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'Everybody's Everything' Is a Complicated Remembrance of Lil Peep

By the end of the documentary, it's hard to shake the sense that you've been pulled into an ongoing conflict that a film can only do so much to solve.

by Emma Garland
18 November 2019, 1:16pm

Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images 

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

A posthumous documentary about an artist tends to go one of two ways: The first is a broad overview of their career, as told by peers, collaborators, and music industry types, that follows an established and existing public narrative. Often specific to those who died young or tragically, the second is a deep dive into their personal lives in an effort to uncover the truth that raises questions of its own – like documentaries of the past few years chronicling the lives and untimely deaths of Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and, now, Lil Peep.

Premiering in the US and UK last Friday, Everybody’s Everything is a predictably gutting watch. The two-hour documentary tracks Lil Peep’s life in full, tracing his rise to fame through home videos, tour footage, and interviews, before reaching the questionably included but inevitable 911 call from the tour bus where he died from an accidental drug overdose on November 15, 2017, at the age of 21.

Co-directed by Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan, and executive produced by Terrance Malick, Liza Womack (Peep’s mother) and Sarah Stennet (CEO of First Access Entertainment, Peep's management company), Everybody’s Everything is a fitting title. As a son, star, and an investment, Lil Peep had a lot riding on him when he died, and that becomes increasingly apparent throughout the documentary, which starts off as an act of remembrance but gives way to finger-pointing in terms of who’s responsible for his death. Blame games are understandable in a situation when someone’s death probably could have been avoided, but it’s debatable how much they matter to a documentary whose concluding point can only be that the whole thing is deeply sad.

This is all made more complicated by the fact that last month Womack filed a lawsuit against First Access Entertainment for negligence, breach of contract, and wrongful death, among other charges. First Access has since denied these allegations, but the suit certainly casts things in a different light. Now, we’re left with a documentary that sets up one thing and a lawsuit that alleges another.

The artist born Gustav Åhr died during a transitional phase, not even two years into his career. He was blowing up, relocating to London – away from most of his friends and collaborators in LA – and dealing with the questions that bubble up in a budding music career (how much creative control do you have? How much of your life is “yours” when it’s being bankrolled by someone else?). The documentary establishes that there were tensions between his collective Gothboiclique and First Access as they focused on building up Peep, but we hear about it mainly from the perspective of Sarah Stennet and Peep's manager Chase Ortega. Some GBC members are interviewed briefly for colour, remarking on their time living together on Skid Row or refuting the bizarre conspiracy theory that various members had something to do with Peep’s death, but their presence in his life is framed in the documentary as largely negative.

Members of his former collective, Schemaposse, also speculate around the circumstances of his death, and Stennet, Ortega, and Makonnen – who is signed to First Access and formed a close friendship with Peep while collaborating in London – all talk about him being in with the "wrong crowd." But Lil Peep’s story is one of heavy drug use, struggle with the demands of fame, and pressure from all sides. "I don’t want to be lil peep g I’d rather work at Starbucks…" Peep said to Ortega on August 13, 2017, in texts obtained by Rolling Stone. "They’re all fucking dumb and suck at their jobs or they just aren’t from the new generation and don’t get it."

Everybody’s Everything seems to insinuate that the members of Gothboiclique are at least partially at fault in Peep’s death. It’s true that they weren’t supposed to be on that last tour. It's possible they were there because Peep was struggling and wanted his friends around, or because they were clinging on to his ascent to the top. But the fact is, they were his friends, and after Peep’s death, Gothboiclique found themselves navigating calls from major labels and legacy publications essentially because his obituaries performed well. "It was the end of November when we had people try to sign [the group]," GBC co-founder Wicca Phase said last year. "I had people offer me deals and offer me contracts, press, whatever – not because they knew who I was, and not because they knew who Gus was.” GBC member Mackned addresses in the documentary that he’s been hounded online for the last two years because he tweeted something about "his gut" telling him not to take Xanax on the tour bus.

All these details feel irrelevant now because nothing can change what happened. Towards the end of the film, Liza Womack says everything she’s been involved with – the documentary, the posthumous releases, the merchandise – has come from a desire to talk about her loss and deal with grief over the death of her son. Everybody’s Everything should be a remembrance, and it mostly is. But by the end, it’s hard to shake the sense that you’ve been pulled into an ongoing conflict that a feature-length film can only do so much to solve.

Posthumous documentaries often pose the questions of how soon is too soon, or how close is too close, regardless of how involved the artists’ estate is. Filmmakers put a "definitive" Mac Miller documentary on hold in June due to objections from his family; In Kurt Cobain doc Montage of Heck, the inclusion of home footage, supplied by his estate, was described by some critics as having "an uneasy voyeuristic charge"; and one of the biggest problems Asif Kapadia faced after being approached by Universal to make Amy is that "There was no go-to person who knew Amy’s story [...] no one liked each other, they were all arguing, there was a lot of tension around her, always." There’s a documentary in the works about XXXTentacion, who was murdered just last June at the age of 20 while awaiting trial for domestic violence charges. His estate and his mother, Cleopatra Bernard, are involved, and the first trailer was released on the anniversary of his death. X and Peep’s stories are similar in some ways – they both acquired a remarkable level of attention very quickly, they both died young, and they both struggled very publicly with mental health issues.

It's worth noting that Lil Peep wasn’t actually that famous when he was alive. His rise was dizzyingly fast considering he only started uploading music in 2015, but while his streaming numbers were in the millions and his tours sold out, his was a cult following pretty much until the end. First Access signed a three-year deal with him in June 2016, and it was only in June 2017 that he walked at Fashion Week in Milan and Paris and entered the mainstream consciousness. His first album, Come Over When You’re Sober Pt 1, dropped in August 2017 and entered the Billboard 200 posthumously. Lil Peep’s fame transcended his legacy, and now it feels as though his career is still happening – he’s just not around to shape it.

At the same time, it's possible that we know more about Lil Peep than we’ve ever known about Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, or even Mac Miller. Born in 1996, Lil Peep’s life was documented on social media in real-time. His death was too – he was dropping Xanax on Instagram stories a few hours beforehand. It's difficult for a documentary to tell us what he was like, because he told us via photos and videos he posted of himself, using social media like any other teenager or 20-year-old, which created a sense among his fans that they knew him intimately, even if a degree of it was performative.

Anyone who had been following Lil Peep for more than a few months before his death will feel they know more about his career than we’re given here – which is why Everybody’s Everything is at its best when it focuses on his family and his fans. A posthumous documentary can make audiences feel closer to its subject, to learn what they didn’t get to learn while that person was still alive, which in this case is what came before Peep's career as a rapper. The film is punctuated by beautiful letters that John Womack Jr, Lil Peep’s grandfather, sent to him throughout his life, which is the most heartwarming and insightful part of the documentary.

It’s difficult to establish a coherent narrative about someone who shared so much directly during his time. Everybody’s Everything does not exactly avoid placing blame at anyone's feet, and the weight of its title is hard to ignore. Unfortunately, it's impossible for there to be a satisfying conclusion to the loss of a promising young talent and real person whose life had only just begun.

@emmaggarland

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documentaries
Lil Peep
Everybody's Everything