For all its purported entertainment value and power to connect, social media has also proven a breeding ground for negativity. But it’s that same insidious antagonism—fuelled by online comments or otherwise—that can inspire us to rise above it.
At least, that’s how Kevin Brereton (better known as k-os) sees it. The title of his latest album, Can’t Fly Without Gravity, is a statement that causes one to stop and ponder the sentiment for a moment, to examine whether we’ve suppressed our own creativity and expression for fear of less-than-stellar feedback.
“You have to express yourself, because it’s the negativity that’s out there that’s going to allow you to transcend it,” Brereton says, over the phone from his home city of Vancouver, noting that while humans don’t have to be wary of the same environmental threats they once did, technology has created a whole new type of fear. “Now you have anxiety about posting a picture, now you have anxiety about what people think of you, so it’s all been replaced with some mysterious fear. That was just my way of sort of saying to myself and my friends, my inner circle, ‘You know, you can’t fly without gravity.’”
So was there a catalyst or particular online event that made Brereton come to this conclusion? He pauses before admitting it’s a question he’s seldom asked, but it stems back to his own experiences with social media. As an artist, he’s got a Facebook page for his k-os fans, but he also has a personal account for friends and family—“I was more of a MySpace guy,” says Brereton with a laugh, who has no qualms about referring to himself as a pre-Internet “geezer.” “It’s always been interesting how my friends react to me on Facebook as opposed to the people that don’t know me. Let’s say I wrote some new thing on my Facebook [page] that’s k-os, everyone will be like, ‘Whoa, we love this! This is amazing!’ But if I post it on my friends page … no one says anything, so I start to get this neurotic thing, like, is it wrong for me to share with my friends what I’m dealing with? Because my friends will share a picture of their shrubs and I’m like, ‘Yo, that’s cool. Your shrubs look great.’”
Those closest to us are often our toughest critics—and the ones we seek the most approval from—and the contrast between the enthusiasm from those who know Brereton only through his music and those he’s personally close to pushed him to examine how he interacted with the two groups online. He notes that his friends want to see more personal things from him, separate from all things k-os.
“I think if you really want to learn about yourself, there’s going to be that cringe period where you actually are embarrassed because you don’t know,” he says. “And I think that’s why people don’t want to try new things. All kids want to skateboard and learn guitar, and then they turn 15 and they don’t want to try anything new because there’s that initial period where they have to feel dumb or they don’t know.”
Brereton points out that he learned guitar later in life and is currently honing his drum skills—he actually played drums on a couple of tracks on his latest album—and that in learning something new or putting something out into the world, there may be criticism or rejection. But rather than being hung up on that, learn from it and push past it. Social media has put everyone on the same level and provided a public platform for people to express themselves, he says, but there’s a tendency to respond negatively to someone whom someone feels is more talented than they might be.
“[People] actually do it every day, but here comes somebody who can show off more than you and what do you do?” he notes. “[Social media’s] created this ability where everyone can express themselves in a more, let’s say, multidimensional way than they can. They don’t know how to deal with it, and they have to find or trump up some charge against the person or be extra hard on the person to deal with the cognitive dissonance that happens when it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, this guy’s actually that much more talented than me.’”
Brereton isn’t exempt from that feeling. He points to iconic figures he grew up watching like Michael Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston, noting he’s always known of people more talented than he is. But they’re gone from the “musical lexicon” now, and many celebrities these days are individuals that people feel like they can emulate.
“That’s what people like now, and it’s taken the level or art and music down, and people want it,” he says. “Everyone wants to be talented in the same way, they want to be hot in the same way, they want to look good in the clothes in the same way, so that when someone does it better than them they can only resent it because they’re trying to be that, you know?
“There’s something called raising the bar, but there’s something called lowering the bar, so everyone can drink,” he adds with a wry laugh. “Lower the bar so everyone can drink. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Fri, Dec 11 (8 pm)
With Saul Williams, Doom Squad, Divot
Union Hall, $25