With the growing awareness of bullying in the public sphere, Halkirk native Josh Blumhagen channeled his inner tough guy in the anti-bullying music video “Fall Back” with Edmonton hip-hop recording artist ESMA.
Blumhagen, a Grade 11 student at Gus Wetter School in Castor, plays the part of a schoolyard bully-turned-activist in the up and coming songstress’ high-energy music video. Blumhagen has a prominent role in the video from start to finish, displaying his burgeoning acting ability and wealth of talent for hip hop dancing.
“I was pretty surprised about being chosen,” he says of being hand-picked by ESMA while practicing at Third Street Beat in Edmonton. “I actually didn’t know it was one of the lead roles at first so I was pretty excited about it.” Blumhagen says the shoot took place in one day at the J. Percy Page High School in Edmonton, where ESMA herself was bullied as a teen.
“It’s an important message to get out there. Cyber bullying is obviously quite a big problem so it’s good she’s promoting this,” says Blumhagen, who participates in cyber bullying at the beginning of the video by sending a hurtful text to a girl in the hallway. As the video progresses, Blumhagen is featured as a prominent dancer alongside the artist herself, showcasing his training and capacity for hip hop dance.
“I kind of like the feel of [hip hop], there’s a lot of freedom,” he says. “There aren’t a whole lot of definite techniques so you have the freedom to do what you want.” He says he appreciates the culture and history of the genre, which embodies more than just a musical style.
ESMA notes that Blumhagen’s passion and skill were not lost on both her and Love Your Movement choreographer Asha Marshall, who helped her cast the talent in her video.
“When [Marshall] pointed out Josh I didn’t know who he was,” ESMA says. “She said he had the right look so I checked him out, saw his moves and I agreed with her completely.” After the class finished, ESMA spoke to Josh and offered him the part.
“He did an awesome job,” she says. “It’s clear he’s confident and doing what he loves to do.”
Music as activism
For artist ESMA, crafting a song of self-empowerment was a natural response to the death of Amanda Todd, which had roots in cyber bullying.
“There was something about her video, it was very personal,” says ESMA about the silent YouTube plea Todd recorded shortly before her death. “She was so innocent, but it was taken away. That really touched me.”
ESMA notes that she experienced bullying in high school, but at the time it was a nameless pain.
“We didn’t call it bullying, mostly it was just called girls hate,” she says, noting that female-based persecution was rampant in her teenage years.
“I only realized after [graduating] it was bullying.”
Given the anonymous nature of online activity, ESMA is aware that cyber bullying has roots in the appeal of remaining unknown.
“When people are behind their computers, it makes it so much easier for them to make hateful comments,” she says. “You see it on YouTube all the time, really rude comments, even on my videos. I laugh at it, but for younger people who maybe don’t have a thick skin it can be a big deal.”
She says for younger victims of bullying, it’s important to realize with age comes the ability to see that bullying doesn’t define them and life exists beyond the high school years.
“We need to be there for people who are in their teens, who don’t realize [high school’s] not their entire life but you get engulfed in it,” she says.
ESMA is working her activism through a partnership with the Amanda Todd foundation and participation in charity performances, such as We Day at St. Nicholas Junior High on Valentine’s day. She acknowledges new anti-bullying legislation is helpful, yet notes awareness needs to extend even further to the root of bullying.
“We don’t focus on the bully themselves,” she noted. “They might have an issue that needs to be dealt with, self confidence issues themselves, that cause them to feel the need to go to that extent and hurt someone else.”
She also noted that parents have to be accountable for their actions that may be encouraging kids to feel bullying is an appropriate behaviour.
ESMA noted that one of the biggest deterrents to bullying is self-confidence and the ability to stand up for yourself, which she hopes is a theme she can help instill in her video.
“I think everything has a pro and a con,” she says. “If you switch your attitude to the positive side and get enough people to do it, it will explode.”