“Naming is basic and audacious, a claim” — Tommy Pico, Nature Poem
The act of naming is the act of bringing an idea into the material world. Naming is how we bring things into tangibility so as to enjoy them, love them, mourn them, and everything in between. Naming is how Tyler, The Creator closes out his fourth studio album, Flower Boy, and how he begins his fifth studio album, IGOR. From the concluding moments of Flower Boy to the essence of IGOR, the act of naming — the audacity of it, the freedom and desperation of it — makes up the fabric of Tyler’s emotional drive.
Thematically speaking, IGOR happens when “November” ends; when the love is gone and we are left with the crumbs of the past. On “November,” Tyler takes joy and peace and names it per the title; it feels so simple, but it plays into the critical LGBTQ+ act of naming. That is, when you are queer, or in any marginalized group, words hold a fresh power. You get to name yourself, your identity, and your family — and on “November,” Tyler does all of the above.
“November” sets up the foreground for IGOR, wherein we spend much of the album wondering who broke Tyler’s heart. Why did his “November” end, and what will we name this new era? The naming continues on IGOR by beginning with a theme. To theme something is to give it body, and IGOR is given life from the first chaotic and storming note. The name “Igor,” too, has a significant meaning to the album. Briefly speaking with my father-whose name happens to be Igor — he told me it is an “old back country Russian name meaning conqueror, strong, victorious, and things in that vein.” Meaning, we begin IGOR by naming our triumph. Though painted in wounded tones, there will be light.
What Tyler, The Creator sets up from the onset of IGOR, then, is the truth that in order to overcome our pain, we must name it, but we also must name our overcoming. The work of healing is twofold. He is using naming as an act of reality to bring us into his psyche and to make his feelings real for himself and for the listener. He is claiming his emotions, and consequently, the pain of heartbreak is not claiming him. On IGOR, never once do we worry that Tyler shall fall at the sight of his pain (“EARFQUAKE”).
For our sake, we can break up naming on IGOR into three categories: ownership, pining, and freedom. These elements interplay with each other well but stand as their own concepts across this stupendous breakup album.
Starting with ownership, Tyler wants to have and be had on “NEW MAGIC WAND,” on which he says: “ I wanna share last names, I wanna be your number one.” Here, naming is also an act of love, the sect of love that implies you belong to and with another person. All across “NEW MAGIC WAND,” Tyler is demanding — if not begging — his partner to give him more of himself, especially in the face of this nameless woman who is standing between them. Of note, the woman is nameless because Tyler wishes for her to be powerless in this situation that brings him so much pain. We get naming as imbuing and also stripping.
“NEW MAGIC WAND” opening with a past joy, too, speaks to IGOR beginning where “November” ends. Operating under the assumption that all happiness is named after “November,” Tyler begins this track by reflecting on his “‘95 Leo,” his lover who has left him presumably for a woman. This theory holds up further on “I THINK,” where he alludes to the incredible film Call Me By Your Name — wherein naming is a method of protection and space of safety between two male lovers who could never be. This also explains all the demands Tyler makes for his lover to call him, or just to communicate in general (“PUPPET”).
Incidentally, “I THINK” is also a space for pining. When asking to be called by the name of his lover, Tyler reaches into the depths of his emotion and tells us that he wants for nothing more than to have his love back. He uses the act of naming to showcase how powerless — nameless — he is in the face of heartbreak. This extends to “A BOY IS A GUN,” which is the only space where Tyler directly genders the source of his woes. Addressing his lover with the directive “Boy” is both an act of naming and revolutionary. For him to be so explicit in his music about his sexuality does the important work of normalizing gay strife as a part of the pop culture zeitgeist.
“A BOY IS A GUN” also speaks to all the hurt that is welling up inside Tyler as he attempts to navigate his broken heart, and the death of a relationship he seemingly cannot do without. His pining turns to anger, and he demands the boy-faceless as on the line about taking off his hoodie to reveal himself — be clear with Tyler. We witness Tyler’s process of grief, and the emotion is all the more impactful because we have a name to put to the sorrow. Naming is how, beneath all the sonic layers and vocal pitching of this album, we still have a base emotion that cannot be clouded, that only serves to be understood.
Finally, in the vein of freedom, we have “WHAT’S GOOD, where Tyler yells: “ If the cop says my name, bitch, I’m Igor.” Here, after going through pain and process his anger, he is ready to triumph. We return to the start of the album, the moment of naming ourselves after strength and victory, and we see that Tyler is ready to let go of the past (“ no tears to cry “).
Tyler’s freedom comes from admissions of wanting to be left alone by his ex-lover, of being angry at how he was treated, and of being able to reassess the relationship (“I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”) and perhaps come to an adult conclusion (“ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”). All of this is made possible through the act of naming. Tyler appraised his pain and brought it into the physical world, to denounce it and move past it to act as IGOR, to act as someone capable of living through a razed romance.
Tyler elevates IGOR from a name to a concept. Igor is not the character that broke Tyler, that’s the “You” of the album. As evidenced on “I THINK” and “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” the enigmatic “You” is the man who broke down Tyler, The Creator to the point of creating the album, but to be IGOR is to be a person working through heartbreak.
Through the act of naming, Tyler, The Creator was able to give himself a character through which to heal. Where heartbreak is one of the most spectacular things to happen to a person, IGOR stands as Tyler, The Creator’s creative opus; his most audacious and true album to date. The topic is simple, as Tommy Pico points out in Nature Poem, but the result is something complex and affecting.
Originally published at https://djbooth.net on May 20, 2019.