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So…Lil Xan, right?
Just a few weeks ago, the 22-year-old rapper (happy birthday, Sept. 6) and his girlfriend Noah Cyruswere pledging “ride or die” to each other on their wistful rap-pop hybrid single “Live or Die,” the 18-year-old sister of Miley Cyrusshowing off her own range to great effect.
“They threw me in / and now I’m drowning in the deep end,” Lil Xan raps. “If I’m religious, you’re the one that I believe in / You’ve been here with me to help me fight all my demons.”
That was then, however. Now he’s on his own. And whose fault that is has devolved into a engrossing game of he said, she said.
Or perhaps more accurately…he posted, she posted.
So far, he’s got the public part down, for sure.
The Redlands, Calif., native, whose real name is Diego Leanos, is among the current crop of young artists who rose to fame with the help of platforms like SoundCloud and Youtube and, of course, thanks to social media, where Xanarchy has taken hold.
He’s amassed 4.8 million followers on Instagram (which, in this moment, is 400,000 more followers than Noah), and regularly brings fans along for the ride via Instagram Story, where, for instance, he’s publicizing a private birthday celebration he’s having Thursday night, with VIP invites available to 30 lucky fans who emailed his people in time. “I want all the homies there, too—let’s get lit,” he said (weed being a running theme on his account).
“I love my fans to death. Never deny a fan a picture, they know that,” Xan told Billboard. “Xanarchy is like one big family…It’s a brand, it’s a lifestyle.”
The name Lil Xan came from the anti-anxiety medication Xanax (and some of his earliest songs show him to be a fan of the drug), but in his moody (they’re all moody) 2017 song “Betrayed,” his biggest hit to date, he raps about why he gave it up. The official music video, directed by Cole Bennett, has more than 223 million views on YouTube, and he’s become known for his advocacy of a Xanax-free life. Columbia Records took notice and signed him in November.
He first got onto the music scene as a photographer, but after his $1,200 camera was stolen on stage one night after he put it down on the DJ booth, he figured $20 for a studio session was a better investment.
“Now it’s the national anti-Xan movement,” Lil Xan told Pigeons and Planes last December. “The brand is unstoppable at this point and I’m just glad I’ve created something so positive and people can relate to it so well.”
The death of Lil Peep in November, determined to be from an overdose of fentanyl and Xanax, was another example of how detrimental the drug could be, Lil Xan explained, and his decision to quit also arose in part because he took a dose that had been laced with fentanyl, the opiate that caused Prince‘s death and was found in Tom Petty‘s system after he died last October.
“Rest in peace, Peep. That was a tragedy,” Xan told Pigeons and Planes. “It was definitely a wake-up call to a lot of people. There are still rappers that are doing what they’re doing. And they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do regardless, but it hit too close to home. I’m not saying it was the turning point of me deciding to be anti-Xan. I was anti-Xan months and month ago, but it was definitely a wake-up call and a reminder that this s–t is real.”
And his own recovery was in no way easy. “I was painfully addicted to Xans for, like, two years of my life,” he said on the Genius series Verified in October. “Anyone trying to tell me I’m a poser can shut the f–k up. I know what it’s like to be addicted to that. I was lucky enough to get off that s–t.”
“I definitely learned that lesson after ending up in the hospital from withdrawing,” Xan continued. “I was doing Norcos, too. I was withdrawing from opiates and Benzos. It landed me in the hospital too many times. And one day, I was just like, ‘This ain’t fun, I can’t live this life.’ A lot of rappers don’t really be talking about not doing drugs. You know, it’s like the opposite way, so it’s refreshing, I think.”
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Billboard
As tends to be the case, fame washed over him practically overnight, or so it might seem to an outside observer, but Xan seems to be keeping his friends and positive influences close and his fans constantly informed.
“I was rapping as a hobby for a year and six months, but it got very serious six months ago,” he told XXL in November. “Then even more four months ago and even more two months ago, now it’s even at a level where the movement which I created, Xanarchy, has taken off. The music is doing very well and I’m just blessed to be in this position right now.”
