Before Timothée Chalamet was Timothée Chalamet — before he was an Academy Award nominee, and before he was Paul Atreides, but right around the time he dated Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes — he was Lil Timmy Tim. As a student at the Fame high school, a.k.a. the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (don’t ask me why one of those is an ampersand and one is just “and,” also don’t ask me why it’s called “School of Music & Art and Performing Arts” instead of just, like, “School of the Arts”), Timothée cultivated, winnowed, and perfected a very elaborate rap persona. Three years running, he took the stage at LaGuardia’s school-wide talent show as Lil Timmy Tim (or, sometimes, Tiny Tim) and rapped his lily-white ass off. Two out of those three times, he made that stage his bitch.
For a few years now, talk show hosts have been milking reliable laughs by forcing Timothée to watch these videos while he marinates in his shame. He’s contrite about Lil Timmy Tim now. He’s grown up. He’s rubbed elbows with Ye and Cudi. His rap persona, he says, was a bastardization of an art form that he reveres.
And like, yeah, sure, he’s right. Lil Timmy Tim was not a good rapper by any stretch. But this is the thing: Timothée Chalamet was, and is, a superb, singular, once-in-a-generation performer. In these high school talent shows, he taps into that ineffable combination of charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent, and he fucking shines. It’s not hard to imagine an alternate reality where the acting thing didn’t quite pan out, and it was Lil Timmy Tim, not Timothée Chalamet, who hit the big time. Lil Timmy Tim playing the prison guard in “Industry Baby,” not Jack Harlow. Lil Timmy Tim breaking out with “Gucci Gang,” not Lil Pump. Lil Timmy Tim sliding down Machine Gun Kelly’s white-rapper-to-pop-punk-star-to-Megan-Fox-malewife pipeline. It’s dark to think about, but we must.
Don’t believe me? Let’s get into it.
2011: Rising Stars, Sophomore Year
In 2011, Ansel Elgort landed the lead role in LaGuardia’s production of Hairspray. Timothée, then a sophomore, didn’t even make the cast. “That’s why all those rap videos are online,” he said, “because I was doing the talent show instead of the musicals.” It’s very, like, fifteen-year-old boy logic: if I want to triumph over Ansel Elgort, if I want to show the drama teachers what I’ve got, if I want to be the next Link Larkin, I must… become a rapper. I love it.
Anyway, in his pursuit of thespian excellence, Timothée rounded up a bunch of other fifteen-year-old boys, and they all airbrushed their rap names onto matching t-shirts, and accessorized with backpacks, and turned the pockets of their sweatpants inside out. His friends put together some choreo — derivative of Soulja Boy in places, it must be said — but Tiny Tim doesn’t partake in the dancing. He’s too busy strutting across the stage dropping bars about (I think, it’s hard to hear; this video was filmed on a potato) his superiority to Justin Bieber? God, 2011. What a time to be alive.
It’s an inauspicious debut. Not much to write home about.
In a year, though… in one year’s time… in a brief 365 days…
2012: Rising Stars, Junior Year
A. Star. Is. Born.
Period. End of.
Lil Timmy Tim hits this stage like Lady Gaga bleeding out at the VMAs in ’09. Like Tonya Harding landing that triple axel in turquoise. Like fucking Elvis on Ed Sullivan. A cultural reset; an arrival.
Can you even imagine the energy in the halls of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts [sic] right after this went down? Actually, you don’t have to imagine: this clip includes the final fade-to-black of Timothée’s performance and the excruciating first ten seconds of the act unfortunate enough to follow him. It’s these two guys in plaid and khaki, and they’re trying to warble some Simon & Garfunkel on an acoustic guitar, and you cannot make out a single word because the entire student body is still losing its collective fucking mind over Lil Timmy Tim. Imagine being a sixteen-year-old kid and sitting on that little stage with your little acoustic guitar trying to get out the opening lyric of “The Sound of Silence” and not even being able to hear yourself over the thirty-second standing ovation for Timothée Chalamet’s performance of “Party Rock Anthem.” Hello darkness, indeed.
