How Steve Lacy Scored the Nation’s No. 1 Song With “Bad Habit”

In a June 2021 episode of FX’s comedy series Davida music producer named Elz (played by Odd Future’s Travis “Taco” Bennett) sniffs coke in a bathroom while telling Dave (Lil Dicky) that he works with Steve Lacy, to which Dave asks, ” Who?”

Elz responds, “See, you’re just not in the shit, you’re more on the surface.” At the time, it was a perfect joke of the baseball music industry: Elz is an up-and-coming producer who’s beginning to taste real success; Steve Lacy was the kind of name that wouldn’t register with casual music fans, but a hip, up-and-coming producer would be thrilled to work with him.

The punchline of this scene wouldn’t quite land today. When the episode aired, Steve Lacy was working in a New York studio on “Bad Habit”: this week, it’s the new number 1 song in America. If you’ve turned on the radio, opened up TikTok, or browsed the hottest DSP playlists this summer, you’ve definitely heard “Bad Habit.”

It is one of the most improbable successes of recent years. First off, there’s nothing specifically ’80s, like Harry Styles’ “As It Was,” Nicki Minaj’s Rick James’ “Super Freaky Girl,” or this year’s most unexpected hit, the re-emergence of a real hit from the 80s, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” by Kate Bush.

“Bad Habit,” with its blend of R&B and indie pop sensibilities, feels like it could have been released in any era in music, and few songs currently on the charts sound like it. It’s groovy and melancholy, the lyrics are filled with longing and regret, and Lacy’s guitar strings swirl and decay. It’s a discouraged anthem that manages to fit remarkably well into everyone’s Instagram story montage. How did this song by an artist who was always more “cool” than “popular” reach the top of the charts?

First, the biography: Steve Lacy is a 24-year-old, half-black, half-Filipino, bisexual singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer born and raised in Compton, Los Angeles. In high school, he joined Odd Future-affiliated band The Internet and produced their 2015 Grammy-nominated album, Death of the ego. Although he didn’t win an award, Lacy attended the show and went to school the next day. The 17-year-old was still anonymous to many of his classmates. “I was playing gigs and going back to school,” he recalled in an interview.

After graduating, he worked with everyone from Solange to Vampire Weekend, Kali Uchis to Blood Orange, as well as rappers like Kendrick Lamar, YG, and J. Cole. Lacy wasn’t even particularly interested in pursuing a solo career until his internet bandmates started pursuing theirs and suggested he do the same. His first solo offering was a 2017 EP titled Demo by Steve Lacy, a project he produced, sang and arranged mostly on his iPhone (he broke down the process in a viral TEDxTeen chat). His second album, 2019 Apollo XXI, was also Grammy-nominated, though that still doesn’t make him a household name.

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