This year’s freshest Christmas music comes from a Banned Artist!
Music Inspired by Dr Seuss’ The Grinch is a surprising release for a number of reasons, firstly it was totally unexpected, dropped on the opening weekend of the recent Grinch film, it took fans by surprise. Secondly, its an extremely good Christmas album, combining modern synthy jazz, swelling strings and jingling bells with modern rap stylings and hooks over a short but glitzy list of featuring artists, it’s not traditional festive fair but it feels like the most authentic Christmas EP to release in years. Thirdly and most importantly it’s made by Tyler The Creator, an artist thought to be so scary he is banned from entering the UK.
A few years ago Theresa May, the Culture secretary at the time, took notice of some of the lyrics on the rapper’s debut mixtape Bastard. The lyrics were undeniably grim (and for that reason they won’t be detailed here) and, whether intentionally or otherwise, painted an evil picture of a damaged person. May, buying into this picture, decided to take action and ban the creator from entering or performing within the UK for 3-5 years.
Now, years later, Tyler is one of the brightest and most progressive stars of the rap world, his recent festive release is written with “seven-year-olds in mind but wanting the parents to listen also” a far cry from the character he portrayed on previous records. More than that he has made efforts to distance himself from these past lyrics and released an album that many critics and fans believe is a way of coming out and addressing his own sexuality. His story of artistic growth is a huge and inspiring one from an angry 17-year-old (the age he was when Bastard was released) to a better-rounded and open artist now.
But does an artist need to be well rounded or accessible to be respected or tolerated? The decision to ban Tyler the creator years ago was not just dangerous and upsetting for his fans but for the potential precedent, it set for banning other artists in similar situations. How many other bands or singers have we seen go from moral panic to household name? Would Marilyn Manson have been subject to the same ban under May’s rule? Even the Beatles put out lyrics that had similar potential to shock the masses in their time. If all of these artists are dangerous because of their shocking material are we saying that music (and as an extension, culture as a whole) should be given less of a voice to present challenging moral discussions or viewpoints?
So Tyler The Creator, a once feared, now respected rapper can’t step foot in the UK because of the supposed danger he poses, but can release a hugely authentic Christmas album for children. Perhaps we need to reconsider how we look at a snapshot of an artist as a person at a given time. How we make sure that we don’t pigeonhole a person as a two-dimensional product of their creative output. Or perhaps we should all just sit down and listen to some Christmas music, apparently, some quite good stuff came out recently.