This weekend, Tyler, the Creator played a moving set to a massive crowd at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival. He took to the stage just before 2AM and, besides an appearance from A$AP Rocky, did the entire performance by himself in front of a series of dream-like backdrops: tall grass, a flurry of stars, the words “LONELY AS FUCK” in all caps. One of the most rapturous singalongs came for closer “See You Again”, a track couched in longing and fantasy from his 2017 album Flower Boy, also couched in longing and fantasy.
The chorus, sung by Tyler and Kali Uchis, goes: “Can I get kiss? / And can you make it last forever / I said I’m bout to go to war / And I don’t know if I’ma see you again”. He introduced it by saying “Barcelona, sing this shit at the top of your fucking lungs” and let Kali’s voice play out while he danced and blew kisses at the crowd. This – a peaceful lover of nature – is an artist who remains banned from entering the UK under any circumstances.
To recap: back in August 2015 when trying to enter the UK for a series of festival appearances, Tyler, the Creator was turned away at the border and told he’d been banned by then Home Secretary, Theresa May, from entering Britain for the next three to five years. According to Tyler’s manager, government papers cited lyrics from Bastard (2009) and Goblin (2011), specifically “VCR”, “Blow”, “Sarah”, “Tron Cat” and “French”. He was rejected under terms of Home Office policy on “behaviours unacceptable in the UK” – a set of guidelines drawn up in 2005 to try to prevent suspected terrorists entering Britain. As it stands, he’s the only musician to be banned from the UK on the basis of lyrical content. Meanwhile, venues in Cardiff and Glasgow came under fire just weeks ago for allowing out-and-out neo-Nazi bands to perform.
As many outlets reported at the time – including us – it was a very blatant case of making an example out of someone for no reason other than the fact that he’s black and angry and all the other countries under the Queen’s rule were doing it. In 2014 he was banned from visiting New Zealand for posing “a threat to the public order and the public interest” and also became the focus of Australian feminist organisation Collective Shout who campaigned to prevent him touring. For some reason this hasn’t stopped Eminem being able to perform freely across both countries even though his back catalogue includes, among many other things, songs about battering and murdering his very real ex-wife.
This has all been said before, of course. But in our current world of the right to racism being conflated with free speech, overseen by a Trump presidency, the hypocrisy of it feels more pertinent now than ever. While parliament backs free speech to the degree where universities who ‘no platform’ controversial speakers now face government intervention, it seems to have forgotten about the fact that they’re currently blocking an artist who has already performed 25 shows in the UK with no serious incidents because Theresa May didn’t like the sound of him. I don’t really like the sound of Tommy Robinson boring on about his right to do Islamophobic tweets to a roaring crowd of racists on Whitehall either tbh but for some reason that’s considered an absolutely fair thing to do at a time when anti-Muslim hate crimes continue to go through the roof.
By contrast, Primavera gave Tyler, the Creator a prime slot at the peak of the festival. There were moments of his set that made your eyes prickle with hot tears, and not just because it arrived at the height of Fanta Limon and vodka sloppiness. Boredom and loneliness have always been driving forces for Tyler’s music, but over the last five years he has evolved from a troublemaking author of ultra violent fantasy, to a more traditional songwriter staring at their bedroom ceiling contemplating identity and sexuality. His set at last year’s Coachella reflected those same ideals. It wasn’t all playfulness and introspection – he did walk on stage and immediately encourage everyone to put their hands in the air and “reach for Jesus’ dick”, and during the less melodic parts of the songs his voice transformed from the low growl you hear on record to a full on scream – but to say he’s the same artist as he was when he wrote “AssMilk” is a hell of a stretch.
Fans spent much of the set tweeting crying gifs and fire emojis and requests for tips on how to clean the dust off their Golf Le Fleurs without ruining them. The Independent described the performance as “blistering”, while Crack Magazine called it “the most captivating” set of the night. The closest thing I could see to an outbreak of violence was a group of mates hugging each other too tight. So, ultimately, it’s nothing but embarrassing for the UK that Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds can perform in Barcelona and then trot across the channel to sing a murder ballad about a black 19th century pimp (“I’m a bad motherfucker, don't you know? / And I'll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy's asshole”), but Tyler, the Creator’s updated set of largely post-2011 songs about loneliness is out of the question because his anger is read as terrorism instead of artistry.
The fact that Tyler now writes songs about flowers and lust (in a ‘let’s kiss’ way rather than a ‘I will wear your skin’ way) is not, in itself, a reason to lift the ban. An artist shouldn’t have to soften their image to be confirmed harmless. But if it’s lyrical content that’s the problem, there are far greater threats to peace and harmony in the UK right now than a young black artist blooming.
We have reached out to the Home Office for comment.
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