After five years out of the limelight, Lil Tay stepped out of the hearse and into an expensive sports car. One month after her death was falsely announced, the 14-year-old singer shocked fans — and her “broke” haters — with an upbeat pop track.
In 2018, Tay originally caught the Internet’s attention with outrageous videos where she waved stacks of cash in front of the camera and cursed out her audience with a wide array of expletives. Tay was only nine years old at the time.
“‘Get your money up, stupid!’” Aryelle Grassia, a sophomore biology major, said, mimicking Tay’s persona. “That’s what I think of when I think of her.”
This, oddly enough, was part of the appeal. In her viral videos, Tay claimed to be the “youngest flexer,” boasting that she was richer than “all y’all broke ass haters.” The self-proclaimed “nine-year-old millionaire” was unstoppable and apparently “already smoking dope.”
Naturally, this problematic and inappropriate persona attracted an audience, but with that viewership also came scrutiny. Many found themselves concerned for Tay’s wellbeing and questioned the presence — or lack thereof — of Tay’s parents.
“I think they put her into that money-making rapper vibe,” Susie Boczar, a freshman communications major, said. “I think they made her do that so that she would make money for them.”
“It seemed like something was severely wrong. Why the hell would this poor kid be saying this?” Grassia said. “Everything seemed pretty wonky from the get.”
Questions only spiraled when in June 2018, Tay’s accounts stopped posting.
On Aug. 9, 2023, the radio silence was broken — but the news was tragic.
In a since-deleted Instagram post, Tay’s account shared “the devastating news of” Tay’s “sudden and tragic passing,” the details of which were “still under investigation.” The post referred to Tay, whose legal name is Tay Tian, as Claire Hope.
“I hadn’t heard about her for a lot of years,” Boczar said. “I was like, ‘Oh wait, she’s a person? Oh wait, she’s dead?’”
Tay now claims the account was hacked, as reported by TMZ. But others, including a self-proclaimed former manager of Tay’s, are not so convinced. (Tay denies ever having management.)
“I was very confused. Everyone I talked to and all my friends, we thought it was a little publicity stunt, and we thought it was a little f—ked up,” Nina Flores, a freshman exercise science major, said. “[But] she could’ve been hacked. She is a celebrity. They get hacked all the time. I’m like 50/50.”
“I was like, ‘Lil Tay, that sounds familiar.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! That Lil Tay? How’d she die?’” Mya Jackson, a sophomore biology major, said. “Then I heard that she wasn’t dead and I [thought] maybe they’re trying to get her back in the limelight again — and it worked, I think.”
“I thought it was actually really sad because I figured the family was tied to it or some s—t like that,” Grassia said. “I feel stupid for thinking it was real. Who the f—k would fake their death? Would you fake your death? I wouldn’t fake my death!”
Either way, Tay did not stay six feet under for long.
She is risen. She is risen indeed. Lil Tay popped out of her coffin with dollar signs in her eyes and a new single, “SUCKER 4 GREEN.”
The track caters to the rich girl “flex” persona of Tay’s past life, but with a newfound self-awareness. Death sure can change a girl.
The flashy music video has all the hallmarks of 2018 “flex” culture — epitomized by diss tracks and popularized by Youtubers like Rice Gum and the Paul Brothers. She dances in front of sports cars, picturesque views and an all-male entourage — The teenage rapper even handles a flamethrower.
Even though “SUCKER 4 GREEN” disguises itself as a tribute to times past, its complexity lies in its satirization of “flex” culture. Through satisfyingly auto-tuned vocals and brain-scratching audio effects, Tay directly praises “the Illuminati” and brags about just wanting “a few yachts and mansions, right now.” The unserious nature of the lyrics may indicate that Tay now grasps the ridiculousness of her former image, choosing to play it up for the cameras instead.
Grassia saw Tay as representative of how female artists rebrand themselves every couple years, exploring new facets of themselves within the public eye.
“I find it weird that she has no new rebrand,” Grassia said. “This is who she was when she was a small child because of her brother and her family.”
Others interpreted the track as a dig at Tay’s father, whom she accused of “sexually inappropriate” behavior, physical abuse and only wanting custody of her “to take control of my career and my money” over Instagram Live. She went on to allege that she was fed rotten food and not provided adequate clothing, which she says is the reason her mother now has custody of her.
These potential allegations shell-shocked students.
“Real shit happens when you witness that or that happens to you,” Grassia said. “It might explain why she is acting this way or why she is doing these things.”
Tay’s allegations against her father, and others, have not been confirmed.
Others question both parents’ motives.
“I think both parents aren’t fully innocent in wanting to make money off of her,” Boczar said.
In any case, Tay claimed to be in a better position nowadays and appeared excited about the future of her music in her previously mentioned Instagram Live.
“I am free now and I thank God every day for it,” Tay said.
Alex Novak is the senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Alex Novak is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.