Dance

Alison Wonderland On Deactivating Her Social Media: 'I Never Felt Better After Scrolling Through Instagram'

Alison Wonderland
Austin Hargrave

Alison Wonderland photographed on March 11, 2019 at Smashbox Studios in Los Angeles.

Alison Wonderland didn't intentionally time her social media break to happen during mental health awareness month, but she did take a social media break because she was aware of her mental health.

"I was starting to notice that it really was affecting my mental health, and I needed to do something about it," the producer says of her social media use. "I decided to delete everything for awhile until I felt better, instead of driving myself insane like I have in the past."

Wonderland, nee Alex Sholler, hadn't planned this move, instead deciding on impulse to deactivate her Twitter and Instagram accounts on April 30, and leaving only blank pages where thousands of tweets and photos -- and roughly a million combined followers -- used to be. Fans and dance music blogs speculated about the producer's motivation. For Sholler, the move was largely a function of just not having anything to share.

"I really felt pressure that I had to say something when I had nothing to say," she tells Billboard via Zoom, "because I’m sitting in the studio right now working on music."

Sholler has always been known for acute honesty both in her music and her engaged social media presence, sharing her interior world with fans via lyrics, tweets and captions. (The music she's working on now, she says, is "all about moving forward, looking forward, problem solving, knowing that you’ll be fine...I just won’t put up with any bullshit.")

But even an artist known for telling the truth can get caught in the social matrix of trying to look like you're killing it all the time -- while also feeling vaguely bummed because you forget that everyone else is just trying to look like they're killing it all the time, too.

"I started feeling worried about not posting enough, if I was posting enough, if I was posting the right stuff... and I don’t want to feel like that, because that’s not real," she says. "It was mentally making me question a lot of things, and looking at other people made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough."

While Sholler recently ended her social hiatus, first reactivating Instagram then Twitter in order to promote a run of shows she was performing in New Zealand, she says the break was necessary and effective. Here, she talks about why.

So, how did you know that deactivating your Twitter and Instagram was necessary?

I’d like to say that this was the most thought-out thing I’ve ever done -- but I was sitting alone in the living room and I had just had enough. I snapped and I went, “This isn’t f---ing real. Snap out of it Alex. Come back down to earth; get outside; focus on your music.” So, I just deactivated them.

That must've felt liberating.

I just needed to take time mentally to recalibrate myself. I’ve been living online and using social media for a really long time. I love social media, and this is no shade on anything. But personally, for me, I was starting to feel anxiety, self-doubt and distraction. It was messing with my creativity, and I noticed that every time I went online, it was making me feel that way. I never felt better after scrolling through Instagram, so I just needed to step away, be with myself, recalibrate my brain and ground myself a bit.

I don’t want to sound bitter, because I’m not. I want everyone to feel free -- and honestly, some of the best friendships I have made are because of the Internet. The connection I have with my fans is something I did miss while being away, because we do talk a lot. But I needed to do this for myself, so I could continue being the best artist and person I could be, and continue to be present in real life. And I think because everyone’s sitting at home right now, and life isn’t fully back to normal, we spend a lot more time online. And it was really becoming way too much.

What did you do with the time you gained back by not being on socials?

I spent a lot of time walking around outside and just being present, not really being on my phone. I’ve been trying to be creative and make music and work on my shows that are coming up. I really just put a lot of my energy into being creative, and I find that when I’m creative is when I feel the best. I just needed to rediscover that and feel alive and secure and fulfilled internally. And to be fulfilled internally for me is being by the ocean or finishing or writing a song. I’ve spent time with my family.

Someone in your position is not necessarily expected to be on social media, but you have a public identity and your business kind of necessitates you being there. As someone who deals with that, what advice would you give to other artists and people in the public eye that struggle with social media but also have to participate?

It’s OK to take a break. You can always come back. You are a human being, and it’s OK to listen to your body and listen to your mind. If you do that, people will understand -- because I guarantee you that more people than we realize feel this way.

Someone in your position could also hire a social media manager. Is there a reason you choose to do it yourself?

Yes. I feel like I need to be personal, and it needs to come from me when I am posting, because it is an outlet for me. I love Twitter. I love writing out my thoughts and connecting with people. I was watching a video of one of my shows recently to look at some visuals, and I saw people from the crowd, and it was like, “There’s so and so” who I recognized from connecting online. Having that real connection is very important, so I need it to come from me. I can tell when people have social media managers, and I can tell when it’s not real.

In terms of trying to disconnect, you’re also in a weird position that when you deactivate your accounts, it’s news.

I didn’t think anyone would notice -- and within five minutes [my manager] Garth told me that all of these people had hit him up. I was like, “Why are you all checking social media that quickly! Go live your lives, people!” But I don’t want this to be about me hating social media, because I do think it’s a wonderful tool.

I'm glad you say that, because I find people often seem to feel a bit of shame around liking Instagram or Twitter. Obviously these platforms are easy to hate on, and it's easy to talk about how bad they are for us, but I appreciate that you're saying that for you, they're also good. 

I like that I can put my art up there. I like taking photos. I like tweeting my thoughts. I like being able to do livestreams. I like communicating with people. I’m really bad at networking in real life. Like, very, very bad. I have social anxiety, which we all know about and we don’t need to go into it again. I don’t really feel comfortable introducing myself or trying to network. For me, it’s more natural if I randomly connect with someone online and we start talking. I’ve actually met a lot of my friends from the Internet, who I’ve been friends with for a long time now. I’m really grateful for that.

What else do you get from it?

I love tweeting my thoughts and getting it out there and interacting with people, and if there is a cool moment and a cool photo, it’s really good to post that, because then I get to look back on my life and I have almost like a journal of it. But I also need people to know that acne scars and stretch marks [affect] most of the population. I have cellulite. I have stretch marks. I’m pretty sure you can see my cellulite in the last photo I posted on Instagram, but it’s real, it’s normal and it’s okay. Life is full of imperfections, and that’s what makes it beautiful, and people forget that.

You also do a commendable job of sharing your thoughts when things aren’t as great. Like, you’ve been able to strike this balance between "killing it all the time!" and being an actual human person with real problems and vulnerabilities. 

I can’t not be who I am. I was told recently that I’m a really blunt person, and I’m very honest at all times. What you see is what you get. I can’t deal with fake things. It’s really difficult for me to lie and put on an act. It’s exhausting. I don’t know how people do that, because I feel like I'd be so, so tired and it would be very difficult.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

If anyone is reading this, please know that there’s good and bad sides to everything in life, including social media. It is a wonderful thing and a wonderful tool, but if it is starting to make you feel anxious, there’s no harm in taking a break for a little bit. It’s okay. The world is not going to crumble. And when you’re ready to come back, come back! And just live your life. It’s okay to make changes to get your head right.