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Lil Peep & the Correct Way to Handle a Celebrity Death

Death is not the end. It's just the moment we lose control of the narrative.

About a year and a half ago, I interviewed the talented lead singer of a rising British alternative rock band who will remain nameless for reasons to be revealed shortly. They were a refreshing marriage of rock and pop, a pairing of the singer’s catchy hooks with a melodic bass line. It was a simple formula, but also one that was tried-and-true. It was also clear that they were made to perform, where their energy could spread like Nutella—sweet, but also good for you.

Two weeks after our conversation, I e-mailed that same lead singer, informing him that I was planning to post the interview on my blog later that week. He never responded. I was hoping to hear back from him before the story was published, and so I waited another week. Again, no response. "Well, I'll just have to move forward," I thought.

While editing the interview for my website, I googled the band's name for fact-checking purposes. “Bodies returned to families,” read one of many horrifying headlines.

My heart sank. I panicked. I froze. I first thought of the victims, whose cause of death feels too specific for me to mention; just know that the lead singer and the manager, the two people I had contacted for the interview, were involved. I thought of the potential wasted—that of talent and life. I thought of the families and their grief. I even thought of how much I admired their manager’s e-mail signature, ”Cheers.”

However, the most pressing thought in my mind was the interview, transcribed and ready for press. I cycled between three surprisingly different questions: “What should I do?” “What could I do?” “What would I do?”

For all I knew, I had in my possession the last interview this man had ever conducted. These weren’t my words, though. They were his. But only I had a say in how they were presented to the world.

Looking back, still with a pit in my stomach about how the events transpired, I am embarrassed to say that I attempted to capitalize on this opportunity. I hit up several notable British publications in an attempt to publish what I had fooled myself into thinking was my interview. A few responded, but none decided to publish the interview.

At the time, selfishly, I felt hurt, but now I know it was for the best. I was trying to shoehorn my way into the lives of these men; into their story. And really, that’s what life is: a narrative that we build carefully and wildly all at once. Death, despite what some might say, is not the end. Instead, it’s more of a turning point when the plot takes on a mind of its own, spiraling out of our control.

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To quote the rap-inspired musical Hamilton, “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” But, while we’re living, we do have control of what stories we tell.

Just hours ago, Long Beach, New York-raised alternative hip-hop artist Lil Peep died. The cause of his untimely passing is a suspected drug overdose.

Lil Peep was a unique talent. He took the hip-hop angst that Kanye West originated to new extremes, living up to the Gothboiclique movement he helped pioneer. He sang of heartbreak in a way that felt all his own, even if the topics at hand still felt generic. Lil Peep was the best of both versions of the suburban stereotype: an angst-driven wannabe rap superstar. In a short amount of time, he even succeeded in dropping that dreadful “wannabe” label. It was an evolution of rap that was equally unexpected and necessary—hip-hop’s emo phase.

Peep was also one of many who participated in the dangerous prescription drug subculture that has risen within the larger culture of hip-hop. “Self-medication is the name of the game in the culture of young black men in hip-hop,” Vic Mensa explained to Buzzfeed in October. In recent years, prescription drugs have become the preferred option not just for rappers to cope with their issues, but for the young people in our society at large. Peep included.

“I cry a lot, I get stressed out, I get overwhelmed,” Peep, born Gustav Åhr, toldHigh Snobiety. To help deal with his insecurities, Peep, according to the same interview, was at one point taking up to 20 Xanax a day—a sobering reminder that addiction is often a mask for those who are stressed out and scared.

Much can and will be said about Peep the artist and Peep the self-medicator as the dust settles following this terrible news, adding to the already complex narrative of the Goth Angel Sinner. But the narrative was just that—complex and brimming with colorful details. Peep was bisexual. He was afraid of centipedes and oceans. He was a “great friend” and a “great person,” Post Malone tweeted. Even on the surface, his eclectic style, and unmistakable tattoos proved Peep to be a distinct figure and individual.

The life of Lil Peep, while shorter than it deserved to be, is still a story worth telling. But now that he’s gone, Peep has no control of where his story goes from here. Lil Peep seemed like a larger-than-life figure when he was alive. But now, following his death, his image and life are prone to be defined however the zeitgeist chooses; he can be boxed up and labeled whatever way we see fit.

Lil Peep will undoubtedly become a part of some larger narrative now that he’s gone, especially as his death remains an event worthy of discussion. With so much uncertainty and without the consent of Peep, however, it’s important to remember that we can control what we say about the man.

No matter how we feel about him or whatever cultures he may or may not have been apart of, Lil Peep’s story still deserves to be his and his alone.


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