Don't Try to Be "Different", Be Yourself

Is That You?
“Be yourself.” Two simple words, a basic phrase, but so hard for many people to apply.

My best friend Jelisa and I were on the phone last night discussing the current new school generation of female rappers. Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend where a lot of newer femcees are portraying themselves as “ratchet”. You know, the “trill”, “thug life” fad? Jokingly, we both pointed out how several of the “bad bitch” video vixens that are surrounded by the female rappers in music videos appear to be everything but “ratchet”. Growing up on the west side and south sides of Chicago, the real life ratchet girls looked and acted nothing like what we see on T.V. 

The point we concluded to was that many of the newer female rappers and fans are portraying themselves as ratchet because that’s what’s hot in the hip-hop right now. Wearing grills and being “trill”. Having an outlandish fashion style, aiming glitter painted AK-47s, weird, new-age music videos, living the so called “thug life”, and the overall doing and saying things for shock value. Observing female emcees from the 1990's, many had their own personal styles in both music and fashion: Da Brat, Missy Elliot, Lauryn Hill, Lil' Kim, Queen Latifah, Foxy Brown, Left Eye, and the list goes on. There was a variety of different flavors and music to be brought to the table. There was no one "type" of mainstream female rapper as there is now, which is seemingly "ratchet". Let’s not get it twisted, there are real life “ratchet” rappers and the marketing strategy of shock value, and fairy tale ratchetness is nothing new to popular music. From my perspective, it appears that in this new era of music, pop culture and media, the concept of being “unique” has been taken to another level in an attempt for people to stand out primarily for shock value, and personal egotism.

"I'm Not Like Everyone Else"

“I’m not like people in my generation.”

“I’m just so weird.”

Just some of the expressions I read and hear people say nowadays. Not to mention the irony of the validity of those statements to folks' real lives. A few years back, I began to be attentive on how so many of my peers all of a suddenly became interested in the arts, fashion, and on ventures to become these "freethinkers". I created a video about this topic last year, "Today's Artsy Phase" speaking about how I felt many people were hopping on the “artist” bandwagon, not for the love of the arts, but for the titles, for the attention, for the applause. My standpoint is that many people are just on personal endeavors to give the impression that they are "unique". Even popular artists have done this where over-the-top fashion statements, bizarre images in music videos, and lyrics are crafted in order to be labeled as unorthodox. And of course when celebrities are doing it, the general public will follow. 

The edginess in fashion, the abrupt interest and involvement in the arts from watching Kanye music videos, and the hipster "I'm so not mainstream" attitude. Many people may think that this makes them look artistically unique, from the "trill" style to the "thrift store" look, but I personally feel it doesn’t. I feel it means you are trendy, which contrasts what many genuine artists like hipsters originally desire. Right now, it's trendy because being an Urban Outfitters shopping, socially aware artist who analyzes the work of Basquiat to be "deep", and just became a vegan is what’s hot right now. It means to say things to be relatable; whatever’s a popular opinion is Tweeted or typed on Tumblr blogs in order for people to agree with you (Which to me corresponds to capitalizing off the fact many people don’t have their own thoughts, instead of just being yourself and saying what you feel because that’s how YOU feel). It means to do whatever you think will make you “stand out” from the crowd, even if deep down inside you’re not into the activity as much as you claim, whereas it manifests on the outside. 

What's The Big Deal?
In stating this, some may think I’m being over dramatic, doing the most, hell even being pompous, but many don’t understand what it feels like as an artist to witness this over saturation and damn near mockery of something you've been doing since a child and something that is an important part of your life. Being ridiculed for growing up and dressing in your own personal style, being yourself, to see the essence of self-expression and individuality turns into a here today, gone tomorrow trend. Some people don’t know what it’s like to persistently be asked, “Why do you dress like that?” “What do you have on?” “Are you gothic or something?” "You dress like a white girl." Or to be told how being an artist will make you “no money” and that wont get you anywhere with it. A lot of folks are unable to comprehend the stress, time, money, and frustration that artists experience whether it is creating music, writing, acting, or visual arts. 

Plenty of persons are at an attempt to be “artistic” based on doing what they think a typical artist does/looks like. This is done to the point these “aspiring” artists are stereotypical prototypes, opposite of the nonconformists they aimed to be in the first place. As mentioned in the latter paragraph, people are doing and saying things what they think will make them appear as individuals, but if that’s not who you truly are, if you and millions of others are doing this, how does that make you stand out? How are you being “different” if you have to force it? It’s come to a point of utter desperation and competition based on who's the most outlandish. It's come to the point, the trend makes many people the same, making it tougher for genuine artists or people who genuinely wish to become artists. 

