Love Yourself: Answer by BTS
Big Hit Entertainment 2018
The new BTS compilation album (with 7 new tracks!) dropped August 24, and if you know even one person who’s a BTS fan, you knew about it probably a couple of weeks in advance because BTSers could not shut up. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure anticipation of the new album even brought one of my friends out of Twitter hibernation.
Until a few years ago, I was a high-school teacher, so I’ve seen boy-band crazes come and go, but there has never been anything like this BTS thing. Among those in my life who can’t stop are a retired middle-school teacher, the esteemed restaurant critic of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and one of my college friends who took her daughter (or daughters? I’m a bad friend) to Los Angeles to see the group in concert. I’m in my late 40s, and each of these women is in that neighborhood, something I only mention to highlight the fact that something very unusual is going on here. This did not happen with N*Sync.
I’ve heard snippets, you know? Never a whole song, but little bits of music in people’s Instagram stories, and nothing stood out for me. It was K-pop and it sounded like K-pop and it didn’t sound to me any better or worse than any other K-pop.
I get it. For those unfamiliar with a genre, it all sounds the same. I’m a metalhead and I realize that to casual observers, all my favorite metal bands sound the same (that is, mostly terrible) when nothing could be further from the truth.
These are people whose opinions I value on wide ranges of topics including music and art. One early-30s blogger I’ve become online acquaintances with turned me on to emo-screamo band Thursday, and I dig a lot of the music she likes, but now she’s all about BTS.
Two weekends ago I made a commitment to give it the fairest shot I could. I was going to listen to Love Yourself: Answer all weekend long, and only this album.
And I didn’t care for it, but by the end of the weekend, I could name (and even sing along with) a couple of tracks I actually like, and most of the time the rest of the songs weren’t bad.
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Andrew Yang’s headline speech at the 2018 Iowa Wing Ding: “The opposite of a Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.”
This past spring, a Facebook friend posted a meet-and-greet event for Andrew Yang, a Taiwanese American running for president (yes, president of the United States) in 2020. I emphasize 2020, since I was kind of surprised someone would be running so early (Obama didn’t start running until February 2007 – almost two years before November 2008).
Unfortunately, I had a conflict and didn’t get a chance until July for another meet-and-greet, where I met Yang and scheduled a face-to-face, in-person interview.
I don’t think I had ever heard of Yang until that meet-and-greet post on Facebook, or if I had, I might have dismissed him, since I usually keep up on Asian American politicians – especially if they run for president.
Prior to interviewing Yang, I did some research and found an interesting New York Times article profiling him, interestingly titled “His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming.” Continue Reading »
Heroine’s Journey brings an end to Sarah Kuhn’s delightful Asian American superheroine trilogy. In the first of the series, Heroine Complex, we meet Evie Tanaka, assistant to superheroine Aveda Jupiter. In the second, Heroine Worship, we explore Aveda Jupiter aka Annie Chang’s inner self. And here in the last, we traverse between worlds with Bea Tanaka, Evie’s younger sister, as she tries to, well, what else, save the world from demon destruction. Bea’s superpower is that she can project emotions, controlling how others are feeling.
This final installment reminds me why I loved the original Heroine Complex so much. It’s got tons of great Asian American female characters, a stubborn but relatable title character, some sizzling hot romance scenes, and giant demonic unicorns. It’s got mother-daughter stuff, repressed emotions, katsu, and lots of rule breaking.
Incredibly fun to read and engaging, this book is in the “missed my subway stop while reading” category, so you know it’s a good one.
by Tim Lounibos
It’s an amazing time
The past several weeks have been absolutely amazing for the Asian American entertainment industry. Crazy Rich Asians blew past $100 million at the box office in less than three weeks, becoming the most successful rom-com in almost a decade on its way to surely cracking the top ten all-time list for that genre.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a huge success on Netflix to the point where it has actually raised the popularity of the Japanese yogurt drink Yakult and the stock value of the company who produces it.
Searching had the second highest per-screen box office average in its opening week, trailing only CRA, and more than doubled its distributor’s box office expectations.
As a result, Hollywood has begun greenlighting Asian American projects left and right, and is being more inclusive in casting Asian American actors in general. It’s an amazing time, one to be celebrated.
Yet, thoughts of African American actor Geoffrey Owens dominate my mind.
His recent Trader Joe’s job-shaming has brought attention to how difficult it is today to make a living as an actor. The general public, for the most part, has a very skewed perspective. If people watch actors in the movies or on shows and recognize them in public, they conclude that those actors are well off—that they’re living the high life. If you’re an actor who’s made it to the top of the profession, this very well could be the case (at least, while you’re at that top); but for the vast majority of actors, this is sadly and laughingly not the situation—and for Asian American actors in particular, well, let me share my story.
