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.
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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 »
Expectations by Hayley Kiyoko
Atlantic Records, 2018
Breathe her in
Hayley Kiyoko’s debut album dropped March 30. I’ve been vaguely aware of her for a long time, knew she was an actress but haven’t seen her work, knew she was a singer but haven’t heard her music. It’s mostly because my tastes just don’t lean this way, so please keep this in mind here.
She said on Facebook:
MY DEBUT ALBUM. OUT NOW EVERYWHERE.
Promise me you will listen to it in order, from beginning to end, like it was intended. I set the setting and tone, but this is your personal journey to take what you will.
BUY IT. DOWNLOAD IT. STREAM IT. SHARE IT. I couldn’t be prouder of this album….BLAST THAT BABY 😭😭😭😭😭😭💿💿💿💿💿💿💿
If you’re ’round come get it
Never felt nothing like that
I gave Expectations a few spins because her Wikipedia article tags her as dream pop and synth pop, and I do enjoy some pretty dream pop. The album’s opening got me excited: “Expectations (Overture)” does have a nice dream-poppy vibe. However, it becomes clear very quickly that this is a much dancier album, heavily synth pop with a hundred dance and R&B intentions. Honestly, it’s the same music I mostly steer clear of, not because it isn’t any good but because it doesn’t engage me.
I wanted to be engaged because Hayley makes it clear that this is a very personal album, and a flight through the lyrics attests to it. I appreciate that a gay songwriter is singing intimately about the longing these personae feel for the the women they’re missing. I just can’t connect to the music, and I really tried.
Every style can’t be for every listener, and this style’s not for me. I share my thoughts here because I suspect that the album is rather well done for its format. The production is very clean, almost shimmery in its presentation, and Hayley does have a pretty voice. The lyrics are interesting (I especially like “Sleepover,” about a woman who can’t be with the person she desires, so she’s left with only her imagining of this person). The beats feel standard at best, which might be okay with me if they just didn’t dominate the entire sound.
If your pop sensibilities lean toward good club vibes and heavy beats, you may find this an outstanding album. My barbaric ears find it to be very, very long. I give it a one-point bump for interesting lyrics, but that still puts it around 5/10 for me: not bad but not good.
Got all these hearts in line
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the movie Crazy Rich Asians is coming out today, August 15th, nationally. I was able to see a pre-screening a week early that the filmmakers promoted on the auspicious lucky date of 8/8/2018.
If you have been living under a rock, Crazy Rich Asians is one of the most “anticipated films of the summer” according to USA Today (based on the 2013 international bestselling book by Kevin Kwan). The first major Hollywood film in 25 years with an all-Asian cast that isn’t a period piece—more than two decades removed from the last big-budget movie of the same ilk, The Joy Luck Club.
The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life.
Crazy Rich Asians is very much in the genre of the romantic comedy (“rom-com”) except that there are Asians and Asian Americans in all of the major and minor roles, speaking mostly English. This, as I and many others have noted, is a big deal:
As it turns out, there were questions about casting even before the book hit stores. Mr. Kwan said a producer who wanted to option the book had suggested that he make Rachel white. Mr. Kwan refused.
“It didn’t surprise me,” said Constance Wu, the Chinese-American actress who ultimately secured the role and who has been a vocal critic of Hollywood whitewashing. “I’m just glad that Kevin stuck to his guns. It takes a lot of courage to say no to something, especially if you’re scared that everything might slip away if you don’t say yes.”
There’s been a big movement called #GoldOpen (which I am a part of, organizing a theater buyout for the Cornell Asian Alumni Association, other Ivy League Asian American alumni associations, and the Duke Alumni Association):
Digital media entrepreneur Bing Chen has seized on director Jon Chu’s comment that “Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a movie, it’s a movement” and is promoting the movie on social media with the #GoldOpen hashtag in the hopes of drawing a record box office.
So there are high expectations for the film, and I, like many, was worried that the movie would not live up to the hype. But it does, at least for me—the themes of the romantic comedy genre are pretty universal, even if the characters are Asian and Asian American and the film is set in Singapore and many of the characters are in the 1 percent, the movie should have a broad appeal. As Wikipedia defines a romantic comedy:
In a typical romantic comedy the two lovers tend to be young, likeable, and apparently meant for each other, yet they are kept apart by some complicating circumstance (e.g., class differences, parental interference; a previous girlfriend or boyfriend) until, surmounting all obstacles, they are finally reunited.