I bet the entire student body carried him out of that auditorium on their shoulders. I bet all the boys transitioned to be with him and all the girls transitioned to be him.* I bet this is how he bagged Lourdes. This is an excellent performance. Gone is the timid, static shuffling of sophomore year. This time, he’s got choreo. Five back-up dancers. Costume changes. You know he and his friends agonized over every detail; it shows. They shoot for the moon in Party City wigs and feather boas and, improbably, they actually fucking land there. It bears mentioning, too, that this is the only live Timmy Tim performance that wasn’t filmed on a cell phone. No, this is some professional, like… this shit is in different areas. We get wide-shots, close-ups, seamless cuts from stage right to stage left as Timothée dons a hot pink shake-n-go and rips into “Roman’s Revenge.” Big ups to LaGuardia for splurging on a cinematographer this year.
What makes this so good? I think it has to be his sense of humour about the whole thing. The biggest reaction he gets in these four minutes — and he gets a lot of reaction — is when the beat drops and he lets out a stern, schoolmarmy, What’s wrong with that kid?/Does he think that he’s Black? He knows he’s not! He knows this is a goof! But he’s still going to give that verse from “Roman’s Revenge” his all, and he’s gonna tear his shirt off — while The-Dream plays???? — to reveal another, smaller shirt underneath, one that reads NICKI MINAJ in Impact font on the back and TXT ME on the front with his HOME PHONE NUMBER scrawled below. It’s! Very! Silly! And he knows this, and he commits hard to the bit. Check the way he runs out of breath, gasps, and then bellows “MANNING, ELI” with every ounce of air in his itty-bitty lungs. He is a per-form-er. This was the first step in the thousand-mile journey that led him to his Best Actor nom at the age of twenty-fucking-two. I am not joking.
One last thing before we move on to Senior Year. I can’t help but think of Lil Nas X, another bright spark just a few years younger than Timothée, who famously denied being a Barb because, in his words, “I didn’t want people to know I was gay.” Now, Timothée has never actually, like, labeled his orientation.** But he’s had a couple of high-profile relationships with women, and he was certainly dating Lourdes around this time, and that opens up an interesting question for me. Why was Lil Nas X so fearful — rightfully so, I think — to own his love for Nicki Minaj, lest he out himself? And why was Timothée Chalamet able to don a pink wig and bop through “Roman’s Revenge” and then confidently go and date Madonna’s daughter? Some of this you can definitely chalk up to the performing arts high school of it all; like, I have to assume Lil Timmy Tim’s genderfuck moment would not fly as freely in, like, Arkansas. And there’s relative safety, of course, in doing drag strictly for laughs — though I would argue that Timothée’s love for Nicki is very sincere.
But it really seems to me that it’s safer for a white boy to play around with femininity — or, hell, to even go really, sincerely hard for a pop diva — without having his motives questioned. Black boys have it much harder in this respect! Some of this is intracommunity and not mine to speak on, and some of it speaks to a failure of the white (and white gay) cultural powers-that-be to prioritize Black men and boys in the movement toward freer expression of gender non-conformity.
Thus concludes my dissertation on the socio-political implications of Timothée Chalamet’s eleventh-grade talent show performance of “Roman’s Revenge.”
2012: Homeland Diss Track
Over the holidays I learned that my one aunt is a die-hard Frank Herbert superfan from way back, so I naturally was like, “What did you think of the lead guy in the new Dune?” and she was like, “Well, I know why they cast him, because Paul is fifteen, and he looks fifteen.” And I said, “He just turned 26.” And she scoffed, and said, “Paul is supposed to look strong. This actor looked sickly.” Sickly! Like a little Victorian convalescent! Anyway, my aunt is the hater to whom Timothée addresses this diss track, a problematique boast about how he bags girls despite looking “young as shit” because he “booked him a hit: Homeland! Homeland!” Then he starts yelling Timmy! like Timmy from South Park, and it is all. A bit much.
I’m sorry, Timothée. I know you never intended for the whole wide world to see this. If I ever blow up, I promise to leak the video of me performing a monologue from Julius Caesar in a leather jacket and a bad Tony Soprano voice, and then we’ll be even.
