Jamie McCarthy

SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND—The first thing I see outside the venue of Fetty Wap’s debut concert for his first major tour is a crying teenage girl. There’s a drama playing out—two young ladies have been kicked out of the show during opening acts because one of them got drunk and threw up in front of a police officer. Her parents have been summoned. Now she's sobbing, clutching her friend—who didn't puke in front of cops and gets to stay.

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“I won’t do it,” the friend swears. “I won’t see Fetty Wap without you, I promise.” I leave them there, clutching one another across a smoking section barrier with tears streaming down their faces. 

🎵🎵🎵🎵🎵

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Inside, the Fillmore theater is cramped. The analogy packed like sardines falls apart immediately because when you open a can of sardines there's at least a little room around the edges, but here in the crowd an hour after the doors open, but two hours before the headliner, there isn't an inch of extra space.

There's a DJ on stage cycling through half a dozen RGF production rappers who end every set by putting their Instagram handle on the screen above the stage and asking for follows, but the only thing holding the crowd's attention are covers of Top 40 rap songs—"Antidote" by Travi$ Scott, "Say It" by Tory Lanez.

The only place there's not a throng of teens is at the bar. Behind the polished counter two bartenders lean against the shelves polishing glasses. Apparently barely anyone attending the show is of legal drinking age. The man handing out wristbands at the door to buy booze tells me he's only given out 150 wristbands, maybe, "But even that might be an overestimate." The Fillmore holds 1,150 people, and this show is sold out. That means there are 1,000 teens here to see Fetty Wap.

But this isn't just a Fetty Wap show. By the time Fetty Wap comes on stage at 11:30pm, there have already been 6 different performers on stage and several people whose whole sole job seems to be hyping up the crowd. There is one man who simply carries around a GoPro for the entire four hours.

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The hype doesn't reach a roar until Post Malone comes on—he's the last act before Fetty Wap himself. Around me, teens scramble to pull out their phones and start documenting Post Malone on Snapchat. Nearby, a boy with waterfall bangs makes out with his girlfriend. Accidentally, his elbow digs into the side of a young black woman next to me. She hits him on the head, tells him to stop, and he does.

The last song Post Malone plays before Fetty Wap comes on is his Top 40 hit "White Iverson," and the teens know every damn word. Behind me I hear a boy say "I'd like to sauce on you," a reference (albeit a corny bad one) to the chorus of Iverson's song "Saucin', saucin', I'm saucin' on you/ I'm swaggin', I'm swaggin', I'm swaggin' oh ooh." I ignore him, but he persists, and when I turn around at the end of the song, he's so  much younger than I thought he would be that I can't stop myself before asking him, "Are you even old enough to vote?"

He laughs. "How old do you think I am?" I think that he is probably 17. But I say 14 just to affirm my stance as an older person. "I'm 18, an adult," he says. Stunned, I ask him who he will vote for. "I FEEL THE BERN," he screams at full volume, and a few teens clap.

🎵🎵🎵🎵🎵

Finally, there, in a black hoodie and a black beanie is Fetty Wap, the man of the hour. He laughs a little at the roaring crowd before launching into a first song.

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The teens know far more Fetty Wap than just his hits. Earlier I'd asked a few of them their favorite songs, and only one said "679," a Top 40 hit. The other two picked "Boomin," a deep cut, and "Jimmy Choo," which had been released just that morning.

I'm forced to watch Fetty's first two songs of the set through the phones held up in front of me. Teens take his photo in Snapchat and save it if it's good. Fetty Wap is unfazed. At 24 years old, he's not that far removed from them. He poses for their photos. He does funny little dances.

Quickly, he brings out Monty to join him. Monty is one of Fetty Wap's best friends. Of the 20 songs on Fetty Wap's self-titled debut album, Monty is featured on 9. They each command one side of the stage, and with an orchestrated casualness, they switch after each verse, dancing and posing while the other sings. They're cute, and they have the young crowd completely enthralled. By the end of the second song, there are fewer phones in the air.

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Fetty Wap is a very good performer—captivating with swagger and an infectious glee. And on top of that, he sounds incredible. "Sometimes I just wanna show y'all that I ain't always auto-tuned," Fetty says after a particularly impressive vocal run. "I'm doing this shit for real." And he is. His live vocals show that the auto-tuning on his album isn't corrective, it's artistic.

During Monty's verse on "My Way," Fetty stops in the middle of the stage and puts his right hand over his face, showing only his bad eye (he's a survivor of childhood glaucoma), just like his album cover. Around me, teens also put their hands over their faces as they sing along with the chorus.

Fetty Wap performs during the Z100 Jingle Ball, making one of his signature silly faces.
Jamie McCarthy

"I love him so much," the teen next to me says to her friend.

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And Fetty loves them too. It's his first real tour since his single "Trap Queen" became a viral sensation in 2015. He'd planned to kick off a tour in October, but postponed after a brutal motorcycle accident. Knowing his audience has been waiting for it, Fetty Wap saves "Trap Queen" for last. But he barely sings it. Instead, he holds the mic out to the audience, as they scream every word of his biggest hit, as loud as they can.

There is no encore. Fetty's played almost every song in his repertoire in a little over 60 minutes. As the crowd heads for the exits, he stands on stage hugging his friends—really squeezing them—until everyone has been hugged, and they head backstage. Outside, teens are requesting Ubers and being picked up by their parents.

On my way out, I walk past the girl from earlier. "I sent her like 100 snapchats—I'm so sad she got kicked out," she says to the kid next to her while typing on her phone. "It was incredible."

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Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.