By Jordan Yeager
Christmas music is a polarizing topic. Some like to start blasting it at the first sign of leaves turning colour, others boycott it until it can be boycotted no longer, unavoidable through the speakers of décor-drenched shopping centres everywhere. It’s kitschy and overplayed, and the lyrics have been engrained in our collective minds since we first learned to put language to melody, regardless of which holidays we personally celebrate. It’s a genre of its own that has evaded evolution – the same set of songs are perpetually remade and covered. To put it simply, songs of the season are hardly inspired.
Enter Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, a surprising holiday offering from Tyler, the Creator. It diverts the aforementioned formula, laced lightly with cheer and tinged with holiday references but not over-the-top chipper with bells chiming and carolers singing. “Hot Chocolate” is, as its name states, an ode to the cozy, marshmallow-topped treat, and “Lights On,” featuring Santigold and Ryan Beatty, is upbeat and merry.
“Big Bag” is a standout on this album as the track most recognizably created by Tyler, the Creator. From the beat to the lyrics, it leans on the darker side, referencing holidays past in which Tyler’s “mom was always honest, [he] ain’t never had a Santa Claus.” According to him, the song is actually written from the perspective of the Grinch himself. Perhaps fittingly, a track that didn’t make the album but is featured in the soundtrack of The Grinch is titled “I Am The Grinch.”
Tyler has had a big year, from expanding his fashion line Golf Wang in a more mature direction to curating yet another impressive lineup for his seventh annual Camp Flog Gnaw festival, this time in partnership with YouTube Music. He’s becoming something of a corporation in his own rite, a Renaissance man with boundless energy and inspiration to channel into whatever strikes his fancy at a given moment.
2018 seems to have inspired in him a drive to focus more heavily on production. In October, he re-released an expanded version of his 2015 album Cherry Bomb and included an instrumental alongside each track, feeling it had previously gone underappreciated. That shift is obvious on Music Inspired by […] The Grinch, as vocals take a back seat to production. The album’s intro, “Whoville,” and outro, “Cindy Lou’s Wish,” are purely instrumental, encapsulating the other four tracks like a warm stocking.
Tyler, the Creator is a man of many talents. He’s been making music since founding Odd Future in 2007, with the collective’s first mixtape being dropped in November 2008. Ever since, his evolution has been constant and, for those paying attention, blaringly obvious. On his first solo studio release, Goblin, in 2011, he was writing lyrics like “Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.” His intention was to be ironic and make people talk – it’s hyper-exaggerated satire, rooted not in reality but in a commentary on perceived notions of hip-hop culture. Many of the controversial remarks he’s made have been called homophobic – according to The Fader, the homophobic f-slur appears on Goblin nine times.
But Tyler isn’t homophobic; he isn’t even straight. By 2017 he was more confident in his own sexuality, stating on Flower Boy’s “I Ain’t Got Time!” that he’s “been kissing white boys since 2004” and on loosie “Gelato” that he “just pop[s] models, boys or girls these days, shit, it don’t matter.” And while he may not always have been as outspoken about his sexuality as he has been since Flower Boy, he hasn’t exactly been keeping it a secret, either – in 2015, for example, he told Rolling Stone that he was “gay as fuck” and “one hundred per cent would go gay for ‘96 Leonardo DiCaprio and Cole Sprouse.” In that same interview, he said “One day when I stop talking about fucking people in the ass, I’ma go into children’s books.” Perhaps The Grinch is his first step in that direction.
This latest release from the Creator is short and sweet – six tracks, none of which exceed two and a half minutes in length. In total, it’s just over 10 minutes long. As far as holidays go, it’s about as long as you’d want dinner with the extended family to run: long enough to reminisce and drink some rum and eggnog, but not quite long enough to touch on any topics deep enough to stoke an argument. Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch steers free of controversy, too.
According to a tweet from Tyler, “Making Christmas themed music, but not making it too xmasy was the goal.” He wants these tracks “played in June too,” and it’s feasible that they will be – their holiday undertones are understated enough that it won’t feel as blasphemous as it would to bump “Let It Snow” while wearing shorts and a tee on the beach. The songs are cheerful enough to evoke images of Christmas without being in-your-face about it, shoving that cheer down your throat. For a Tyler production, it’s surprisingly understated.Columbia Records, Dr. Seuss, Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, Record Review, the creator, The Grinch, Tyler