Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers are a musical group from Sacramento, California whose musical style is well, hard to pin down. Hobo Johnson's (real name Frank Lopes Jr.) confessional songwriting, strangely affecting physical presence, and slam poetry-influenced talk-rapping defines the band and its sound. He is backed by the Lovemakers, who all play analogue instruments, leading to a group that resembles a traditional Five-Man Band rock band in composition if not in sound.
Their music consists of rambling, often sad or self-deprecating, confessional lyrics juxtaposed with humor and overlain on a sparse musical background. Hobo delivers the lines in a spoken-word style interspersed with SHOUTED PASSAGES and asides or conversational vignettes that blur the line between song, introduction and Studio Chatter. Listening to the songs is a bit like having a one-on-one conversation with an earnest and talkative but deeply unstable person.
Hobo Johnson began making music in 2015, but the band began to attract attention in 2018 when the backyard video they submitted for NPR Tiny Desk Concerts went viral. Since then they've signed to a major label and gone on a world tour. They have three albums:
- Hobo Johnsons '94 Corolla (2015)
- The Rise of Hobo Johnson (2016, re-released in 2017)
- The Fall of Hobo Johnson (2019)
Hi, I'm Hobo Johnson, these are my tropes:
- Aborted Declaration of Love: In "Peach Scone" Hobo describes being out for coffee with someone he likes who's in a relationship and tries to stop himself from confessing to her:"I don't know what to tell you if I try to confess my love for... SCONES!"[very earnestly] "I love... these scones"[mumbling rant about all the types of scones at this coffee shop]
- All Love Is Unrequited: Unrequited love, and relationships with people who are taken occur frequently as themes for songs. "Peach Scone" and "Mover Awayer" are pretty much all about loving someone who's not interested.
- The Bard on Board: In "Romeo and Juliet", Hobo imagines Romeo and Juliet living in modern times and sharing his experiences, substituting drinking and drugs for poison. Given Romeo's history with Rosalind, Hobo suspects that Rome and Juliet will get divorced. The whole story is a lens for Hobo's own fears about all his relationships failing like his parents' did.
- Bathos: The songs frequently juxtapose very sad lines with mundane ones, lending humor to both. From "Subaru Crosstrek XV":"Nothing like crying in a Subaru Crosstrek. Life is a despair pit filled with sadness.My ex-girl's grandpa invented pinball. He had a lot of time on his hands."
- Break-Up Song: "Happiness" is about Hobo's girlfriend leaving him due to his comments about her career, while he regrets his actions and wishes her success. Most of The Fall of Hobo Johnson deals with the fallout of this breakup in one way or another.
- Call-and-Response Song: A lot of songs (more so live than on albums) feature the band yelling out things in response to certain lines. Often crosses over with Audience Participation Song as well. For example, in "Sex in the City"Hobo: "I'll be at your Mom's house, eating all the sandwiches"Band: "DAMN I LOVE THOSE SANDWICHES"
- Capitalism Is Bad: "All in My Head" criticizes social brainwashing and commercialism:"They sell water, soon they'll sell air. They sell dirt and nobody even cares. One day someone'll buy the whole fucking moon and charge to change the tides."
- Car Song: "Subaru Crosstrek XV" sings the praises of the titular car, which is apparently pretty reliable and has suspension as soft as cute little baby's neck (but don't tow with it even though it comes with a hitch, you'll ruin the transmission).
- Character Name and the Noun Phrase: Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers
- Compensating for Something:
"Why does Dad have a Lambo? He was insecure about himself son, let it go."
- In "You and the Cockroach", the president ultimately nukes the world because he "has a tiny dick".
- Discussed in "Subaru Crosstrek XV" where Hobo justifies not getting a fancy car by imagining himself and his future family:
- Dark Reprise: Both "Mover Awayer" and "Moonlight" deal with the topic of Hobo's breakup. "Moonlight", which comes later on the album, takes the main hook of "Mover Awayer" ("You made my Mondays feel like Fridays/You made my Ruby Tuesday's taste like Benihana's") and mixes it with a faster, more dissonant instrumental background that makes it feel more frantic and sad as opposed to sweet and sentimental. Overall, "Mover Awayer" has a more wistful take on the subject while "Moonlight" is saturated with despair and depression.
- The End of the World as We Know It: "You and the Cockroach" is about how humanity destroys itself in a nuclear war, giving rise to a new civilization of intelligent cockroaches.
- Fantastic Nuke: In "You and the Cockroach", the cockroach civilization tries to develop a weapon equivalent to nukes, but they can't use a real one since cockroaches are immune to it. Instead, they create something implied to have the same effect, a missile tipped with a giant... shoe.
- Fight Fur Your Right to Party: Derek wears a dog suit for much of the video of "Typical Story", perhaps representing the "dog who wanted to run away."
- Food Songs Are Funny: Food is frequently mentioned, and often serves as a source of humor or levity in the midst of serious songs.
- Former Child Star: "Ode to Justin Bieber" discusses the psychological problems child stars face."If you buy your mom a house when you're thirteen you're gonna be fucked up mentally you know?"
