Migos owe Cam Newton. Last year, the Carolina Panthers quarterback received intense media attention not for his athletic ability, but for his touchdown dances. Newton’s celebrations did not share the theatrical tendencies of Terrell Owens, Joe Horn, or Randy Moss, NFL players who turned the act of scoring into one-act plays; instead, Newton pulled from the dances of his hometown, Atlanta, most notably the “dab.” A simple motion that resembles coughing into one’s arm, dabbing was a key accessory of Newton’s success. He turned the dab from a regional phenomenon to an international meme that even Hillary Clinton got in on – and it happened right when Migos, the Atlanta-based trio, well-known dabbers, and hip-hop cautionary tale, were in need of a career refresh.
In July 2015, two years after their initial “Versace” success, the group dropped a debut album, Yung Rich Nation, which came and went through the summer with little fanfare. The album’s first single, “One Time,” didn’t make much of an impact; their next single, “Pipe It Up,” was littered with ad-libs of “dab," and it picked up enough steam to power a rebrand that Migos followed through a few months later with "Look at My Dab," the centerpiece of their September mixtape, Back to the Bando. While the middling mixtape did not show much growth from Yung Rich Nation, the dab provided the group with a much-needed new sense of marketing direction. The overly frantic “Look at My Dab” was less about the specific dance move than it was about SEO; this was Migos in service of the Migo-Industrial Dab Complex. By the time they announced a Dab Tour for 2016, the group appeared to be searching for anything to continue their post-memetic relevance.
The timing for Migos' dab-assisted relaunch last fall lined up perfectly: Dabbing athletes like Cam Newton and LeBron James caused a public scramble for an authority on the dance, and Migos were more than willing to serve. While they used their music and relatively higher profile to push the dab into the national consciousness, they were not the originators of the dance. Fellow ATL rapper Jose Guapo has been credited for its creation, and Peewee Longway helped spur its popularity. Even the producer and filmmaker Mr. 2-17 predated Migos’s own dabbing songs with his early 2015 track “#Dabbin." Yet with tracks like “Pipe It Up,” “Dab Daddy,” and “Look at My Dab,” Migos reclaimed the dance's musical life – at least for a while.
Last week, when the Dab Tour hit its New York City stop, Migos already appeared exhausted with all that dabbing hath wrought. During their sold-out show at Irving Plaza, the trio demonstrated little excitement with the tour’s namesake dance. On stage, Offset nonchalantly strolled to and fro with little spark; Quavo’s energy was barely palpable; and both shined over Takeoff, who stared blankly into the crowd with profound lack of interest throughout the duration of the show.
They ran through newer songs likes like YFN Lucci’s “Keys to the Streets” and their own recent mixtape cuts before heading into previous singles (“Handsome and Wealthy” and “Hannah Montana”). Notably absent was “Versace,” the song that got remixed by Drake and launched Migos into a new level of fame. They’ve publicly stated their frustration with how Drake benefited from their song much more than they ever did. Though this was billed as the Dab Tour, most of the show featured very little of the dance move. When the group got around to performing “Look at My Dab,” with Takeoff barely committing to each dab, the irony was overwhelming. Perhaps by their next tour, Migos will be ready to skip the memes and remind us why we cared in the first place.