Strolling in with an ammunition of charm and serious Seventies style, Alton Mason at PRM Agency isn't your typical 19-year-old. After being captured by the lens of Cecilie Harris for our online Generation Z interview series, his velvet voice rippled over the issues that the young generation face today. Optimism is nailed into his psyche and proves to be the strongest medicine against the uncertainty of life today. Reaping the true benefits of modernity, he was scouted on Instagram a year ago, and now his commute to work typically includes an in-flight meal.
Having spent his childhood living in a conveyer belt of countries, it’s no wonder that the concept of unity without borders rests at the forefront of his mind. Far from his home state of Arizona, he was exposed to unfamiliar customs and learned to find beauty in the differences. Shedding the mask that we all have to wear, he takes the time to listen to those around him with the knowledge that everyone has the value of personal experiences to share. A conscious desire to express has streamed into dance and spoken word, where he scrapes away at the superficiality of online youth culture.
The rhythm becomes his meditation, taking him into an orbit separate from the physical. It’s no surprise that Gucci took notice, snapping him up for their latest Pre-Fall campaign video, where Alton shakes his celebration of life into some pretty major moves. With an aesthetic suited to the grit of disco infested New York; he not only borrows his look from the past, but his entire ethos. It’s the rose-tinted pursuit of real interaction with others that diverts away from the realms of the internet and takes to the streets. Basically, he’s the type to dance shamelessly in the middle of a subway platform.
How would you describe your generation?
I think my generation is kind of like a generation of judgement, but on the bright side the people are overcoming the judgment by coming together through social media and being aware of everything happening. We’re kind of putting a stop to it slowly, day by day. We’re definitely the generation of phones and technology, the generation of overcoming any quality.
What would you say is different about this generation than previous ones?
Well, we’re learning from many things. One thing we’re learning is how to dress, because back in the day they had such a live style. I get my outfits of choice and my style and aesthetic from the 70s and the 80s, that’s one thing that I love to learn from the past. Also, the music back then put us in a positive mood - a feel-good mood. When I listen to music today it’s like ‘okay turn up, turn up’ but it doesn’t give me the same feeling of listening to James Brown singing ‘Get Up’ or Michael Jackson.
What are the good things about being in your generation?
Our method of communication, but sometimes that backfires, because if I text you at three-thirty and you read the text at three-thirty two and you don’t reply. I’m gonna think we’re not friends or that you’re throwing shade. I feel like a great thing about our generation is that we’re waking up and realising equality needs to be an every day thing. It’s beautiful to see and to realise that everyone is uniting - there’s not one type of person on this planet, everyone is different, so I do love that.
What are the challenges?
If you don’t have a strong enough mind for it, you might get distracted by how many opinions there are. Challenges through our generation with social media is that many people have likes and comments and dislikes, and now by the speed of second you can say what you don’t like and that may offend someone. The criticism that we give each other and all the judgments that we place on each other just, because we don’t understand a day in the life of that person’s shoes.
What’s it like to grow up in Arizona?
Actually I didn’t grow up in Arizona; my dad was a professional basketball player, so by the age of two I moved to Belgium and I stayed there for four years, and then we moved around from Amsterdam to Greece to Czech Republic to Bosnia. My dad had me at a young age with my mum, so that’s all we knew; they stayed together since the age of 14 and had me at 18. The final place that we stayed at was the Czech Republic and then we came back to Arizona when my dad retired. I went back to a school called Desert Mountain High School, and I got to experience American high school, which was amazing, because it was very homely - very much like what you see on the movies. Yeah, I’ve been all over and I even picked up a language, I picked up Dutch.
What is it like to grow up in an environment where you’re originally from somewhere else, with your travelling and acclimatising to the different cultures?
It wasn’t really hard, because my parents raised us in a way that we can adapt to any environment that we’re in. We know who we are as a family, so we could be in any kind of place and we’ll still adapt to the culture and the every day life and still have peace in ourselves.
What are your passions?
I have a couple. I dance, that is my first love. I also act and sing. I love writing, it’s really fun, the other day I wrote a rap coming here to London on the plane but usually I write poetry and spoken word. It’s definitely on the topic of what you just asked me about, it’s all about our generation. I actually have a spoken word named ‘Our Generation’.
That’s so cool, what’s the link - we need to check it out?
I can just recite it if you want.
As a teenage intellect, I find myself sitting back and observing this world,
I’m sitting back and listening,
Sitting back and observing these girls who,
Tweet about their eyebrow game and the amount of squats’ they’re doing,
And American Apparel and how many followers they’re losing.
Then you’ve got the dudes who keep count of how many thots we’re screwing,
How many blunts we got rolled and how many side-chicks we hold,
Posting pics of young money and caption squad goals,
‘Cause we’d rather not pay attention to stocks and voting polls.
I mean, the school food is gross - so where Chipotle at?
