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1 Apr 2021

issue 1: Going Viral in a Pandemic

Ben Timi Nuga

As we slowly wade into the uncertainty left in the wake of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, one wonders what comes next. With such wide-reaching documentation of the pandemic's devastating impact on our mental, social and physiological wellbeing, as individuals and also on a larger scale, for many, moments of unfettered optimism have been at a premium.

The virus’ financial implications have been equally damaging, with widespread redundancies and store closures hitting many high streets across the country in a manner reminiscent of the Mosaic plague. Amongst the sectors most affected are those conventionally viewed as the more ‘creative’ sectors. According to the Creative Industries Federation, 47% of creative workers are self-employed, with the figure dropping to 15% across the wider workforce. Asides from the numerous venue closures and restrictions preventing the industry from functioning, government rhetoric and action towards the creatives working in these fields has only created further obstacles for them to overcome. Campaigns pushing creatives to reskill has delegitimised their craft; the same craft which kept so many of us occupied through the numerous lockdowns imposed on us over the last year.

Despite the numerous downsides, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The ‘Great Silence’ brought by lockdown kindled once-dormant flames in many creatives across many disciplines, myself included. These flames, unstifled by the adverse conditions brought about by the pandemic and fuelled by the gift of time, have grown and developed to wondrous effect. Some people learned new instruments, some fell back in love with painting. Others developed a passion for poetry, and others still took up yoga. These flames manifested themselves in various forms, and in a year full of challenges, one positive has been the ignition of so many creative spirits which might have otherwise remained unlit.

Amongst the people who grew the most during the lockdown were those who thrived online, particularly through social media platforms. With so many of us locked up (well, locked-down) at home, and with so much time to kill, many young people turned to their phones to appease their boredom. The ‘House Party’ conference season came and went, Netflix’s ‘Love is Blind’ followed suit, with the ‘Tiger King’ series not too far behind. But where others faded away, the TikTok application only grew in popularity, and continues to do so.

TikTok has played an integral part in boosting the profiles of many creative folk, particularly within the music industry. For content creators who’ve figured out how to grow and maintain a following, the app has been a fantastic tool for expanding one’s viewership, with hundreds of millions of users scrolling the ‘For You’ feed on a daily basis. But for artists who aren’t as social media savvy, growth can be a little more difficult. There is a wealth of online information offering guidance on anything from growing your social media engagement or navigating the numerous algorithms that can lead to one ‘going viral in a pandemic’, but from personal experience, the process can be quite daunting.

I was blessed to be able to start growing a small page in June of 2020, posting poems, short stories and sketches I’d been working on in the months prior, before releasing my first song on September 8th 2020. Whilst algorithms certainly played a part in the growth of my page, it was people being kind enough to share my art, be it written, drawn or sung, which gave me the confidence to continue putting myself out there. Ironically, whilst I’ve been able to learn and develop my craft through the use of Instagram, social media still fazes me. I don’t enjoy the marketing side of being an independent artist as much as I do the creation process, but with the support I received in my early days, I’m less fazed now than I was six months ago.

As much as I love what I do, I also enjoy watching other creative people express themselves. Everyone has the capacity to create, it is a part of the human essence. In a society where natural talent is often ignored until it ‘goes viral’, it can be easy to neglect our own creative spirits until we are presented with the opportunity to monetise them. I would argue that the factor which distinguishes between one being considered as ‘someone who makes art’ and as ‘a successful artist’ seems to be the size of their audience, rather than the level of their skill, and for those trying to grow and carve careers in creative industries, this can be a difficult reality to reckon with. For many, the overarching pressure brought about by the notion that your art 'isn’t good unless it is seen' can chip away the desire to create. In addition, opening yourself up to the opinions of strangers often requires striking a fine balance between self-assuredness and vulnerability, which can be difficult for people of a self-aware disposition. Independently trying to grow an online following, whilst maintaining one’s artistic integrity is no mean feat, as social media can be a very lonely world to navigate.

To this end, I made J3TZINE to be a platform where all forms of creativity can be shared and celebrated, centring one’s talent over their social media following. The platform intends to capture the ‘show and tell’ vibe I enjoyed in primary school; an environment where we were able to share our hobbies and passions in a (mostly) judgement-free space. I find myself surrounded by an ever-growing number of incredibly talented people who, using media ranging from poetry and sound to metals and textiles amongst others, have found ways of capturing their abstract thoughts and ideas, manifesting them in an array of beautiful ways which I hope will be enjoyed through this magazine!

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