And Crazy Rich Asians fits the mold very well, though I wouldn’t say that the movie is completely formulaic. If you like romantic comedies like Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, or Love Actually, I’m pretty sure you’ll like Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s not as original as, say, Groundhog Day, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or The Princess Bride.
I have to say I knew I was going to like the film when in an early scene, Nick tries to convince Rachel to visit Singapore, and I heard the word “ahma” (grandmother). Just the word “ahma” was an “aha” moment, making me think, “Wow, I think that is the first time I’ve ever heard that word in an American movie.”
Constance Wu as Rachel and Henry Golding as Nick are great together, and Golding makes a great leading man—quite handsome and physically fit, definitely no Long Duk Dong. Michelle Yeoh is excellent as Nick’s mom Eleanor and the family matriarch, playing reserved and stern for maximum intimidation, almost in a The Devil Wears Prada Meryl Streep/Miranda Priestly kind of way.
But the breakout star and comedic relief is actress and rapper Awkwafina who plays Peik Lin, Rachel’s close friend from college. As a Duke MBA, I’m a big fan of Ken Jeong (Duke ’90)—and although he doesn’t have a huge part, he plays Peik Lin’s father, and he’s funny (as expected) when he’s on screen. Nico Santos also does a terrific job as Oliver T’sien, Nick’s gay, sassy, and well-styled second cousin.
I was captivated by the stunning and exquisitely poised Gemma Chan, who plays Astrid Teo, Nick’s cousin. Chan is absolutely gorgeous in this film and I really liked her portrayal of her character (which, I read in one tweet, was quite faithful to her character described in the book). I was aware of Chan before, since I had seen her in the AMC television series Humans, where she played an anthropomorphic robot (called “synths” in the series).
There are also a host of other actors and actresses I could go on about, but this is supposed to be a mini-review.
Overall, the movie is very entertaining and very funny. You get to see what the 1 percent in Singapore and Asia live like (maybe somewhat exaggerated). The movie is gorgeously shot. Lots of food and fashion porn, and as one review put it, affluence porn.
What Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, Crazy Rich Asians might do for Singapore. I’ve visited Singapore twice, and in the movie, Singapore never looked better (though the last time I visited was in January 1999).
There are the twists and turns like in any romantic comedy, but the audience hopes and usually gets the happy ending it wants. I read The Joy Luck Club before seeing the movie over 25 years ago, but I have not read Crazy Rich Asians. I kind of want to now, to learn a little bit more about the characters and their backgrounds. With so many characters, it’s hard to have all the characters developed within a time span of two hours. Additionally, author Kevin Kwan followed up his bestseller with two more00—China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.
Before the movie started, I read tweets about #crazyrichasians to see what the reaction to the movie was—some wrote that they laughed and cried, and I thought that maybe the crying was a bit melodramatic. But to be honest, I did tear up a little (I’m kind of a closet romantic—then again, I also tear up whenever I see the end of Armageddon with this line, “Colonel Willie Sharp, United States Air Force, ma’am. Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met.”)
Also, for those who understand at least a little Mandarin (like myself), there are some Mandarin songs used in the movie in the background with lyrics like “我要你的愛” (I want your love) and a Chinese version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” by Sally Yeh. And I absolutely LOVED Katherine Ho’s Chinese rendition of the Coldplay hit, “Yellow,” which was perfect to set the tone in a certain scene in the movie. Additionally, in English, the rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Kina Grannis is terrific.
For some reason, these songs in Chinese really reinforced that Crazy Rich Asians is a special film. Although I was born and raised in the United States, as a Taiwanese American, I did go to Chinese school and did speak a little Mandarin with my parents. Most Asian Americans (due to a lot of immigration in the past 20 to 30 years), were born overseas, and still have a very strong connection to Asia. However, from reading public tweets and YouTube review comments, a lot of non-Chinese speaking people seem to like the soundtrack as well. There’s a certain familiarity yet uniqueness with these songs that were a very thoughtful magical touch by director Jon M. Chu.
Speaking of whom, I haven’t seen any of Chu’s previous movies, which included the Step Up series of movies, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. In fact, I’m not even sure I had really heard of Chu, and was really surprised to learn that he grew up in Los Altos Hills, not too far from where I live. But what was a complete shock to me was to learn that Chu is the son of owner and chef of popular Chinese restaurants in Silicon Valley (and among the oldest—opened in 1970) in Los Altos, Chef Chu’s. This restaurant is literally like a 10-to-15 minute walk from where I live.