There’s people who aren’t eating, but where’s my focus at?
I mean, we’d rather resort to drugs when we’re feeling the blues
And Kim Kardashian’s a topic on the channel 5 news.
There’s nothing to do but go to these local parties on the weekends,
But nah we’re not dancing, we’re wondering what shawty drinking’,
This girls 14 but the boys don’t care to know about it,
Looked at me the wrong way so imma put on a show about it,
Then imma upload it to YouTube and let the world know about it,
I eat and sleep with my phone, I don’t know where I would go without it.
It’s funny to me how we’d rather vine someone dying than saving them,
Parents are frustrated because this was never their plan on raising them.
I mean, we don’t really care about going to church on Sunday,
Because we’re just sitting here trying to figure out who’s going to be your Mancrush Monday.
So I sit and observe, and I sit and observe and I wonder,
How does he have the nerve to walk out his house with an Aeropostale shirt on?
She’s a size six so we know why she has a size four skirt on,
Now when he’s alone he’s quiet, but we’ll bark when his homies are with him.
Ya’ll don’t want honest opinions, ya’ll want likes and comments with emojis in ‘em.
Parents are yapping and I’m texting so, to be honest, I’m not hearing it
Distracted by celebs so who’s paying attention to these girls missing in Nigeria?
Wow, thank you for treating us to that! You’ve done spoken word performances as well before?
Yeah, I’ve just been doing musical theatre all my life and I went to college to study it. I left because I got scouted and I was interning for Bad Boy so I didn’t have any time to go to.
Instant analogue by Cecilie Harris. Special thanks to IMPOSSIBLE.
Who are you?
I’m Alton Mason, you know this little boy with a whole bunch of Melanin and a smile all the time. I like to make people feel good and I like to see people smile. I feel like worrying about the negative is so temporary, because that’s just a distraction from our destiny. I make sure to bring positive energy and good vibes like you said when I walked in, I just want to exude that and I make sure I do, because it’s contagious and it sticks with people.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m really a chill person, like we can get brunch if you want. I’m just really calm and a good listener because I know what it feels like to not be listened to. I’m someone you can always talk to, you can call me at 3am if there’s a problem. I like you turn up with my friends too, you know, I like to have a good time and keep my friends focused because if I keep them focused, that means they’re keeping me focused.
How would you describe your current lifestyle?
Everything has been happening so quickly for me. Last year I just started modelling and now I’m travelling the world by myself. Sometimes it’s a little sad, because I miss my family a lot, we’re really close. I have two little sisters and one little brother, but they’re very proud of me. My career is just taking over my life and I’m falling in love with it.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I’ll probably be in Cuba selling fruit on the side of a little street, with some sandals and probably this tank top and some jean shorts.
Some random Prada jeans that you probably got from a show or something, you’ll be the most stylish fruit seller in Cuba…
I’d probably be selling some type of dragonfruit or something like that.
Who are the influencers of your generation?
The ones who I see are Michael Jackson, James Brown, Little Richard, Bob Marley, Beyonce, Rihanna. My friends influence me a lot too, musicians are definitely the biggest influence on todays society and our generation, because music is something that we can all relate to.
What would you say all of those artists have in common that is so influential?
You know, everyone is different so I don’t know. I guess something that they all have in common is that they’re all different and people love that. I know I do, I love someone that you don’t really meet and you’re not really used to. That energy, there’s something about it.
How do you think that social media is impacting your generation?
It’s effecting us in a way that we can communicate easily. I got discovered on Instagram, so it’s giving people jobs in a way. On YouTube people are uploading videos and getting paid for it, that’s crazy to me. Bringing people from all over the world all together, that’s the one great thing. The negative side of it is just that some creeps can come out at night in your DM’s, like; ‘hey what’s up?’ and I’m like; ‘okay, chill out’. People feel very bold and very comfortable over social media, because they’re hiding behind this screen and they feel like they can say or do whatever they want and it’s not going to come back to you. You’ve got to chill on that, be careful with what you do on social media, because it’s going to affect your zhoosh - as I say.
What do you do to make yourself happy?
I write, I read and I pray hard a lot. I speak to my mum, call my dad, my brothers and my sisters. I like to hang out with my friends, that makes me happy. Modelling makes me so happy and dancing - you’ll see my happiness through it, you’ll see my emotion through my moves so that’s one of the main things that I keep with me. I love hip hop, but I’m being trained in ballet from contemporary to jazz. I really would like to take on tap dance, so that’s another challenge that I’m ready to take on.
How does dancing make you feel?
I feel like I’m telling a story to whoever’s in the room, or just to myself. Most of the time I just get lost in myself when I’m dancing, it’s like I’m just moving and sometimes I’m in a different place in my head - the temperature is different, you know? It’s like a story, a dream.
Would you say that you’re an emotional person?