The irony is, that the over saturation, and overflow of the bandwagon, has made being “artistically different” the norm now. What was once something special and originally symbolic for self-expression and individuality has been spoiled by mainstream pop culture. Being an artist not just a mainstream trendy phase, and it shouldn't be treated like one, because let's be honest some years ago a lot of folks were not checking for art or for becoming artists the way they are now. The creation of art is how many people put food on their tables and clothes on their back. Some, struggling to make it already, only for their career fields to become a circus welcoming clownish behavior that dilutes the essences of the crafts. It's almost equivalent to a slap in the face to be serious about your craft, perfecting it for years, to see people who are not as serious about it, using it to only to be "different", receiving admiration and opportunities that you could have benefited from. Think about something you take seriously. How would you feel it if it became popular for the moment and an influx of unserious people came over saturating the field, making it another trend? 

What It Means to Be Different 
Being different is being YOU amidst a society trying to change you and tell you who and how to beBeing different does not exclusively signify or point to being an artist. Nor does being outlandish and out of the box doesn't suggest that you are a substantial artist. Some people naturally have the artsy juice, some don’t, and talent for damn sure does not equal creativity. Embrace the gifts and talents God gave you and use them to your best advantage. Don't waste time in trying to be someone you're not while you could be spending time improving who you already are or who you could become because what works for some doesn't always work for you. 

Don’t try to be “different”, be yourself. Everyone is unique in his or her own way, but everyone wasn’t meant to stand out in an "artistic" matter and that’s just fine. We all have different talents and gifts to contribute to the world, focus on yours and not anyone else’s. Your destiny and identity shouldn't be tied to what’s popular for the moment. Your destiny and identity shouldn't be tied to the compliments and validation of others, because caskets don’t come with bunk beds and a lot of the people you're trying to impress wont even show up to your funeral. The same way this “artsy phase” came, is the same way it will depart being replaced with another "phase", and then what will you be doing? What will you be doing after society decides that the “artsy phase” is over? Will you still want to be an artist? If you’re not in it for the longevity and only for the praise and accolades, for the titles, please step aside and let someone else’s light shine. Someone who loves his or her craft and wants to expand with it. Remember, a person can be his or herself in a society where you are constantly suffocated with images, and messages (both subliminal and conscious) telling you to be someone else, is one of the strongest.

Following trends is not solely about clothes and the latest fashion. It has much to with having an unhealthily desire to be accepted, and being subservient to the media, popular culture and politics as well. It ties into having the thought process of: "Hmmm, I'm not going to think on my own, I'm not going to do what I want to do. I'm going to agree and do what everyone else is doing because it's the popular opinion." There's always a bigger picture that sometimes we never see, such as the encouragement of social group think and how that relates to politics and problematic societal affairs. No one is 100% different to the point they don’t share common interests and common beliefs with others, but let’s not pretend like social group think and feeling the pressure to follow the latest fads to be “cool” aren’t discernible. 

The Message
This message isn’t to be anti-pop culture, or anti-media, both tools can be used successfully if used wisely and not for brainwashing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the latest fashion, music, and other sources of pop culture. Nor is this message an elitist restriction to bash and put down those who are not artists and want to buy art, express themselves, explore new activities, or take up some form of art as a hobby. Art is used in many therapeutical, psychologically healthy ways. There is a difference between appreciating and participating in artistic activities to discover new things and claiming yourself as an "artist" because you believe it will make you appear "different"The message is to remind people to be themselves and not feel like they have to be a completely different person or "try hard" because there's a popular phase occurring at the time. It means to stand firm in who you are regardless of what's popular at the moment and regardless of what others think. Don't allow the standards of your worth to be based on whether or not you're following a momentary fad. 

We live in a society where people want to be confident, established, and basically know who they are but many are not. A lot of folks put on masks to hide their unknowingness and confusion so it's understandable to an extent why some choose to be validated through popularity and trends. It even occurred to me that perhaps following a trend like this current "artist trend", could be of some benefits to some people. Maybe some could learn a new craft and find something they're good at and something they'll learn to love. It could show certain persons in certain situations who they aren't, and even who they aren't because a lot of us have our own personal stages we go through in life. Regardless of what it is, always remember to stay true to yourself, to your craft and to put your all into it if you're serious about it. Don't do things for show and tell, do it because it's something you love and a chance for you to express yourself. The courage you have in being yourself exhibits a multitude of strength that lasts longer than any popular trend. 



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