On creative genius, authenticity and making it (inspired by Alejandro Aranda)
My latest obsession has been Alejandro Aranda on American Idol. Have you seen this kid? He is the most soulful human being I’ve ever seen stand on a stage.
(Best original songs here and here.)
He stands there, him and his guitar, eyes closed, rocking out in his own world, fingers moving maniacally across the fretboard, heavenly harmonies rising up and mixing with a voice so smooth it melts into the air.
He’s pure. And he’s a genius.
I feel like one of the reasons he’s captured the hearts of so many people (his Instagram has blown up to 560,000 followers pretty much overnight) is because of that purity. He sings from his soul, and turns his pain into passion.
He feels, which makes us feel, and when he plays he transports you to a place beyond time and space.
I’ve also been reading the comments around the Internet because, well, it’s the modern day equivalent of people watching. (And I probably have too much time on my hands. 🙂 )
What’s MOST interesting is that people seem SO divided on Alejandro Aranda.
People are either obsessed with him, like me, and think he’s God’s gift, or they don’t understand him, think he’s boring and wonder how he got so far on AI with a seemingly limited vocal range.
I even saw one girl wonder aloud why he wasn’t dancing on the stage. Lol.
Basically, the people who don’t get him, really don’t get him.
And the people who do, really do.
Thinking about Alejandro reminded me of a few points about creativity, authenticity and making a living as an artist.
1. Genius isn’t well-rounded. It’s not intended to be.
Some people hate on Alejandro Aranda and say that he should be able to rock any cover as well as an original.
(I mean come on. Can you imagine Bon Iver singing a Queen song? I feel like some of these demands are little out of control).
But the truth is that being really good at one thing requires a focus and commitment that necessarily means you’re not as good at other things.
If you’re well-rounded and multi-passionate, go girl. Do you.
But genius by its nature is excellence at one specific thing.
It’s important to know this because sometimes society encourages us to be more versatile or “go out of our comfort zones” and while this can be a good thing, it can also be a bad thing.
When you know who you are, what you’re good at and what you bring to the table, sometimes the best thing to do is double down on that and specialize.
How will you gain mastery if your efforts are diluted trying too many random things?
It’s a delicate balance for sure, but one trait many successful people share is obsession. Normal people tend to look down on obsession and tell you to chill out or get a hobby.
People who change the world double down on obsession and know it leads to greatness.
2. Even if you’re a genius, not everyone will like you.
Enough said. 🙂
In fact, I’d say haters are a GOOD thing. It means you push people emotionally so they are forced to decide if they like you.
I’d rather have haters (because it means I also have fans) rather than a bunch of apathetic people who don’t give a shit.
My blogs where I receive the most overwhelmingly positive feedback are also often the ones with the most people unsubscribing. I’ll take it.
I want to hit a nerve. That’s the whole point.
3. Navigating the balance between mass appeal and authenticity requires awareness.
As American Idol has progressed, Alejandro Aranda has been keeping his eyes open more while performing. He also smiles more.
If this is authentic, I’m happy for him.
If it’s something the producers encouraged in him, it makes me sad.
Creatives have been poked, prodded, and cajoled into social norms for all eternity. Why can’t society just let us be?
Sometimes, sure, you feel a call from within to change something about how you express or present yourself.
But any change has to come from within, from a pure desire to shift how you show up rather than a desire to get something outside of you, like attention or praise.
I love that Alejandro Aranda invites us into his world by closing his eyes and feeling all that he feels. This is part of his magic.
He invites the listener into a special world he created, and he does this by connecting emotionally with his music, not by looking at the audience.
The more he feels, the more we feel, and that’s the whole point.
The other point to this is, sometimes the things that make us the most unique, the things our true people will love and adore us for, are the exact things someone else will say…
You should just change this one thing.
And then you change that one thing, and then you change another thing, and before you know it, you’ve lost the X factor of what made you, you.
All in the name of mass appeal.
It’s also interesting because on another YouTube bender one night, I happened to look at one of Katy Perry’s oldest videos.
I just love looking at successful people’s old things. It’s inspiring to see how far they’ve come. I also like seeing who they were in the beginning, and how they’ve changed.
On Katy’s videos, there were more comments saying she sold out to become a pop star. (I feel like people will always complain that successful people sold out. But people change. That’s okay. We can never know someone’s motivations, and honestly, gaining mass appeal might be a soul-led decision for some.)
This seemed to pose an interesting question — Is it possible to realize mass success without changing who you are?
It’s well known that the music industry is often music’s worst enemy.
They take soulful, authentic singers and songwriters and turn them into formulaic shadows of their past selves.
Same with Hollywood. And even big book publishers.
Yet, those with enough talent (and maybe enough sass) survive.
Others stay indie, maybe never making it big but gathering cult followings.
And in this age of the Internet, it’s never been easier for an artist, writer, musician, knitter, whatever-you-create-er, to make and sell things from the heart.
There’s also never been so much noise.
I think sometimes the hunger to get recognition inspires artists to sand the edges off their art, to get noticed, or to hasten the pace, or to make more money.
Sometimes changes are a necessary part of growth. Other times, they remove something essential.
It can be hard to know the difference, especially in the moment.
I mean, did Alejandro Aranda really need American Idol to get famous? I bet he could have done it on his own, just slower. And without the machine’s impact on his music.
Then again, nothing is all good or all bad, and I’m sure this experience will positively impact him, too. Either way, it’s divinely guided and in God’s hands now.
This same tension has influenced my work.
Some content I create because I want to, and other content I create because I think it’s what the machine requires or expects.
People who are too stubborn miss the opportunity to grow and get attention for their work.
But people who are too hungry lose themselves and the very thing that made them special.
It can be a hard balance to navigate.
A lot of times, you only realize you went the wrong way after going too far.
The good news is, you can always get back on the right path.
Above all, artists need to create based on the deeper call of their souls.
To express the heart’s longing in a way that you can feel.
That’s when you know you’re on the right track. When you can feel.
Because when you feel, and create from that space, you make others feel.
That’s art, and that’s what connects us. That’s the thing we cannot lose to the machine.
That’s the thing that makes us human, that makes life worth living.
It’s not something that can be bought or sold, but only created from within.
And it’s up to all of us to create from that space and support others who are creating from that space.
In a world where too many creatives spend their entire lives trying to fit in a box, whether society’s or the machine that promises riches and fame and glory, know that the only true glory can be found within.
In that place you go when your eyes close, your heart beats, and all that matters is the muse coming through you.
That’s the magic, baby.
Stay there, and everything will work out okay.
I hope this resonated with you!
It’s not something I normally write, but I’ve been doing a little bit of my own artistic explorations lately.
Let me know if you liked this, and if you’re down to read more about art, creativity, and mixing your soul’s art with the art of making a living.
Share this article with another soulful creative!
All the love,