As a dance graduate from the School of the Arts Singapore, it would be an understatement to say that 21-year old Filipino-Singaporean Kevin Tristan has some sick moves up his sleeves. He moves like a seasoned professional, each step seamlessly leading to the next, empty air but a blank canvas where, like Todrick Hall, his nails, hair, hips, heels converge into one colossal masterpiece.
In his Instagram bio, Kevin Tristan prides himself as ‘that TikTok boi’, a label he wears with pride, and to good effect—he’s the brand ambassador of Zenyum and counts as partners, companies such as Shopback, Grab, and Puma. He belongs to the generation that embraces gender as a form of self-expression, sexuality as an identity, and dance as a medium for which these two ideas meld. Kevin believes the world would be better for it the sooner we accept that, and I tend to agree.
Zat: Humour me a tad. Describe what you do for a living in exactly five words and elaborate on your thought process behind this choice.
Kevin Tristan: Entertain, impact, inspire, empower & empathise.
I would say that ‘entertain’ is self-explanatory. I am an entertainer, a performer, an artist. I love to entertain people and put a smile on people’s face. Which comes hand in hand with the next word, ‘impact’. I don’t only aim to put a smile on people’s faces; I hope to make a positive impact on people with the dances or the things I showcase.
I chose ‘inspire’ because I want to make people want to move or want to learn more about dance and art. To be a stepping stone on their journey with art.
I chose ‘empower’ because it’s something I truly wish I can do through my videos, especially in my more informative videos. Maybe even my fashion videos, where I hope to empower people to be bold and express themselves in ways that may not be deemed “normal” in Singapore.
Finally, I chose ‘empathise’ because I think with what I do, I need to be aware of what is happening around me to be able to make content and dances that speak to others.
Zat: What was your childhood like growing up, and how has this affected the decisions you’ve made now in both your personal and professional life?
Kevin Tristan: I’m Filipino, but I grew up in Singapore since I was about 1 or 2. I remember watching mainly Western children shows like Totally Spies, Fairly Odd Parents and Kids Next Door. I never really was exposed to many Singaporean shows and entertainment. So although I went to a local primary school, I never adopted a Singaporean accent. People always wonder why I don’t have one, but it’s possibly because I was more exposed to Westernised accents during the early stages of learning language.
I was also raised by two Filipino parents, which meant a very traditional mindset and upbringing. My dad is a pastor, so growing up, there was always the expectation of being a ‘pastor’s son’, which was pressurising for me as a child.
The Filipino culture also celebrates a lot of joy and hospitality. Both my mom and dad sing, my sister, did theatre, I dance, and my brother, well, he tries 🙂 The constant presence of music, the karaoke sessions we have every Christmas, and the random dancing with my mom and grandmother have made me the dancer I am.
Zat: How would you describe your personal brand on social media, and how has this changed since the first day you started your Instagram or social media account?
Kevin Tristan: Up to this day, I honestly don’t truly know my branding. I do lots of things. Sometimes I feel like my social media is just a dump of everything I do and enjoy in life. Would it be accurate to describe my social media accounts as lifestyle? I’m not so sure.
On Instagram, I mainly use Instagram stories, and I spam whatever is happening in my day there. I also post all the projects, outings, and events I go for. On TikTok, it’s mainly for stupid and hilarious trends, but ultimately I’m known to be a TikTok dancer.
I don’t think it’s changed much, to be quite honest. I’d say that I’ve gained many opportunities and connections from social media so my content can appear to be slightly “better”—I now have photographers taking my pictures. I sometimes feel pressured to take better quality TikTok videos and photos simply because of the number of eyes watching me online. It really can be pretty intimidating.
Yes, sometimes I feel like I need to curate what I post, but ultimately, I try not to post something I don’t believe in or don’t feel good about. There are a couple of posts that I didn’t want to post, but I won’t go into detail about them right now. They’re clients or endorsements that seemed promising at first but ended up having odd requirements for their posts. But yes, I always try to keep it as authentic as possible with my posts.
