Presentation: Hsu, Tate, and Mitski

 

mitskiIn Hsu’s essay Defying Multiculturalism, she investigates the label of “indie” and the ways in which Asian musicians within the “indie” category use their identities to subvert the ways the genre oppresses Asianness. Indie began as a movement to become independent from big label companies, but one point that Hsu makes is that its musicians wanted to become unassociated with the “mainstream” sound at the time. As a result, indie musicians eschewed the sounds of soul, hip hop, disco, etc., resulting in an exclusion of black influences from their music. She points out that the canon of indie rock consists of a vast majority of white artists, and cites other research which concludes the audience for indie rock is elite and upper class. With this background, examining Mitski’s performance in her music video for “Your Best American Girl” becomes quite profound in the context of indie rock’s history. In the video, a white man rejects Mitski in favor of a white woman whose clothing is a clear reference to the “Coachella” style often characterized by cultural appropriation. The woman wears a shirt reminiscent of Native American traditional clothing and also has temporary feather tattoos on her arm. With this image Mitski is criticizing the tendency of white indie artists to take from cultures that are not theirs in order to appear trendy and unique, while the actual bodies born from those cultures are rejected.

An additional topic that Hsu mentions is the “DIY ethos” present in the indie genre, where artists feel a pressure to be self-made – this often leads to the fragmentation of the genre into more and more sub-genre labels, in an attempt to claim a unique aesthetic. This concept provides further insight into Mitski’s choice of clothing for the white woman in her video. The act of accessorizing through adoption of cultural images that are not of one’s own culture are often for the purpose of appearing different from the mainstream. This falls under the neoliberal definition of multiculturalism, which erases cultural context and structural inequality in favor of “color-blindness”. Owing to the need to categorize, cultural differences within capitalistic multiculturalism become commodities to be exploited for consumption. Since the indie genre has become overrun with multitudes of categories in pursuit of uniqueness, artists must instead turn to exploiting other cultures in order to get ahead of the curve. Ironically, this act of appropriating Native American images has become mainstream among white indie folk – the only evidence needed to prove this is the fact that Mitski uses this character in her music video as a universally recognizable trope.

Another text which is very relevant not only to the interpretation of Mitski’s music but also to one of the central debates of this class is Tate’s “Black Rockers vs. Blackies Who Rock”. This text examines the difference between two schools of black artists in the rock genre: those whose music is driven by race, and those whose music attempts to escape race. When considering “Your Best American Girl”, can Mitski be considered “an Asian rocker”, or is she more “an Asian who rocks?” In several of her music videos, there are clear racial connotations. In “Your Best American Girl”, Mitski, an Asian woman, is rejected in favor of a white woman, and the lyrics of the music also discuss coming to accept “the way my mother raised me”. In another of her videos, “Happy”, an Asian woman finds evidence of her white boyfriend cheating on her with a blonde woman, only to discover he has been murdering various white women to give their possessions to the Asian woman as gifts. Using just these two music videos, Mitski would seemingly be placed in the “Asian rocker” category, as both seem to carry messages about interracial romance and the difficulties of being Asian in a white world. However, it could also be argued that the presence of Asian women as protagonists in the videos is meant to merely be a way to represent Mitski’s identity, with no intentions of racial commentary or action. 

Hsu, Wendy Fang-Yu. Redefining Asian America: Politics, Aesthetics, and Social Networks of Independent Rock Musicians. Thesis. University of Virginia, 2011. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. <http://libraprod.lib.virginia.edu/catalog/libra-oa:4790&gt;

Tate, Greg. Black Rockers vs. Blackies Who Rock, or The Difference Between Race and Music. N.p., n.d. Web.

 

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