Six Evolutions — Bach: Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
Sony Classical, 2018
And cello to you, too
The master cellist writes on his website:
Bach’s Cello Suites have been my constant musical companions. For almost six decades, they have given me sustenance, comfort, and joy during times of stress, celebration, and loss. What power does this music possess that even today, after three hundred years, it continues to help us navigate through troubled times? Now that I’m in my sixties, I realize that my sense of time has changed, both in life and in music, at once expanded and compressed. Music, like all of culture, helps us to understand our environment, each other, and ourselves. Culture helps us to imagine a better future. Culture helps turn ‘them’ into ‘us.’ And these things have never been more important.
Rather than list the tracks, I’ll quickly explain what this is, in case it’s confusing. I just learned some of this stuff this past week in preparation to write this review, so please, if I get any of it wrong, let me know in the comments!
There are six Bach cello suites:
Suite no. 1 in G Major
Suite no. 2 in D Minor
Suite no. 3 in C Major
Suite no. 4 in E-Flat Major
Suite no. 5 in C Minor
Suite no. 6 in D Major.
The tracklists include the Bach catalogue number for each suite, abbreviated BWV 107 through BWV 112. BWV stands for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or “Bach works catalogue.”
Each suite is made of six movements: a prelude, and then five movements based on types of baroque dances. So all six suites go prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets, gigue.
This all makes for suuuuuuper long and confusing track titles. Track 5, for example, is “Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: V. Menuets I & II.” For some reason the tracks on Amazon music are nearly twice as long, repeating the “Unaccomanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007” part! Still despite this crazy nomenclature, with the info here, everything makes a lot more sense!
I’m not smart enough about this music to say much more than that it’s just beautiful. My record library includes music featuring a lot of cello, including the neo-bluegrass group Crooked Still, the Scottish dance music of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, and the heavy metal of Apocalyptica. But as much as that music makes my heart swoon, none of it makes it want to leap up and explode like the playing of Yo-Yo Ma. I cannot tell you why. His Japanese Melodies album was in constant rotation in my red pickup truck when I was in college, and his Hush album with Bobby McFerrin can sometimes make me cry.
This album is better than those. No, I can’t explain it. And I can’t recognize any of the individual movements without looking at the tracklist. And I can’t tell you anything about why these are masterworks other than they are Bach compositions. I can just say it’s beautiful.
Here’s Yo-Yo Ma on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1994. The first part of this is the gigue from Bach Cello Suite No. 3 (track 18 on disc one of this album!). I had this on VHS and watched it like a million times. This video is my upload.
“Baby Steps” is a film released in 2015, written, directed and staring Barney Cheng. He plays the lead character, Danny Lee, a Taiwanese-American living in Los Angeles with a Caucasian boyfriend, Tate. They’ve decided to have a child, through surrogacy, although Tate is a little less invested in the idea than Danny. Added to the mix is Danny’s mother, who’s convinced she’s never going to have a grandchild, while all her friends are celebrating the births of their “Sūnzi 孫子”(grandchildren).
I hadn’t heard of this movie prior to last week, when my sister sent me a link to it, thinking I’d be interested in watching it. I have to admit that my first thought when reading the description was, “why did it take so long for a movie to come out about a gay mixed-race couple going on a surrogacy journey?” You have to understand, my husband and I started our surrogacy journey back in late 2003, more than a decade earlier than the release of this film, and our daughter from surrogacy just turned 13.
It was fascinating to watch the various events around surrogacy unfold for Danny, as I had some similar experiences with surrogacy and with my own parents. There was a large difference though, I was lucky by comparison in that I was older when I reached the point in my life when I was able to, and ready to, have a child. In “Baby Steps,” when Danny’s mother finally finds out her son is planning to have a child via surrogacy, she inserts herself into the process in unexpected ways, producing funny and memorable scenes, ones that are crazy, yet believable if you have an Asian mom.
Given my experience with the surrogacy progress, some scenes did seem completely unbelievable (usually the egg donor is anonymous, so I was surprised to see them meeting various egg donors), and I was left wondering how they negotiated all the legal issues of having the birth in Taiwan. But leaving the practical issues aside, the movie had funny, serious, and sad scenes, and many brought out plenty of empathy for Danny’s (and Tate’s) situation. Perhaps even more believable was Danny’s Ma’s stance on her gay son, keeping his sexuality hidden from her friends, and eventually her determination to do everything possible to find the right surrogate to carry her grandchild.
One other side note, the movie did remind me a bit of “The Wedding Banquet“, the 1993 movie directed by Ang Lee. It was the first movie I ever saw to feature a Asian-Caucasian mixed race gay couple. While the films were created a generation apart, there’s definitely a similarity to them in style and content. Both should be on your viewing list if you’re a gay Asian American and should probably make your list even if you’re not.
