collage of pablo, the don

Pablo, the Don/TikTok Pablo, the Don/Instagram Cole Mitchell

Pablo, the Don is opening the door for young, Black, and queer music critics

'Even though the person that I present on the internet is very much me and my personality, I like to say that it's me dialed up to like 11.'

 

Daysia Tolentino

Internet Culture

Published Aug 26, 2021   Updated Aug 27, 2021, 7:36 am CDT

If you’re scrolling through your FYP and hear, “Hi, my name is Pablo,” it’s worth giving pause if you’re a music-lover interested in hearing the latest pop discourse.

Pablo, the Don has become a staple in TikTok music and cultural criticism. The 25-year-old critic provides succinct, snappy music takes that fit as much nuance as one can in a tight timeframe. And their insight does not go unnoticed, as they’ve steadily built an engaged platform of 124,000 followers and have even caught the attention of Lizzo

A journalist by trade, Pablo got their start writing music reviews at Florida International University where they studied broadcast journalism and wrote for the school newspaper. They say their first piece to gain traction was one on XXXTentacion’s passing, a topic that hit close to home at their Miami campus. 

“I think that was the first time I did any sort of cultural commentary and criticism as it relates to music,” they tell the Daily Dot via Zoom. 

From there, they began working at 1AM Radio and helped create its blog. They also worked at Mieux Magazine around the same time in 2017. They continued to build their portfolio of music and cultural criticism at these outlets—until they shut down. Pablo, as many a digital journalist has experienced, could no longer find their work anywhere on the internet. 

Despite this, they continued writing (and back up all of their work now) and actually began distancing themself from much of their old work after they stopped using their given name. 

“I’ve chosen to pretend it doesn’t exist, even if it’s in the realm of music, because I just don’t want that information to be privy to people in the public,” they say. 

Pablo is very staunch about their privacy, hence why they do not use their full name on social media. They like to keep a healthy amount of distance between themself and their followers. They try to avoid having their followers create parasocial relationships with them, placing firm boundaries—including telling people not to call them “bestie”—so their base understands that. 

“The truth is, even though the person that I present on the internet is very much me and my personality, I like to say that it’s me dialed up to like 11,” Pablo says. “I just want people to understand that, while I might share a lot of myself and my thoughts and my opinions and even sometimes my life… that doesn’t mean you necessarily know me. You know what I choose to allow you to see. And so I am very, like, snappy about putting people in their place when it comes to thinking they know me.”

These boundaries also help reinforce the fact that Pablo makes TikToks for their own interests, not for anyone else. Pablo originally made their account for entertainment purposes, to track their changing opinions, and look back on their growth as a critic and journalist. They also say they started TikTok to create an opportunity for themself after being overlooked in the traditional media landscape, which they described as still a boy’s club (they aren’t wrong!). 

Their ability to build their own engaged audience is a skill that many journalists wish they had, especially with the rising trend of “writer as influencer,” first coined by Allegra Hobbs in a piece for Study Hall.

“In the age of Twitter and Instagram, an online presence, which is necessarily public and necessarily consumable, seems all but mandatory for a writer who reaches (or hopes to reach) a certain level of renown, especially for anyone dealing in personal essays or cultural criticism” Hobbs wrote. 

Yet, in spite of their respect among TikTok audiences and the popularity of their videos, Pablo says working journalists who have seen their work on Twitter have been less than kind. When they tell people they studied journalism in school, they say that people give them more respect. But with the precarious state of music journalism and the rise in influence of internet-native reviewers like Anthony Fantano among younger audiences, Pablo may be building a more sustainable lane for themself than anything in traditional media can ever give them. 

“I’m still trying to get in where I fit in,” they say. ”It’s still ultimately a space where a lot of Black thought and ideals are taken by non-Black people and regurgitated for a bigger audience. And they get all the praise and adulation that we don’t. So while I understand why some journalists do have a disdain for people like me, I’m still one of them at the end of the day. I got my degree too. I did all the hard work. I did all the free, unpaid labor that y’all did. I did all that and it literally just didn’t work for me. And so I went and did something else.”

When asked about the often cis-white and male bubble of music criticism, Pablo says they felt like they are an anomaly in the space but hopes that they can open the door for more Black and non-cis creators. In navigating the space, Pablo says they’ve had to deal with more criticism than many of their white male peers, specifically aimed at their race, gender, body, or general knowledge. They say they’ve been learning how to discern what comments deserve a response, but they ultimately want people to understand that they “didn’t just start doing this yesterday.”

“Even though I write nothing down for any of my TikToks, I still try to think of the right words to say to convey the message the best and most clearly, and to really dissect topics in the way they should be dissected, which is with care and intention,” Pablo says.

Pablo’s casual, off-the-cuff-like style is a huge draw on social media, where most people like consuming content that feels organic. But as they said, the lack of scripting doesn’t make their work less thoughtful, which is what makes their TikToks so engaging. 

As their TikTok following continues to grow, Pablo has pivoted to making content full-time and trying to make a living off of it. They’re a part of the creator fund but explained that it doesn’t pay well, especially when considering creators take a proportional cut of overall daily views. This pits giant, multi-million follower accounts’ views against those of smaller creators like Pablo, and Pablo says this assigned value to their views can feel discouraging.

“It really can mess with your mental health too because you’re like, well I thought today’s video did well for what I have,” they say. “But then you see you get $2.”

In addition to being a TikTok creator, they have a podcast called The Back Catalog and a Patreon account. They hope to expand to YouTube at some point and to write for more publications. As they continue to build their platform, they hope to lift as they climb and inspire younger Black, queer, and nonbinary people.

“Even though there’s a lot of obstacles in our way all the time, just because of our identifiers, there’s still a space for us to be popular and mainstream and loved by people. I just hope that people see that and they see that you can be yourself on the internet and still garner a platform… and be visible if that’s what you want to be.”


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*First Published: Aug 26, 2021, 6:00 am CDT