The Tragedy of Lil Peep | How do we respect the dead in the Digital Age?

The tragedy of American rapper Lil Peep was exacerbated by the ceaseless spectacle it provided social media. We examine the case of Gustav Åhr to identify the mistakes made.

Lil Peep

The music industry is full of tragic tales. Every year, and with every passing generation, millions of dreamers attempt to realise said dreams. Stardom, fortune, escape from harsh backgrounds; abuse, poverty, and mental health. Yet so many fall into the predatory grip of the industry; where clicks, plays and ‘going viral’ are held in a much higher regard than human life itself. Gustav Åhr, better known as Lil Peep, was no different.

On the 15th of November 2017, on a tour bus in Arizona, one of the brightest young lights in underground hip-hop flickered out. Just two short weeks after his 21st birthday. It is a tale as old as the music business; the young, naive, and vulnerable artist, worked into exhaustion and desperation by a calculating industry, and killed by their preferred method of escape.

Lil Peep tragedy digital age

Was the spectacle of Lil Peep’s death a painfully necessary caveat of living in a digital age or was it completely avoidable?

What makes the death of Lil Peep more disconcerting, is the age of exposure in which it happened. Nothing is private anymore, not even one’s final day on this mortal coil. Peep’s dying moments, and moments immediately after, were filmed by those in his entourage, and posted online for all to see. Bexey, a friend and longtime collaborator of Peep, posted to his story what appeared to be Gustav fast asleep on his tour bus. Alas, it was the rapper’s dead body. Bexey, real name unknown, has since released a song about the incident. Fighting through tears, and with a raw emotionality in his voice, Bexey claimed to have not known that Peep was dead, and that if he had known, he would not have posted.

“Put the camera on you to see that you was falling asleep
Everyday of that tour, like you usually do
Head back, mouth open, yep, the usual
I saw you like this everyday on the entire tour
I didn’t know that you was dead, man, as if I would’ve recorded.”

It is not my place to state with authority, or to lead the reader to believe, what truly happened on that bus. Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I do believe Bexey. The first line of Bexey’s tribute is also telling:

“Everyone you warned me about now claiming they miss you.”

Anyone who has seen an interview with Peep, or watched his documentary, can see that he was sweet-natured and kind. Yet, anyone who has seen the documentary will know that this kindness was manipulated and used against him. The young introvert seemingly never had a moment to himself. He was constantly strong-armed into being the life of the party, and his music reflected this.

Lil Peep tragedy digital age

Gustav was an introvert who seemed to never have a moment to himself.

It was no secret that Peep had demons. By all accounts, he was a normal child; curious, precocious and mild-mannered. Like so many others, his world was shattered by the divorce of his parents. After which, he changed fundamentally. He became withdrawn, agoraphobic, anxious. He dropped out of school, adorned his body and face with tattoos, and dedicated himself to music. These demons never left Peep, and they were used by the industry and his peers, to control him.

It has been alleged by some that his label were supplying him with drugs, to maintain his image as a drug-taking, heavily tattoo’d artist. He confided in close friends and family that he needed to escape, going as far as to join Bexey in London for an extended stint, only returning to America for a tour. His final tour.

The tour, by all accounts, was brutal. With Peep going on stage hardly able to function, he grew increasingly jaded and withdrawn throughout the tour; often secluding himself on the tour bus, and chasing oblivion. He allegedly begged his label on numerous occasions to end the tour prematurely. Cries for help which were met with silence, leading Peep further towards the point of no return. A point he did, tragically, reach at the tail-end of the tour.

Lil Peep tragedy digital age

Lil Peep’s deterioration was catalysed by the intensity of his final tour.

What is perhaps the greatest tragedy of Peep’s demise, and the biggest indictment of the music industry, was the inability to let the young man rest. If you go onto his social media platforms, they are still active, and post on a daily basis. Since his death, music is still being released, along with a clothing line.

Posthumous releases are not out of the ordinary, as artists who die young often die with a plethora of music recorded. However, the extent to which Åhr has been artificially revived is nothing short of disturbing. It is a true tragedy, indicative of the modern music industry. Gustav gave his all to music, possibly more than he could give, and his reward was an early grave. We all want to live on after we die, but at some point, we must be left to rest.

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