HIGHSNOBIETY: VINCE STAPLES 'GTFOMD' RELEASE STUNT IS A STROKE OF GENIUS
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
“Get off of my dick, or fund my lifestyle.” This was the blunt ultimatum offered up by musician Vince Staples, who last week launched a GoFundMe page with the aim to raise enough cash – $2 million, to be precise – to pay for his retirement from the music industry. “You will never hear from me again,” he explains sarcastically in an accompanying clip. “No songs, no interviews, no anything. If not, you can choose to let me do what the fuck I want to do, when I want to do it.” The campaign might have seemed surprising had it been any other artist, but Staples has always been an outspoken critic of the music industry and, more generally, of the media. At first glance, the GoFundMe was unflinchingly on-brand: a biting, hilarious response to online shit-talkers.
But then came the twist: the whole thing was actually a promo tool for a new single, “Get The Fuck Off My Dick”, which dropped just a few days later. To call the surprise release unexpected is an understatement. To call it genius, however, is not.
The track marks his first solo release since last year’s critically-acclaimed Big Fish Theory, a progressive, conceptual album which showed a new side to Staples as an artist. The production was glitchy and electronic; the lyrics were searingly honest, touching on everything from police brutality and surveillance to fame and its ultimate futility. Even the album’s title is seemingly a commentary on music journalism and the constraints it places on black art in particular, often referring to it in linear terms and missing its complexities.
So Staples is bored of journalists. He’s bored of reviews, of online comments, of publications minimizing the worth of his vision by resorting to lazy clickbait. He’s said this in the past; he’s discussed it online and signposted his frustrations in his lyrics, but never has he said it as clearly as he does on “Get The Fuck Off My Dick”: “I ain’t takin’ no more calls, might think ’bout callin’ it quits / Press is tryin’ to block my blessings, no more talking to Vince”.
It’s not hard to see why publications have been quick to exploit Staples for clicks. He’s young, unafraid of voicing his opinions online and equipped with a razor-sharp wit which he uses to tweet out concise, hilarious social commentaries. He even quipped that he’s more famous for his interviews than he is for his music – although, given his outstanding scores on review aggregator MetaCritic, this might not be strictly true. Still, he’s vocal, and in the context of the mainstream media and its readiness to destroy the careers of young, outspoken black artists, this lack of filter is both divisive and inherently political.
Clickbait headlines aside, it’s worth examining the influence social media has had on music journalism. Whereas in the past it took letters, long nights spent standing outside gig venues and the occasional carrier pigeon (probably) to contact our favorite artists, now all we need is an internet connection to slide into a musician’s DMs and tell them we think they’re shit. The digital age has allowed us all a virtual soapbox upon which we can stand and scream our opinions, no matter how precise or well-researched they may or may not be. In some cases, this can be positive: some of the best writers and critics have emerged from the murky underbellies of blogs and YouTube channels, gaining traction through non-traditional channels and achieving success through genuine merit. But what about those of us who voice unwanted opinions for no reason other than we can?
Increasingly, we’re seeing the cultural equivalent of Staples’ big fish theory become reality. Not only do artists have labels to contend with, they now have their every move dissected by critics, journalists, fans and basically anybody else with even a passing interest in music.
“GTFOMD” outlines this in smart, concise fashion, but it also builds the age-old narrative of a committed, experimental underdog pushing forward with their art despite critical backlash. It posits Staples as an outlier and a radical, both descriptions which fit perfectly with his unapologetic persona. “Avant-garde with this shit, get your jaws off my dick,” he raps, playing up to the stereotype of the creative genius but also speaking some truth. Avant-garde might be a buzzword repeated so often that it’s been basically stripped of all meaning, but it’s one of few terms which does actually seem to capture the brilliance of Staples’ forward-thinking back catalogue.
In fact, one of the most genius parts of this entire campaign is that, relatively speaking, Staples doesn’t really have many haters. Sure, his work might come under fire in the darkest depths of online comment sections, but who the hell reads those anyway? Critics have raved about his genre-bending musical output, hailing him as a creative visionary and praising his ability to work with everyone from Damon Albarn to Juicy J. Despite his words often being taken out of context and rinsed for cheap page views, his experimental approach to music has won him a legion of fans – some critics, some not.
With this in mind, it’s more apt to see “GTFOMD” – both the GoFundMe campaign and the track itself – as some kind of weird, distinctly modern mutation of performance art and promotional tool. By highlighting the pressure placed on artists to succumb to fame and compromise their vision, Staples offers a cultural commentary of sorts on the strangely dystopian state of the music industry. He’s also created a genius marketing strategy which has undeniably paid off: it only takes a quick Google search to see that he’s headline news once again.
Not that it really matters. At this point, it doesn’t even feel like Staples needs any support; he’s consistently experimental, and the industry loves him for it. Sure, “GTFOMD” acts as a response to critics of his recent live shows and the description of his latest output as “robot video game beats”, but Big Fish Theory was still met with glowing reviews from basically every renowned publication (including Highsnobiety) and “GTFOMD” is likely to be met with more of the same. In this context, the track can be seen less as the vindication of a misunderstood genius and more as a cultural commentary – and a genius example of viral marketing done well. His lack of haters is evident in the fact that, at the time of writing, his GoFundMe has raised just over $2,000 of its $2 million target. So, Vince Staples is going nowhere any time soon – but it’s likely he knew that already.