Growing up, having an Asian American role model in entertainment was limited to a few action movie heroes, a couple of figure skaters, and maybe a famous classical musician or the occasional actor who was reduced to a stereotype. This marginalization of the Asian community has left a lasting impact on us in various ways, but things have been beginning to change. There has been an active push for a diverse climate within our television and media, and an active call-out when Asian-based roles are taken away from minorities (i.e. The Martian, Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange, among others), and television shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Mindy Kaling's program The Mindy Project are shows driven by the Asian minority perspective.
The same is reflected in today's music culture. On the more mainstream end, the Korean pop-music scene has been preparing to infiltrate the US market for a while now, and have gotten far with CL and G-Dragon, who seem to be working on tapping into the electronic scene and are often collaborating with the likes of Diplo and Skrillex. Kpop itself is, in fact, a massive industry that is dominating the world. Over the last 5 years, some estimates place the hallyu wave (which combines music with all of the other entertainment coming out of South Korea) netting as high as $85 billion dollars, according to WNYC and Radiolab. These are simply numbers that cannot be ignored by the West.
Besides the mainstream integration that's happening, the underground culture is thriving in a way that hasn't been seen before, and we're seeing a colorful exchange balance between both the Asian countries so many artists still feel connections to and the Western nations that dominate the conversation and set the standard in major entertainment.
Artists in Korea, China, and Japan, are leading the way in native-language based trap music, with Kohh, Keith Ape, Okasian, Higher Brothers, and more. Entangled in a balance of ATL-influenced production that unite countries beyond language barriers, their work is signifying that music can bring together people more than ever. An artist like Bohan Phoenix, who we recently interviewed, has begun blending the lines of language by spitting in both Chinese and English, blurring his background in both China and New York. He represents a new era of kids who are unafraid of being unique. The resulting work is magnetic and progressive for Asian Americans that find the lack of yellow in entertainment is finally fading.
We also obviously can't talk about rap and Asians without mentioning Rich Chigga, arguably 2016's breakout meme rapper. At only 16, he's blowing adults in the music industry out the water, and even got the cosign of Ghostface Killah. Born in Indonesia, he claims he learned English through music and is now gaining fans with fervor in the hip-hop world. Many are unsure whether to see him as a serious force, but one thing is for sure- he's a name that is quickly becoming hard to ignore.
Over on the West Coast, Asian artists have been laying down the groundwork for mainstream and underground success for a while. The prevalence of Koreatown as a dominant force in Los Angeles has intertwined Asian culture into the core of LA street culture, and has emerged in the forms of Mndsgn, Dumbfounded, Tokimonsta, Nosaj Thing (and Daito Manabe, by extension), and more. Following that, the next wave of production based artists, Sweater Beats, Soulection's many artists, Mark Redito, Starro (nominated for a Grammy this year!) and more reign in a new era, with Anderson .Paak and Toro y Moi being possibly the biggest stars to come out yet.
Some of the other Asian artistry to come out in recent years is in the world of dance, which blends jazz, hip-hop, breaking, popping, and a million other styles and brings it into the Asian American community. In Orange County and San Diego, there's a huge emersion of dance companies and crews. Many will remember Kaba Modern and Jabbawockeez for their famous work in America's Best Dance Crew, but guys in Kinjaz, The Brotherhood in Canada, Team Millenium, Graveybabies, UCLA's ACA and so many more, bring style and grace to the artform. While these crews aren't exclusively Asian in any capacity, they are overabundantly so, and many of its biggest stars are of Asian descent.
Other stars in the dance world include the likes of Keoni and Mari, the married couple that crafted choreography for the likes of Flying Lotus, and over in Asia, artists like Koharu Sugawara are famous for their choreography work in the professional world. The Kinjaz are regularly tied to Troyboi and frequently collaborate- the two even performed together at Hard Summer one year. Competitions and viral videos remain key for dancers, and some of its biggest stars, like Brian Puspos, who we just interviewed, are even beginning to tap into the music recording industry.
Over in the dance music world, Zhu might be the biggest Asian star yet, but on a smaller scale, people like Yaeji and Christine Tran at Discwoman over in New York are making waves in the underground scene for their courage, unique style, and progressive nature in dance music. For dance music, being a minority, whether that may be in race or in gender or economic status, is embedded deep into the roots of music itself so it only makes sense that some of their most exciting artists yet are in this world.
Guys over in a more EDM-centric role like Henry Fong and Steve Aoki (although arguably not hitting a renaissance at this point of his career) should also be noted for their massive success.. Shogun, Laidback Luke, Angger Dimas, also help round out the list of Asians in the electronic dance music circuit that are making great strides in music today.
This list feels endless, and surely I'm forgetting a vast number of names in genres that spread far beyond EDM, Trap music, K-pop, and more, but that's an incredible testament to Asians in the arts, and we haven't even touched upon the people working in the background (a shoutout to all you publicists/managers/promoters/A&Rs out there!). The entertainment world on the surface seems to discount this specific race for its nerdy stereotype, but the world is quickly changing, and music is quickly becoming a multi-colored platform that celebrates differences more than ever.
While there are a lot of things wrong with the present day, minorities in the music world are proving that we're still headed in the right direction. People can say what they want about Asians or Latinos or African Americans or Trans people, but the truth is, we're all here to stay, whether they want to admit it or not. Music overall has hit a massive renaissance in the last 10 years, and the surge in people of all different backgrounds making beautiful music has never been so prevalent. It's hard to know what's coming next, but if the world has anything to say about it, it'll be full of color from all different walks of life.