Tyler, the Creator, in Real Life

At this point, it's undeniable: Tyler, the Creator puts on one of the best live shows in music. His obsession with creating IRL experiences is paying off.


Image via Getty/Erika Goldring


“What the fuck is an NFT?”

Before heading out on tour, Tyler, the Creator was asked about his opinion on NFTs, and he couldn’t hold back his disgust.

“I’m really outside living, so what the fuck is an NFT?” he responded, incredulously. 

Visibly frustrated, Tyler went on a hilarious rant, describing the NFT world as a “dick-swinging contest,” and explaining that he’d rather spend his time making art in the real world. “I paint at home. I play instruments. I know n****s who sculpt and shit. I have a friend making me speakers by hand right now. What the fuck is an NFT?”

The clip immediately went viral, as Tyler’s words struck a chord with people who are fed up with digital “art” that feels like a shameless cash grab.

“None of the examples that I’ve seen is beautiful art,” he said. “It’s a fucking monkey in a Supreme hoodie. I’m fully not into it, because you can’t NFT me looking at you in real life right now.”

Tyler’s words come at a time of growing fatigue for quote-unquote “digital experiences.” After two years of Zoom meetings, virtual events, and pervasive social media addiction, people are seeking out real-world experiences. And right on time, here comes Tyler, an artist who can’t stop talking about riding his bike in the forest and making things that people can actually interact with in real life.

It’s ironic that an artist who blew up on Tumblr and online message boards has become an advocate for IRL experiences, but Tyler’s worldview has shifted over time. Now, he fondly looks back on trips to New York and Europe as formative moments that changed his perspective on life forever, so he made a whole album inspired by travel. On Call Me If You Get Lost, he says his passport is his “most valuable” possession, and he spends most of his time flexing about boats and expensive trunks. Between verses, DJ Drama drives home the point by yelling about having his toes out on a yacht in Switzerland, among other exotic boasts.

“​​I live life,” Tyler recently told Fast Company. “I go and do stuff, and it’s shown in my work. So whether it’s shown in my work through sound, or cloth, or visual stuff, it feels cohesive.”

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For Tyler, one of music’s best world-builders, the album was only a jumping off point. Since releasing CMIYGL, he’s been setting up experiences for fans with the hopes of invoking the same sense of wonder he felt when he traveled the world. In December, he celebrated the launch of his new Golf Le Fleur collection, but instead of simply making it available online (or at his store on Fairfax) he built a whole structure on a mountaintop in Malibu, and encouraged guests to take a daytrip out from the city. When visitors arrived, they were picked up by a fleet of Rolls-Royces and driven inside the world Tyler had created. (If his lyrics hadn’t convinced fans to travel and have real-world experiences, he was willing to literally pick them up and drive to the top of a mountain, miles away from the bustle of downtown.)

On tour, Tyler’s mission is the same. With an undoubtedly obscene budget to play with, he brought his globe-trotting, idyllic CMIYGL universe to life (everything from the boat to the mountaintop lodge to the Rolls-Royce are onstage with him at each show). Seeing it unfold in-person, it’s laughable to imagine him putting his time and energy into a fucking NFT collection instead of something like this. And watching him run through an increasingly impressive discography each night, with world-class stage production at his back, another thing has become undeniable: Tyler has one of the best live shows in music right now.

Playing two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden this week (fulfilling his “MSG sellout” prophecy on “Lumberjack”) he opened by teleporting the audience to the same idyllic mountain range featured in each of the CMIYGL music videos. If he wanted to cut corners, Tyler could have achieved something similar with a large video screen, but as he explained in that Converse interview about NFTs, he’s obsessed with tangible things he can “reach out and touch,” so he constructed a massive two-story house and put it in the middle of the stage. 

Beginning his set with “Sir Baudelaire,” Tyler popped out of a 1939 Rolls-Royce Wraith and ran up to the second floor of the house, rapping from the balcony as flames rose from the arena floor. I’ve been to a lot of shows at arenas like MSG, with some of the world’s biggest pop stars and rappers, and I’ve never seen stage design as impressive as this. Tyler’s famously obsessive attention to detail (and immaculate taste) tied all the moving pieces together into a cohesive whole. If you looked closely enough, you could see silhouettes of people hanging out inside the house throughout the show (including depictions of collaborators like ASAP Rocky) and he even got MSG to change the lighting scheme outside the venue. Every detail, from the gold “Baudelaire” accent mark to the dimming porch light, was in place.

Parked outside the house, at the front of the general admission crowd, was a full-sized speedboat, which Tyler rode through the middle of the venue (while performing “Wusyaname”) on his way to an island of shrubbery, doubling as another stage. As he moved from one environment to the next throughout the show, the “travel” motifs all tied together.

At this point, Tyler’s stage design and knack for arena spectacle is rivaled only by another rap superstar who recently disavowed NFTs: Kanye West. In the past nine months, I’ve been to two of Kanye’s Donda events, in Atlanta and Miami, and both of them were as visually impressive as Tyler’s CMIYGL shows. Where Tyler has the edge right now, though, is precision. Each lighting cue, prop, transition, and lyric was executed without any hiccups, an accomplishment that becomes even more impressive when you realize how many moving parts there are.

It would be one thing if Tyler leaned on his set design and delivered an otherwise average show, but his stage presence is what elevates him above his peers. Playing arenas like MSG, he’s far removed from the small clubs where he first made a name for himself by thrashing around with the rest of Odd Future, but he’s adapted to the larger rooms over time. Even in the old days, Tyler had a knack for moving around a stage (mostly by flailing his lanky appendages to the music and contorting his body in bizarre ways ​​to play up OF’s demonic imagery) and he’s evolved that skill over time. In MSG, he danced across the stage with sweeping gestures, dramatizing the orchestral arrangements of albums like Flower Boy, before adopting more rigid movements during songs that embodied his IGOR character. Not to keep comparing Tyler to popstars I’ve seen in this same arena over the years, but he moved around the stage with more purpose than most artists who have the luxury of much more extensive choreography. I don’t know if Tyler has a dance coach or not, but if he does, they need a raise.

Getting to perform some of the best rap verses of his career from Call Me If You Get Lost, plus more melodic cuts from Flower Boy and IGOR, and assorted bangers from the first few albums, Tyler has an enviable discography to pull from at this point, and he shines as a vocalist. He still has a habit of apologizing for his “terrible singing voice,” but he’s figured out how to harness it, and his shows have more singlalongs now than anyone could have predicted in the Goblin days. (Speaking of those days, songs like “IFHY” and “Rusty” hold up much better than the Tyler’s-new-music-is-so-much-better-than-the-early-years crowd might lead you to believe.)

A decade later, it’s easy to forget that Tyler and Odd Future helped introduce mosh pit culture to a new generation of rap fans when they first broke through back in 2011, but he’s reminding everyone of that on this tour. Looking into the crowd during songs like “Tamale” or “Who Dat Boy,” the chaos rivals anything you’ll see at a Playboi Carti or Travis Scott show—yet another feeling you could never bottle up and sell in an NFT.

Tyler, the Creator live performance Getty photo

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