Clinton Kane doesn’t like the word “fan”. For Kane, a 22 year old singer-songwriter and TikTok sensation, to describe those whose enjoy his music as “fans” connotes hierarchy and subordination. It also misses the point, as far as he’s concerned.
A little over three years ago, Kane was a high school graduate who’d built a small online following by uploading acoustic covers of Drake and 5 Seconds of Summer songs to YouTube. Fast forward to the present day and the Perth-born Filipino/Norwegian artist has attracted an international audience in the many hundreds of thousands, drawn in by his emotionally urgent songwriting.
But despite Clinton Kane’s prevailing commercial success, which saw his latest single, “I Guess I’m In Love” reach #22 in the UK and #25 in Australia, songwriting remains a means of processing and overcoming intense life experiences.
The first song Kane ever wrote was called “This Is What Anxiety Feels Like”; written in the midst of a panic attack and almost immediately captured on video and uploaded to YouTube.
“Before ‘Anxiety Feels Like’, I didn’t know how to write for shit,” Kane says, speaking to Rolling Stone Australia via Zoom. “Everyone who was following me was asking, ‘Can you please write an original and post it on YouTube?’ And I didn’t know to write so bad that I told my brother, ‘Hey can you write a song for me and I’ll just say that I wrote it?’ ”
Watch the official music video for “I GUESS I’M IN LOVE”
In this respect, the emergence of “This Is What Anxiety Feels Like” was a watershed moment. Not only did it help settle Kane’s anxiety, but within days the song had gained close to 100k views on YouTube. Even more significantly, it sparked an outpouring of original songs from Kane.
“I had the panic attack and everything just kind of changed,” he says. “It was like this newfound ability to write and I just had to keep doing it.”
This was September 2018 and it wasn’t long until curious A&R reps were swamping Kane’s inbox. By December 2018, he’d relocated to Los Angeles, picking up a management team and a deal with Columbia Records along the way.
“I haven’t really come to terms with it at all,” says Kane, reflecting on the degree to which his life has been upturned since writing “This Is What Anxiety Feels Like”.
Kane’s debut EP, This Is What It Feels Like, came out through Columbia in September 2019. It’s a bare bones affair, featuring little more than Kane’s expressive lead vocals and accompaniment from a cheap acoustic guitar.
Watch the official video for “CHICKEN TENDIES”
Kane’s sound has certainly grown on his half-dozen subsequent singles. This is partly down to his partnership with producer Steve Rusch, who surrounds Kane’s intimate cadences with top-dollar sonic detail. However, the kernel of appeal remains Kane’s unfenced vulnerability.
As for his popularity, Kane’s two most recent singles, “Chicken Tendies” and “I Guess I’m In Love”, have both bagged well over 50m online streams. “Drown”, his 2020 collaboration with Dutch DJ Martin Garrix, has triple the amount.
Kane’s skyrocketing popularity is reflected in his TikTok presence. At last count, he had 1.5m followers, and it’s rare for one of his videos to attract anything lower than a couple million views.
Kane is an outgoing social media user, preferring to speak openly and directly to his followers. He often relies on them to tell him whether his works-in-progress are sounding any good or not. Just don’t call his audience “fans”.
“I feel like family is the appropriate word, because they do feel like that,” says Kane. “They do so much for me in my life. I don’t post for a day and people DM going, ‘Where did you go? Are you OK? Are you dead?’ ”
In recent weeks Kane has posted, boastfully, of finishing his third album. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher given This Is What It Feels Like remains his only longer-form release to date, and even that consists of just five songs and 18 minutes of music. So what gives?
Watch the official video for ‘hopeless’
“The amount of songs I have and the amount of songs that I feel like I would release is basically the amount of three albums,” Kane says. Right; and when might we get to hear one of these?
“First album comes out around the end of November, early December,” says Kane, who otherwise stays tight-lipped on the details.
Given his age and nomadic propensity—Kane’s mother was a Pentecostal pastor and he’s lived everywhere from Perth and Los Angeles to Greece, Brunei, England and Las Vegas—it’s no surprise that lust, longing and heartbreak are recurring themes in Kane’s songwriting.
In a previous interview, with the Zach Sang Show, Kane described himself as a hopeless romantic with commitment issues. It makes one wonder, is sorrow or dejection a necessary precondition for Kane’s songwriting? And if so, does he risk becoming a vulture of his own misery?
“The thing is, in reality, I really do want to find love,” Kane says. “I get into relationships with the thought of, like, ‘Wow, I want to find love and I want to spend the rest of my life with someone.’ But then again, things happen and I’m also really young and I don’t know if something will last that long.”
Kane’s equanimity appears to be a genuine sign of maturity. Though, he’d be lying if he didn’t also see a silver lining in having his heart broken.
“I want healthy relationships and then if it ends up being unhealthy and we end up breaking up, then there’s after the fact where I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah,’ I win either way,” he says, adding, “It’s kind of fucked up that that’s the case, but it’s kind of the truth.”