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Life’s funny, isn’t it? Illumination Entertainment, masterminds behind the Despicable Me franchise and the effortlessly lovable related Minions film, announced that its next project would be a CGI reboot of the Grinch. The classic Dr. Seuss character who first received his own book in 1957 had hit the main screen in 2000 with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a live-action telling of the infamous party-pooping fiend. Jim Carrey played the title role, and there was always something inherently suggestive about his portrayal. Maybe it was the fact that his Grinch was an adult man caked in hours of makeup as opposed to an emaciated, jade, humanoid character that kids could identify with.
The Grinch looks to avoid this problem altogether. Benedict Cumberbatch and his impish British accent will play a computer-generated Grinch who’s never looked skinnier. Judging by the trailer as well, it seems that Illumination’s going for innocence over quirkiness this time around. With this in mind, the announcement that Tyler, the Creator is curating the soundtrack reveals the binary code in our worldly simulation. A rapper once deemed a moral scourge by concerned parents, his inclusion on the project is a complete flip from past ways of thought for an additional revenue stream.
Tyler, the Creator built his career out of controversy. In the age of boilerplate trap rap of the early 2010s, he cut through with morbid, often nauseating lyricism that pined for dissension. He was unapologetic with his puerile raps, seeking to invoke a reaction from whoever listened. On 2009’s “Assail,” he made rape and murder the song’s thematic center. He used “faggot” as both a derogatory word for homosexuals and everyone else. And this was before he even reached mainstream eminence. He didn’t slow down there; in 2011, he released Goblin, a debut studio album that made homophobia its creative crux. It’s a bold, idiotic album, admirable in its impudence. He raps about domestic violence, among other less savory subjects, and the f-bomb is uttered an exhaustive amount of times. Even for those unbothered by the slur, he was able to attack both the homosexual community and the general rule-abiding public in other ways that stuck.
For many parents around the world, Tyler was the Antichrist. There was a true tonal shift in the youth when he came into the spotlight; children who were otherwise green-behind-the-ears with respectable hopes and wishes transformed into meandering oddballs overnight, seeking validation with obscure wants in a never-ending competition to out-weird their peers. He had kids eating roaches like he did in the video for “Yonkers,” for God’s sake. From his moral aptitude to the image he portrayed, even his personal view of religion that, in particular, demonized Christianity, Tyler, the Creator was as bad as porn to the morally righteous parent.
In the years since his dastardly debut, Tyler’s been on a serious course correction. After revealing to Spin in November of 2011 that making music about rape and body dismemberment didn’t interest him anymore, he embarked on a slightly different direction. His favorite f-word appeared throughout his sophomore album Wolf, even as he claimed that his intentions were better. He went from an obnoxious, snobby enfant terrible to a sullen, faux-indie rapper that was occasionally offensive. On his first outing, he used the word “bitch” 68 times across the album – Wolf generally trimmed the profanity down, but it still managed to ruffle some feathers with its controversial nature. That same year, Tyler directed three commercials for Mountain Dew that drew chagrin from the public because of the use of racial stereotypes and violence against women. He issued a statement that the ads weren’t to be taken seriously, but the damage had already been done.
With these disastrous events in mind, along with his early artistry that changed internet culture for the worst, Illumination’s decision to have him curate The Grinch’s playlist reeks of blood in the water. Tyler, the Creator’s name comes with a considerable amount of baggage; he's an entertainer who should probably stay away from a kid’s film, even when considering the recent softening of his more violent impulses. But a running craze for Hollywood films lately has been to enlist rappers to handle music for the film because, let’s face it, rap’s the premier lightning rod for pop culture this decade.
For example, the 2013 remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann, had JAY-Z at the soundtrack’s helm. He revealed in a statement that the classic story was “ripe for experimentation and ready to be interpreted with a modern twist.” While an interesting effort, it was not nearly as well-received as Marvel’s Black Panther from this year. It was an already decidedly black affair, but just to guarantee those ticket sales, why not have Kendrick Lamar, one of the world’s biggest rap stars, curate the soundtrack? Even Future had his own crack at being a movie soundtrack producer following the international success of Black Panther; he produced the soundtrack for Superfly, the 2018-remake of the 1972 Blaxploitation classic.
Enlisting these artists invites their fanbases, interested in their every move, to check out the movies they work on. It’s a smart move, and it isn’t anything particularly new, but the growing reliance on this model should warrant a second look at the artists being endorsed. It’s the same principle as enlisting problematic actors or crew members; if something happens when the film is in production, they’re removed from it, swiftly. James Gunn was recently fired mid-production from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for the discovery of old controversial tweets that sought to extrapolate humor from pedophilia and rape. The production for the revival of Roseanne was halted immediately after perceived racist tweets from Roseanne Barr drew swift backlash. With quick action following the public’s discovery of these people's wrongdoings, it’s odd that DreamWorks doesn’t keep that same energy with Tyler.
Of course, the propensity for financial gain is what matters more than a sensible moral compass. Tyler, the Creator is approaching 30 years old but is still a treasure trove of youthful interest, possibly left over from his more controversial days when parents abhorred him. Aside from being a very rebellious choice, Illumination is banking on, like the studios behind the Superfly reboot and The Great Gatsby before it, aligning Tyler’s aesthetic in a sensible manner, cajoling his fanbase into checking out the movie. Money talks.
Tyler, the Creator has accomplished a lot in his career and has taken admirable strides to erase the more unpalatable moments of his earlier creative decisions. In a turn of events that was foreseen by anyone with knowledge of those with homophobic tendencies, it appears that Tyler now openly hints at the fluid nature of his own sexuality. While he’s come a long way, the unmistakable musk of this decisions makes it hard to find any sense, outside of the possibility of financial gain, for Illumination to enlist him to curate music for The Grinch. The decision borders on tasteless, and shows just how far Hollywood will go to secure an extra dollar. Going forward, with rappers becoming ever more popular choices to handle the music for films, it will be interesting to see how past transgressions impact these producer roles. Will they be held to the same standard as other officials, or is Tyler just a special case? Not to be a Grinch-level downer, but it’s hard to imagine telling my child that an artist who built his image out of explicit stories of cutting up women is curating the music for a Dr. Seuss film.
For more like this, read our op-ed on Tyler, the Creator's 'Flower Boy,' one year later.