The Way He Saw Things: Remembering the Emotional Charge of Lil Peep
Lil Peep, aka Gustav Åhr, confused a lot of people in the tragically short time he was alive.
A white, teenage ‘emo-rapper’ from Long Island with face tattoos who rapped about cocaine, suicide and heartbreak, it wasn’t initially clear if we were meant to be taking him seriously. Reputable music outlets and journalists didn’t know what to do with him – was this all an elaborate joke?
Peep was not a joke, nor a clown. He was, according to those who knew him, gentle, caring, intelligent, incredibly creative, and above all, earnest. Although you may find his lyrics ridiculous and meaningless, he meant everything he said. Combining the triple-time hi-hats of trap with his slurry introspective rap, he became the poster boy for post-emo angst in the age of Gucci Mane, Lil Uzi Vert and Soundcloud rappers. His mixtapes Hellboy and Crybaby saw him rapping over perfectly melded mixes of heavy guitars and icy Southern US rap beats – he somehow made someone saying ‘real trap shit’ over a warped Avenged Sevenfold sample sound good. Earlier this year, Pitchfork ran the first major profile with Lil Peep, lauding him as “reinventing heart-on-sleeve agony for a new generation”.
Crucially, it didn’t matter if adults and serious critics liked Lil Peep or not – his music was nihilism made by teens for teens, who in turn adored him. His GOTHBOICLIQUE merchandise was always sold out, as were his shows. I was lucky enough to see him at the O2 Academy Islington a couple of months ago and despite the (or maybe because of) the fact that I was the oldest person there, it was a truly unforgettable experience.
His fans genuinely loved him – it’s no exaggeration to say that everyone there knew every word to every one of his songs. A sea of teenagers with pink hair, studded belts and various other items of clothing I haven’t seen anyone wear since I was their age surged to the front as he arrived on stage, singing along and screaming their support for their emotional hero. “You like it?” he asked the crowd about the show, cradling his skinny topless torso. “I like you”. It was a moment as vulnerable and pure as anything you’d find at a One Direction show.
Lil Peep was open with his struggles with depression and substance abuse, both in his music and on his Instagram. This is what made him so successful, and so important. Despite the themes of drug abuse and suicide, his music was above all else intensely relatable. Who hasn’t had their heart broken and wanted to die? At times, on songs like U Said with lyrics like “running away from you takes time and pain/ and I don’t even want to” made it unclear if Lil Peep was singing about his mental health issues or an ex-girlfriend. His substantial fanbase saw in Peep someone communicating what they were feeling: the anguish of adolescence, with its new and confusing experiences, its alienation and heartbreak. Or for some, the eternal anguish of being alive. He was also special for those of us who outgrew our teenage years a while ago but didn’t necessarily outgrow the intensity of the feelings that came along with it.
The tributes from fans and fellow musicians flowed this morning, with Alice Glass tweeting that Peep was “the best thing in music this last couple years”. At only 21 years old, his death his particularly heartbreaking in part because he had so much more to do still, both as an artist and as a person.
Beyond devastating that Iil peep has passed. He was by far the best thing in music this past couple years and he was just a lil baby at 21
— ALICE GLASS (@ALICEGLASS) November 16, 2017
In just two short years, Lil Peep came along, spearheaded a genre and spoke to a generation of kids raised on the samples and collaged influences of the internet, and confused and offended a bunch of boring adults, as all truly good and exciting music has always done.
Lil Peep reminded us that music doesn’t always have to be clever or serious; sometimes it’s just enough to have something to scream along your pain and frustration and hurt to, which is arguably what was at the centre of the emergence of emo as a genre all those years ago. His debut studio album, Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) was only released in August of this year. It’s a genuine tragedy that we will never hear Part Two.
Rest in peace Lil Peep.