2012/2013? – Statistics
According to LaGuardia’s most current course catalog, the school offers only two classes on statistics: Modern Data Science, a junior/senior course on “programming” for “data science applications,” and — get ready — Advanced Placement Statistics. It’s unclear to me which course Timothée took. Both seem equally unlikely. There are no references to coding in this video, but also: Advanced? Placement? Statistics? When he’s gunning to be an actor? Why would anyone put themself through that?
Anyway, wow. This video. In an interview with Graham Norton, Timothée revealed that he received a D for this music video. He also says that he intended to put some statistical graphics and pictures of his teacher’s face in the background, but that never panned out. All the effort went into drafting the bars, I guess. They are only tangentially related to math, but shockingly versatile; there’s a mash-up with “Say So” floating around online. It’s fun! This is fun.
Ms. Lawton did not respond to my request for comment.
2013 – Rising Stars, Senior Year
First of all, the video’s mislabeled. This video dates to 2013, the year Timothée graduated from LaGuardia. He was determined, clearly, to go out on a high note. He’d already booked the lead in the school’s production of Sweet Charity, but it wasn’t enough. His final talent show performance had to be his biggest and best yet.
Biggest? Definitely. I count twelve female back-up dancers in matching costumes, three other male students coming in with bowl-cut wigs and hoodies for a Bieber interlude, five separate segments (an original rap, a verse of “Itty Bitty Piggy,” a bit of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” a Skrillex track, and — it’s 2013, remember? — “Gangnam Style”), and a cameo by, I think, the school’s mascot. He does elaborate choreo throughout. He twerks. He does the little Gangnam Style dance. I sincerely cannot fathom how popular you’d have to be to pull this off, and for that alone, props.
Best, though? Best I’m not sure! It’s almost too good. Too polished. That scrappy spontaneity from junior year has been smoothed over; it’s like if you gave a Disney Channel choreographer a budget and asked him to recreate that performance for High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, or whatever the fuck. He is in his bag, yes, but the bag is swallowing him whole. And he knew that, maybe. This would be the last time — almost — he would ever rap in public. Only weeping to Sufjan from here on out, kid. It was fun while it lasted.
BUT WAIT – 2020 – SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
Someone in the writer’s room knew about Lil Timmy Tim and decided to have some fun at grown-up Timothée’s expense, and I am not mad at it! This little doodlebop from Xan Mob is fun! I’d throw it on a playlist with Bad Boy Chiller Crew and, like, “Hi Bich.” Who wouldn’t, in a smooth-brained moment? I am glad that this exists. I am glad that ?uestlove smacked the shit out of Pete Davidson. If it deterred at least one aspiring white rapper from launching a SoundCloud, it was worth it.
I have to scroll down so I don’t have to look at Timothée’s facial tattoo anymore. One second. Okay. There we go.
When I played this for my younger brother, who can tolerate SoundCloud rap in higher quantities than I can, he said it sounded like XXXTentacion. I will say quite freely that $MOKECHEDDATHAASSGETTA gives us more in these twenty seconds than X ever gave us, and I will not apologize.
Thus concludes Timothée Chalamet’s rap career. For now. Who knows what the future holds? Who can say for sure?
*I’M TRANS I AM ALLOWED TO MAKE THIS JOKE DO NOT SEND ME LETTERS
**I know, I know; listen. I went looking for some interview, any interview, where he had been like, “As a straight blah blah blah,” and I could not find it, because it did not exist. What I did find was Ellen DeGeneres looking at him, age 21, first press tour, and being like, “You are straight and I bet every woman who sees this movie will want to fuck you,” and him being like, dumbstruck with mortified laughter. I also found Rose Dommu asking him how it feels to be “the straight prince of twinks” and him once again laughing uproariously. And, in my book, someone pointing at you and saying, “You are straight,” does not make it so!***
***My dad loves me but he does not entirely grok with the trans thing, like when I was home for Christmas in December he would constantly be like, “Peyton has to run and get Peyton’s laptop” just to avoid using any pronouns for me. So it was extremely validating of my manhood when he was like, “Is Timothée Chalamet straight?” and I said, “Well, he’s only dated women that I know of,” and he said, “So he wouldn’t go for you.”