Additionally, he told Pigeons and Planes, “I’m blessed to have the people I have around me. The knowledge they can bestow upon me and what they’ve seen through personal experiences definitely gives me a leg up on people.” Xan said he’s learned “everything” from the artists who’ve taken him under his wing. “If I had a different team or anything different, I would be pretty lost and pretty clueless in this whole rap career. They’ve taught me everything.”
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for iHeartMedia
His debut album, Total Xanarchy, came out in April and peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200. He counts Mac Miller, N.E.R.D., Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age among his varied musical influences. Steven Cannon is also one of his favorite rappers and best friends.
Noah Cyrus, meanwhile, is at the stage of her career where she’s appears to be mainly focused on coming into her own—and that includes separating herself, artistically, from her famous family and showing that, at 18, she’s at least well on her way to being all grown up. In case anyone was still thinking of her as Miley’s baby sister, in June she posted some photos of herself topless in a sudsy hot tub taken on vacation in Greece.
Her biggest single to date was “Make Me (Cry)” in 2016, but the hype is mounting for her EP Good Cry, which she just announced would be coming this month after her breakup with Xan went viral. But we’ll get there.
The first thing you notice about Xan, physically, are inevitably the face and neck tattoos—which, aside from a few on his chest and upper extremities, comprise the majority of his body artwork.
His first ever tattoo was “No Face” from Hayao Miyazaki‘s anime classic Spirited Away on his right wrist. “I was a big fan, I grew up on it,” he said in an interview with DJ Smallz last year. “And the second one was this”—he pointed to a smaller tat that includes a “6” next to the “No Face”—and I will never tell people, or maybe one day I’ll tell people what this means,” he said with a huge smile. “Uh, it’s a little corny.”
The word “Candy” under his left eye was his first face tattoo, which he went for right after he turned 18. “A lot of people thought it was for ‘eye candy,'” he recalled, “but I did not do that in any way. My mom’s name is Candy…I did it because I wanted a face tattoo and I was like, ‘My mom is going to kill me. But if it’s her name, she might not be too harsh about it and whatnot.'”
“She was pretty shook,” Xan admitted, laughing, “but she said—she’s very supportive—she said do whatever you think works best.”
And why did he want a face tattoo, his first of several, again?
“…’Cause I just like to go all f–kin’ out,” Xan explained. “If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna like fully commit to something. I was originally a photographer… and I wanted to be the next big photographer.” Having his camera stolen was devastating, as it was a present from his parents, but he eventually shrugged it off and decided to try his hand at rapping.
And now he is one of the next big rappers.
“If they had not stolen that camera, I would not be living my dream today, because I would have never started rapping,” Xan pointed out. “And I wouldn’t even be in Atlanta with you right now…To whoever stole my camera, thank you, if you’re watching this.”
The “Zzz” under his right eye had no meaning at first, he admitted, but he figured it could be a little funny because he’s always sleeping or otherwise nodding off, especially when he’s traveling.
The New Yorker noted that at his Big Apple performance debut, at the downtown club S.O.B.’s, a number of young people in the audience were sporting fake face tattoos. Xan wore a pink hoodie with Lil Peep’s face on it and told the crowd, “F–k Xanax 2018!” He closed the show by performing “Betrayed” three straight times.
During the tattoo analysis, he joked about being completely uncoordinated, as he made sure he was pointing to the correct side of his face at times. And Xan, who dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, saying that school had never been for him, told XXL last year that he, for real, couldn’t tie his shoes.
“So many people have tried to teach me but it’s one of those things where I physically can’t learn, I don’t know why,” he said. “There’s an old Spongebob episode where they teach you how to tie your shoes. I even watched that but it didn’t help.”
But his plan is to be the next “star or legend,” not to be the next master knot tier. “I don’t want to sound cocky…It’s just what I get called a lot.”
