“No one ever told me what I’d have to sacrifice for fame,” The Kid LAROI sings on “SORRY,” the opening track on his debut album. “I’m just trying not to go insane, but I got all this weight on me and I just want to run away.” It’s a very real depiction of a fundamentally unreal experience: a young teen from Australia thrust into global stardom at rapid speed. His confessional continues: “Shit don’t make no sense, I mean, the pressure’s a mess/I’m 19, trying to navigate money and stress, weird industry friends/And my family life is intense and my girl is always upset because I’m always fuckin’ working.” There aren’t many people who can count multiplatinum certifications and an array of firsts, broken records, and awards among achievements earned prior to turning 20 or even releasing an official album. To be fair, The Kid LAROI, whose moniker honors his Kamilaroi heritage (the Aboriginal community of his maternal ancestry), started early. Born Charlton Howard, he released his first EP at 14, signed a record deal at 15, and dropped his F*CK LOVE mixtape at 16. The mixtape was then rereleased three times, each time with more new tracks added. The second reissue, F*CK LOVE 3: OVER YOU, included the Justin Bieber collaboration “STAY,” which topped charts in more than 20 countries. It’s no wonder the pitfalls of fame have already left scars. As with his mixtape, THE FIRST TIME is primarily a breakup record. But the anger and resentment of F*CK LOVE has evolved and matured into heartbreak, loneliness, even grief. The shift comes with significant musical growth, too: Save for a handful of hip-hop tracks with big-name features like Future and Central Cee, THE FIRST TIME is all pop melodies, folksy guitars, and soulful R&B samples. “CALL ME INSTEAD” even features enchanting piano from jazz legend Robert Glasper. What Howard realizes time and time again is that no amount of money or possessions will keep him warm at night. “The ghost of you still floats around my room,” he admits on “BLEED.” “Now every night, I lay here in this bed we made for two.” On “WHAT WENT WRONG???”, he tries and fails to distract himself: “There’s a whole lotta women running round this room, but the whole time, I can only think about you,” he sings over wistful synths. And then there’s the two spoken interludes. On “STRANGERS (Interlude),” Howard lays it out: “You can be with someone for three years… and then one day it’s over. We’re both living our own separate lives again, as complete strangers.” A little later, “STRANGERS PT 2 (Interlude)” feels like a self-flagellating response: the story of love that hasn’t gone wrong at all. It’s a cutesy anecdote from Justin Bieber, recalling the first time he met his “squishy little peanut” and now wife, Hailey. The Hallmark moment serves only to make Howard’s heartache all the more depressing. Still, Howard isn’t just curled up in bed feeling sorry for himself: He’s doing the work, too. On “TEAR ME APART,” he takes responsibility, apologizes, and laments the “year’s worth of emotions in days,” his tangible pain a stark contrast to the breezy accompaniment. He checks himself on “YOU,” realizing with 20/20 hindsight that maybe he was the problem: “I used to think I was never wrong and all you’d do was complain/I see it all now that my ego calmed down, I don’t even know why you would keep me around.” While he’s still got some work to do (the “DESERVE YOU” line “I spent half a million dollars on love, how could you not feel for me?” might best be unpacked on a therapist’s couch), THE FIRST TIME presents a Kid LAROI who isn’t a kid anymore. He closes the album with “KIDS ARE GROWING UP,” a reflection on his traumatic family history and the consequences of success. It’s a full-circle moment: After opening the album with a similar admission, here he acknowledges his Faustian bargain: “Growing up I watched my favorite rappers’ interviews, I ain’t believe ’em when they said it ain’t all what it seems/But now I’m here and realized they were telling truths, ’cause you sacrifice yourself for everybody’s needs, by any means.”

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