Odd Future won't be able to perform alongside Eminem at New Zealand's Rapture Festival, in an immigration decision that sheds light on the complexities of debating moral issues in music.
The rap group was scheduled to appear at the Auckland festival on February 15 — replacing Kendrick Lamar, who pulled out citing scheduling problems — but immigration officials revoked their visas due to what they said was a possible risk to the public. Group leader Tyler, the Creator and manager Christian Clancy took to Twitter to air their displeasure with the move, which came within days of an effort by sexual violence advocacy group Stop Demand to block Odd Future from coming. Though morality-based criticisms of pop culture have increasingly shed their associations with Tipper Gore squeamishness and Pat Boone backwardness in recent years, banning a controversial act rather than letting people decide for themselves is just counterproductive.
Odd Future can now boast they've been officially banned twice in the land of The Lord of the Rings and Flying Nun Records. In 2011, New Zealand's Big Day Out festival dropped the group from its lineup following criticisms of what a Wellington man described as their "homophobic, misogynistic and hateful lyrics"; Odd Future ended up putting on their own, unaffiliated show. After the latest kiwi kibosh, group leader Tyler, the Creator tweeted: "OF IS BANNED FROM NEW ZEALAND, AGAIN. THEY SAID WE WERE 'TERRORIST THREATS AND BAD FOR THE SOCIETY' OR WHATEVER. SICK. THEY ARE ANTI GOLF." (He added, "I LOVE NZ THO.")
New Zealand's immigration authorities didn't specifically mention Odd Future's lyrics in their explanation of the ban. "The Immigration Act 2009 provides that entry permission may not be granted where there is reason to believe there is, or is likely to be, a threat or risk to public order or the public interest," Immigration New Zealand told The New Zealand Herald, in a statement. "Odd Future has been deemed to be a potential threat to public order and the public interest for several reasons, including incidents at past performances in which they have incited violence. In one instance, a police officer was hospitalized following a riot incited by Odd Future." The Herald figures that last part refers to an incident at a Boston comic shop, described The Boston Globe at the time as "chaotic."
Still, the Auckland City Council was once again hearing moral objections to Odd Future's arrival. Stop Demand, the advocacy group, had reportedly emailed the councillors, quoting Odd Future lyrics regarding rape. Before the New Zealand no-go, Stop Demand founder Denise Ritchie told the Herald, "It is astonishing that, in light of the nationwide outcry and soul-searching that arose over the Roast Busters' incident, and the sexual callousness of some young men towards women, Auckland Council is about allow a group that glorifies rape and rape culture to perform on Council-owned property and at an 'all ages' event.''
Lyrical content aside, music fans know Odd Future as a super-talented, crowd-galvanizing bunch. In 2011, SPIN contributor Julianne Escobedo Shepherd went on tour with them. Group member Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE was our 2012 album of the year, fellow OF-er Earl Sweatshirt's 2013 album Doris was a SPIN Essential, and we've defended the guys before. At the same time, you don't have to be hopelessly out of touch to be uncomfortable if lyrics appear to glorify homophobia or sexual assault, and Grantland's Mark Harris just wrote a masterful essay about how criticisms of a work of art's morality have become a legitimate part of the conversation around movies, as well.
That's the crucial part — the conversation. It's hard to have one when you stop one side from having its say. And giving a rebellion-inclined group the imprimatur of actually pissing off authorities, as anyone even remotely familiar with pop culture knows, only enhances the outlaw appeal. But it robs everyone of the chance to think more deeply about the reasons Odd Future might be controversial in the first place.
Clancy, Odd Future's manager, said it best. "Sorry New Zealand apparently this group of kids that have inspired the shit out of me for the last few years are a threat to society,'' Clancy tweeted. "And thanks for the hour before flight heads up. After approving and issuing visas." The immigration ban, as Tyler might say, is "a fucking walking paradox."