Lil Peep’s Honesty About Mental Illness Inspired A Generation To Accept Themselves
One year on from his untimely death, Lil Peep’s legacy of acceptance, honesty and authenticity will never be forgotten by the hoards of emo kids who consider him among their own.
Before his death, which shook his loyal fans and skyrocketed Peep’s stock, the 21-year-old bottled-blonde Pennsylvanian was widely hailed as the future of emo.
His story came to a tragic end on November 15, 2017. However, with posthumous releases and an unwaveringly committed fanbase, Peep continues to change the way we see – and hear – mental illness.
Peep’s music and mental illnesses were closely intertwined, and the 21-year-old, raised in Long Island, made light work of exploring the weight of his own anxiety, depression and suicide ideation in his tracks.
Lil Peep, real name Gustav Åhr, was on tour promoting his debut album Come Over When You’re Sober, with the tour scheduled to wrap up in just two days time, when he died of an accidental fentanyl-xanax overdose.
Peep passed away just weeks after he turned 21, and the music industry turned its default setting to mourning once more.
The outpouring of genuine emotion was so palpable Peep might’ve even been proud of his devotees. After all, expressing angsty introspection publicly was Peep’s MO.
Peep and the other members of the GOTHBOICLIQUE collective – Cold Hart, Wicca Phase, Horse Head, Lil Tracy – embraced the metal and post-hardcore tribal aesthetics immediately recognisable to anyone who remembers all the lyrics to Cute With The ‘E’.
But Peep dug deep into his well of emotions and made them manifest in a new wave of emo music unlike any other trap artist had before.
And he was one of the first people in the music industry who was able to equate the aesthetic trappings of hip hop success – the iced out teeth and whip – with genuine, honest personal turmoil.
After his death, Post Malone said his friend was changing culture. Whatever you think of him, Post Malone was right.
Peep’s debut was written almost entirely in major keys, offset by his monotone but melodic take on the raspy, sneering vocals of the anti-establishment popularised by punk decades before.
His emotive but nonchalantly discontented vocal – a modern take on the speak-singing style pioneered by Bob Dylan and The Velvet Underground – doesn’t sound like it comes from a guy with an inimitable work ethic.
But, in fact, music poured out of Peep throughout the three years since he moved to LA at an impressive rate; it was enough material to create a whole posthumous album with unreleased music, which dropped on his birthday.
The latest offering – Come Over When You’re Sober Part 2 – continues in the same vein, but with even more mature lyrical poetics, chunkier riffs and a heavier rock sound.
The 13-track record only goes to reinforce the idea that Peep was taking rock music in a new and innovative direction which had the power and playability to speak to a new generation of kids who struggle with self-acceptance.
Work ethic aside, who’d have guessed a young rapper with the words ‘CryBaby’ tattooed above his right eyebrow, an Anarchy symbol on his left cheek, an Emily Strange sticker on his home computer and a Pete Wentz car air freshener would be able to redefine the much-maligned emo music genre with unbridled honesty and melodic refrains?
His journey started at school, a place where he felt trapped and misunderstood, much the same as anyone who choses marginalised sub-cultures over the mainstream.
He graduated high school online, after eschewing the restrictive schooling systems, moved to LA and started making music, sharing it to Soundcloud where it was listened to by thousands of people, like Peep, who felt like they didn’t fit in.
His fame grew, alongside his pre-existing mental health conditions, and with this cocktail came a unique set of pressures for which many people in the public eye find themselves unprepared.
Clare Scivier, a behavioural psychologist with 20 years experience in A&R, told UNILAD:
The entertainment business is rife with sex scandals, heavy alcohol and drug use. The endless award ceremonies are a great demonstration of the non-stop party culture.
As the work of musicians, actors, and performers is consumed in the public’s spare time confusion occurs and blurs lines between work and play.
It’s nothing new, she says, but between all the travel, lack of training to deal with anxiety and nerves, inexperienced managers as well as support staff who encourage self-medication, Scivier has seen how the entertainment industry can exacerbate pre-existing conditions like bipolar and autism.
Dr Arthur Cassidy, Social Media and Celebrity Psychologist, told UNILAD:
High profile celebrities find it extremely difficult to lead a normal life for many reasons. Their worldwide fans know lots about them but they know nothing about their fans. It’s known as ‘parasocial interaction’.
Many A-lister’s suffer from chronic fears and anxieties due mostly to pressures from fans who have unrealistic expectations of their daily lives – and expect more rock concerts and more albums with higher ratings.
This puts them under unrealistic pressures to perform better than before. Another world tour. Time away from family adds to unsurmountable pressures which increase mental health risks leading to exhaustion, stress, depression and burnout.
Some I work with cannot cope with vile comments body shaming, negative feedback about the latest performance, and internet trolls.