Xan’s 2018 so far has included a North American tour, a collaboration with the ubiquitous Diplo on “Color Blind,” the release of his album (The Guardian‘s critic wrote, “I can confidently report there are no good lyrics on this album,” while Pitchfork noted that, despite Xan having being lumped in as an emo rapper, “it’s hard to detect any particular emotion at all”) and angering the Internet by rating the late Tupac Shakur a 2 out of 10 on Revolt’s “Clout 9.” But such is the easily outraged online world we live in.
Perhaps humbled a bit by critics and by just how easily the tables can turn in the court of public opinion, Xan said on Fuse’s Fuse First in May, “I’m going to keep evolving and evolving and showing people that progression is key when it comes to music. I’m just going to keep growing up. ‘Til we’re just there. ‘Til we made it. I haven’t made it yet. People say, ‘Oh, you’ve made it.’ I didn’t make it. I’ll let y’all know when I think I’ve made it.”
And then came love…?
Xan first noticed Noah Cyrus on, where else, the Internet.
“I don’t know. I slid into her DMs and like four months later, she saw it, responded, we hung out, we just instantly clicked,” he told Billboard at the Hot 100 Festival last month. “I love her, her whole family. I just like her a lot.” He added, “I met everybody. They love me, I love them too. I love them all.” (Xan posed with Billy Ray Cyrus on the pot-friendly family patriarch’s 57th birthday as he showed off the new bong daughter Noah had given him.)
“Xan slid into the DMs. It works people,” Noah shared with E! News’ Tamara Dhia at the Teen Choice Awards in August. “Actually, it didn’t work. He DMed me like in February and I didn’t see it for months and then I saw that he was following me and I was like, ‘Lil Xan, cool, he’s following me. I’ll follow him back.’ And then I saw his DM and we’re just hanging out making music.”
“She helps me, I help her,” Xan told Billboard. “It’s beautiful. I couldn’t ask for a better best friend and girlfriend.”
He was once again speaking confidently about his music too, excited for his future after having survived the panning of his first album.
“All those haters, they don’t understand my music,” Xan said. “It’s very unique. And I don’t blame them. Hate my music. But my real cult fan base, they like the music…I can’t compare myself to any artist.”
“It’s an evolution,” he added. “All my albums are evolutions, one on top of the other. I just wanna keep evolving as an artist to show these motherf–kers that I’m here to stay, I’m not just gonna leave.”
Noah certainly liked his style.
A week after the Teen Choice Awards, they made their red carpet debut at the MTV Video Music Awards—where they were all over each other, as smitten young couples tend to be.
“We literally, like, went into the studio one night and fell asleep,” Cyrus told ET at the VMAs. “And woke up a banger and then we were like, ‘We need to get one out in the next week,’ so we wrote ‘Live or Die’ and like put it out in a week and it’s like, the reaction is amazing, yeah.”
“Everybody loves the chemistry,” Xan added. “You know what I mean? Like, it just works… got a lot of feelings for her.” Asked if they were in love, he replied, “Of course we’re in love.”
“I’m obsessed with him,” Noah swooped back in, adding that it was “cool to find somebody” who gets her crazy schedule and understands why sometimes she’s “a little bit pissy.”
That was Aug. 20. Billy Ray Cyrus’ birthday was Aug. 25.
This past weekend, the Internet started to wonder if there might be trouble in paradise after Xan posted on Instagram, “I feel like i’m probably being cheated on.” Then, “Bad things always happen to the good guys so ima be an a–hole from now on if you aint gang.” He promptly deleted both (as well as everything from before Aug. 28).
Among the comments on the account that screengrabbed this for posterity, sweetlikediego wrote, “I hope he’s okay… I’m worried… Can someone explain this to me? @xanxiety #heartbreaksoldier #xanarchy#xanarchymilitia #lilxan.”
There’s a reason why you don’t often hear about under-zealous fan bases.
Ryan Shorosky for L’Officiel USA
Subsequently, Noah took to her Instagram Story to tearfully tell fans, “Guys, the truth about it all at the end of the day is things suck and that days are gonna suck and that’s just okay.” And, “Everything’s gonna be okay though. I am trying to stay super positive.”
OMG, nothing was OK!
All was a misunderstanding, Noah implied, because she had sent Xan what she thought was a funny meme, of Charlie Puth‘s face put on the body of a porn star shielded only by an eggplant emoji.