Zat: What is the biggest misconception people have about individuals such as yourself who have a considerable following on two of the world’s biggest social media platforms, Instagram and Tik Tok?
Kevin Tristan: That being a social media content creator is easy. But when you have people starting to sponsor you, endorse you, contacting you to collaborate, you begin to get responsibility not only to hold up your image but the image of the people you work with. With these collaborations, there’s also requirements, deliverables, rules, and deadlines to follow.
A lot of people forget that most times, social media content creation isn’t a full-time job. I have a full-time job as a dancer in an entertainment company, but I spend a lot of my breaks learning dances, scheduling shoots or replying to emails that aren’t entirely related to my full-time job.
It’s challenging for many creators who are starting up to juggle everything without a manager or a team. It is just a one-man show, and I think many people don’t see that struggle. So yes, kudos to all the content creators who are schooling or working on top of managing themselves and their other commitments.
It’s also highly stressful and pressurising knowing that there are eyes watching you. Every single thing you say, you wear, you do can be judged, and with the recent trend of #cancelculture, the pressure to be right by everyone is exceptionally high. I, for instance, have been cancelled twice already in 4 months.
So yes, being a content creator is not easy, and it’s a massive misconception that people have. It may not be a conventional job, but it is still a job, and with every job, it comes with its own set of problems and difficulties.
Zat: How do you see the evolving role social media play in making an impact on the youths of Singapore today, and are we underestimating its potential power?
Kevin Tristan: Social media is probably the most effective medium of communication for the youths compared to adults. It’s hard to see or meet someone who’s a “youth” without social media nowadays.
Although, I would say that nobody truly “underestimates” social media’s power because I think everyone is pretty aware that it’s very powerful. So yes, it’s powerful, but we aren’t exactly underestimating it. It’s come to the point where we get news and find out more about the world through social media instead of traditional media sites. I haven’t checked the news in a while, but I still feel pretty connected and informed about the world because social media covers all of these stories on their respective platforms.
Zat: Who or what inspires you the most, and what can we learn from your source of inspiration that would help us live a more fulfilled life?
Kevin Tristan: It’s a super cheesy answer, but I’d say it’s the people who come into my life. I find that people are inspiring in a way that we all find ways to get by and survive, sometimes even thrive. The hustle that everyone goes through day to day is also really inspiring to me. So to live a more fulfilled life, I’d say observe the people around you. Learn to appreciate them and know that you can learn something from everything you experience and everyone you meet.
Zat: What are your current top three favourite cultural phenomena that you’re obsessed with and why?
Kevin Tristan: TikTok, body positivity and, weirdly enough, KPop.
Well, TikTok has taken the world by storm lately and understandably so. I especially love the ‘For You Page’ concept, where anyone and every one can appear on the page based on the algorithm. So you don’t even have to be following someone to see them on your feed which is quite fascinating to me. The nature of the ‘For You Page’ allows people to be seen for their talent, personality and skills rather than pure connections you have made, whether online or off.
Body Positivity is the next cultural phenomena I am obsessed with. As someone who has always struggled with the way I looked, body positivity, and just hearing many voices in the community speak up and make a positive message about bodies is really comforting. I would say my insecurity with my body stemmed from being a young dancer in an arts school. Surrounded by many aspiring female ballerinas, where the “ideal” body” was to be extremely lean, the pressure to look and fit that type of body was very apparent to everyone.
The body positivity “movement” also made many dancers and ordinary people start to look at their bodies and appreciate what it can do for us instead of fitting into a mould of what the world and society deem correct and attractive.
Lastly, KPop. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with this phenomenon, but I know many people who are. I am not a rabid fan of KPop, but I can truly appreciate the amount of work invested into it. The production, skill, and talent required to do KPop are crazy, and I can appreciate that. I also think it’s an excellent way for people to appreciate the beauty of Asians. Not in a way that fetishises them but genuinely noticing the beauty in our features and not only glorifying the Caucasian standards of beauty.