Courtesy of Tyler, the Creator/YouTube

July 22, 2021

‘WILSHIRE’ and the Tug-of-War Between Privacy and Vulnerability

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Tyler Okonma — more famously known as Tyler, the Creator — recently came out with his latest studio album titled Call Me if You Get Lost. Released last month, it has received critical acclaim and reached number one on the Billboard 200 charts. The album dissects specific themes including romance, accumulation of wealth and loneliness. 

One of my favorite songs on the album is “WILSHIRE,” an introspective track about heartbreak in a romantic relationship. In the almost nine-minute-long song, Tyler details his love affair with a woman who was actually the girlfriend of his friend, and the intense emotions that he faced as their relationship went sour.

Although “he’s never been jealous of another man” because he has “everything” such as money, status and nice clothes, he still doesn’t have anyone that he could share these things with. Even in the midst of his career’s success, Tyler still wants to fulfill one of humanity’s most basic desires: companionship. 

Throughout the album, Tyler flaunts his success, on tracks like “LUMBERJACK,” he raps about winning a Grammy for his last album, and how he celebrated by buying another car. Tyler expresses gratitude in “BLESSED,” a spoken verse detailing his musical success, his self-care routines and his clothing line.  

However, despite all of this success, Tyler still battles loneliness. This theme of loneliness is discernible in Tyler’s past albums, most significantly Flower Boy that had songs like “911/Mr.Lonely” and “Boredom.” In the latter song, Tyler indicates that “boredom got a new best friend” — a proclamation of the feelings that resulted from his emotional isolation. 

But with “WILSHIRE,” Tyler gives himself space to express all that he’s been through in his past relationship. After the album was released, Tyler wrote on Twitter that he recorded this song in one take, as the track contains no chorus or other musical structures. Tyler details his experience through streams of consciousness while still creating a mystery behind the subjects that he raps about, including his ex-girlfriend and his friend. 

Although I have personally never experienced Tyler’s situation, I can understand the experience of expressing my feelings to those around me while also keeping some of my experiences private as a form of self-preservation — something that Tyler deals with in “WILSHIRE.” 

I see privacy as a form of self-preservation because I want to guard my emotions and my experiences from the judgment of others around me. The last thing that one wants after expressing themselves in a vulnerable manner is to not be taken seriously. 

Before I arrived on campus, I acted as if everything was normal during my summer before freshman year. I tried so hard not to think too much about this life-changing feat that I was about to face. During my first week of college, I dealt with frequent signs of loneliness because I didn’t know anyone who I could hang out with and my family was far away. Not having someone who I was close to, who I could talk to, made me shed tears in my empty dorm room on a hot August day. 

I was scared. I was scared of leaving my past, afraid that my relationships with my family would no longer be the same as when I was at home and afraid of the uncertainties of my college experiences. For the first time in my life, I was encouraged by one of my family members to be vulnerable about my loneliness and comfortable with releasing my emotions — something I have struggled with since childhood. 

This past year, writing has been a medium for me to express my true feelings. I gravitated towards Tyler’s lyrics as he proclaims how “water in [his] eyes kept falling like Niagara” and “I can’t even look at you and think about bad words,” because ultimately vulnerability breaks away from privacy. 

Despite my felt similarities, I cannot truly compare my experience with loneliness to Tyler’s experience with heartache. Tyler is a public figure who is known to be private about his personal life. He knows that opening up more about his personal life can create more public speculation about his past romantic interests and his persona would become less about his artistry and more about his relationships. 

Ultimately, how both Tyler and I define privacy in our lives will vary because I am not a public figure. Privacy for Tyler is more about keeping his personal life outside of the public realm, whereas privacy for me (and for others not in the public spotlight) is maintaining a distance within my personal relationships. 

Privacy is necessary because it acts as a protector of one’s identity. Tyler said himself on the song “MASSA,” “everyone [he] ever loved had to be loved in the shadows.” The audience doesn’t know the names of anyone in this storyline, the specific locations of where his love interest lives, etc. Privacy not only protects the identities of our loved ones, but it also protects our fear, shame and jealousy. 

The boundary that separates our decision to be private or vulnerable is relatability. I tell my story about my feelings of loneliness — a significant emotion in my life that I have tried to hide in the past — because I do not want to feel alone. I want to know if there is someone out there who can relate to my struggles. 

Tyler reveals this heartache which he faced because he knows that heartbreak is a universal feeling that is impactful to a mass range of his listeners. There’s also a darker interpretation to this: Tyler might be addressing these feelings that he had as a way to get more publicity for his album. While some fans may believe this, I believe that Tyler is genuinely sharing his feelings. 

To us, listeners, “WILSHIRE” is just a story. But to Tyler, “it’s another chapter in the book.” From what I understand, his experience is something that he wants to move past or has already looked back and laughed about, even when the public is still speculating. 

When I look back on my own experience, I don’t necessarily laugh at myself, but I feel an immense sense of gratitude. Through my loneliness, I actually tapped deeper into my feelings and grew to understand my thought processes better. I decided — because of my loneliness — to live a life of gratitude and continuously thank God for the great memories that I’ve shared with my family and hope for more fond memories to come. 

I believe that listeners can learn about the power in one’s choices from this song. As one expresses their vulnerability, it gives them the opportunity to not only heal and move forward in life, but also encourage others to speak about their own experiences. Yet, privacy is also necessary to set boundaries with how much one has to be vulnerable with another person. 

Adesuwa Carlton is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].