Asian Americans are Redefining Success Despite Remaining Underrepresented

Throughout this course, we’ve consistently dealt with the themes of Asian Americans being underrepresented in various forms of media, the conception of Asian Americans as an “other” race within the American consciousness, and how Asians are redefining the meaning of success. Each of my three blogs touched on these themes in some way, and this paper will examine how these themes played out within both my blogs and other areas of the course. 

Asian Americans have consistently been underrepresented in all forms of media, including music, due to a perceived lack of marketability. In my first blog, I explored DumbFoundead’s single “Safe,” which took shots at Hollywood for not including Asian Americans in movies in lead roles. Near the end of the song, a white director stops the scene and exclaims “Your face just doesn’t have that Hollywood star power,” before replacing him with a white actor. This links almost exactly with Parry Shen’s interview in “Uploaded: The Asian American movement,” when he explains how for Better Luck Tomorrow, an executive told him that making the cast entirely Asian was box office suicide. The link for Asian Americans in all forms of media, but particularly music, is the fear that they won’t be economically successful for the producer, label, etc. For every type of music we discussed, with the exclusion of classical, Asian Americans are constantly prevented from signing with labels or gaining institutional support due to fears that their songs won’t sell.

Part of the issue with marketability stems from the overarching theme that Asians are seen as an “other” “foreign” race by the overall American consciousness. One of the first pieces of Asian American music examined was “Flower Drum Song,” an Asian American centric musical. One major song, Grant Avenue, features the lyrics “You travel there in a trolley / In a trolley up you climb / Dong! Dong! You’re in Hong Kong,” which to any American during the 1960s likely sounded foreign. Traveling by trolley is extremely unique, and despite the song explaining the area is within San Francisco, it’s described as “Hong Kong.” This lyric again points out how Asian Americans were viewed as living in some “other” place and their culture was separate from American culture. This relates heavily to Asian Americans trying to break into rap as well. In my first blog, I described how “Asians come to the US, they get into the middle-class jobs—what do they have to rap about?” according to Jaeki Cho, the producer of the documentary Bad Rap. Again, Asians are seen as foreign and an “other” race in rap that doesn’t have problems since their culture is so foreign to Americans. We can also see the impact perceived otherness had in Ryan Higa achieving success on Youtube. His most famous video “How to be Ninja,” clearly plays off Asian stereotypes and utilized the perception of Asian Americans, although this time it turned out to benefit the artist rather than prevent them from achieving success.

In face of these challenges, a new generation of Asian Americans are committed to proving they can attain commercial success. For my blog regarding Asian American rap, new Asian rappers like DumbFoundead, Awkwafina, etc. are all attempting to break into the field despite knowing they will have to contend with being seen as an other and potentially not be marketable. With the arrival of new media, particularly Youtube, Asian Americans have been able to achieve success without the need of traditional forms of media or music. Grace Wang’s A Love Song to Youtube described how Youtube allowed Asian Americans to gain heightened visibility and explore their creative passions without the need for approval from a producer, label, etc. In fact, Asian Youtube stars like Ryan Higa have produced and sold songs and music videos on par with traditional artists, like “Bromance.” Asian choreographers like Mike Song produce dance videos, again on par with traditional videos. The benefits for Asian Americans who are able to successfully utilize new media are twofold: Visibility and economic success. Asians are able to utilize new media, as described in both my second blog and presentation, to heighten the awareness of their ethnicity within the American consciousness through direct interaction with their fans and the internet community. They also are able to achieve economic success due to Youtube’s ad revenues, a path that likely wouldn’t exist for these artists in traditional forms of media. Of course, this success in new media has yet to translate to Asians achieving success in traditional media or with record labels. It remains to be seen if Asian Americans will ever really be able to break through in traditional forms of media, but with the rise of digital media, it may be to their advantage to continue utilizing assets like Youtube to gain recognition and economic success.

 

While Asian Americans have begun to break through into mainstream American culture through their use of new media, they still are heavily underrepresented in traditional forms of media and most areas of music. Even with the success of Asians on Youtube, many executives still worry about the perceived lack of marketability of Asian stars. America still views most Asian cultures as “foreign” and “others,” which is a huge barrier for Asian American artists of all genres to overcome. However, the success of Asian Americans through new media is promising for the future generations of Asians in the US attempting to explore their creative passions and showcasing that they have star power within the entertainment industry.

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