A Sweet Sorrowful Serenade from Tyler, the Creator (Deep Dive)

By Cammy Thomas

Tyler’s Trajectory

It has been 6 years since I sat down to write about the eccentric chameleon that is Tyler, the Creator, in his flower boy era. This year I discovered the mastery of the Grammy winning concept album ‘IGOR’ (I know, I know I’m late, but I’ve had my own ‘Estate Sale’ to secure!) and after noticing a flurry of activity on Tyler’s twitter feed and You Tube pages respectfully in recent weeks, I decided to take a look at the seeds of creativity the flower boy had planted to see what had bloomed in the 6 years since I’d last peered over Tyler’s ‘Garden Shed’. I was not disappointed at what I’d discovered, bouquets of self-produced beats, corsages of old school chord progressions, arrangements of timeless music, effortlessly wrapped with bows as colourful as Tyler’s videos, tying the past to the present. As I’ve spent the last few months revisiting Tyler’s world, immersing myself in and marvelling at his unique artistry and imagination, I realised Tyler has gone from tending to his garden of secrets, to proudly cultivating an entire vineyard featuring every, shade, colour, and hue imaginable for us all to view and enjoy.

Tyler, the creator and his game changing collective, Odd Future
Tyler, the Creator leads his game changing collective, Odd Future

After stumbling across an old Larry King interview Tyler gave in 2014, I could not help but chuckle when contemplating the evolution of Tyler’s music and public persona. Larry King inquired multiple times regarding Tyler’s sexuality, he answered the questions, but those answers were somewhat generic. Tyler then shared in the interview, he hates people who are frauds and opined these types don’t live in their truth. Fast forward to 2023, and it’s only now it becomes apparent that at that time Tyler was most likely frustrated with himself, as he had not yet come out as bisexual, and he’d not yet unleashed the characterisation of Igor for his album of the same name. ‘IGOR’ is a concept album about a man deeply in love with a man, who has a girlfriend, and chose to secretly date Igor. The album boldly explores themes of love, unrequited love, obsession, rage, crimes of passion, acceptance, and healing. Knowing what we know now, Tyler was not living in his complete truth back then, but after absorbing his recent offerings comprising of four singles and a deluxe album, all released in the same week, it’s undeniable that Tyler’s truth has now fully emerged; and he is revelling in it.

‘SORRY NOT SORRY’ Single & Video Review

‘Sorry Not Sorry’ opens with the dulcet tones of yesteryear with a sample from 1978’s ‘He Made You Mine’ by the group Brighter Side of Darkness, which can be heard throughout the track. The continuous hum of the low level horns, the luxurious heady tinkles of the piano, and the harmonic soulful background vocals makes for a misty eyed, melodic, lullaby like instrumental, which feels instantly nostalgic, and dreamlike as we are swept away and invited to gaze through the lens of Tyler’s past as he takes us on an extremely personal journey of his regrets, and some scenario’s where he’s adamant he took the right course of action and thus has no regrets about some of the decisions he made. The song’s old school instrumental is brought bang up to date when famed mix tape maestro, DJ Drama exclaims in his distinctive braggadocio tone – “Pardon me!, Excusez Moi! yeah I coulda made a better choice…”, DJ Drama’s voice being the first we hear on the song, expertly prefaces what Tyler is about to share and somewhat ‘sets the scene’, it also provides a compelling modern foreground, when aligned with the instrumental in the background. Throughout the song Tyler is reflective, vulnerable, defiant, and honest as he apologises to his mum – “I’m sorry I don’t see you more, I’m sorry that the four minutes that you see your son can feel like a chore”, he apologises to old friends “Sorry to my old friends, the stories we could have wrote if our egos didn’t take the pen”, he apologises to his fans who were deemed odd or weird within society, who deemed Tyler and his Odd Future collective as saviours they could resonate with, when they burst onto the music scene in 2012. Tyler acknowledges he feels he abandoned those fans and left them with no one they could look up to, who made them feel understood and accepted as non-conformists during that time. But the most powerful apology Tyler offers on the song is to – “The guys I had to hide, sorry to the girls I had to lie to, who ain’t need to know if I was by the lake switching tides, too.” This lyric stayed with me for days after hearing it for a few reasons, it is the most pointed expression of his sexuality I have heard, with Tyler’s trademark humour or punchlines completely absent. The statement is steeped in Tyler’s unapologetic truth, as he allows himself to be vulnerable enough to bare his soul. The lyric also stands out for its technicality, as it’s laced with double entendres’ and word play, as “By the lake” can also be flipped to “Bi the lake” (Tyler has admitted he’s bisexual numerous times), “Switching tides” represents Tyler “Switching sides” between both sexes, and “too” can also be interpreted as “two” in the context of Tyler jumping between the two sexes whilst keeping both in the dark. If people still question why Tyler won a Grammy, his lyrical brilliance here provides the answer.

