When 9-year-old “aspiring rapper” Lil Tay was thrust into our lives last spring, it immediately raised red flags. Sure, the image of a kid trying to flex like a Soundcloud rapper and rage about the millions they have in the bank may have been funny at first glance, but it was unclear how much Tay had consented to making this content which soon began to pile up. Where were her parents? Where did she live? How old was she really?
When Jezebel reporter Anna Merlan did a deep-dive into Lil Tay’s life in an attempt to find out who was really behind the viral social media persona, it turned out that her life was hard to penetrate; her mother wouldn’t do an interview without payment, and the man who appeared to be her manager insisted Lil Tay, whose real name is Claire Hope, was “self-made.” And since then Claire has largely disappeared from the internet, having been caught in an ugly custody battle between her parents, both of whom seem intent on moving forward with her career (whatever that might look like.)
Insider reports that since August, Claire’s father Christopher Hope has been the subject of harassment and death threats after his phone number was posted from Lil Tay’s second, private Instagram account. Even though Claire’s brother runs the account, he and Tian deny being behind the harassment campaign, chalking it up to hackers.
Hope and Claire’s mother Angela Tian both have custody of her, but Tian is fighting for full custody. She says that all Hope wants is money, saying he has been largely out of Claire’s life up until now. Alternately, Hope is worried that Claire isn’t being taken care of, pointing out that she missed “72 days from school last year for no reason.” But he is fine with Claire becoming a celebrity, just that he wants her to “get an education, hire a manager with professional experience, file trademarks on her intellectual property, and ensure that money is set aside for her future.”
What’s missing in all this is what Claire wants or even thinks. And considering how messy the barely existent career of this young social media star has gotten, the mechanisms going into building Lil Tay’s forced career are truly depressing. With every story about Hope that comes out, her parents seem like gross stage parents trying to suck any bit of relevance out of the Lil Tay machine. If somehow Lil Tay did manage to get a record deal or a reality TV show, who would want to watch it? Kids get famous every day on the Internet in far less unethical ways, but often of their own volition. But the only direction Hope should be going in now is one far, far away from the camera.