On August 9, a message appeared on the Instagram account of 14-year-old internet personality Lil Tay, announcing that she and her brother had succumbed to a “sudden and tragic passing” that was “entirely unexpected.” The post referred to Lil Tay as “Claire,” obliquely claiming that “the circumstances surrounding Claire and her brother’s passing are still under investigation.” The following day, things got even weirder: According to TMZ, Lil Tay told the outlet that she and her brother are fine and her Instagram had been hacked. Here’s what we know so far about this deeply confusing situation.
Lil Tay mysteriously went quiet in 2018 after going viral.
Born Claire Eileen Qi Hope, Lil Tay first rose to popularity in 2018, when she was 9 years old, with viral videos of herself wearing Gucci belts, driving a Rolls-Royce, speaking in a Blaccent, and brawling with other internet personalities like Bhad Bhabie and Woah Vicky. Since initially rocketing to fame with the guidance of her half-brother, Jason, she’s largely disappeared from social media, though several concerning incidents have brought her back into the public eye.
In June 2018, within months of Tay’s sudden explosion online, her Instagram account was suddenly wiped, with a single Instagram Story posted that said “help me.” A few months later, graphic and racially charged images showed up on the account, followed shortly by an image of what seemed like Tay’s passport, which, if real, would have made her 16 years old at the time (not, as was previously believed, 9). Then, an unidentified person posted on her Instagram account accusing Tay’s father, Chris Hope, of abusing her while profiting from her career. Her then-manager, Harry Tsang, denied the allegations, claiming Jason and her mother, Angela Tian, had also hatched a plan to accuse Hope of sexually assaulting his daughter. In a bizarre phone conversation arranged with the Daily Beast through a different representative named Charles Wong, in 2019, Tay said she was in a “bad situation” with her father.
In 2020, TMZ reported that Tay’s career had been stalled by a custody battle between her mother, who wanted her to pick up the trajectory she was on in 2018, and her father, who wanted her to pursue a more legitimate career in entertainment. Hope told the outlet that he loves and wants what’s best for his daughter, referring to “pending legal matters” that prevented him from offering further comment. More allegations surfaced in 2021, when a GoFundMe organized by Jason surfaced claiming that Hope and his new wife were physically and mentally abusing Lil Tay.
The circumstances surrounding her “death” announcement were strange from the jump.
Following the latest Instagram post, outlets were unable to verify the news of Lil Tay’s death with her family members or with police in Vancouver, where she grew up before moving to L.A. Several friends of the family also questioned whether or not the post was accurate, with one producer telling the Daily Beast he was “really fucking confused” about what had happened. Her former manager, Tsang, claimed to have “an intimate understanding of the family’s situation” and told reporters he “cannot definitively confirm or dismiss the legitimacy of the statement issued by the family.” He also referred his TikTok followers to his psychic, who told the Daily Beast she did not “sense any soul crossing the line to another dimension.”
Meanwhile, the New York Post managed to get someone claiming to be Lil Tay’s father, Chris Hope, on the phone. “I don’t have any comment right now,” the person said. “I’m sorry — I can’t.”
After 24 hours of no information, TMZ claimed Lil Tay was alive and had been hacked.
Things got even weirder on August 10, when TMZ claimed to have gotten in touch with Lil Tay herself, who seemed to be very much alive.
“I want to make it clear that my brother and I are safe and alive,” Lil Tay purportedly told TMZ, “but I’m completely heartbroken and struggling to even find the right words to say.” She added that the 24 hours during which everyone, including former collaborators like Woah Vicky, thought she was dead were “traumatizing,” and that she was “bombarded with endless heartbreaking and tearful phone calls from loved ones all while trying to sort out this mess.”
According to the explanation she offered to TMZ, Lil Tay’s Instagram was “compromised by a third party and used to spread jarring misinformation and rumors.” She added that her legal name is Tay Tian, not, as the post suggested, Claire. TMZ did not specify how Lil Tay provided her statement. As of August 10, the words “help me” appear in her YouTube bio, though it’s not clear how long they’ve been there. In a statement to the Cut, Tsang said he found “relief in the confirmation of her safety” but had some “reservations regarding the authenticity of the reported hacking incident.”
“It is plausible that the driving force behind these events might revolve around an attempt to surreptitiously solicit funds from dedicated supporters and unsuspecting bystanders,” Tsang explained in his statement to us.
On August 12, however, a Meta spokesperson appeared to support Lil Tay’s hacking story, reportedly telling TMZ that the company worked with the influencer to get her account back last week.
This post has been updated.