Flower Boyis Tyler, The Creator's coming out party—emphasis on coming out. On “Garden Shed,” Tyler, whose supposedly homophobic lyrics have got him banned from entering the UK and New Zealand (oh, the irony), drops numerous hints about his sexuality: “Garden shed for the garçons / Them feelings that I was guardin’”; “Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase / Thought it’d be like the phrase; ‘poof,’ gone / But, it’s still goin’ on”; “A couple butterflies wanna float / But I was always like, ‘Eh’ / Barely interested, but bagged just to brag to my boys like, ‘Bruh.’”
It’s a revelation that has recast Tyler in a new, rainbow-colored light (for those who haven’t caught the hints he’s been dropping since 2015, anyway). For DJBooth’s Donna-Claire Chesman, Tyler’s confession mirrored her own complicated and emotionally-draining coming out story. These aren’t the usual irreverent jokes or provocative rhymes that we’re used to hearing on Tyler, The Creator albums, either; Flower Boy is his most sincere statement so far.
For myself, there’s another takeaway from the album that hits close to home: Tyler is lonely as fuck.
“I’m gone and I’m finished / And I ain’t seen my friends in a minute / Guessing nothing lasts forever / Yeah, nothing lasts forever”
Those are some of the first words that greet us on Flower Boy, a gorgeous, melancholic bridge sung by Rex Orange County, the British teen from Surrey who sounds like he’s from Southern California. With the scene set, Tyler goes on to dedicate a discernible portion of the album to laying bare his lonely heart: on “Boredom,” Tyler, alone and cooped up in his room, yearns for even a text from his friends; on “See You Again,” his desperation turns to daydreaming about an imaginary lover; “911” is Tyler’s “Tired of Being Alone”—lonely cries for company masked in bright, beautiful chords.
There’s no simple explanation as to why one of the most popular figures in music finds himself so alone. We know that fame has fractured Tyler’s once tight-knit crew of friends and collaborators—in his 2014 The FADER cover story, Tyler admitted that he and Earl “just aren’t as close as [they] were,” while fellow Odd Future alumnus Hodgy Beats aired out his grievances with T both on stage and social media the following year. Tyler’s sexuality has apparently narrowed his circle of friends even further (“All my friends lost / They couldn’t read the signs”). Despite the Meth and Red-esque bromance Tyler has struck up with A$AP Rocky in recent years, even the tightest of friendships can’t fill the void of a lonely heart.
Perhaps it’s the curse of fame, the struggle of finding someone whose intentions are pure and is on the same wavelength, or maybe it’s something a little more familiar: putting all your energy into your work while neglecting your personal life. Whether we like to admit it or not, success in the former is often a way to numb the pain of struggling in the latter.
“Oh he lonely / All my friends talk about their hoes and tenderonies / But all I can show ’em is a couple cars and more things / That I’ve made in the couple past month”
Word to Kanye.
Whatever the case, loneliness is clearly weighing heavily on Tyler’s spirit. At 26 and having passed up his best chance at love thus far because she was "too fucking young," Tyler is starting to forget what he’s worth (to quote SZA, who also wrestles with loneliness on her fantastic Ctrl album). He reevaluates not only his larger-than-life personality (“I say the loudest in the room / Is prolly the loneliest one in the room [that’s me]”) and passion for cars (“These items is fillin’ the void / Been fillin’ it for so long / I don’t even know if it’s shit I enjoy”), but his purpose in life.
In Tyler’s final verse on “Boredom,” you can literally witness the corrosive process that unfolds when loneliness takes its toll: “Ringy dingy dong, I can’t be alone / I been starting to feel like I don’t know anyone / So now I’m staring at my ceiling fuckin’ going / Like I have no idea where I’m going.” One of the worst parts of being alone is that there’s no one around to talk you down to reality. It’s a vicious cycle in which the symptoms intensify the condition, one that can have you crashing gun-to-the-headfirst into an existential crisis—or worse.
Take it from the Lord of the Sad and Lonely himself:
“Loneliness is a terrible, terrible thing, man. If you don’t know how to conquer it, it can eat you alive.”—Kid Cudi
Admitting that you’re lonely isn’t easy—not least publicly. It takes courage to come to the realization that you’re not liked enough for lasting friendships and not loved enough for a meaningful relationship, even if that’s just the reflection you see in your mind’s most distorted mirror. Which makes Flower Boy all the more important. In your loneliest moment, there’s a comfort to be had in the knowledge that even someone like Tyler, The Creator—one of the most talented, successful and outwardly confident people in music—is going through it, too.
It’s not quite being in the same boat, but like floating miles apart in the same ocean, two stranded souls just trying to keep our heads above water despite the storm of emotions that perpetually threatens to sink our one-person rafts.
“And if I drown and don’t come back / Who’s gonna know?”—"Foreword"
Tyler’s struggle with loneliness reminds me of some of the themes in Earl Sweatshirt’s most recent music. On 2015's I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl channeled a bad breakup, a strained relationship with his mother and a period of poor health (“I had been prescribed to be inside because I had fucking medical exhaustion, so I was asleep for, like, three weeks and then I fucking went outside and tore my meniscus,” he toldPitchfork) into an album that was bleak, angry, paranoid, faded and, as the title suggests, isolated. “I’ve been alone in my shit, for the longest,” he raps on “Grief,” a song that sounds like a sleepless night with only your demons for company.
It’s ironic that Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, the two most prominent faces of a punk-rap movement that ran 11 deep, have been plagued by loneliness. Even Frank Ocean (“Solo”) and Domo Genesis’ (Red Corolla) souls aren’t fully intact. But in the same way Odd Future became the loud, rebellious voice of a generation, Tyler and Earl’s music has matured with its audience whose current battle as an adult is their partner being their own shadow. For me, Goblin and Earl were the soundtracks to those teenage summers hanging out with friends, getting high and throwing house parties; Flower Boy and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside are the cathartic backdrop for lonelier, less spontaneous times as a 20-something. Back then it was, “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school”; now, it feels like, “Fuck this, I miss people, take me back to school.”
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside may have been created during Earl’s darkest, most drugged-out moment, but it was here, “at the bottom,” where he “found something”: solace. Dedicated to his mother, the 10-minute song found Earl facing up to his problems, exorcising his demons (including the death of his grandmother) and coming out the other side with newfound clarity and contentment. “It’s not like I’m just sitting in a depression; it’s the first step to where I’m at now, which was like, taking shit into my own hands and taking control of my own life and making the choice to be happier,” he toldSPIN.
For Earl, loneliness is tough, but it’s also a crucial part of growing upwards. “Whatever you’re not down with about yourself gets loud and in your face,” he explained. “It’s about being OK with yourself, for better or worse. You can’t really start living until you can live with yourself.” Earl has conquered his loneliness before it could eat him alive; can Tyler do the same before his next album arrives?
At the end of “Enjoy Right Now, Today,” the funky, feel-good instrumental that closes out Flower Boy, we hear a car door slam shut followed by footsteps on the ground. Is Tyler arriving home to an empty mansion where he watches Clarence with nobody in it? Or is he pulling up to a date’s house to meet a girl (or guy) who's heard his lonely cries for help? Only Tyler knows, but hopefully, happiness awaits him wherever his destination.