“I’m heartbroken and confused. This is the meme I send Diego that made him think i’m cheating on him,” she shared online. “Sorry @charlieputh.”
Then Xan came firing back.
“Sorry to everybody, but I’m x-ing ‘Live or Die,’ that s–t’s not coming out, the music video. Yeah, like, you know, people love to just hurt me,” he said in an Instagram livestream. In another video he said, “It just hurts so f–king bad. You think you know somebody, and then you just get used. Literally, my whole life is just being used.”
Incidentally, on Monday he also stuck his plaque commemorating “Betrayed” going platinum in the bathtub and, from the looks of it, peed on it.
“Shout-out to Columbia Records for setting up that fake relationship,” Xan went on in another video. Regarding the Charlie Puth meme, he added, “I broke up with her because she was all over some other dude,” not the meme.
“And it’s nothing but love. I love her family, I thought what we had was real, but I guess it wasn’t,” Xan continued. He said Columbia Records set it up to boost Noah’s visibility. (Columbia denied it.) “Me being real, I’m an open book…but I have mental illness issues, you feel me? But she does as well. She tells me all the time she be goin’ through it. Two people with anxiety and mental issues shouldn’t be together in the first place. It was always about her, it wasn’t about me.”
Noah insisted in a livestream Monday morning that she had done nothing that she was accused of doing.
“If you’re in a relationship, never let a man make you feel like you’re less of yourself—or you’re the problem—when you were the one that sat around being there for somebody,” she told her fans.
Then she suggested that Xan had cheated on her, pointing out what she thought was a hickey on his neck. He said it was a bruise.
Noah continued, “cheaters like to accuse their partner of cheating to make themselves feel less guilty.” And pointedly at Xan, she added, “I’ve been there for you during your dark times Diego. When you felt like you were alone and no one was there for you, I was.”
Meanwhile, Noah, in announcing her Good Cry EP and tour on Tuesday, tweeted, “well… due to the circumstances i think i named this EP appropriately. good cry coming sept. 21.”
This continued on Wednesday.
“1. If it was fake, why would I be asking you to come over to hang out. Why would you be saying good morning baby, and why would my name be Noey ��in your phone,” Noah wrote. “2. in what world can I not ask my boyfriend to promote the song we have together?”
Then, perhaps realizing just how much this was turning into one of those online choose-your-own-adventure series, where the actors and fans start to have trouble distinguishing the plot from reality, Noah continued, “diego, please find it in your heart to end this peacefully and not on social media. we could have done this in person or over the phone. i don’t understand why you keep doing this and what changed so drastically in 24 hours. IDK how this all changed and why you’re going publicizing all of this. Let’s please end this already. It’s enough.
“If you still have an issue that’s not resolved then call me so we can stop this insanity.”
The plea to stop the insanity was posted around the same time Xan was livestreaming, saying, “I’m not saying she was using me for fame, I’m saying she was using me to get more popping in the music industry. I’m not going to be the f–king victim when I came into the rap game for positivity…They’re always going to believe the f–king girl and of course they’re going to believe the Cyrus family… what I’m saying is the truth, believe what you want.”
Yesterday afternoon, Noah posted on her Instagram Story a screengrab of some third-party messages that had been shared by a Xan fan. Noah wrote on the post, “I’ll just leave this here.” The messages were written by a girl who was apparently from Xan’s hometown of Redlands. She wrote that she had hung out for a night with the rapper—and what had happened then was supposed to stay within the group that had been there. “I had no idea the hickey would be seen and I never intentionally meant to hurt him or Noah’s relationship,” she wrote. “…Now I’m just being judged through my social media for something I’m not entirely sure I’m to blame 100%. We have been friends for awhile and i hope this doesn’t end it. It was just meant to be fun.”
And that’s all for now.
Xan’s Instagram Story is currently focused on his birthday celebration tonight. But don’t worry, we’ll all be re-immersed in the drama by tomorrow. Noah is releasing a tune called “Mad At You” at midnight.