Polar Opposites: Gaga VS. Tyler, the Creator

What a way to start of a new school year. New classes, friends, teachers and, of course, new blogs.

You know what else happened to kick off the school year at Kent State?

The MTV Video Music Awards.

August 28 marked not only the night before the first day of classes, but also the night where MTV once again demanded your attention for a solid two and a half hours. Were you forced to watch this ceremony of sorts? Of course you weren’t. Did you feel some strange obligation to watch it anyway? Of course you did. And, even if you tried not to watch, you couldn’t really escape the awards – if you were on Twitter that night, it seemed that everyone was tweeting about the VMAs.

However, I’m not going to sit here and run through the whole awards show again. E! News has done that plenty of times, and MTV has replayed them at least twice already.

There are two crucial things to look at here, though.

  1. Lady Gaga was not present at the VMAs. Her alter ego, Jo Calderone, was. This is huge not because it is Lady Gaga, but it is huge because Lady Gaga truly embraced what she stands for day in and day out.
  2. Tyler, the Creator won Best New Artist. He has a lot to learn about being the Best New Artist, and it doesn’t have much to do with talent or stage presence. Tyler, the Creator needs to learn how to say what he really wants to say.
Lady Gaga as Jo Calderone

There might not be two artists more different than Gaga and Tyler. Gaga has rallied against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and openly preaches that you can be whoever you want to be and love whoever you want to and, regardless of how you feel or who you are, you’re accepted. Tyler, on the other hand, is incredibly dark. He rants about his suicidal tendencies on his album “Goblin” – an album that uses the word “faggot” or some variation of it 213 times, according to NME.com.

Gaga has been accused of using her stance on sexuality to manipulate fans and sell records. However, by showing up as Jo Calderone at the VMAs, Gaga actually made a statement more provocative and more meaningful than anything else she’s ever done – including showing up in a meat dress. Gaga showed up in drag. She performed in drag. She presented in drag. And, not only was she in drag, but she actually played the part. She embraced a character, and in embracing that character, she gave a (different!) face to a movement that many choose to ignore. She made millions of viewers (12.4 million of them, according to MTV) on Sunday night identify with a transgendered individual – something some of them have likely never seen or acknowledged. Nearly 75% of Sunday night’s audience was under the age of 35. Lady Gaga had a moment to make a real impact, to really change perceptions, and here’s to hoping she did.

Tyler the Creator in "Odd Future"

Now, on the flipside of this, the MTV VMAs, is Tyler, the Creator. While Lady Gaga is somewhat unavoidable, Tyler is less well known. He hails from the Los Angeles area, and he is a member of the collective OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All). Independent-oriented online music mag Pitchfork more or less adores Tyler, ranking his debut album, “Bastard,” among the top 50 releases of 2010. However, as mentioned above, he does not come across as the most homosexual-friendly artist. The word “faggot” is in nearly every song, and in an interview with NME, he said that he uses the word because “’faggot’ hits and hurts people.” Tyler wants the attention; he wants people to cringe when they hear his music.

Is this acceptable?

Should Tyler follow the example that Gaga set Sunday night, embracing the gay community (though not necessarily in drag)? Or is he making art, despite the slurs in his music? This is probably a matter of personal taste more than anything. He claims that his homosexual fans enjoy his music regardless of what it says, but this may be just what he hopes/thinks. What Tyler really needs to do is expand on his vocabulary. He said he uses “gay” in place of stupid in his raps; while it may rhyme with a lot, he needs to find a better way to say it. If he truly cares about his image, if he truly cares about what others are saying about him, and if he really wants to continue winning awards, he’ll need to straighten up. He said Sunday night that he wanted to win a Video Music Award since he was nine years old. That’s great for him; if he wants to win something beyond that, he still has work to do.

Tyler, who is 20 years old, won Best New Artist at the VMAs. Lady Gaga won Best Video with a Message and Best Female Video. This means that the same voters who chose Gaga and who were experiencing her drag night – who believed that “Born This Way” had the best message of any video – also felt some need or identification with Tyler, the Creator’s song “Yonkers.”

I’m not saying it’s impossible to enjoy both artists. I certainly do listen to both of them. While Tyler’s albums definitely make me cringe, I still give them a listen. He does deserve a chance. However, he needs to take a page out of Jo Calderone’s book. It is entirely possible to appeal to everyone, to get some sort of message across, without offending an entire community (or communities) in the process.

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