I remember long ago when I worked at an Asian North American lifestyle magazine and co-hosted an Asian music radio show the amount of CDs I would receive and cringe having to listen to in order to review them. Some would be ok, while others would just be downright unbearable. Every so often there would be an album that makes you wonder how come this artist hasn’t been picked up by anyone?
Some of the answers can be found in this article which basically states what many of us know, the reason why Asians don’t have their version of Justin or Britney (ok, Britney’s a bad example right now – Christina?) Jeff Yang also made mention of this in one of his Asian POP articles (that I can’t seem to locate at this time) – he I believe hit it on the head when he said that there is no genre of music to term “Asian-American”.
So the question lies: “What is Asian-American music?”
Recalling some past press releases and even current ones, some artists actually label some of their songs as A-pop, describing it as Asian influenced pop music – and these are artists who AREN’T of Asian descent … wait … huh?
We all know Asian pop music exists – mostly as whatever the 4 kings of Cantopop put out in the early 90s – which honestly isn’t the BEST representation of Asian talent. Clearly, there are far more talented people who’ve come out and subsequently ruined it for the rest of the collective (yes, borrowing from the Ladies of Disgrasian). Even someone as talented at Coco Lee, put out a rather boring album despite all the hype. Canada doesn’t really do much better, although prominent artists like David Usher, Emm Gryner and Kid Koala certainly make Asian faces the norm at awards ceremonies as they’ve all been Juno nominated (Canadian version of the Grammys). Still, apart from Kid Koala scratching in the voice of someone reading a menu in Cantonese – none can be categorized as ‘Asian pop music’.
I recall a moment where I was out having lunch with a friend, who happens to also be a singer/ songwriter with several indie albums under his belt. We were at a Korean fast food place where the kimchi is the best in town but also because I liked that they played Kpop music videos on the various monitors. My friend mused as he watched one of the many K hip hop videos, “You know, it’s weird for me to see Asians dancing hip hop.” Admittedly, when I first started watching some of these music videos, there was a HUGE cringe factor I had to overcome – I still brace myself everytime I hit play on a YouTube clip of any Asian music video I’m unfamiliar with, but I’ve since gotten used to the image of seeing Asians dancing like Usher and the Pussycat Dolls.
And brace yourselves even further because Rain, BoA, Se7en and the entire JYP clan are all making their debut in the US. So gyrating, pop singing, shirt ripping Korean pop stars will be seen on a talk show near you very soon. (My guess, that out of all the Korean popstars debuting, BoA stands the best chance at success. – and if I make a shameless plea – 天上智喜 The Grace should debut in the US too.)
All that aside, many US ex-patriots now working in Korea have been giving advice to those who are debuting – the most sage coming from Lena Park whose advice is, “Don’t try to change just to look American.”
Asians who are either American or Canadian live in a hyphened paradox of two cultures, more so than perhaps any other due to the visible nature of our features – we can’t hide it, and moreover, we shouldn’t hide it. And yet, very subtly, we do. We don’t want people to see us as Asian, yet when someone makes an insensitive remark about Asians in general, not particularly directed at anyone because they “don’t see you as Asian” – we get offended again – which I think has more to do with separating ourselves from those we label “FOBs”. (But that’s another post entirely.)
There is a certain amount of embracing stereotypes one has to do in the entertainment industry. Believe me, it takes the right kind of personality to be able to whore themselves out without losing their soul in the process. Unfortunately for most Asian Americans, particularly those with Idol-like hopes and dreams, are either unwilling, or unable to embrace what is expected of them being both Asian AND American and make it their own.
For example: On America’s Best Dance Crew – the recently eliminated Fysh N Chicks were all about “I want them to see us as dancers not as girls dancing.” Fine … I get it. But their most memorable performance was of Beyonce’s Freak’em Dress where they donned dresses and heels looking incredibly sexy. I can’t imagine it being comfortable wearing heels and dancing, but let’s see one of the guy crews do the same. It may not be the ideal card to have, but it’s a card that can be played. And if it’s played correctly can completely work to ones advantage.
I kinda feel like I’m talking in circles right now, so I’ll stop before I go cross eyed. Also, because I’m not American or live in States, there is only so much I can say as an outsider only to say that the two countries are similar yet vastly different in terms of demeanor and mindset.
I will, however, like to leave you with some clips from Toronto-based emcee Masia One, whom, in my opinion has managed to fuse both her cultural upbringings with her love of hip hop. I remember reading articles during her debut album release stating how she abhors the “What’s it like being an Asian female emcee?” question she often gets asked – Like she had a choice to be Asian AND female.
Masia One – EPK
Split Second Time by Masia One
Nominated for Best Rap Video MMVA (MuchMusic Video Award)