Unlike a lot of artists who sadly feel pressure to hide their symptoms, conforming to the outdated societal stricture which states mental illness is something to be ashamed of, Peep used his battles as fodder for some of his best work.
In his own words, Peep cited a ‘chemical imbalance’ for his mental illness. It’s a notion which is still progressive at a time when people are being encouraged more and more to see mental health and physical health as equally important.
But Peep has been doing it in his music since he started in 2015. In Feelz he talks of anxiety and says ‘It’s like Palestine up inside my mind, a deadly war zone’ and in Life he asks ‘if I tried suicide, would you stop me?’
Even in Beamerboy, the Schemaposse track which is as close to the bravado of traditional rap lyrics as it gets for Peep, he talks of being alone and the pressure to write ‘real sh*t’ about drug abuse, addiction, and dark feelings, despite his newfound commercial success.
Moreover, in his most famous tracks Awful Things and Save That Shit – which are superficially sad for Peep – he still explores loneliness and guilt and pain.
Rap and hip-hop became the most played genre the year Peep died, according to Pigeons and Planes, besting rock for the time in history and swearing in the new rules and vanguards of popular music today.
At a time when other rappers of Peep’s ilk are being called into question for their personal conduct – Tekashi69 pled guilty to one felony count of use of a child in a sexual performance in 2015 and XXXtentacion, who Peep collaborated with on Falling Down, admitted to assaulting and terrorising his girlfriend in a secret recording taken prior to his death – Peep’s brand which desperately sought acceptance despite his differences was one we could all get behind.
Thanks to his non-conformist nature he also refused to be labelled by his bisexuality and instead preached love equality in a musical sphere which still struggles with the idea of homosexuality – just look at how some homophobic fans reacted to Lil Yachty’s Teenage Emotions album artwork depicting two guys kissing.
All the while, rap is increasingly uncovering a more sensitive side, spurred on by the likes of Peep and his peers, many of whom hail from an early noughties alternative taste in music from metal to post-hardcore, to emo itself.
Indeed Peep remained the ultimate emo fan boy, and displayed a dedication to his favourite artists reflected in the tears of his fans who mourn his passing now.
In May 2017, the band Mineral accused Peep of copyright infringement for including an unlicensed and uncredited sample of their song LoveLetterTypewriter in his Hollywood Dreaming track.
Peep said that he was only trying to ‘show some love’ with the sample.
His other songs have sampled artists like Death Cab For Cutie, Blink-182, Pierce the Veil, Brand New, Radiohead, Underoath, Three Days Grace, Avenged Sevenfold, Slayer, The Postal Service, and Oasis.
Peep once called Anthony Keidis – with whom he shared a birthday – of Red Hot Chili Peppers his ‘idol’ and praised his confidence, style, attitude, and beauty.
Peep also said he wanted to be known as the ‘Kurt Cobain of Rap’, and named David Bowie, Crystal Castles, Panic! at the Disco, and other influences, remaining true to his roots all along.
Much like how Linkin Park tried to converge the tribes of rap and metal together with their nu metal stylings and collaborations, Peep and those like him also helped two disparate worlds collide.
Some argue it’s the closest thing the iGeneration has to punk – and let’s be honest, kids these days need some creative expression of protest.
Peep did something new with the bare bones of emotion conveyed in the lyrics of the likes of Rise Against, Taking Back Sunday, Hawthorne Heights, and Story Of The Year, and set them to pared back, raw music with none of the recognisable stagecraft of rock.
He forced listeners to confront the musical expressions of struggle head on because they weren’t fronted by the mask of theatricality of emo or the early artists’ tendencies towards poking fun at themselves before other members of metal music offshoots could take the piss.
For the doubters, things became crystal clear when Good Charlotte – a band often left on the scrapheap of early noughties novelty – were lent a touch of Peep’s authenticity and creativity when they performed Awful Things as a memorial tribute to the late rapper.
Peep told Pitchfork back in January 2017, he didn’t classify his music:
I wouldn’t call [my music] the new emo necessarily. It’s just another wave of it, it’s a subgenre. I don’t think it replaces it or is even mimicking it.
It’s a whole new thing, and it’s good for the emo genre as a whole and all the fans and all the people who ever liked it, because it’s going to keep it relevant.
In an odd twist of fate, Peep’s death came on the same day The Warped Tour – a pillar of the live post-hardcore scene in America – announced its end.
By blending the most popular genre of music with the fading glory of emo, Peep gave all the wonderful things emo stood for – like embracing outcasts and sharing progressive messages of love – a fresh lease of life and gave rap an injection of sensitivity while retaining its sense of social commentary.
Thus Peep offered new hope to all the fledgling young ’emo’ kids out there who feel different, marginalised, unheard and alone in their struggles.
Many loved him in life, and many more fans miss his presence in death, just as Peep predicted in one of his last messages on social media: ‘When I die You’ll love me’, he wrote, and he was right.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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