You may not know who Kris Yute is just yet, but you definitely know one of his close friends. For the uninitiated, Yute is a Jamaican-born, Brooklyn-based musician known for a stylish blend of rap and hazy beats that he primarily produces on his own, and his music is finding an audience. Yute has over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, and his song “I Did It” even became a popular TikTok trend in 2019.
However, for now at least, Yute is probably better known as the guy Penn Badgley occasionally dances with on TikTok. Badgley posted their first dance video, to “I Did It,” on his Instagram account on Sept. 9, 2019. In total, Badgley has posted three videos with Yute on his social media platforms, with the most recent being a December 2022 post to Yute’s song “Breeze.” Badgley also occasionally appears on Yute’s accounts, which has helped bring more attention to his music.
The internet's intrigue into who Yute is perhaps one of the few good things to come out of Badgley's personal life constantly making headlines. It helps that Yute and Badgley’s chemistry is undeniable. When you watch the actor posting with the musician, you don't see a celebrity hawking their friend’s songs. Rather, they're two pals just dancing and vibing. Dudes Rock by way of Brooklyn.
The reason they’re dancing at all is, in part, because Yute’s career has been slow to take off. He told BuzzFeed News he currently works two hospitality jobs after a recording deal with September Recordings, whose music is distributed by Sony via its Columbia Records label, ended. So he did as many do and turned to his friends to help spread the word about his music. It just so happens that one of his friends is a star of a hit Netflix show and formerly a hit CW show.
“Maybe people see it as me supporting him,” Badgley told BuzzFeed News. “And I think sure, I am, because I have the platform to do it, but it's also a reflection of just the way that we are musically and as friends.”
Case in point: Requesting an interview with Badgley through his team, who is in the middle of promoting You Season 4, to talk about his friendship and dance videos with Yute wasn’t easy. Then Yute reached out to his buddy directly, and soon enough Badgley was on the phone praising his pal.
What makes their friendship all the more compelling is that Yute had no idea who Badgley was when they first met in 2017. You wasn’t on TV yet, and while he’d heard of Gossip Girl, which Badgley starred in, Yute always got it confused with Gilmore Girls, which Badgley did not appear in.
Yute was just impressed by a patron doodling abstract gray faces at a now-closed Brooklyn restaurant where he was working. Badgley recalls himself drawing a 3D face with “a lot of things coming out of it” when Yute struck up a conversation about art and spirituality.
“I don't know how most people think of relationships. But, to me, the ones that last seem to have a purpose or something, there's something that really draws two people together, and we just always thought about art together,” Badgley said.
From there, the two quickly hit it off, with Yute attending “spiritual meetings” at Badgley’s home, playing pickup with the actor, and even meeting his wife, Domino Kirke, and their family.
Yute eventually showed Badgley some of his songs and asked the actor if he could promote his work on his Instagram story, though he was adamant that the actor shouldn’t feel like he was “kissing his ass.”
“I don't like the vibe of people treating you in a non-genuine way,” Yute said. “I treat all my friends the same. I don't believe [in] best friends. Once we are a certain level of close, I love you.”
Badgley quickly took up the request, impressed by Yute’s “medicinal," "therapeutic” phrasing; relaxing yet profound melodies; and his charismatic and easy commands over his singing voice. Yute’s music combines witty wordplay that toggles between bravado and insecurity with electronic beats and tranquil harmonies. He sings, raps, and plays guitar, bass, and piano all while doing the bulk of production on his own.
Recalling Yute’s initial request, Badgley said it was his idea to do something more substantial than just a little promotional post. "I mean I could post a little, 'Hey, check out my friend's music, whatever.' But that is to me a really boring and noncommittal way to support something that you think is cool,” he said.
Still, Badgley doesn’t view himself as a mentor to Yute musicially, though the actor fronts the indie-pop band Mothxr. But he does see himself as a guide for navigating artistry as an occupation. “What I've learned in the 10 extra years or so I have on him is: ‘Don't let anyone else reorder your priorities for you,’” Badgley said. “That's really the only mentorship role I have.”
It’s an important lesson for Yute, who said his now-ended deal with September Recordings made him feel like he was being put into a “weird box” and made “too Jamaican of an artist."
A representative for September Recordings told BuzzFeed News the contract was mutually terminated by both parties but declined to comment on Yute’s claims. Yute said the decision to end the deal was not mutual.
These days, Yute said he’s got 25 unreleased songs written and produced. He dropped his most recent song, "Get Lost," on Jan. 16, and he's trying to find the right time and way to release the rest.
In the meantime, he’s looking for collaborators, like Badgley, who believe in him as much as he believes in himself.
“In my entire career, the majority of all my growth has been as an independent entity, just leveraging my fucking friendships,” Yute said.