“Runnin' out of time, runnin' out of time, runnin' out of time / Runnin' out of time to make you love me / Runnin' out of time, runnin' out of time / To make you love me” —Tyler, The Creator, “RUNNING OUT OF TIME”
As we know by now, I love love. And I love falling in love too quickly. I love the mess of it, the spontaneity, the intensity of emotion, and the blaring quality of a brisk love. The rush enamors me; it’s like mania without the delusions. It’s like getting high without consequence. It’s like, really, the best thing ever. There’s such an urgency to a love spun too fast, one that comes from either hunger or a fear of intimacy, masking as a desire to dive right in. Either we desire closeness and catapult into love at the first sign of butterflies, or we fear intimacy and rush the process of love, hoping to get to the point of comfort. Regardless of where you land on this spectrum, there is a song for you.
Both Ari Lennox and Tyler, The Creator took 2019 by the collar with records detailing the failures of modern romance. Where Ari thirsts for intimacy and tries desperately to hunt down love, Tyler, The Creator approaches love with an obsessive edge, and ultimately, his fears come true. On both counts, the artists paint portraits of an urgent love: one that must come to fruition as quickly as possible. Their anxieties permeate their love songs, making for complex and compelling listening experiences.
At once, these two artists pine after love and quake in the face of it. Shea Butter Baby and IGOR are both high-wire attempts at unraveling the dichotomous relationship between an aversion to vulnerability and a desire to lay up with the one.
To start, Ari Lennox has been having terrible luck on Tinder. She tells us as much on “I Been,” but her urgent love begins far earlier on debut album Shea Butter Baby. The opening song, “Chicago Boy” showcases her desire for intimacy clashing with her insecurities, fighting with her desire to keep herself guarded. “I wanna bring you closer / Tired of waitin’ / Tired of waitin’ (Ooh),” she sings on the first verse before admitting to “speeding up this vibe” on the hook—the same hook where Ari worries about getting judged by this man she suddenly wants to pursue.
Ari’s desire for closeness graces us as it brushes up against her inability to accept herself and her longing. She projects her insecurities onto the man in question, asking him if he’ll judge her for sleeping with him so soon, but really what she is doing on the song is showcasing how love bubbles up so immediately when all we want is companionship. “I need you now / But I don’t wanna get your feelings broke,” she closes out the chorus. While it’s sweet she’s worried about her man, it's safe to assume that she wants to guard her emotions as well.
On “Chicago Boy,” Ari turns a standard pick-up into a balancing act. We have what Ari wants, which is instantaneous love, versus Ari’s concerns over how quickly things are moving. In that way, Ari Lennox gives us a great look into how people dive into love when they are hungry for intimacy, despite worrying about if things are moving too fast, which she breaks down even further on “Up Late.”
It’s the ritualistic quality of “Up Late” that makes the record so unique. The song hinges on the third verse, where Ari lets out a battle cry of sorts: “Fifth floor, neighbors must be questionin’ my job, n***a.” Here, we receive place and time. The apartment is on the fifth floor, and Ari has been there so often, the neighbors probably wonder if she’s even employed. It’s a sweet sentiment that relays a grander message: one of pushing everything aside to fall in love as quickly as possible. This time, unlike “Chicago Boy,” there’s an anxiety-free atmosphere. Ari Lennox is secure in how fast things are moving and hopes that her man is ready for the ride.
What we learn from Shea Butter Baby is that quickly falling in love can be beautiful, so long as you’re comfortable with yourself and your lover is on board. The dynamic move from “Chicago Boy” to “Up Late” is a showcase in the importance of self-acceptance. So what if you want that closeness upon arrival? A hunger for love is nothing but a character trait, and should not be demonized, as Ari works through across her album.
Meanwhile, Tyler, The Creator’s hunger for love evidences itself in a series of obsessive and languishing tracks.
There’s a pleading quality to “EARFQUAKE” that bleeds into the trepidatious and earnest, “I THINK.” Where Tyler begs for his partner to stay on the former cut, on “I THINK,” he has a moment of reprieve masked in a moment of tension. Realizing that he is falling in love, Tyler becomes enrapt in fear. The love he experiences, though telegraphed as sweet through the pitch shifting, is a massive disturbance to his well-being. Tyler makes the process of falling in love sound horrific but thrilling. For every bar about his lack of balance and brooding obsession, we get a vocal shift or line about Tyler’s desire to pursue this love with all he has.
Tyler, much like Ari Lennox, takes his fear and transforms it into a hunger for intimacy. We still get his anxiety—after all, Tyler writes vulnerability on IGOR as a fruitless poison—but the pitched-up hooks are imbued with passion. The song speeds up a tick, and there’s a manic quality to Tyler’s pursuit. He needs this love. Every second spent without this love becomes agonizing. By the time we make it to the funky bridge, Tyler has sold us on the idea that this love is essential to the fabric of his character. So much so that he leaves lyrical breadcrumbs promising to become his partner’s puppet.
From here, we get the “EXACTLY WHAT YOU RUN FROM YOU END UP CHASING” skit, which only furthers our thesis: Tyler’s fear of love is fueling his hunger for love in the same turn. Per the title of the skit, Tyler’s anxiety over love transforms into the object of his desire, which begets a sense of urgency. There is an intensity to “I THINK,” through this new lens, that captures the dire need for love. Suddenly, the telegraphing of “PUPPET” makes perfect sense, as we recognize that Tyler’s urgent need to love has him preemptively ready to submit and become someone’s puppet. Power dynamics be damned.
Tyler’s hunger is so intense that on “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” he writes of wishing to cast spells to make his partner love him back. He needs instant gratification. He needs this love to work out. His fear of being left is driving him mad. With IGOR, we are dealing with more than puppy love at the onset of a relationship. We are dealing with dogged wanting as a result of inborn terror. Tyler, on IGOR, is scared to be left alone. He pursues love with his whole being, and in the end, he is left alone anyway. In the wake of his crumbled relationship, all that remains is the memory of a love tumbled into.
Between Shea Butter Baby and IGOR, we get a full picture of love’s gnawing qualities. When we want a love immediately, there is very little that can stop us from pursuing it. Quickly falling in love is a rush, unlike any other, but is also thorny and complicated beyond words. Ari and Tyler capture these thorns and make them sound beautiful. Even if their loves do not work out, there is the understanding that intimacy will come and our need for love will eventually be satisfied.
There’s nothing to fear. As my last fortune cookie told me: “You will be successful in love.”