Todrick Hall Tells A Brilliantly Uncomfortable Story With ‘Forbidden’

Todrick Hall Tells A Brilliantly Uncomfortable Story With ‘Forbidden’

Before I start this review, I just want to put two things out there. Firstly, I don’t review albums professionally. Hell, I think this is the first album review I have ever attempted to put down into writing. My usual MO is to scream loudly at the top of my lungs about the album I have enjoyed, and then bug family and friends until they finally listen to it.

But Pinky requested, and who I am to say no? So here we are, with me trying to put into words just how remarkable I believe Todrick Hall’s Forbidden is, and the best way to enjoy this masterpiece.

Secondly, I am a huge Todrick Hall fan. Before Forbidden, I loved him, and now that Forbidden has wrecked my entire existence, I fully intend to die on the Todrick Hall hill as a lifelong Stan.

I’m sure some of you have probably seen all the talk about Forbidden, or more specifically, the music video for the singular track, T.H.U.G, that everyone and their mother have a problem with, because they believe that Todrick was hyper sexualizing the black male form and feeding into damaging stereotypes about black bodies.

And that is where I am going to start this review.

To really enjoy Forbidden, to understand its message and where Todrick is coming from, it’s best to see it in its visual form, and in the order in which it is presented. It’s a full-length hour-and-a-half movie, which tells the story of the life of one man – Nolan Renner, from his birth to his death, in a society that is the flipside of America, even down to its name. Nacirema (which is “American” spelt backwards) is a country where the norm is to be gay and black, and white people exist as the dregs of society, whilst heterosexuality is considered an offense against the State. And we see how big an offense it is in Wanted, where we see an adult Nolan getting arrested and tossed in jail, where he admits in Changed My Mind that: “I know I said I’d play by the rules / Do what they want me to do / And I’d colour inside the lines/But I lied / I changed my mind/And I’m all outta fucks, don’t care / Middle fingers up in the air / I know I said I’d rather live a lie than to die / But I changed my mind.”

“Changed My Mind”

Like all stories that start in the middle of the conflict, we go back to the beginning where Brandy sings Lullaby for her baby boy Nolan, who is forcefully taken from her and given up for adoption. Nolan is adopted by Nacirema’s mayors, Nevan and Nathan Renner (two men married to each other, of course), and as is the Nacirema way of life that insists that boys dress in pink and play with dolls and purple unicorns while girls wear blue and get the toys and trucks; a forced homosexuality that is groomed into them from childhood, young Nolan is forced to give up his guns, his interest in sports, for more ‘gay’ interests. Like we are told in the song All American, the All-American way is to “turn your back on things you don’t understand”.

“All American”

And so, it is not surprising that when Nolan becomes an adult in Ka-Ching, he is visibly overcompensating with his show of wealth and is as flamboyant as a man can be, bathed in jewels, covered in pink from head to toe, and driving a hot pink car. He is screaming to the world: “Look at me! I’m the gayest man you will ever meet. No hint of heterosexuality to be found here!”


The album then takes a detour with Ordinary Day, with intimations of gun violence and racism, where a harmless white boy gets gunned down in the middle of the road by a black cop and everyone in the neighborhood dances and sings and goes on like nothing grave has happened; some are even seen jumping over the body of the dead boy.

Police brutality is explored in “Ordinary Day”

Shine shows a talented white performer belt her heart out, only to get a lukewarm response from her predominantly privileged black audience, which is in marked contrast to the standing ovation the average singer in Silver Spoon gets for her own below-par performance.

We pick up our thread of homosexuality vs. heterosexuality when we are introduced to Jade Novah and her girlfriend-turn-fiancée, Cynthia Erivo, in the romantic serenade, Nobody, an introduction that plays an important role later in the album.


But for now, we head back to Nolan in Type, where he admits: “I got 99 problems but I’ll take one more / I love shopping at the asshole store / And if you’d know how to treat me right / Take my number cuz you’re just my type.” But clearly his usual type isn’t working for him, so he is offered a new type to try out: the T.H.U.G.


Except the THUG breaks his heart and Nolan loses his shit in B, telling his ex-boyfriend:“Oh, honey you fucked up real big this time / Never get another bitch looking this fine / Don’t let the doorknob hit you / Take your side chick with you / Tick-tock, kick rocks, rocks.” He goes clubbing in Dem Beats, letting his hair down and unleashing the bad bitch within. But then he’s back to remembering his heartbreak in Break My Heart, stating that he’s “gotta go and mend up the heart that I carefully taught you to break / I taught you to hurt me / Trained you to burn me.”

Time passes and Nolan catches the eye of Elle (Jade Novah), who flirts with him in Eleven, where she asks him to come around when she’s closed at 11. And sure enough, when he returns later that night, the two sing about their love in Play, blending the dusky tones of the low-lit diner they’re in with a perfect harmonization of their voices, admitting that: “They say that love is for fools / It’s a dangerous game / Honey we’re breaking the rules in this love arcade.”


But the two lovers are spotted by nosy neighbours and colleagues, and they have to go on the run after the scandal breaks that there are heterosexual lawbreakers in the community, with Shangela helping Nolan retrieve his money from borrowing parasites who disappeared when it’s payback time in Doll Hairs. I thought Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money was my anthem for that special brand of debtors who refuse to pay, but Doll Hairs’ got BBHMM beat.