All of Tyler’s alter ego’s on display as an ensemble for the first time in his musical career, Left to right – Flower Boy, Goblin, Cherry Bomb, Igor, Tyler Baudelaire, B*stard, ‘True Form Tyler’ and Wolf

Whilst most of Tyler’s apologies within ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ are sincere, some are pure sarcasm as he ‘apologies’ to stalkers who dig into every aspect of his life and come up with nothing, because he chooses to keep some elements of his life private. In these moments, Tyler gives a barbed critique to these people, and puts them in their place by telling them that not every area of his life is up for public consumption because – “That’s none ya biz, give enough with my art, know your place.” (Tell ‘em Ty!) When listening to the audio of “Sorry Not Sorry,” an abrasive manifestation of Tyler’s subconscious delivers lyrical blunt force traumas, by underscoring Tyler’s admissions with terse affirmations which are meant to provoke and goad the listener as well as Tyler. For instance, when Tyler expresses his lack of interest in making small talk over dinner with people who request the pleasure of his company, his subconscious jibes – “Stay in your pocket this is pool, blah blah blah blah, ‘bout trauma you ain ’t special, everybody got problems.” Similarly, when Tyler is making a heartfelt apology to his ancestors for being dazzled by diamonds, instead of standing up and fighting against the ills of society, in particular those affecting the black community, Tyler’s wayward subconscious urges him to keep buying diamonds regardless of cost and attempts to coerce Tyler by telling him he can’t save everyone as he’s not superman. The intermittent intrusion of Tyler’s selfish subconscious gives ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ texture and grit, against the honey drizzled sweeping harmonies, reminiscent of 1950’s crooners, The O’Jays.

It is not until we come to watch the self-directed video to accompany ‘Sorry Not Sorry’, we realise the ‘intruder’ on the track is not only Tyler’s subconscious, but rather one of Tyler’s many alter ego’s (This one from his ‘Goblin’ era) perhaps borne from his subconscious to express differing parts of his persona at different stages of his life. Watching the video for ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ creates a whole new immersive experience, which elevates the songs’ lyrics to a new dimension when coupled with the stark visuals. Mr Baudelaire (Tyler’s current alter ego) extraordinaire, brought his alter egos to the forefront once more to represent each of Tyler, the Creator’s six album releases. As the curtain rises in the theatre with an audience including Tyler’s mum, his fans, ancestors, and all the people mentioned in the song, we’re met with that luminous sunshine suburbia colour palette Tyler loves to draw from for his music videos, as we’re shown a brilliant blue sky, sprinkled with candy floss clouds, as each of Tyler’s alter egos stand in patches of wheat and straw waiting patiently to have their say, or stay silent and gently sway! For fans who have followed Tyler’s career since 2013, to see all his alter egos as an ensemble in one wide shot, makes for a thrilling and artistic visual, as we see in one glance how far he has come as an individual and an artist. Interestingly it’s a stripped back Tyler (literally as he’s shirtless AND hatless!!) who starts proceedings when apologising to his mum and friends, because these apologies are the most personal it makes sense that the true version of Tyler without any props or accessories, is the version chosen to make such sincere apologies. Also poignant is it’s Tyler’s ‘Flower Boy’ alter ego who apologises to all the “Guys he had to hide,” as it was this album where Tyler began the journey of being more open about his sexuality. It also did not go unnoticed, that it was Tyler’s flower boy alter ego that got the camera zoom close up during the lyric – “I’m sorry mother earth for polluting air with chemicals and dirt”, as it’s this alter ego who is the most sensitive, and presumed to have a love of nature and plants judging by the bunch of sunflowers this iteration of Tyler has been clutching for the past six years. As expected, when the subjects of excess and opulence are broached, its Tyler’s flamboyant and flashy alter ego, Tyler Baudelaire who takes centre stage in the video.

Tyler brings his Grammy award winning eccentric alter ego, ‘Igor’ to Buckingham Palace! I fully expect to see him swagged out & pimped up for the coronation

One of the most unusual things that struck me about the video, was how the eccentric and pastiche suited alter ego with “The friendliest hair”, Igor, is partially obscured throughout the entire video. This could be interpreted as rather than Igor being an alter ego of Tyler’s, Igor appears to be a complete personality split, who seems to hail from another time altogether. Whilst Tyler’s alter egos appear to be extensions and expressions of himself, I view Igor as a separate characterisation in and of himself with his own origins, arcs, and actions, existing completely separately from Tyler’s. However, despite this, the link between Tyler and Igor is apparent, as Igor’s motivations are fuelled by Tyler’s experiences, even though his personality and style seem to be the most far removed from Tyler’s true self, I mean, the man has platinum blonde hair for goodness sakes, none of Tyler’s other alter egos can lay stake to that claim!

As stripped back true form Tyler, and his alter egos, the Goblin, Flower Boy. and Tyler Baudelaire trade verses in the evocative video for ‘Sorry Not Sorry’, we see the number of alter egos begin to dwindle, but it’s not clear why until the video nears its end, as Tyler Baudelaire spits his lyrics with extreme urgency, dripping in sweat knowing his time is nearly up, as it’s revealed that true form Tyler has been ensuring each alter ego meets a grizzly end, as Tyler, the creator revisits his nightmare in suburbia premise, which he’s now perfected in his many music videos over the last 10 years. The video closes with true form Tyler, or as some fans have named him, ‘Django Tyler’ pulverising the last standing and current alter ego Tyler Baudelaire, leaving no alter egos or split personalities standing. Does this mean Tyler Okonma is ready to be his true self, or is a new alter ego pending, to be revealed this summer to commemorate his seventh album release. One thing we can be sure of as DJ Drama assures – “I guarantee, another era is upon us,” and one thing I can guarantee is Tyler’s next era will be as unique, creative, artistic, and exceptional as all his others.

*WATCH* the music video for ‘SORRY NOT SORRY’ below:

Photo Credits: Main Image, Gregory Ferrand, Igor Image, Pluriverse / Tyler’s own twitter, Alter egos image, Complex / Tyler’s own twitter, Odd Future Image, Terry Richardson