By Nako Narter
What does it mean to be an Asian American child in Trump’s America? New episodes are still rolling out for comedian Kristina Wong’s Radical Cram School, a web series featuring not merely a cast of Asian kids, but a diverse cast of Asian kids, with one identifying as gender fluid, and nearly half of mixed race. This series is this generation’s (and for lack of precedent, every generation’s) answer to how to be resilient to the racist and misogynist rhetoric of our times.
This groundbreaking new series is equal parts cathartic and informative, a window into the minds of our children who don’t always have a chance to speak up, and a spotlight on bright and eager young minds. For parents, older siblings, cousins, and babysitters who want to know how to facilitate conversations about ethnic and gender identity with kids, this web series spells it out through puppet shows, music, and games.
While the kids in the series are young (ages 7 to 11), they’re wise beyond their years and certainly old enough to notice that they aren’t seeing people like them on TV or in movies, to have had a few confusing race-based encounters, and to have questions and opinions of their own.
Issues such as intersectionality, wage inequality, and structural racism can be tricky topics to tackle, but they don’t have to be. Giving these girls a chance to vent and affirm each other, they are able to empower each other and us to be proud of who they are.
Episodes are launched weekly on Facebook, but you can watch all six episodes on YouTube.
Nako Narter is a senior majoring in writing for film and television at Emerson College. She is originally from the Bay Area and has read forty books so far this year.
Be the Cowboy by Mitski
Dead Oceans, 2018
I haven’t told anyone
Mitzki (Miyawaki)’s new album dropped August 17 and I planned to review it last week, but you know. Crazy Rich Asians. This one got a ton of advance buzz, partly because of a couple of advance singles but also because it feels like it’s time for everyone who doesn’t know Mitski to get on.
That pretty friend is finally yours
Someone who loves me now
The songs are short: at 3:59, “Two Slow Dancers” is the longest by far, and most songs stay around the two-minute mark. This makes the album move quickly, almost frantically, yet they’re varied enough that each song sticks out in a way I wouldn’t have predicted. I want to drive around the entire island of Oahu with the top down and this album on repeat.
Be the Cowboy‘s sound is indie as heck. It’s going to remind you a bit of the Duke Spirit, a bit of the Raveonettes, and in the less rocking songs, a lot of Zooey Deschanel in She & Him. There’s a lot of great retro rock organ with distant, singing in a shower, reverberating vocal production with a lot of muted drumming on what sounds sometimes like a three-piece kit.
I imagine many will disagree with me, but Mitski’s at her best when she’s rocking out. “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” and “A Pearl” stand out this way.
Although it’s probably not for everyone, this is some good stuff, and it would be a shame to let it fly under the radar, which it could easily do.
I’ll take anything you want to give me
Best song: “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
Second-best song: “Remember My Name”
Fourteenth-best song: “Two Slow Dancers”
Best moment: Oh man, I love the electric guitar on “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” which has a really cool downward bend that sounds like a spaceship giving up. This is tied with the sigh Mitski opens “Me and My Husband” with.
Best lyric: It seems like too easy a choice, but I keep going back to “Nobody butters me up like you / and nobody f*cks me like me,” in “Lonesome Love,” one of the Zooey-sounding songs. The repeated “Why am I lonely for lonesome love?” to end the song may be in a twelve-way tie for second.
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
Song to make you write song lyrics out of something you put in your Xanga when you were 16 (do it!): “Lonesome Love.”
The city where you’re from
So as part of “Asian August,” I (you can read my review of “Crazy Rich Asians here”) got to see Searching as part of a #goldopen effort to promote the film, which opened this past weekend (but first debuted at Sundance) in a very limited release – nine theaters (and opens nationally Friday, August 31st) actually starring John Cho (#starringJohnCho). From the film’s website:
“After David Kim (John Cho)’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace is daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.”
Beth Lew-Williams’s new history, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America, is a thorough examination of anti-Chinese violence in the West in the 1880s and its relation to U.S. immigration policy.
If the history of American immigration policy, and particularly Chinese exclusion, is new to you, this might not be the best place to start. But for those who are, Lew-Williams adds nuance to our understanding of 1882 and 1888 Chinese exclusion laws and how they shaped and shaped in turn violent expulsions of Chinese in places like Wyoming and Washington. The latter chapters and epilogue delve into how Chinese immigration policy shaped the American conception of aliens as a category.
It’s a dense, yet highly informative read and is notable for drawing the connections between the history of Chinese exclusion and racial violence, and the larger trajectory of citizenship and rights.