Aided by Shangela, Nolan and Elle head on to a “sanctuary someplace out of town, built to shelter the rebels unwilling to conform to the Nacirema way of life.” It is a haven for those persecuted by the society where, for a brief moment in Animals and Forever, they are safe and happy. But then the police come knocking right after the lovers and the rest of this small, persecuted community belt out the powerful titular song, Forbidden, where they sing: “Welcome into the new revolution / I call it hope / Let them build up a wall to divide us / Let them use all their weapons to fight us / All we need is something to ignite us / And I call it hope.”

They sing about a forbidden love, and how they are “willing to fight every day of life that I’m given / You’re a rule that I’m willing to break / An exception I’m willing to make / You’re a risk that I’m willing to take.” 


The lovers, Nolan and Elle, narrowly escapes the police invasion and head to his home to pack to go on another run, but the police are alerted and Nolan is arrested in Painting In The Rain, with the entire town carrying “God Hates Straights” placards and spewing hate at him. As Nolan is led away, he wails: “Sticks and stones hurt harder when you know they’re thrown / From no farther than your own sweet home.”

“Painting In The Rain”

Nolan is found “guilty of treason and thirteen counts of heterosexual indecency” and is given the capital punishment. As he is led to his death penalty, he wonders in a prelude to Heaven: Maybe someday this world will try as hard to find our similarities as we do to make enemies of those who are different. Maybe someday we will look at those who think and love differently as a beautiful complimentary hue of hearts.”


Nolen is hung, and eleven years later, things are slowly changing in Nacirema. We see shades of blue breaking through among the men; a nod to forced homosexuality’s slowly diminishing power. We see a white woman and her son getting accepted at a potluck; even though you still have the problematic black folks who stomp off in anger at the sacrilege. And a smiling Nolan ends the album with Apple Pie, promising us that “Change is coming.”

We finish with the bonus anthem, Boys Wear Pink, with Todrick proudly declaring: “Boys wear pink, girls wear blue / I’mma do me, so fuck your rules / Some girls like chicks, some guys like dudes / And if you don’t care what they think / Give them haters a wink.”

“Boys Wear Pink”

On the day after the release of Forbidden, Todrick admitted in an interview that he wanted the album to be uncomfortable for people to watch. And truth be told, I think he succeeded. Brilliantly. Not only is the video perfection, the lyrics resonate, and he blends different musical genres: rap, gospel, trap, electric rock etc. for a 30-song album we won’t forget in a hurry – all the while addressing homophobia, racism, gun violence, sexism and gender politics, because yes, I do think that like every other video in Forbidden, T.H.U.G was a flipside of the stereotypical music videos where women’s bodies serve as props to be ogled and sexualized. Not many people see it that way, but that’s how I see it.

So yeah, Forbidden is the shit. Whenever you get the chance, go on to Youtube, and settle in for a visual album like no other. Trust me, the time will fly by.

PS: Shout out to @KereDim on Twitter for catching Todrick Hall live in London, you lucky, lucky muthafucker. You’re blessed and amazing, and I am in awe of you. But I also want to cut you, because a bitch is jealous.

Written by Noria

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  1. Nonso chuckwu
    June 03, 07:34 Reply

    I just went on google and found the movie. Anyone that’ wants it can go online too.

  2. Mandy
    June 03, 08:58 Reply

    I. Love. Todrick!

    Noria, this is a fantastic review. The visual album plays out exactly like a movie, and most of the songs in it are hard to get out of your head. “Heaven” is such a haunting song.

    • Itenoria
      June 03, 12:58 Reply

      Yes!!!!! Another Todrick fan!!!!☺️☺️☺️. Thank you for the high praise. I had a ton of fun writing it and I hoped I was able to convey just how special the visual album is. Happy to see that I succeeded. And yes. The songs stick in your head! My favourite keeps changing every day. There was a time when wanted was my constant. Then it was changed my mind. Then play. Then type. Etc. it definitely is one of those rare albums that you wouldn’t skip any of the songs. An amazing feat considering it had 30 songs!

  3. Richard Moore
    June 03, 13:43 Reply

    I’ve been a fan of Todrick for quite some time now, and his works are amazing. When Forbidden got out, it was nothing short of amazing for me. Couldn’t stop thinking about it.

  4. Law
    June 04, 13:57 Reply

    My best song there is “Dem best”
    Bitch don’t kill my Vibe… Bitch don’t touch my weave

  5. CHUCK
    June 05, 02:32 Reply

    Mr. “Black ok?” Living out his white twink fantasy.

  6. Naijatgal
    June 05, 10:12 Reply

    Thank you Noria, this was a fantastic review.
    I love Todrick, such an amazing visual album I advice everyone to watch.

    Who else fell in love with Jade Nova’s beautiful voice, she runs a YouTube channel with her husband and I have been listening to her covers for a while now… Guys check her out!

    Finally, people being “guilty of treason and thirteen counts of heterosexual indecency” should be an actual offence, with all the ratchet things cis-heterosexuals get up to lol!

    • Noria
      June 05, 17:01 Reply

      Finally, people being “guilty of treason and thirteen counts of heterosexual decency” should be an actual offence, with all the ratchet things cis-heterosexuals get up to lol! I nearly died laughing. Hahahahahahaha. Gold!!!

  7. Ezra
    June 06, 14:21 Reply

    Okay but isn’t he the one that’s said music should not be political. This album seems very political to me, but I don’t listen to Todrick Swift so…

  8. Malik
    July 16, 19:22 Reply

    Todrick Hall is a storytelling god!!!! DAMN!!!!!!!

    I’m sorry for ignoring this post earlier. Just watched the visual album and I can’t get over it!!! OMG! Wow.

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