“And he’s YouTube famous!”
These are the words my friends use to describe me after I introduce myself.
If you search my name on YouTube, you will find me singing original songs and covers, playing guitar, and some amusing music videos.
Music has always been a big part of my life. I sang along with it, danced to it, and even fell asleep to it.
I started taking piano lessons when I was 5 years old. But I didn’t like playing an instrument at first. You know how it goes: You have the lesson, practice (or pretend like you are), get yelled at by your parents for not practicing enough, and do it all over again.
But that’s how my journey to becoming a musician began.
IT CAN’T BE THAT HARD
In high school, I saw someone else become a star overnight, and it looked so easy. Get a MacBook, record yourself, and post it online. If the world thinks you’re good, YOU’RE FAMOUS!
For someone to do this, you would need tremendous amount of confidence. I had plenty of that, and then some. I thought this would be a piece of cake.
I posted my first video, went to bed, woke up, and guess what? I wasn’t a viral sensation. I felt naive and very disappointed. The mixture of pride and confusion drove me nuts. I remember thinking, “How could this be?!? I’m good enough, right?!?”
After my initial disappointment, I continued to put myself out there. One day I went to my first Open Mic at coffee shop and performed. I stood on stage as this skinny, Asian, 16-year-old boy who claimed he could sing, and I killed it!
People really liked me, and the approval was the feeling I was looking for. I needed more of that high, so I performed and performed and performed. Sure enough, I was getting recognition, my YouTube views were going up, and I was thinking to myself, “I can’t wait for what God has in store for me!”
Soon after, I went to Biola University as a Music in Worship major, and when people asked me about why I chose my major, I replied, “For the Lord.” But I said it to cloak the selfish ambition in my heart. I was addicted to the dream of being famous.
I started working with a producer, and it seemed very promising. I had a website, I was getting more views on YouTube, and I had my own studio space to work out of.
But there was a catch. I was juggling 9 classes, performances, producing music, creating videos, serving at Biola, and serving at church. Never had I felt so overwhelmed in my life.
I was doing poorly in school, I wasn’t getting much sleep, I was making irresponsible decisions, and it was all crashing down on me. The worst part was, I was so caught up with the dream of being “famous” that I didn’t care about anything else. I kept thinking, “It’ll all end once I make it.”
I eventually had a falling out with the producer, and it seemed at that moment, my dream had slipped through my fingers.
I felt so lost and confused because I thought that I was meant to be a successful musician. I thought I had deserved this. But now, it was gone.
I remember thinking, “If I don’t have this, what do I have? If this is not who I become, who am I?” Then I remembered a song we had sung during one of my Bible classes at Biola called, “Jesus, All For Jesus.” The lyrics went like this:
"All of my ambitions, hopes, and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
For it’s only in Your will that I am free."
The song reminded me that if I had lost everything, that I would still have Jesus. No matter how much I thought I might’ve failed, nothing would change that Christ came to save and redeem me.
I was chained to an idol of myself that I was hoping to be: a famous musician who would win the hearts of millions and then, point to God after receiving what my heart desired. To be honest, I couldn’t say for sure if I would’ve even given God any credit.
At the time, my lack of understanding made me feel that maybe I was being punished by God, but what I was failing to see was a God who was pulling me closer to Him. He was reminding me that my identity was not meant to be shackled to something that will one day be gone with the world, but rather, that I am a citizen of Heaven because of what Christ has done.
So, what happened with my YouTube channel? It’s still there and I occasionally post when I have time. I focus more of my time at my church, serving as the associate worship director.
My current goal as a musician is to help people understand the Gospel and that our gifts are meant to glorify God, not ourselves. I’ve learned these gifts are given to us to serve others and not a tool to build our own kingdom.
I think it’s so amazing that God, despite our failure and sin, redeems us through Christ and chooses to use us even though He can do it Himself and way better than us. That’s how awesome and gracious our God is.
Some people may say that I let go of my dreams and that I may be foolish. Some people may be disappointed because they believe that I had so much potential.
I don’t know where God will lead me next. I don’t know what His plans are for me, but I can confidently say that I trust in Him. His faithfulness to me is not a result of my faithfulness to Him and I will forever be in awe of His love for me.
Ben Clement is the associate worship director at Living Hope Community Church.