Sometimes art isn’t pretty.
Yesterday, my friend Phil introduced me to the LA rap group “Odd Future” by way of their youtube music video “Yonkers” by Tyler the Creator. I posted the link to my facebook wall, and gathered a quick response that showed either appreciation or disgust for the video, and not really anything in between. One of the responses was from my mother, who thought it was disgusting (for obvious reasons that I don’t fault her for), and could not understand why her daughter would like such a video. Naturally, my mother’s opinion influences me tremendously even when I try to resist it, and so I inevitably got to thinking about why is was that I liked this video, and why it was that she didn’t. Maybe it’s a generational gap thing, or maybe it’s the hopefulness of youth (do I actually like this, or do I just want to like it because it’s “misunderstood”?)– I don’t exactly know, but what I realized was that art is not always–nor does it have to be–pretty.
My immediate and current reaction to the video both is and was intrigue. Granted, I am in film school, so anything that is of avant-garde fashion, plays with focal length and depth of field, is black&white and has high contrast lighting makes me excited and perhaps biased, so the aesthetics of the video immediately had me on the rapper’s good side. But I also particularly loved the theatrical nature this 20-year-old kid Tyler adds to his rapping performance. It’s fresh and there’s something poetic and emotionally provoking and identifiable about it. In yesterday’s LA times the rap group (which consists of six kids from LA, ranging from ages 16 to 23) was featured in an article in the entertainment section for their sudden powerful presence on the internet musicscape (like Die Antwoord, their videos went viral and now they are playing at Coachella). I think the article articulates perfectly the allure that I saw in Tyler:
Tyler doesn’t profess authenticity (“no one’s authentic”), but his lyrics have both a wounded honesty and deranged imagination (including sex fantasies with Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and Goldilocks). His talent lies in his ability to fuse a strain of post-adolescent angst found in Holden Caulfield, Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis, and lyrics rife with esoteric references and double-meaning: In one of the only rhyming couplets suitable for a family newspaper, he raps on “Yonkers,” “They say success is the best revenge/So I beat DeShay up with the stack of magazines I’m in/Oh, not again, another critic writin’ report/I’m stabbin’ any bloggin’ … hipster with a Pitchfork.”
My mother’s reaction, which was that the video and his lyrics were a big attention-seeking show of nothingness, is valid. I get what she’s talking about. She’s a woman who likes things that have positive or productive messages and/or soul searching provocations, and that’s good. That’s probably, in the long run, what is ultimately useful and worthwhile, and maybe I am playing the role of a hopeful and naiive “misunderstood” member of youth by appreciating this video. But there’s something likable about the video for me, and I don’t think that it’s flawed or contrived thinking on my part. I don’t think that art has to be pretty or have a purpose to be good– I guess that’s a very Dada mentality, which is ironic as I don’t usually particularly like Dada art. But I also think the current fascination with Tyler and the Odd Future and what I, too, found attractive about his style is the concept of what Tyler and the Odd Future represent, and that probably is a hopeful youth thing. They are entirely non-commercialized, and they certainly do not fit the rap star mold (puking and cockroaches and suicide are very un-50-cent). They are self-proclaimed outcasts that dislike conformity and have made their weird, outcast qualities a thing to be celebrated and owned–and this, to youth, is attractive (well, at least to some of us). It will be interesting to see if I still appreciate this kind of thing when I’m old.
I’m not going to Coachella this year, so I won’t be able to witness the unique style of these kids, but for any of you who are going and are going to watch them perform, let me know what your thoughts are/what they’re like live.
Also: Daily post challenge #2 of 30. Success. I’m proud.