Is Lil Uzi Vert's latest artwork reveal all about style, or is he actually into Heaven's Gate cult ideology?
Lil Uzi Vert places a distinct value on style, above all else. Whether it’s rock, heavy metal, rap-driven -- it’s not like we don’t believe his interests also lie therein, but he seems to place special importance on the look of things, and the scope of that goes beyond his fashion sense. When he wore baggy, flared and chain-linked black jeans to the Grammys, it was with such aplomb that he pulled it off, where others would have not have even dared to think of such a ‘fit. He will tweet with what seems like a purposeful design of his words: haphazardly placed capital letters, unnecessary spacing, “drawings” created out of punctuation. He cycles through a specific set of emojis, never veering to far away from them. His music is driven by his acute sense of style: melodies and production become the most important elements; these are the components that hit you first, the surface-level (which, ultimately, is what happens when someone has style), before you are even ready to think about the lyrics or the message.
The other day, Uzi revealed new imagery, possibly artwork (the Parental Advisory sticker is all we need) -- it was a near replica of Heaven’s Gate cult imagery, with words replaced to fit Uzi’s message. The cult’s original message laid underneath a ‘90s rainbow font and an outer space background. It read: “As was promised - the keys to Heaven’s Gate are here again in Ti and Do (The UFO Two) as they were in Jesus and His Father 2000 yrs. Ago.”
Taken at face value, this image, which was released on Uzi’s Instagram, did one job, and it did it well: it created hype that an album is upon us. Uzi Season is in effect, as they say. The fan frenzy ensued.
Weird and conspiratorial territory is not unfamiliar for Uzi. Daylyt pushed the viral theory that the Philly native was Satan last year. It’s almost precisely a year later, and we are bound to have new conspiracy theories popping up thanks to the latest cult-driven images and ideas Uzi is perpetuating on social media. Before that happens (undoubtedly they are already being hypothesized/written in someone’s mom’s basement), let us ask, or let us at least wonder, why Uzi is using imagery and ideas from a cult that committed mass murder-suicide in 1997?
If you were not already familiar with the U.F.O cult and their imagery, Uzi’s artwork would have passed right by you, unawares: it’s an image that is so very ‘90s it could easily resemble anything that anyone is doing these days, with the current resurgence of the era. The chances are extremely high, too, because if you are a fan of Lil Uzi Vert, you are likely born right before or right after this infamous cult made headlines (1997 being the main headline, but they did appear in headlines to varying degree since the ‘70s)-- thus, it may not be infamous to you. I was too young to properly remember anything about this cult-- it sounded vaguely familiar-- nor did I know anything about its history prior to two days ago.
A CNN article from 1997, written post-Heaven’s Gate mass murder-suicide, noted how the internet was well-suited for the development of niche culture. Indeed this seems true: niche cultures are able to thrive in dark, anonymous places on the internet, whether they are vile or innocent. On the flip side, the internet has allowed for many man-made borders and divisions to collapse. The lack of boundaries means that whatever is niche is also much more open in a sense-- it’s accessible to any and everyone, should they chose to find, or look, for it.
The accessibility the internet allows us means that you can fall into a rabbit hole of any topic, every day of the week. Topics are endless too: whether it’s digging yourself into a wormhole of musical discoveries on YouTube, or a Wikipedia vortex of historical facts. You’ve likely done both of these things. Likely, so has Uzi. However, consuming knowledge or content on the internet, even sharing ideas online, doesn’t seem as lasting or affecting as it does IRL. In the same way a book is a physical object, something you can grasp, so to the internet and anything you consume therein is the exact opposite. In that sense, it's more fleeting. You can scan through new music, letting it go in one ear and out the other, as you can do similarly with quick-reads of Wiki pages or, perhaps even worse, headlines. The internet allows us to consume at a fervent pace, and disseminate of the materials just as fast, with no physical repercussions -- we’re not left with a tangible object staring back at us on our coffee table, a CD collecting dust that we must eventually shelve. The internet, especially now, has allowed and even encouraged the adoration of the surface. Instagram is perhaps the most clear and concise example of this: you see something, you like it (or else let it pass right by you), and there is nothing deeper than that. It extends equally to just reading headlines on twitter or Facebook. Basically, the internet is also a place where you can live off/thrive off aesthetic, with no serious commitments or attachment to any one idea, person, or thing. The internet is a place where everyone places style above all else. We are here to look, mostly-- and we prefer to look at things that are cool, aesthetically pleasing.
The Heaven’s Gate cult was also at the forefront of internet usage. Not only did they disseminate their materials online in 1995 (!) (this was a time when only 0.4% of the population used the internet, compare to the 54.4% presently) -- they did web and graphic design for a number of notable clients in order to make money. Their website, which is alive and active today, is a ‘90s relic, and thus its design, including the image Uzi co-opted, is entrenched in that very same straight-outta-the-'90s design aesthetic. This type of web design was modern at the time, now it’s ‘vintage.’ It is inherently internet-cool, something that a current graphic designer might try to re-create to be on-trend, in the same way Pen&Pixel mixtape covers or graphic-heavy band tees are returning. From a straight-forward visual perspective, then, this is just some cool ‘90s-based image that Uzi found and wanted to repurpose to help promote his album.
Is that too easy of an answer, though? That’s the thing about the internet -- because the online world is mostly held at face value, there is also a very thin, and often hard to read, line between the “troll” and the “real.” This is why trolls can often hoodwink innocent internet users, they are unable to discern the line. We know Uzi has recalled imagery from the things that actually interest him with his previous album covers-- his fandom of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World played an obvious role in his album titled Lil Uzi Vert Vs. the World, and the cover art for that album, as well as The Perfect Luv Tape which followed. While it can sometimes seem like Uzi is trolling us (let’s take it back to that Grammys attire for a second), his interests in these particular topics fall on the side of real.
Whether or not Uzi truly believes in the preachings of Marshall Applewhite, the co-leader of the Heaven’s Gate, and his current Instagram avatar, is not necessarily knowledge we need, as users of the internet: all we need to know, or rather see, is that the artwork he’s unveiling is cool as fuck, and so on the surface, it creates excitement and value for his fans.
Still, for some reason, I imagine Uzi falling into a black hole that the internet opened up for him, I visualize him as the nerd-emoji with some dreads (I’m sure Apple will come out with it soon), it’s late at night and he’s somehow gone from YouTube samples to anime forums (??) to stumbling across the Heaven’s Gate cult, loving the aesthetic of their vintage website, but more than that, he’s actually reading about their extraterrestrial religious dreams, forever habituating in a thinly-drawn line between the troll and the serious.