When Instagram star Lil Tay first gained people’s attention, she was a 9-year-old causing ruckus on social media for spoofing rap culture.
Tay had amassed a huge social media following by posting videos showing her hurling expletives from the driver seats of expensive cars that her parents did not own.
In one clip, she steps out of a Ferrari rocking a diamond-encrusted gold chain and makes it clear that she’s “richer than all y’all haters.”
She also claimed to once have been “broke” in Atlanta, Georgia until she “started moving bricks.”
As reported by NME, Lil Tay (real name Claire), attracted an audience of over 2.5 million followers to her Instagram account. The Chinese-Canadian youth went viral last spring primarily due to her cultural appropriation. The self-proclaimed “youngest flexer of the century” was once described as “a badass Dora the Explorer come to life”.
But Raz Robinson of fatherly.com noted: What’s saddening about Lil Tay’s whole persona isn’t just her aggressively insensitive rendering of blackness, it’s that it’s clearly been shaped by an adult. That adult seems to be Tay’s mother, who was recently fired for shooting one of her daughter’s videos inside of her boss’s Mercedes.
In that video, Tay informed her “broke ass haters” that “I ain’t got no license, but I still drive this sports car. Bitch.”
In a lengthy piece titled “How Lil Tay’s Instagram Antics Hurt Black Kids,” Robinson further explored the viral Insta-blackface sensation.
One video showed the pre-teen smoking hookah while uttering the n-word.
“All you jigglypuff-looking broke-ass n***as. I’ll fuck your momma because she a thot, then imma become your father. But I ain’t spending money on child support. Imma spend that money on foreign shit,” she tells the camera in another video.
When she was profiled in last May on “Good Morning America,” appearing with her mother who remained quiet during the interview, the then nine-year-old insisted that her actions were all her own doing. But a video later emerged of Tay’s half-brother, Jason Tian, coaching her off camera to act ratchet.
From there, things only got more strange – and a lot murkier – when, suddenly, Lil Tay’s social media accounts were wiped clean in June 2018, just days after the Good Morning America appearance. A mysterious Instagram Story then popped up with the words “help me” set against an all-black background. Confusion and concern ensued online, with fans questioning what had happened, some even launching the #FreeLilTay hashtag.
After months of silence, Lil Tay’s Instagram account (now deleted) was alive again in September and October 2018 with a flurry of activity. Tay and her mother have since claimed that her account was hack, following a series of racially-charged posts, leaks of personal documents and allegations made against Tay’s father, Christopher Hope. It soon became apparent that a custody battle was being waged between Hope and Tay’s mother, Tian.
The Daily Beast spoke to Tian, Hope and Lil Tay in January about Tay’s home life and details how Hope filed a court motion last June, requesting that his daughter return to her native Vancouver. The move sparked her exile from social media, as all her accounts were shut down.
Tay’s mother Angela Tian denies ever having anything to do with her daughter’s online character.
“She had the idea with her brother. I was never involved,” Tian declares. She adds: “She always had a passion for music. Before Lil Tay blew up, she always had singing lessons and dance lessons.”
Of her daughter uttering racial slurs in some videos, Tian says: “That is the very first time… She promised that she would never say that again.”
Tian says Hope was somewhat of an absent dad, with Tay adding: “I didn’t see him for multiple years. He never saw me for so long, it’s obvious he just came back because he wants money.”
Tay also claims she was abused by the sister of her father’s wife, who once locked her in a closet. But Hope has denied these allegations, saying: “She was never locked in a closet. If there is any abuse, it didn’t take place at my house or have anything to do with me.”
Hope does admit, however, that he was never supportive of his daughter’s online presence.
“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 told Daily Beast. In a prior statement, his spokesperson said: “There are only three things [Hope] wants to see. First, no more crazy videos of cursing from Tay. Second, 25 percent of the gross earnings going to a trust fund dedicated to Tay. The third thing is, there has to be structure in her operation, in her public image.”
But Tian argues that Hope is driven only by financial gain.
“He doesn’t care about Tay’s video[s],” she tells Daily Beast. “After Tay became famous and all the videos, he never went to L.A.” She also stresses how “Lil Tay has made no money,” adding: “We got a lot of chances, but we didn’t accept them… We could have made a lot of money if I wanted.”
Meanwhile, despite his criticism of his daughter’s viral stardom, Hope once tried to help take Tay’s business model to the next level.
“I applied for the [Lil Tay] trademark because it was obvious that her mom hadn’t taken any steps to do things in a business-like manner – reserve the names, get accounting set up, make sure tax obligations could be satisfied,” he says. “Filing a trademark was one of the things that needed to be done. I was concerned that people were also trying to use that name. Recording artists need to be incorporated, but none of those things had been done. I wanted at least to take the minimum steps so that Claire would be protected if her career did go somewhere.”
The now 10-year-old tells the Daily Beast that she’s homeschooled because she’s “too famous” for public school.
“[My dad] wants me to go to public school and he knows how many people know who I am, he knows that I’ll get mobbed,” Tay explains. “I’m too famous for that.”