Photo by Grant Spanier.

Why everyone and no one is to blame for the Camp Flog Gnaw controversy


by Douglas Greenwood
12 November 2019, 8:52pm

Photo by Grant Spanier.

If there’s anything that we should have learned in the last decade, it’s that wishing the return of Frank Ocean into existence just doesn’t work. The artist — widely considered the most important of his generation — does things in his own time. He’ll release singles and cover songs at will, and randomly pop up to host club nights when he feels like it. I’d go as far as saying that no one has accurately predicted just when he’ll raise his head above the parapet in the eight years he’s been releasing music.

So when the attendees of Tyler, the Creator’s landmark music and fashion festival, Camp Flog Gnaw, gathered in the heart of LA to witness what they assumed was going to be Frank Ocean’s live return, they were left sorely disappointed. Instead, they were treated to a set by Grammy-winning, Billboard-topping, stadium sell-out rap star Drake. Tickets for his show tend to cost roughly $270; more than the price of a general admission weekend ticket for Tyler’s festival.

Fans were, in essence, getting a sweet deal: a special performance from a superstar whose shows are notoriously high energy — he even had the courtesy to perform Tyler’s favourite Drizzy deep cut, “Feel No Ways” from Views. But still, the majority of the audience couldn’t handle the fact that he was on that stage instead of Frank. People booed; Drake heard. “Thank you for having me,” he said, walking off stage just a few songs into the set.

Right now there’s plenty of finger-pointing: who’s to blame for such a misfire? Well, the entire situation feels a little discombobulated from all sides, and so no one comes away from the debacle fully unscathed.

We can try to imagine what was going through Tyler’s head when he invited the “Hotline Bling” rapper to occupy the mystery slot at his festival. Realistically, who else would fit the bill? In the world of hip-hop right now, few figures have the clout that Tyler does, and he wanted the announcement to make headlines. In many ways, he and Drake occupy the top tier on alternate planes of the industry. Tyler carries the kind of critical and cultural respect Drake is looking for; something the Canadian rapper makes up for in streaming numbers and ticket sales. It felt like an easy exchange; a meeting of two great minds, right?

Well, not necessarily. Since the show came to its cataclysmic conclusion, Tyler has taken to Twitter to express his regret at the call to loop in Drake, stating it was, in caps lock (of course): “A LIL TONE DEAF KNOWING THE SPECIFIC CROWD IT DREW”. If Drake’s fan base enjoy sparkler-topped bottle service in a bougie nightclub, Tyler’s is the raucous and outlandish gang of kids in the alleyway behind it, sinking back sugary soft drinks. Putting the two together was bound to cause conflict.

But that’s not to say that Tyler is to blame for all of this. He had an idea that, on paper, would have pleased the few who stanned both parties, and were happy to have a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with the biggest rapper on earth. In fact, maybe the biggest downer from all of this, and the source of much of the tabloid hysteria here, is the fact that Drake didn’t want to stick out the whole set. By reading the room and asking for the audience’s input he put himself in the firing line which they duly responded to.

Most artists would have used that as fuel to deliver a set that would win the naysayers over, amping up the energy to its highest point until the crowd were practically putty in their hands. But when you’re Drake, you’re used to gigantic, fawning audiences bowing down to you every night. He might play dozens upon dozens — if not hundreds — of shows a year, but this was the first time in a while he actually had to prove himself. Because while Drake has his own kind of weight in the world of rap and R&B, he was going up against the audience’s preconceived notions that they would be meeting the messiah (read: Frank Ocean) that night. Instead of proving why he was there instead of him, he bailed under the pressure.

Still, he was good humoured enough to bounce back respectably. After Tyler’s Twitter statement (“THAT SHIT WAS LIKE MOB MENTALITY AND CANCEL CULTURE IN REAL LIFE AND I THINK THAT SHIT IS FUCKING TRASH” he tweeted amongst other sentiments), Drake posted his own humble clapback on Instagram. “Plot twist...just signed a 10 year residency at Camp Flog Gnaw,” he captioned a series of candid pictures with, adding “[S]orry kids see you EVERY SINGLE YEAR till you are 30 🤪” Hear that? That’s the collective shrieks of Gen-Z Tyler fans who’d sooner be crying at a Clairo show than vibing out to “Controlla”.

Which brings us neatly to the last component in this powerful triad; the ones really responsible for the whole ‘surprise slot’ crumbling to its knees: the fans. In the days leading up to Flog Gnaw, attendees had pretty much decided that that slot was going to be occupied by Frank Ocean. They read into every minute detail surrounding it, even the fact that the on-stage billboards were playing the trailer to Waves, an upcoming American drama that heavily features his music.

But what happens when mob mentality ticks over into slight delusion, and you create a narrative built on nothing but hope? Your disappointment rapidly turns into bitterness.

Whoever was going to walk out onto that stage — whoever wasn’t Frank Ocean — would have been met with at least some level of disrespect from the crowd. But for the Flog Gnaw audience to boo someone to the point they left the stage is… sort of wild. Even more so because said musician is one of the most powerful in the world.

Tyler cited ‘cancel culture’ as the reason some people in the crowd felt the need to heckle an artist their fave has immense amounts of admiration for. But that’s not necessarily true. In reality, the sea of teenagers and twenty-somethings who ushered Drake off stage did so because of stan culture. It’s both an asset and a detriment to our generation that we admire music stars so fervently. On one hand, it wires our brain into wishful thinking; assuming we’ll see them everywhere, even when the evidence doesn’t stack up. When we don’t — like what happened at Camp Flog Gnaw — our extreme reactions hurt others who didn’t deserve any hate in the first place.

Camp Flog Gnaw
tyler the creator