Are you sure you don’t just want to be famous?
A tale of how achieving success in your creative field is so much harder when you aren’t honest with yourself and your art.
Let’s rewind to somewhere around the turn of the millennium: A time when I had terrible hair and even more terrible skin. The age at which identities are fragile and what you’re into can seem like the most important thing in the world. The altar at which I worshipped: Rock and Roll. And as with the inevitable march of the colour black through my wardrobe, it wasn’t long before I picked up my first knockoff pawn shop bass guitar. I just knew it, I was going to be a rock star.
The epidemic of fame
It’s likely, by now, you’ve heard of PewDiePie (real name: Felix Kjellberg). In case you haven’t he’s the face of an entirely new class of digital celebrity, one playing games in front of millions of adoring fans via YouTube. PewDiePie is most often cited because people still can’t believe someone playing video games for a living makes several million dollars a year, and also because his channel has the most subscribers. That’s not just amongst game streamers, but the whole of YouTube.
There’s another story here with less headlines, namely the affect this has on the aspirations of his young adoring fans. I see it first hand every time I get a request from a new streamer with a shaky voice and a handful of subscribers asking for codes to stream Cadence. I try to remain courteous, for everyone has to start somewhere, and because I know if I were a teenager today I’d be in exactly the same boat: making videos so I could one day become the next PewDiePie.
The research agrees too, with studies finding fame has become the number one aspirational value for teenagers living in the developed world. This can lead to a lazy narrative about how reality TV is the downfall of society and really teenagers today are just lazy shits. However, I believe, if we stop for long enough and pay attention, there is something far more human going on here.
Loneliness be over…
So what was it about my teenage self which craved rock stardom? Well, I definitely had passion. The burning fervour and enthusiasm somehow only youth affords meant I’d often stay up with my radio propped up on a specially constructed pile in the corner of my room just to get signal from the one radio station with a late-night metal show.
To tell a more complete story though, one would have to mention how painfully shy and awkward those years were. This was never more pronounced than around girls, who had become a sudden and urgent fascination. My entire high school dating strategy consisted of say absolutely nothing and pray she doesn’t figure it out. As you can imagine, this method was stunningly effective at keeping me single. In comparison, being the guy with a guitar in a band seemed so much less daunting than learning how to talk to girls.
“Success is the best revenge.”
I remember hearing the soundbite in an interview with one of my favourite bands, and for some reason it struck a chord. I wanted to emulate it so badly, but why? Who did I want to take revenge against? Who was persecuting me? No one, really. In truth my teenage angst was a reaction to exactly that, an absence. It was a perceived shortage of a very basic human want: to know I belonged and deserved to be loved. It’s easy to see why thoughts of an adoring audience were so seductive.
Sometimes it’s best to be the worst
“Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana.” — Dave Grohl
You may have noticed at no point did I say I wanted to become a musician? Indeed, I didn’t fall in love with playing the guitar so much as the idea of what playing the guitar could get me: acceptance and validation. Most tragically, I never gave myself the chance to suck. To be kind of be a little bit awful, missed notes and all. I never allowed myself to reflect the level of talent I actually possessed at the time, and most importantly to enjoy myself.
This is not to say I was lazy, either. In fact I practised until my hands literally couldn’t anymore (seriously kids, warm up, repetitive strain injury is no fun). But the problem was I always took myself so damn seriously. Everything had to be perfect. And in some respects, when my very worth as a human being was at stake, could you blame me?
The problem with all this perfection, much like being petrified of talking to girls, was not putting myself out there and showing the world anything until I felt it was good enough. The cruel irony here is this only succeeded in starving myself of the very experience necessary to achieve the thing I so badly desired in the first place.
Get big or have fun trying
Back in 2010 when PewDiePie posted his first video online, no one, least of all him, could have predicted his meteoric success. This is simple: the concept of a big time video game streamer didn’t exist yet. Luck and timing were in play, of course, but it was the joy of doing his favourite thing that got him in the game in the first place.
I’m older and smellier now. Even if I’m less susceptible to idolatry daydreams, some part of the fantasy is still with me. To be the famous games developer with the smash hit game, because maybe deep down I still don’t feel totally adequate. One of my reasons for writing this now is to remember to take it a little less seriously and have some damn fun. Because hey, if the gig doesn’t work out it’s all you’ve really got.
Cadence is a video game in development and the inspiration for this series. To see how this turns out, delivered to your inbox every Tuesday, then hit follow next to Creative Suck below. Or don’t, this is probably easier if no one’s watching.