Pay attention: In ‘Caught,’ A Rising TikTok Star Mines Social Media Disappointment
This is an exclusive song premiere that is part of The ARTery’s effort to highlight emerging New England musicians.
The singable hook on Kwaku’s “Stuck” conjures up an image that is familiar to anyone with a smartphone. “You love to post all of your pictures when you are downstairs and feel alone,” he sings over a bright acoustic guitar sample. “And I think sometimes you hate yourself for being stuck on your phone / I miss when all of your thoughts were your own.”
From siblings flipping through TikTok over dinner to friends presenting an idyllic life online but secretly depressed, we all know someone with an unhealthy addiction to social media. “Stuck” could easily be addressed to one of them. But Kwaku says that he actually wrote the song about himself.
The cover of Kwaku’s album “Stuck”. (Courtesy)
It all started when the 26-year-old used TikTok during quarantine. His manager had bugged him for years to try the video-sharing app, but it was the boredom of pandemic life that drove him to the platform. He quickly discovered a knack for it. Soon he had more followers on TikTok than anywhere else. (The last count: 58,800 and growing.)
But the newfound success had its downsides.
“I started feeling this pressure and fear that every video had to explode and if it didn’t explode, I’m not a good artist or content creator and people don’t like me and I should just give up,” says Kwaku.
One of his friends noticed the toll he was taking for it. “She said,” You didn’t come to TikTok to be a TikToker, “he says.” And I said, ‘You’re right. I came here to make music.’ “
So he decided to put his experience into a song. With the help of his friend Spenser Edmund, a producer in LA, he transformed a mostly acoustic creation by Zbeatz into the basis of “Stuck”, a shimmering downtempo atmosphere that lies between euphoria and longing.
As Kwaku puts it, he always had a knack for writing songs that are in your head. The Massachusetts musician attributes this discovery to his mother. “I was originally just a dancer,” he says. “And then I think it was like mid-high school my mom said to me, she said, ‘You know, even though you love to dance, creative writing is one of the strongest things you can do in school are assignments. … Maybe you can write songs well. ‘”
The focus on writing stayed with him. He thinks deeply about how his songs will be recorded. “Stuck” grew out of the realization that his personal experiences with TikTok can easily lead to a much more universal sense of alienation among young social media users. All he had to do was change “I” to “You,” and suddenly the song seemed to speak directly to the audience.
The move has paid off. Weeks before the song’s official release date, teasers for “Stuck” have garnered millions of views on TikTok. The irony is not lost on Kwaku. He knows it’s a little strange to have success on social media with a song about social media problems. But that’s exactly why it works. Nobody knows better than a TikTok addict how much their users crave an authentic human connection – in the app or from.