, and by not revealing that darker side until you listen to the album cuts, you’re missing out on most of the story. So in that spirit, let’s take a deeper look at how Post addresses fame on Twelve Carat Toothache!
From the very first line of ‘Reputation,’ “take my own life just to save yours,” we get a feel for how draining life can be in the spotlight, especially if you’re someone like Post Malone. He’s admitting right off the bat how he turns his own personal hells, suffering, and missteps into songs that go on to soundtrack our lives and comfort us when we need it. It’s clearly draining, and his voice shows off a sense of exhaustion and frustration. It’s also worth noting that “you’re the superstar, entertain us” is a reference to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ and frontman Kurt Cobain notably struggled with the pressures of fame.
One of the most striking examples of how Post represents fame on not only the song, but on the album as a whole, is the ‘Reputation’ bridge. Lyrics like “I was born to chase mills” should sound celebratory in a similar vein to songs like ‘White Iverson’ or ‘Wow.,’ but they sound empty. His delivery is fairly passive, sounding like these ideas were drilled into him rather than being something he truly believes. He later goes on to reject some of these very ideas – on ‘Reputation,’ he says he was “born to f*ck hoes,” but remarks on ‘I Like You (A Happier Song),’ “now that I’m famous, I’ve got hoes all around me, but I need a good girl, I need someone to ground me.”
In the moment, though, “I was born to chase mills” morphs into “I was born, what a shame” without missing a beat. There may appear to be two distinct sides to who Post is as an artist, but it all stems from one person, and that just comes with the territory of being a multi-faceted music icon, for better or for worse.
Post’s pop brilliance really takes center stage with the main metaphor of ‘Cooped Up’ – we all felt cooped up during COVID lockdowns as life as we knew it came to a shrieking, scary halt, but Post’s situation is unique. Not only was he dealing with the pandemic, but also the trappings of being “cooped up” by fame and how the lockdowns would affect his career. The New York Times noted that the production on ‘Cooped Up’ sounds “lavishly empty,” which highlights how a wardrobe full of “Louis, Bottega, and Tommy” and a life full of partying isn’t really fulfilling. He turned something that only the biggest of the biggest stars will truly understand into something that anyone can relate to, which is part of what makes him such an amazing artist.
If you google self-help hacks when you’re feeling ‘Cooped Up’ or just generally down, one of the first tips you’ll find is to spend time in nature. With ‘Lemon Tree,’ Post puts his own spin on that idea while playing on the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” He feels like no matter what he does, he’s come across so many lemons that it’s like he has his own tree giving him an endless supply. He vows to “burn it down and grow [himself] something better,” which is especially poignant after two songs about fame and how it can trap you. He doesn’t want to feel like a prisoner to his own success anymore and wants to make the necessary changes in his life so he can feel at peace.
Between the nature imagery and the more stripped-back, acoustic-led production, ‘Lemon Tree’ almost feels like Post is running away from fame and expectations to have a little moment to himself, which likely goes back to both the pandemic and him buying his home in Utah, away from the chaos of Los Angeles.
‘I Like You (A Happier Song)’ & ‘I Cannot Be (A Sadder Song)’
These back-to-back songs seem to work together to tell two halves of the same story, so we’re looking at them together! The Doja Cat-assisted ‘I Like You’ sees Post searching for something real in a relationship, looking for a “good girl” who can keep him grounded and see him for who he is rather than just Post Malone, international superstar. The lyrics touch on everything from touring the world (“we went to bed in France then we woke up in Japan”) to living a lavish lifestyle (“go shoppin’ in a Benz”), making it the perfect anthem for two stars falling in love.
Meanwhile, the Gunna-assisted ‘I Cannot Be’ sees him saying goodbye to a limiting relationship. “How am I free when you hold me so tight? How can I beam when you blocking my light?” Post questions, and you could even argue that the song is about fame itself rather than a woman. With this lens, you can see it as a track about the expectations that come with being an artist and how you can feel boxed in while you’re just trying to express yourself and enjoy your life. Further, with that idea in mind, ‘I Like You’ could be a love song to the more exciting, enjoyable parts of fame.
Sitting pretty in the middle of the record, the hard-hitting ‘Insane’ might be easy to box in as a party-ready flex anthem in a similar vein to ‘Congratulations’ or ‘Rockstar.’ But if you listen closely and pay attention to the tracklist order – where it sits between the melancholy of breakup anthem ‘I Cannot Be’ and the confessional journey of ‘Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol’ – it becomes clear that ‘Insane’ is a centerpiece of the Twelve Carat Toothache album. It’s one of the few songs on the project where he’s fully leaning into fame and his success, even though it’s with an element of sadness.
The song opens with a distant-sounding “yeah, we both got a car but it’s…” before Post gets cut off by a risqué “take your b*tch, give her back, insane” hook. It sounds closer to something we might’ve heard in his earlier work, and it’s like the introspection of what would’ve been the first lyric of the song got interrupted by expectations, like how music was initially such a fun thing for Post before Hollywood’s expectations dulled his spark.
We get to hear the rest of the idea in the chorus – “yeah, we both got a car but it’s different, yeah, we both got a house but it’s different, yeah, we both got teeth but it’s different.” He cycles through different areas he’d usually get to brag about as one of the biggest musicians in the world, being that he could easily afford any cars, houses, or shiny teeth he wants, but there’s an emptiness to his voice, especially on the “but it’s different” bit. These fancy living situations aren’t necessarily benefitting his mindset or growth, and if you really wanna read into it, you can note how he says “house” instead of “home.”
