Posted by Angie Luvara, CLEVELAND, OH -- I’ve worked with many hip hop artists, photographed more shows than I can remember, and seen tons of fans react to watching their favorite artists perform. But none of these artists have the kind of social movement that surrounds MGK. Occasionally tagging along with MGK and his crew, I’ve experienced and photographed some amazing moments. I’ve witnessed fans getting MGK to sign their body parts, only to inform him that they were going straight to the tattoo shop to make the signatures permanent. I’ve seen girls remove pants, shirts, and bras on command during his concerts. I’ve watched as groups of young people started camping out in the freezing rain well over 24 hours before a show started. I’ve even gotten goosebumps listening to 2,200 fans chanting happily for MGK for over two hours, waiting through DJ sets for him to grace the stage with his presence.
There are probably a million different factors that have come together to create this movement, but I can’t help but be completely impressed by MGK himself. Amid the antics common to a 21 year-old enjoying the spotlight is something quite uncommon—there’s something selfless about his motivation to succeed in this competitive industry. In a world full of artists motivated by fame and fortune, MGK derives his motivation directly from the fans whose lives he has helped change. I’ve met a select few people in my lifetime who, simply by following their hearts, suddenly found themselves contributing to the greater good in ways they never imagined. There is a special place in my heart for people like this because I know this selfless life wasn’t one that they pursued, but rather one that pursued them. MGK explains this well when he says “I started out making music to save myself, and ended up saving everyone else.”
This revelation is exactly what separates MGK in an industry filled with money-chasing, self-interested music artists. Although he certainly enjoys the benefits of his rising fame, he also feels the burdens that come along with it, like not being able to venture out in public by himself, and having to balance his art with his business, without selling out. Through all the ups and downs of his transition to fame, his fans are what motivate him. I saw evidence of this time and time again when I traveled to Cleveland last week for his “Ho Ho Homecoming” show. In the middle of a seven-hour soundcheck, perfecting every last moment of the two-hour set he would perform the following night, MGK learned that fans were already starting to camp out in the freezing rain in anticipation for the show scheduled to begin over 24 hours later. Despite being instructed by doctors to use his voice as little as possible when not performing, he ventured outside, curled up in camping gear with his fans, and entertained them with tour stories until a member of his crew finally pried him away over an hour later. The following night, after performing with every fiber of his heart and soul for over two hours, he and his crew collected every last one of the numerous gifts that fans threw onto the stage for him during the show, loaded them into their cars, and took them back to their home. Backstage, one set of fans presented him with a bulletin board of photos and letters explaining how he has impacted their lives, while another set gave him a plaque announcing that they named a star in his honor. Typical of most artists’ post-show routines, MGK spent time shaking hands, signing autographs, and taking pictures with his fans. However, with a rare sense of genuine curiosity, MGK also asked not only each one of his fans, but also each of his friends/family/crew “How was the show?” This question, though very similar to the typical “Did you enjoy the show?” that many artists ask, could not have been more opposite in meaning. MGK was not looking for a surface response, but rather a genuine, honest critique of whether or not his performance was powerful and meaningful to each and every one of us.
Don’t get me wrong, MGK has had his share of typical 21 year-old artist moments—from destroying a hotel room in Las Vegas to spray painting a venue. But juxtaposed with those moments is something more: genuine passion. That passion is exactly what sets MGK apart from other artists, and it’s the foundation of the movement that surrounds him. It’s easy for fans to be dedicated to an artist when they see an artist that is so dedicated to them.
Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She is also a Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University. To view more of her photography, go to her blog at http://www.LuvisMyAmmo.com/blog