Oh, yes! It’s really easy to get a cry out of me ,because I’m very passionate and very emotional. I keep my feelings on me, you know, I wear them on my sleeve. I’m kind of vulnerable in a way, and I like it. I think it’s important to be that way, because you know when to put your guard up, it’s instinctive but in a room like this - around you ladies and you, I don’t feel like I gotta be some egotistical guy, that’s so corny. I like being vulnerable and letting people see the real me.
What’s the main way that you express your emotions?
I cry, but I also smile a lot and I just say exactly how I might feel at the time, because half the time the person that I’m with might be feeling the same way. I express my emotions through dance heavily and I keep a journal with me where I paste receipts from Milan and my passport and different itinerary’s for my flights. It’s kind of like a scrapbook but I keep that with me too. I’m not gonna keep my emotions bottled in, that’s toxic.
Do you feel like you have control over your emotions?
I’m learning to have control and I think I’m getting good at it, but you never know when someone’s going to try you. You never know when someone woke up this morning and they’re like; ‘oh let me see if I can get the best out of you’ and I went through that in high school, being bullied because of how I look, I didn’t look like every body. Now I feel like I’ve overcome that with prayer and talking to my family and realising my roots. You can’t really get the best of me unless I wanna show you what it really is.
How do you personally handle stressful situations?
I pray immediately. It’s safe to say that everyone stresses about money, but I’ve just been telling myself that it’s the one thing you shouldn’t stress about. It’s gonna come and it’s gonna happen, it’s not like you’re out on the street with nothing to eat and nothing to wear. When I see people out like that, I really do feel bad for them - sometimes I find myself stressing for other people who have problems and it’s like ‘damn what can I do to help?’.
Are you the kind of person who is able to let go and forgive your own mistakes?
I’m really good at saying sorry. I’m really good at just owning up to something that I’ve done, talking to you about it because I don’t want to keep it on my conscience. It is actually harder to forgive yourself than another person, it is hard but I’m good at overcoming it, because life goes on and I don’t want to damage myself mentally by worrying about it.
With mental health being a big topic at the moment, is that something that’s close to your heart?
Yeah, I think your mental health exudes your physical health. It’s not even like eat your greens, it’s like be happy and laugh sometimes. Make a funny face and be goofy if you want to. A part of being mentally healthy is being able to experience almost every emotion within 48 hours. I’m not an expert, but that’s just the way I see it. It definitely is something that I struggle with, because I feel like insecurity is a part of it and feeling like you’re not good enough. When you’re going to these castings and it’s like; ‘ok thank you’, and they didn’t even watch me walk or look at my book, little things like that can dig into you, so I can only imagine what someone else goes through. That’s just speaking for myself.
Do you think it’s important to talk about?
Absolutely. I think people should talk about everything that they’re feeling because someone out there can help you. We’re all in this world to help each other, if you just say exactly what it is, someone will help you because they’ve probably felt the same way before.
Is that something that your generation is good at?
No! Everyone is so infatuated with appearing like something that they’re not, and social media plays a part in that.
What do you think your generation can do to solve that?
I think what we can do is actually talk to someone that’s nothing like you. Don’t think because this guy is learning this and he listens to something completely different, that you can’t learn from him. Tell your problems to a stranger and see what they say, you’re probably not going to see them again but you just let it out. Releasing it from your body and not keeping it in your mind is a different kind of power, that’s kind of overcoming.
As gender is becoming more fluid in modern society and fashion, how do you feel about it?
I like the shift ,because it’s opening doors for people to just do them. People are tired of hiding, and hiding is not fun. Just because you feel like you’re not going to be accepted or you’re scared of what someone’s going to say. I love it, so let people do what they want to do with themselves because they’re the ones waking up and looking in the mirror every morning. Let people make their own choices, you’re not God, we’re all humans and humans are one race.
Do you think that masculinity is changing in your generation?
Yeah, I think it is and it’s really fly. Masculinity used to be very fragile and we’re kind of lifting the barriers and we’re accepting it. Back in the day it was definitely like; ‘I’m a man, I can do this by myself’, but today it’s like listen - boys do cry, it’s okay.
Are you spiritual or religious?
My belief system, well I worship one God and my God is really good to me. I make sure that I’m really faithful and I keep my energy positive between me and my God. I’ve always been taught to be spiritual and to know that there’s a greater purpose after the next and after that. This is all for a greater purpose, this isn’t just the end.
How does your relationship with God help you?
It’s kind of like a check-point, it’s like okay all this is happening and you bring it all back in and you reflect. It’s like boom, you’re back in. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s a feeling that I can’t really put into words.
What is your ultimate dream?
To be in The Kingdom with palm trees behind me and I can fly, and I’m wearing.... actually I’m probably not wearing anything. That’s my dream, I’m just naked and flying, flying naked in the sky, haha. If I was to tell you at this point in my life, that’s my dream.
Photography by Cecilie Harris
Introduction and Interview by Matthew Regan