- Fourth Wall Greeting: The submission of "Peach Scone" for the NPR Tiny Desk Contest begins with "What up, Bob?" note and continues with"Hi, we're Hobo Johnson and the LovemakersWe're a couple of kids who like to make a little bit a love, like to make a bit of music"
- Genre-Busting: The band's sound is inspired by both Pop Punk/Emo Music and Hip-Hop, but doesn't sound very much like either. It's hard to pin down into any existing genre.
- Genre Roulette: The band went on tour with a funky R&B singer and an emo band as openers, and have been known to perform covers of disco and pop songs, so going to a Hobo Johnson concert can lead to experiencing a roller coaster of musical genres.
- Glam Rap: Parodied in "Subaru Crosstrek XV". Hobo raps about buying a car, which normally in rap is associated with wealth and status, but the chorus draws attention to the fact that he can't afford the flashy cars usually mentioned in this sort of song, and the song is overall about Hobo's many personal screw-ups. The video parodies the "posing with expensive cars" by having the band pose next to, but never touch, an expensive sports car.
- History Repeats: In "You and the Cockroach", humanity evolves, invents religion, invents government, and finally destroys itself in a nuclear war as conflict accelerates over time. The cockroaches survive nuclear war, start to evolve, and the whole thing repeats all over again.
- I Banged Your Mom: Subverted in "Sex and the City". The song, which is overall about sex and relationships, features a vignette where Hobo talks about how if he were hotter, he'd be at your mom's house... eating all the sandwichesnote .
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In "Happiness", Hobo wishes his ex happiness without him even though he still loves her, as he thinks he was a cause of a lot of her problems and thinks she'll be successful having left him.
- "I Want" Song: "I Want A Dog" is about Hobo wrangling with desires and aspirations. He starts off with the simple wish for a dog, then gradually the desires become more and more grandiose and impossible ("I want nothing but the best, better than anyone has ever had yet"), then reigns himself back in and tries to convince himself to aim lower ("No, Frank, you just want a dog, all you want is a dog").
- Just Friends: "Peach Scone" describes being in love with someone who's in a relationship, while continuing to be a supportive friend to her and restraining yourself from making a move.
- Mood Whiplash: A hallmark of Hobo's sound is sudden shifts from ebullient happiness to funny asides to moments of profound sadness. In his delivery, he'll often go from sounding like he's about to cry to like he's bursting with happiness, and the lyrics vary in wildly in tone from line to line.
- Motor Mouth: Hobo often intersperses rambling, conversational vignettes that are delivered very rapidly in the middle of bits with more song structure, giving the impression of someone who can't stop talking.
- Parody Product Placement: The video for "Subaru Crosstrek XV" ends with a spoken bit done in the style of a car commercial, discussing the features of the all new Subaru Crosstrek XV, with a disclaimer at the bottom indicating that they were not paid by Subaru to deliver the message.
- Performance Video: Most of the band's music videos were simply videos of them performing in a backyard, presumably to no audience (the "Live from Oak Park" series) posted to Youtube. The Fall of Hobo Johnson featured higher concept and production value videos, but Hobo has expressed an interest in a return to the more DIY feel of earlier videos.
- Rock-Star Song: "Ode to Justin Bieber" is about Hobo's conflicted feelings about the success he's received as a musician. He feels a desire for fame and universal adulation that troubles him and expresses concern that fame will mess up his life and relationships, but also sees the material well-being of his family and friends as heavily dependent on his continued rise. Throughout the song he compares himself unfavorably to Justin Bieber both in the amount of fame he has and his ability to handle it well.
- Self-Deprecation: One way or another, Hobo's personal failures and flaws are the subject of every song. Particularly notable are "Sex and the City", which juxtaposes an idealized sexual situation with the awkward reality of actually sleeping with Hobo (his room smells like socks), and "Happiness", where he criticizes himself for destroying his own relationship."I'm never gonna change, I'll probably get way worse, at best stay the same"
- Serial Romeo: "Romeo and Juliet" discusses the trope namer's tendency to fall in love easily both by using it as a metaphor for Hobo's own string of failed relationships, and by suggesting that if the two characters survived the play, they would have gotten divorced.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: Many songs, especially in choruses, will suddenly transition from soft, conversationally-delivered lines to screaming. The chorus to "Peach Scone" goes:"I love the thought of being with youOr maybe it's the thought OF NOT BEING SO ALONE"
- Surreal Music Video: The video for "Typical Story" is about a wild party with lots of unsettling things going on: people's faces being distorted by puffs of air, creepy bikini babes with the heads of orcs circling around, and shots at the end of people whose faces obviously don't match their bodies (Hobo's face is superimposed on a twitching, shirtless bodybuilder's torso).
- Torch Song: "Mover Awayer" is about Hobo still being in love with, and fondly reminiscing about, a girlfriend who left him.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Hobo frequently mentions his love of sandwiches. They even came out with official Hobo Johnson merch adorned with sandwich images.
- Weight Woe:
"But if you're beautiful from birth, do you really have the courage of a woman picked on for her girth ever since she was a kid (you know how kids are) up until she was a full grown adult?"
- "Sex and the City" touches upon this:
- Many songs also touch on Hobo's own insecurities about his weight.