A situation that already seemed like a fever dream became even more bizarre as internet sensation Lil Tay posted a music video on Oct. 1, following the announcement of her death, which proved to be false, in September. Her social media career has been shifty since she came onto the scene at nine years old in 2018, but how did it escalate to this point for the Canadian-born influencer?
Lil Tay gained popularity on Instagram in 2018 by posting videos of herself in mansions and luxury cars, claiming to be the internet’s “youngest flexer.” She appeared in videos with other influencers, threw around handfuls of cash and shouted vulgar things that you shouldn’t say in front of your grandma, let alone the everlasting internet.
It was apparent that there was someone behind the scenes pushing out this content, and in May 2018, a video was released of Lil Tay being told what to say and do while filming. The voice behind the camera was revealed to be Jason Tian, her half-brother who was 16 at the time. Later that month, their mother Angela Tian told Buzzfeed News that her son was responsible for making the videos. “He is the one, only one [who] did an excellent job for her, he guided her, did everything for her without anybody else involved.”
The way Lil Tay was obtaining the money, vehicles and property she flexed in her videos was a mystery, although she claimed that she “dropped out of Harvard.” The dots finally began connecting when her mother, Angela Tian, resigned from her job as a realtor at the Canadian company, Pacific Evergreen Realty in May 2018.
Tian’s boss, David Yang, had given Tian permission to take pictures of his Mercedes 500SL, but he was shocked when he saw an Instagram video of Lil Tay in his car with the caption, “LIL TAY AIN’T GOT NO LICENSE 🚫🧢 BUT I STILL BE ON THAT ROCKSTAR LIFE 🤟🏽👩🏼🎤.” It was later revealed that the mansions and luxury apartments which appeared in her videos were on the market and being shown by Tian. She resigned soon after her boss and the public became aware of the situation.
Lil Tay’s instagram account was wiped clean in June 2018, with no explanation but a story post that said “Help me.” It was crickets from Lil Tay until April 2021, when Jason Tian created a GoFundMe to raise legal fees, claiming that Lil Tay’s father, Chris Hope, was abusive and trying to take back custody of his daughter. “Chris Hope owes $400,000+ in child support and has stolen millions, I am just now speaking out about this because I am no longer a minor and now have the right to do so without harming my family legally.”
The legal battle ended in 2021 resulting in joint custody of Lil Tay between Tian and Hope, who aimed to keep his daughter out of the spotlight. “I was really unhappy that she had dropped out of school to participate in inappropriate activities that I thought could negatively affect her future and her present,” he stated in an interview.
The Lil Tay hype on the internet had died down until Aug. 9 this year, when an announcement was posted on her Instagram, stating that she and her brother had died. While content creators and people in comment sections speculated if her death was a hoax, news outlets reached out to Hope and others who are close to her, asking to confirm if the claims posted to Tay’s instagram were true. No definite answers were given until Lil Tay spoke up herself and said that her account had been hacked.
A spokesperson from Meta revealed to TMZ that her account had in fact been compromised on Aug.10, but it’s suspiciously convenient that she would start making headlines again just a month before releasing her music video, “SUCKER 4 GREEN.” Taking her social media presence at face value, it seems like Lil Tay is happy to be back, but I’m not convinced that she has any autonomy in this situation because of Angela and Jason Tian’s exploitative actions in the past.
On Oct. 4, Lil Tay posted a video claiming that her father had sent police to her house, and included a video clip of officers arriving on the scene. “My abusive father, Chris Hope, swatted me to prevent me from continuing to expose his racism, misogyny, sexually abusive behavior and domestic violence. You cannot f…ing stop me. You cannot f…ing silence me. This is not just for myself, but for all girls and women.”
I want to believe Lil Tay, but it’s impossible to know the reality of what happens behind closed doors. Whether it’s coming from her mother and brother, her father, or both sides, it seems she’s being abused, most likely through exploitation. I think that if walls could talk, they would say that Lil Tay is a normal kid who was pressured into becoming another figure for the internet to gawk at.