And if you’re talking about ‘Insane,’ you have to talk about how simply unserious parts of it are. The first lyric of the second verse – “second verse, second verse, yay” – is really the kicker because it’s like Post feels like he has to create a party anthem and get the song done rather than necessarily make it something deeper like the more raw, thoughtful moments on the album. It’s also worth noting that the “yay” sounds virtually emotionless, and Post is noted for how much emotion he puts into his vocals. On top of that, “I wanna see something in a short skirt, please” turns into “I wanna see something in a shirt skort, please,” which basically wins the award for Most Unserious Post Malone Lyric Of All Time while leaning into full parody mode.
Post builds on the unserious vibes with the ‘Insane’ music video, which sees him jamming out by a pool and doing goofy dances. But even then, there’s a deeper meaning. He’s not wearing a shirt, which seems to be mocking the lyric “treat my top like my ex, I’mma cut it off completely” – the original lyric seems to be about lowering the top of a convertible, but by spinning it into something about his clothes and being shirtless, he’s making a point about how artists are seen as commodities rather than people.
It’s also interesting to look at how ‘Insane’ even got a music video, though. It’s not an official single, but it still got the official single treatment in that regard. As we mentioned earlier, the proper singles didn’t really go into depth on the album’s themes, and ‘Insane’ could’ve easily been a bigger single leaning into Post’s old sound, but he chose not to go that route. You can see it as a faux single satirizing his past work with a new sense of depth and growth!
‘Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol’
Complete with haunting backing vocals by Fleet Foxes, ‘Love/Hate Letter To Alcohol’ sees Post addressing his experiences with alcoholism and how drinking has impacted his life. The verses describe a bar fight that Post got involved in and personify alcohol, asking, “why’d you have to go and f*ckin’ ruin my night?” While the story seems literal, we think the line “I couldn’t hear a thing ‘cause the song was too loud” could be interpreted as being about his fame, which came from his own songs, becoming “too loud” and clouding his judgment.
‘Love/Hate Letter’ is seriously one of the most beautiful songs in Post’s catalog, and even if you don’t listen to the full Twelve Carat Toothache album, this track is a must-hear.
With ‘Wasting Angels,’ Post Malone and featured artist The Kid LAROI express appreciation for something in their life that makes them feel like they did before the ups and downs of success tainted their view of the world. They compare this new feeling to “a private plane up on [their] ring,” “the first time [they] bought a chain,” and “when [they were] sane before the fame” (yes, probably a little nod to ‘Insane’), showing how it’s reminding them of the real joys in life.
Post shared in an interview with Howard Stern that his now-fiancé, who he has a baby daughter with, helped him pick himself back up as he fought against alcoholism to form better habits. She’s probably the angel that he doesn’t want to “go to waste,” which is so sweet and really brings the album full circle as it contrasts the emotionless, loveless bridge of ‘Reputation.’
I just have super beautiful people around me. I met a really beautiful person that made me feel like a human being again. […] It’s the guidance out of the dark, into the light [that helps someone going through that]. She saved my f*cking life, it’s pretty epic.
Post Malone to Howard Stern
Content Warning: The visualizer below has flashing images.
With Twelve Carat Toothache, Post really got to define for himself what fame means to him and how to properly balance the attention he gets in the limelight with a personal life he can truly enjoy. It feels like he’s truly found that balance and gotten to take his life back, which has made us even more excited for his upcoming album, Austin, to come out this summer! From what we’ve heard so far, Austin will have a lot of those sunnier vibes we got on songs like ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger,’ while also giving us great storytelling.
It also seems like Post will be giving us more bait-and-switch moments like he made with Twelve Carat Toothache through the single choices and songs like ‘Insane,’ testing how well you’re listening to what he’s really saying. The second single, ‘Mourning,’ essentially does what ‘Insane’ does for Twelve Carat Toothache, hiding a deeper, more thoughtful meaning in a song that you could easily pass off as a party jam. If you only listen to the chorus, you’ll likely think it’s about not wanting a fun night to end, but the hook closes with “got a lot of sh*t to say, couldn’t fit it in the chorus.” Come on – Post is one of the best hook writers of this generation, he would definitely be able to fit it into a chorus if that’s what he wanted. But he didn’t want that, which is why it’s so genius. Instead, you get the true message of the song within the verses, which talk about fairweather friends (“everybody’s free when the dinner is”) and a lack of connection with people who could’ve been a cool part of your life (“wish I got to know you more”).
Listening from that beginning chorus, you don’t quite get what you expect when you hear the rest of the song – it’s a statement on how you don’t quite get what you expect from fame and fortune or from Post as an artist, necessarily, if you only know his singles. In a world where we get so much of our music from viral clips on TikTok, he’s encouraging the listener to look beyond the most catchy part of the song to see the real story and what he really wants to say. Hearing the rest of the song also changes the meaning of the chorus itself – the opening line, “don’t wanna sober up,” can have a double meaning of being scared to “sober up” and realize the truth of the situation or hard time you’re in.
Which songs on Twelve Carat Toothache are your favorite? Let us know in the comments below, or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And for more Post content while we wait for Austin, click here.