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Taking a Closer Look at VMA Winner Tyler the Creator

Much of the public was first introduced to Tyler the Creator during last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, after the  young rapper won an  award for Best New Artist and danced onstage with Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and Seth Rogen.  What many of them will unfortunately learn if they now decide to pick up a copy of his album is that he also writes some of the most violently anti-gay and misogynistic music currently enjoying mainstream recognition. 

This isn’t a case of a few cursory anti-gay slurs over the course of a career.  According to NME magazine,  the celebrated sophomore album of Tyler the Creator and his group Odd Future, Goblin, features 213 occurrences of the word fa**ot and it’s variations.  Compare that to Eminem’s debut album, The Marshall Mathers LP, which featured 13 total occurrences of the word and the sheer scale of Goblin’s anti-gay rhetoric is frankly staggering.

As if that wasn’t frightening enough, the album also contains numerous references to rape and domestic abuse against women.  So many in fact, that when Odd Future was given a slot in Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, it inspired a coalition of advocacy groups such as Rape Victim Advocates to distribute material at the event to counter the hurtful messages Tyler and co. were gleefully spouting onstage.

One of the best repudiations of Tyler’s lyrics thus far has come from inside the music industry itself, when singer/songwriter Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara wrote an open letter calling out both the artist and the media for turning a blind eye to the content of his albums in their haste to celebrate a new artist.  Quin writes: “While an artist who can barely get a sentence fragment out without using homophobic slurs is celebrated on the cover of every magazine, blog and newspaper, I’m disheartened that any self-respecting human being could stand in support with a message so vile.”

Tyler himself has seemed unfazed by the criticism, responding publicly to both the advocacy groups and Sara Quin with unprintable insults.  When questioned by NME about such criticism in an interview, he employed the thoroughly tired defense of “I didn’t mean it that way,” saying: “I’m not homophobic. I just think ‘fa**ot’ hits and hurts people. It hits. And ‘gay’ just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that sh*t.”

One group who should be thinking about it, however, is the media and music critics, who often defend Tyler and Odd Future by implying such language is simply part of their musical persona and should be seen as ironic.  What’s really ironic is that in a time when the public is becoming more supportive of LGBT people and other major artists are showing their support through their music, Tyler and Odd Future are padding their lyrics with anti-gay slurs and dangerous, violent rhetoric. But there is nothing ironically clever about hate speech, particularly when a significant part of those listening are adolescents seeking to emulate their favorite artists.  It’s simply irresponsible and destructive.

“Rather than providing simply a larger platform, MTV and other networks should educate viewers about why anti-gay and misogynistic language has no place in the music industry today,” said Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs at GLAAD. “Given Tyler’s history of such remarks, viewers and potential sponsors should refrain from honoring homophobia and in the future look to a more deserving artist.”

MTV didn’t choose the winner of the Best New Artist category (that’s chosen by public vote) on last night’s show, but they did decide to nominate Tyler in the first place and put him onstage.   We hope in the future they will think more carefully about the message they’re sending to their young audience before giving him another platform.

Matt Kane, GLAAD’s Associate Director of Entertainment Media

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