Crazy Rich Asians (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
WaterTower Music, 2018
(no movie spoilers)
Look how they shine for you
Almost nobody discusses Crazy Rich Asians (the film) without mentioning the movie’s soundtrack, which is pretty cool, because how often does this happen anymore? Soundtrack albums used to be huge marketing tools for films, but unless the film is a musical, nowadays you seldom hear people talk about soundtracks. I suspect the persistent conversation means the soundtrack in CRA is especially effective. Its first few spins took me immediately to specific places they appear in the movie, which may also be a sign of its effectiveness.
I wrote a song for you
Turn into something beautiful
I’m pretty sensitive to the way music is used in film, and I dislike most soundtracks and most movie scores. This one impressed me beginning with the opening swing of “Waiting for Your Return,” then it surprised me with interesting Chinese-language covers of familiar songs. I didn’t know anything about the soundtrack before going in, so covers of “Material Girl,” and “Yellow” caught me off guard and really work with the moods of their scenes and the context of the film’s plot.
I had one moment where the song choice took me out of the movie for about nine seconds, when I recognized Kina Grannis’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and couldn’t understand how it existed in the film right when it did, but then it all made sense. You’ll see what I mean either when you see the movie or when you look at the acting credits.
That’s really about the movie, not about this album, and this is what I’m talking about. Listening to the soundtrack is remembering the movie, which perhaps makes it a great soundtrack, but I wonder if it makes it not as good an album. Because Crazy Rich Asians is a good movie, I’m going to dismiss this possibility; yet if it had been a terrible movie, and if the soundtrack album kept reminding you of scenes in this terrible movie, would it be a terrible soundtrack, no matter how good the songs?
A moot consideration in this case.
It seems a sequel film is in the works, and I have to say I’m here for it and really interested in what’ll be on the soundtrack.
Your skin and bones
Best song: Yeah, I’m going with the crowd on this. “Yellow.”
Second best song: The closing credits version of “Money,” the one with Awkwafina’s raps.
Surprise: “Vote” by Miguel. It’s the first interesting thing I’ve ever heard from him. I really like this.
Song to make you want to call your mom (do it!): “Yellow.”
Song to make you want to text your ex (don’t do it!): “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Song to make you go “Wha?”: “Material Girl.”
And all the things you do
also this video of Katherine Ho singing her “PB&J”
Major strides (25 years ago)
Twenty-five years ago, an Asian American industry movement seemed imminent. I was young and returned from Hong Kong as the lead in Clara Law’s Wonton Soup. Major strides were being made with the successful releases of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Map of The Human Heart, The Joy Luck Club, All-American Girl (highest-ranked new series of the season), and Vanishing Son.
My acting success was directly entwined with this movement. From summer ’93 to spring ’94, I booked a high-profile indie film, big-budget commercial film, sweeps-period telefilm, Star Trek: TNG guest star (which was just plain cool), and the pilot episode of Margaret Cho’s ground-breaking series as a would-be suitor. My career was taking off and dreams were tantalizingly achievable. Success seemed right around the corner!
However, despite the nation’s readiness to embrace Asian American actors on the large and small screens, the overall failure of All-American Girl – due to the network’s mishandling of Margaret Cho, unenlightened writing, and negative community reaction – brought everything to a screeching halt. The proverbial balloon popped and studios and networks reverted back to tried-and-true non-inclusive projects.
Popped balloons and fears of backlash
Over the next decade, though, I remained optimistic as I continued to land guest star roles, buoyed by the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition’s efforts to increase diversity on both sides of the camera—but my career eventually plateaued as momentum proved elusive for an Asian American actor in Hollywood. Along with being considered “too manly” and often hearing “we’re not going that way,” I sadly discovered that white writers hesitated to write POC-specific roles because they feared backlash from advocacy groups and feigned ignorance due to their lack of life experience.
Yet, I persisted in following my passion and overall conditions continued to improve with the help of various initiatives (internships, showcases, staffing mandates, etc.), but this forced transition of inclusive change often resulted in feelings of marginalization on staffs and in writers rooms. Some actors did find success as series regulars or supporting leads, but more often than not diversity and inclusion were reflected in the delivery guy, the nurse, or the silent extras in the background. By that time, I reached an age where I just fell through the cracks.
Thus, as an Asian American actor, my optimism waned. I lost confidence that the industry would undergo real and meaningful change, not even allowing me the ability to provide for my growing family. So I left Hollywood.
Business mandates, game-changers, and new optimism
Fast forward in my absence, social media and streaming content begin to wreak havoc on the Hollywood landscape. Tinseltown undergoes a seismic transformation, becoming an ultra-modern Wild West with seemingly unlimited access points and distribution outlets. Decision-makers are forced to adapt or be left behind. Content creators and viewers’ voices demand change on a viral level, and the small screen responds for Asian Americans with the shows Selfie, Fresh Off the Boat, and Dr. Ken.
This piques my interest.
Continue Reading »