Young Thug and Gender

We will refer to Young Thug using he/him/his pronouns, as all writing on the musical artist hailing from Atlanta, Georgia has done so in the past and he has not made public any desire for a different reference.

Young Thug, the musical phenomenon hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, wears the cloaks of male and female without any apparent inhibitions. For him, gender appears to be but a costume to don at will; a claim bolstered further by his public statements dismissing the reality of it at all. How should this be considered when placed in context against the more problematic pieces of his public persona? To negate either piece of his being seems ill-considered, but perhaps they are not mutually exclusive. We argue that it is through his enacting of gender as a performance, and the apparent contradictions that then exist between this and other elements of Young Thug’s self that the notion of gender being absolutely essential is disproved.


Barter 6 Album Cover

On Young Thug’s album Barter 6, the shadowed outer boundary of the album cover conceals the lower half of his body. Traditionally, this is where the near entirety of a one’s being is supposed to come from; the sex organ being the key motivator for every other piece of a person. Though the idea of gender is not tied to biology, the two are often conflated by the general public. The ability to project upon the artist in this way is lost, however, through the total removal of the organ itself.


Calvin Klein Campaign

Before you even consciously took up your identity, “your parents had already given you toys, surrounded you with colors, or played with you in ways that communicated the norms or limits of that identity to you. Each of these moments constituted a hailing, or a moment of exchange where you recognized the existence of a way of understanding yourself and responded to it, allowing it to define or constitute you in the process” (Ott and Mack). Due to socialization, we categorize everything we see subconsciously. Some of us, inadvertently, want one dimensional worlds. But further, we find an inherent difficulty in reconciling Young Thug and his relation to gender with other pieces of his being. In this picture, Young Thug is a blur. It is representative of who he is. A blurred image makes a viewer believe they are not truly certain of what they see.


Rap Up

An in-focus image makes a viewer think they are certain of what they see, a man. With a standard combination of turtleneck and glasses that both look to be what we would categorize as men’s clothing paired with jewelry highlighting a traditionally male name (Jeffery) upon an unemotional facial expression, Young Thug performs as a man in this photo in a way not far removed from standard portrayals of maleness.


The Fader

At other times, Young Thug performs as a female in totality. In the cover for his album Jeffery, he dons a woman’s dress and obscures his face, taking the removal of any opportunity for gender assignment through biological observation that he first explored on the earlier Barter 6 album cover to its maximum potential. While when performing as a man, he utilized old stereotypes aligning manliness with solemnity. Here, he poses with his hips tilted and body at a dramatic angle, again calling in stereotypes (this time of women being theatrical) as if they are tools at his disposal.


Baller Status

In this photo, the one act of kissing Lil Uzi Vert’s chain further serves to emphasize the ease with which gender performances can be enacted. Through this one action, Young Thug changes the composition of the photo that would otherwise likely be seen as your standard posed photo of two men. He does not do much else to further this movement across the perceived gender spectrum, but through one act, he shifts in the single moment towards a more in-between act. This is what lends credence to the idea of gender being, at least for him, performance that is not pre-informed rather than performative, where “all bodies are gendered from the beginning of their social existence (and there is no existence that is not social), which means that there is no “natural body” that pre-exists its cultural inscription” (Salih).


Webbie Music Video

The performance that he puts on the aforementioned cover of Jeffery is then contrasted by this moment in the music video for the song “Webbie” from the album, when Young Thug sings “Let me f**k one more time and I’ll help you write your rhymes.” It is a misogynistic lyric, calling towards a taking-advantage of a power imbalance to coerce sexual favor in a way that many would find difficult to process coming from the dressed figure on the front of the album.


Texas Love Music Video

The reasons we consider a red bandana and gold chains to be hegemonic masculinity is another topic altogether that one could argue is closely correlated with racist stereotyping of black males. Because of this though, this must be considered a hegemonic masculine aesthetic performance that is usually aligned with male gender. Simultaneously, he sings “I want it all in my belly, I want it all in my neck, I want it all in my hair” with a whine under sexual anguished facial expressions. These lyrics call to sex in a way that places him in a position most often associated with female or gay male. It is a small piece of the song, but in it he potentially serves to destigmatize a less accepted sexual act while still embodying hegemonic masculine aesthetics in a way that proves contradictory.


Dazed Digital

All of these contradictions between being and performance that one sees when assessing the whole of Young Thug’s being are what actually serve to highlight how inessential gender can be for an individual. It is not something that must imbue every aspect of a being. To expect his lyrical content to always reflect his interactions with his gender would be elevating gender to a ruling status that it does not inherently hold, and quite clearly would prove wrong for an individual like Young Thug, for whom gender appears to be but something with which to experiment, play, and perform; not explicitly tied to any other aspect of self.

Ott, Brian L., and Robert L. Mack. “Cultural Analysis.” Critical Media Studies.

Salih, Sarah. “On Judith Butler and Performativity.” pp. 55–67.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s