As of this writing, Crazy Rich Asians is 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (with 28 reviews). Go out and see this movie. You should like—if not love—it! I’ll be sure to see this movie a few times again. Opens nationally today, Wednesday, August 15.
Images (except the one of me!) courtesy of Warner Brothers.
Steve Aoki’s new EP 5OKI dropped April 27. I’m only getting to it now because I’m pretty clueless about EDM.
If my look-back at the Jets last week didn’t convict me as being too old to talk about current music, this confession probably will: I don’t get electronic dance music. It pains me to say it, too, because I taught high-schoolers for sixteen years, and could usually find some musical connection with my students, some common ground on which we could establish good, casual communication. Even if I didn’t like what they liked, I got it well enough to talk about it with them. I remember what it was like to be fifteen and to be obsessed with the music in my Walkman earbuds.
I don’t dislike most of the EDM I’ve listened to. As a tech-head (and tech teacher), the computer aspects of the music’s creation intrigue me, but beyond cool beats and interesting mixes, I don’t find much to latch onto. Which is weird because I once listened to a lengthy radio interview with Aoki on a sports talk radio show and he was engaging and funny and fascinating.
I’ve spun 5OKI seven times and I like it. I can even identify each track by its opening beats without looking at the tracklist. The opening track, “Anthem,” sounds like the music they play when they introduce the starting lineups at NBA games: “Aaaaaaaaand now, yooooooooooooooour Miami Heeeeeeeeeeeeat!” There’s a nice little bit of dubstep wobble in this track too.
“It’s Time” has a similar feel; it even has voice samples (or vocal tracks; I can’t tell!) clearly meant to mimic the hype music before a boxing match or basketball game.
“Pika Pika” is my favorite because it has interesting sounds I don’t often hear in dance music, including something sounding like bamboo being hit with other bamboo, then run through a couple of effects. It also has a moment where the groove reminds me of 80s Genesis (the band).
I’m utterly unequipped to give this any kind of rating, but I like it even if I don’t think I get it. Check out the “Pika Pika” video here and let me know what you think.
I was a junior in high school when the Jets hit the pop FM stations in my town. Pop radio was different in the mid 1980s. Pop was still pop—generally speaking, music aimed at mass (typically young) audiences, usually less challenging versions of various genres whose goal was accessibility more than artistry—but on a good top 40 station, you were likely to hear Def Leppard (pop metal), the Fat Boys (pop rap), Kenny Rogers (pop country), REO Speedwagon (pop rock, at least by 1986), Michael Jackson (pop R&B), and all forms of pop dance, which may sound like a redundancy but really isn’t because they weren’t playing any New Order.
At first, the Jets’ “Crush on You” sounded like every other pop dance song on top 40. It was cute and bouncy, with a breathy female lead vocal and a keyboard-driven rhythm designed to get stuck in your head all day. Mostly something I didn’t pay much attention to but tolerated because there would probably be a Pat Benatar song next.
This was the height of the MTV era (he wrote, wistfully), and when many of us saw the “Crush on You” video, something seemed strange. These musicians might have been black, but darn it if they didn’t look like they might be Polynesian.
The thought of finding out whether they were or not was an alien concept. Without the resources we have today, it never occurred to us to track down the Jets’ ethnicity, but eventually it trickled down to our lonely rock in the Pacific that the Jets were Tongan. Eight Tongan siblings playing their own instruments, with 13-year-old Elizabeth on most of the lead vocals.
Most of the students in my school weren’t at all Polynesian, and the Jets were from Minnesota, but dang. These videos featured young musicians who looked like our friends and neighbors, and there they were, all over MTV. On the Billboard Hot 100 on June 28, 1986, the Jets looked up and all they saw above them were “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” by Billy Ocean and “On My Own” by Patti LaBelle with Michael McDonald. Most of us were really in no position to say it, but “we” had our own Jackson 5. We had our own Osmond Brothers.
Note to self: edit this later when you think of a better example than the freaking Osmonds.
Through pretty much all of high school, I had an if-it-doesn’t-rock-it-sucks attitude about most music, but when the Jets came on MTV or 93FM Q (when I wasn’t in control of the car stereo), I paid attention and even sang along. Because Polynesian.
