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Jenny Gathright

Jenny Gathright is a writer and producer from the Washington, D.C area. She studied economics at Harvard, where she co-founded an art collective and magazine by and for students of color. During her senior year, she co-wrote and co-produced Black Magic, a play about black love, and black queer love, for the Loeb Mainstage at the American Repertory Theater. Since 2016, she has worked at NPR and written for NPR Music. Her goal is to write about black art, and black artists, with proper context. She cares about community, lineage and history.

"What They Say: A Look at Tyler, Frank and Syd from Odd Future to the Odd Present"
When Odd Future started gaining popularity, it felt like they were the future. They were a group of insanely talented, skateboard-riding black kids who managed to negotiate a record deal without relinquishing control of their masters. Some of it felt a lot like freedom, but the homophobia and misogyny in their music certainly did not, paralyzing many a critic and fan. People seemed to run out of analysis at a certain point, but few felt prepared to completely disavow them as musicians and cultural figures. Perhaps this was an acknowledgment that artists grow, and fans grow with them. Perhaps it was an attempt not to erase Syd (then Syd Tha Kyd) and Frank Ocean, who were central creators in the collective and who repeatedly defended their friend Tyler, The Creator. But perhaps it was a kind of betrayal, the kind that so often comes when too few critics hold themselves accountable to black, queer and woman fans.

A lot has changed since 2011, the year Odd Future Records was founded. This paper and presentation will take a look at the before and after of how three collaborators and members of the collective – Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean and Syd – have navigated, confronted, contested and upheld masculinities through music, fashion design and live performance. It will also look at what’s changed about the cultural contexts they perform gender within. How did Tyler, The Creator go from Goblin to Flower Boy? What has it meant for Syd to go from being more of a behind-the-scenes figure in Odd Future, a producer and engineer, to being the frontwoman of The Internet and a solo artist, singing and writing about her relationships with women? And what does it mean that Frank Ocean, whose music has always felt a lot like liberation, has consistently eschewed labels about his sexuality and carved out space for his privacy in a culture that always attempts to deny it?

The point is not to dissect or label the identities and artistic decisions of these individuals – but rather to examine what around them has changed, whether it’s the way critics write about them and their performance of gender, the way the industry markets them, or the way their fans – both new ones and those who have been there all along – have either restricted their expression of gender or made new and different expressions possible and profitable.