As a not-so-ashamed fan of One Direction (I must mention that I bought a 1D notebook at Target the other day…best $2.50 ever spent), I will admit that in addition to listening to their CD and looking up pictures and GIFs, I also follow all of them on Twitter. Now, as I mentioned in my previous post, many of their fans display deplorable behavior; Twitter and Tumblr are cesspools of ignorance, racism, homophobia, and more. So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised when I see a disappointing Tweet in response to Liam Payne’s Tweet of this really great 1D cover:
My initial reaction was disgust. Again, I really should not be surprised when these sorts of things appear online as I’ve learned this particular fandom is beyond help (keep in mind that many of 1D’s fans think it’s hilarious to make racist remarks about their very own Zayn Malik, who happens to be of British Pakistani descent). However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that while it’s possible this person’s reaction stems from their own ignorance, it could also be the result of a bigger problem in mainstream music/pop culture.
There aren’t many Asians in the mainstream US music scene.
I’m going to recount an embarrassing anecdote from my high school years, so please don’t judge me. During my freshmen year of high school, a UC Berkeley student known as William Hung auditioned for American Idol with his rendition of Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs.’ His audition was terrible and just plain embarrassing, and naturally, as a 14-year old I thought it was absolutely hilarious. I spammed my own Xanga (yes, this did take place in 2004) with GIFs of William Hung dancing and made all my friends watch his audition. Looking back now, I do believe William was sincere in his audition, but I can also say that his audition managed to push Asian Americans back a few years. William Hung became a joke and unfortunately, embodied the nerdy Asian stereotype to a T and managed to leave many Americans with the impression that Asians can’t sing.
Since then, there have been several Asian Americans/Asians who have tried to break into the US mainstream scene. Many of them have managed to find success, such as Far East Movement, who are the only Asian-American artists to have reached the Top 10 of the Billboard 100, as well as having a Number 1 Song. Jay Sean is also the first South East Asian artist to have a Number 1 Song in the US. And most recently, Jessica Sanchez, a Filipino American, was a runner-up on American Idol just this past Spring.
Earlier this year, KPOP girl group, Girls’ Generation (aka SNSD) tried to break into the American market when they came over and promoted their single on “Live with Kelly” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” I’ve never been a huge fan of KPOP, but I started to root for them because I wanted to see more Asian artists in the mainstream music scene. Sure, they had a total of 9 girls in their group and sure, only two members were fluent English speakers. I still saw the potential for an Asian group to make it into the Billboard Hot 100. They were cute, they could dance, and they had catchy music. However, others insisted they wouldn’t make it simply because American audiences weren’t open to having Asians on their radio and televisions, especially if they couldn’t speak fluent English. It’s disgusting to even consider this a viable reason, but sadly, I do believe it plays a part. The above Tweet is just one of many examples of the xenophobia and close-mindedness that still exists in mainstream media.
That isn’t to say that Asian artists are few and far between in the overall music industry. Many are independent and underground artists on smaller labels or have yet to be discovered by major labels. And many more are finding success on their own without the help of the Billboard Hot 100. One of my favorite bands last year, The Naked and Famous, had a major hit with their song ‘Young Blood’ and their lead vocalist, Alisa Xayalith, is of Laotian descent. The Temper Trap had one of the most popular songs of 2009 with ‘Sweet Disposition,’ which would not have been as special without the vocals of Dougy Mandagi who is Indonesian.
And I would be amiss to write this post without mentioning the large numbers of Asian musicians who have embraced YouTube as a means to share their music. They have managed to skip the arduous process of hoping and praying for a record deal by simply uploading their own covers and music onto the web and many have become fairly successful, racking up thousands of views and fans.
Asians can sing. We are not all William Hung. Many of us can carry a tune, play our own instruments, and dance*. It’s a shame that mainstream media has perpetuated this stereotype due to its failure to fully embrace Asians/Asian Americans into pop culture (the severe drought of Asians in film and television is another issue as well).
*Sadly, I am not one of them (minus the instrument playing…my mom paid for 10 years of piano lessons and I don’t want to just write those off). Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy screeching during karaoke sessions or in the car though!