Album Review: Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator

To talk about Tyler, The Creator’s Flower Boy, it is inevitable to also have a look at his previous work and artistic mindset. Bastard and Goblin, his first publically well-perceived albums, were shaped by a very aggressive musical production and according NSFW lyrics. Whilst 2013’s Wolf seemed to be more analogue and compelling, Cherry Bomb, which was released two years later in 2015, was more aggressive and sonically all over the place again.

Searching for a reason for things and a way to express the infinite loneliness a person might experience when doing so has, to me, always been the most outstanding part of Tyler’s work. The confusion and pain he experienced growing up in a world shaped by hate, intolerance and seeming meaninglessness converted into synthetic sounds and brutal yet almost childishly stubborn lyrics and discussions with his alter egos. And yet, on all those albums, the ambivalence in Tyler has been audible all along.

Flower Boy was released with two alternative covers: One created by Tyler himself and the other one by NY-based visual artist Eric White, who’s known for his astonishingly cinematic and nostalgic, yet weirdly futuristic paintings and drawings. White’s cover shows Tyler standing with his arms crossed in a field of sunflowers with a bee obstructing his face (making it clearly reminiscent of Réne Magritte, as is White’s whole concept). Tyler’s white McLaren is seen in the background (he might have left it behind) as well as more bees and a rainbow on the top right. The concurrency of old and new, black and white, right and wrong are visualised before the album even starts. This is also underlined by the albums ambivalent full title: Scum Fuck Flower Boy. The alternative cover that Tyler created himself is in the style of a would-be cassette cover, which adds to the overall nostalgic vibe of the LP.

Tyler asks how far he can (or should?) go on “Foreword” whilst Rex Orange County hopes he can “figure it out”. The question about the pointlessness of everything couldn’t be put more clearly. He condemns hypermasculinity and heteronormativity alongside Frank Ocean on “Where This Flower Blooms, talks about a perfect lover that only seems to exist behind his eyelids on “See You Again” with Kali Uchis and goes hard with A$AP Rocky on “Who Dat Boy.” Jaden Smith joins him on “Potholes” to talk about them going to the top regardless of any obstacles (it’s also the only song where one of his former alter egos is mentioned: “me, a lone wolf”), he touches being unsure about his sexuality on “Garden Shed” with Estelle, talks boredom and business on “Boredom” and “I Ain’t Got Time!”, and loneliness on “911 / Mr. Lonely”. Lil Wayne joins him on “Droppin’ Seeds”, and “November” might be the most nostalgic and doubting song on the album. “Glitter”, which is introduced as a message Tyler leaves on a mailbox, breaks that up and seems to be the positive counterpart of “Mr. Lonely”. Nevertheless, it ends on a person proclaiming, that they “didn’t get his message”, either because he didn’t speak or because of a bad connection. “Fuck,” he says. This is followed by the all-instrumental “Enjoy Right Now, Today”. There is nothing more to say for Tyler, he has done all he can. The album ends on a very thoughtful, yet positive note.

Many things are different with Flower Boy – Tyler drops almost all aggressive synthetic sounds and his signature low-pitched voice and alter egos – and yet everything feels sort of familiar not only to the listener but to Tyler himself, too. More familiar in fact than any of his previous albums. There’s ambivalence wherever you look, but to some extent Tyler might have found a more tangible way for himself. And that way might, ironically, be: to accept the ambivalence and make it become diversity.

What had most listeners talking about Flower Boy were the speculations about this being Tyler’s “coming-out-album”, as he talks about kissing white boys on “Garden Shed” and hints towards this on other songs of the album as well (he has been accused of homophobia and misogyny many times in the past, both of which he has denied several times). In my opinion, this is a further representation of said ambivalence that has characterized his work from the get-go. This is also not the first time he has discussed his sexuality in his music. It is important to distinguish between Tyler the artist (The Creator, if you will) and Tyler the person. His actual sexuality is nothing but his own matter, no one should care about it other than himself and the people he loves. The talking point here should, in my opinion, rather be the general development of his musical work and what we can take away from that and Tyler’s words on Flower Boy, which in my opinion might be the answer he desperately looked for on his other albums: Tolerate your own and other’s ambivalence, embrace diversity and be whoever the f you want. Or to continue the flower metaphor that characterized the whole album: bloom.

The development Tyler has shown over his last five albums is astonishing. His flow and use of his vocal possibilities has become even better over time. It has always been hard to describe his musical style, but in this case, it also seems to be sort of pointless. This album should be listened to in its entirety and more than once to get a sense of where Tyler might be trying to take the listener. It has been said, that this is his most “beautiful” album yet, but as beauty isn’t an objective criterion and shouldn’t be a reason to like or dislike something, I can only encourage you to sit down and listen to the album for yourself. I guarantee that it will talk to you, one or the other way. For once, the journalistic stock phrase is true: It literally speaks for itself.

Stream Flower Boy on Spotify.

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