The Jets hit the Billboard Hot 100 ten times before they were through, including “You Got It All” (peaking at number 3), “Cross My Broken Heart” (number 7), “Rocket 2 U” (number 6), and “Make it Real” (number 4). I was honestly never a fan, but I rooted for them. They played a reunion show in Honolulu in 2009, a retro festival with the likes of En Vogue, the Cover Girls, and Ready for the World (how long was that set, I wonder), and I didn’t go. Friends who did, though, were most amped to see the Jets.
Interesting stuff I couldn’t find a place for in this stroll down Memory Highway:
“With more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube now, and 500 million-plus views, Wong Fu Productions — created by college friends Wang, Wesley Chan, and Ted Fu — has ambitious credits to their name that includes multiple web series (including a YouTube Red series starring “Glee” alum Harry Shum, Jr.), music videos, and two feature-length films (their most recent one hit Netflix in 2016).”
Wong Fu became a viral YouTube sensation back in 2006 with their first original waaaay back in 2006 with ‘Yellow Fever.’ I think my favorite Wong Fu video though has to be the VERY well produced and HILARIOUS (at least to me) ‘Asian Bachelorette.’
“”Yappie” is a single-camera comedy that explores the social and racial issues related to the contemporary Asian American experience from the perspective of Andrew and his bubble of friends who are all “yappies”[a slang word to describe a “young Asian professional who acts like a yuppie.”].
Asian Americans are an often overlooked minority in the US for a variety of reasons, and we’re creating a show to examine and share these causes and their effects on an entire generation.”
I watched all five episodes as the episodes were released and really enjoyed the series. I think Yappie does try to explore, often in a humorous way, the typical arguments around the whole Asian American dating dynamics and inter-racial issues around that have been around since the beginnings of the Internet (if you remember USENET news and soc.culture.
Also, the first season does dig into the awkward social stratus of where Asian Americans are found among our multi-cultural society within the United States. We’re definitely not treated like whites, but not like African Americans, Hispanics or Native Americans.
As someone who is way more politically involved than my fellow Asian Americans, I feel as though Yappie also exposes how apathetic Asian Americans can be in living in their own bubble – especially as portrayed in Yappie, which takes place in LA / Southern California. I think Asian Americans have a different kind of experience elsewhere in the U.S., especially in states with not a lot of Asians or other minorities.
Below, after the break, are all five episodes of the first season of Yappie.
Melding by Marika Takeuchi
Bigo and Twigetti, 2018
Marika Takeuchi’s new album Melding dropped July 19. I first discovered her three years ago when she crowdfunded her fourth studio album, Colors in the Diary, while I looked for something interesting on PledgeMusic. I love how that sometimes happens; the crowdfunding platforms are such a great way to get into something new.
“This is a mixture of classical and electronic music, eastern and western influences,” she says in the teaser video for the album, “and everything else that contrasts but coexists. This is really about mixing up everything.
“I was told that my music is good, but I’m not going to be internationally successful because I’m a female and Asian. I wanted to prove them wrong. Music is a universal language, and what you look like, where you are from, and what gender you are don’t affect your abilities and passions to make good music. Music has the power to unite people.”
I haven’t received my physical CD yet, so no album credits until later.
If you ever put together a playlist beginning with the X-Files theme and ending with Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” with Clannad’s “Theme from Harry’s Game” somewhere in the middle, you’ve got to get this album. Takeuchi’s neo-classical sensibilities combine for the first time with just a bit of electronica to make Melding both meditative and dramatic. If you prefer your genres unmelded, start with “Found,” a lovely, cascading theme progression that will bring tears to your eyes if you stare into it too closely.
For new additions to the X-Files playlist, jump to “Roots,” a sweeping construction of sounds not going where you think it’s going, or “Night Time,” probably the best example of the east-west thing the artist mentions in her teaser video. The Japanese melody on violin and a pretty, plucked instrument (harp, perhaps) are a nice, new-agey example of Takeuchi’s interest in combining influences. “Evolve” provides a similar experience, probably the most cinematic song on the album.
My favorite thing about this album is Takeuchi’s continued emphasis on building and exploring themes. I don’t know whether this electronic-flavored neo-classical is a diversion or a new path, but I’m along for the ride because she’s still solidly a classical composer. Listen to the build-up in the first two minutes of “Thoughts” and tell me you don’t want to rent a tux or put on your nicest gown and see this musician in live performance with your city’s orchestra.
A gorgeous. layered album. I hear new things with each spin, and I’ve listened all the way through eight or nine times so far.
Best song: “Night Time”
Second-best song: It keeps changing, but right now it’s “Evolve.”
Best moment: The Enya-like vocals on “Found,” and the weird, almost weapon-sounding clicking in the same track.
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “Breeze”
Song to make you get on a horse, strap on your sword, and seek adventure: “Breakdown”
Song to make you question why we’re here and what it’s all about: “Thoughts”
also this lovely 2016 performance of “Koyo” especially for those whose tastes lean contemporary classical.
This year, 2018 Gold Olympic snowboarding medalist Chloe Kim won the the Best Female Athlete award. It’s just the latest achievement for Kim, which includes a hot selling cereal box and getting into Princeton. If you don’t remember her performance in the Olympics, you can re-watch her final halfpipe run with back-to-back 1080s here.
What’s next for Kim? It’s not clear if she will go to Princeton, although in clear Asian Dad style, her father would like her to go to college and study hard.
Strawberry Moon by Amy Vachal
I’ve waited too long, baby
Until a few weeks ago, the only thing I knew about Amy Vachal was that she was a contestant on The Voice, a show I hate. Don’t be mad. I just think these singer contest shows on network television seek musicians who appeal to very large audiences, and if something appeals to the masses, it is most likely bland, unoriginal, boring, or crap. Am I wrong? It’s always struck me as ironic that judges on The Voice, like Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams, and Cee-Lo Green, would probably have bombed on shows like this. They made their splash by being different from everyone else.
Geez. What an idiot I am. Vachal’s first full-length album, Strawberry Moon, dropped January 31, and it’s freaking terrific.
Putting down pictures when we were together
I’m falling like seasons
While Strawberry Moon is pop-flavored, this is no mainstream pop album. From the light, airy, lilting notes of opening track “Golden Boy,” you’re reminded of that girl who sat in the back row of your 11th grade history class, drawing all over her binder, her forearm, the desk, and her Chuck Taylors. You thought she was pretty in a trying-hard-not-to-look-pretty way that didn’t fool anyone, and you admired her but were afraid to talk to her because she seemed like she Knew Things.
My idiotic anti-The Voice bias had me expecting completely the wrong thing. It’s like when Lisa Germano, John Mellencamp’s violin player and always the most intriguing musician in his band, released her first solo album and it was creative, angsty, whispery, and potentially psycho and you were like holy cow where did that come from?
That was a long time ago. I’m old.
I am not too old, however, to be really taken by this album, mostly a blend of folk, alterna-pop, gospel, and something like clove cigarettes or lapsang souchong. The tunes are unique, not only in a gigantic field of solo singer-songwriters, but each among the ten others on the album.
Vachal apparently writes her own lyrics (it’s impossible anymore to find album credits if you don’t buy the physical CD, which I have done but it’s not here yet), and they’re the best thing about an album with no weaknesses.
Best album of the year so far.
Words in my skin and lips on a letter
Best song: “Taken”
Second-best songs: “Stones” and “Golden Boy”
Best lyric: “September took a turn on a highway west / whiskey and pie / held up a telephone to our lips / we’d kiss we’d fight / I was taken.” (“Taken”)
Second-best lyric: “I have seen gold / I have seen silver / I’ve been in love / I felt its fever / but give me the words / the ones that matter / I’m tearing out pages / I’m saying goodbye.” (“Stones”)
Best moment: Whatever that plucked string instrument is in the intro to “Honey” and throughout the song.
Second-best moment: The sound of a door, suitcase, or guitar case closing at the very end of “Stones.”
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “Strawberry Moon”
I can’t change where you are
I wrote a review about how I really liked the Pixar Short Bao that appears with The Incredibles 2, but apparently not everyone one likes as much as I did or even gets it. A number of articles (some spoilers) like this one, this one, and this one, mention how some non-Asian Americans just don’t get it. Some were confused or even laughed. Leaving in the Asian American bubble where I live, I initially thought “WTF!” but on further thought, I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised.
One niece of mine said she was bawling at the end, and the Daughter said she was about to cry. I think if you have never faced the tension of having to deal with conflicting cultures in your household tearing at you in different directions, its much easier to not understand. I first saw Bao at Pixar, and I don’t recall any one really laughing at the points mentioned in the articles. Then again, there were a lot of Asians Americans there and also a lot of people who knew about Bao since many of them helped make it. When I saw it with The Wife in a commercial theatre with a mostly non-Asian audience, there definitely were some annoying laughs.
I still think Bao has some universal themes such as the tension between generations, but other parts resonate strongly with many Asian Americans. I did find it sad that many people just didn’t get it, but again, as I mentioned, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.