Music is something that is a major part of many people’s lives, and it may seem like a fairly simple thing, but it is more complicated than what many people give it credit for. Music goes beyond notes played on an instrument or lyrics sung by an artist. Music resides in the feelings evoked by the songs, in the sensations one feels when listening, and in the messages the songs send. To this end, defining music can be very difficult, but one thing that we are sure of is that music and its industry are both racialized entities, and while this may pose some issues for Asian musicians, it is not necessarily a bad thing.
Throughout this course, we explored Asian American music and the connections between race and music. Much like any other entertainment industries, the music industry is not an unbiased one, and it is particularly harsh against Asian artists. Just the term Asian American music, indicating that music has race, is problematic and shows signs of racism in an industry where racism should not belong. When it comes to Asians in the movie or television industry, racism and stereotyping are born because these Asian actors are placing themselves in the eyes of the hegemonic white society. It is at this point where I am confused because race should not affect how one perceives music. Unlike movies or TV shows, it is difficult to tell the race of a musician simply from the music. Without additional information such as the musician’s name or picture, one would be hard pressed to discern the race of a musician simply from sound alone. However with how easily and readily that information can be accessed, race plays a major role in the way that musicians and their music are portrayed.
In my first blog I explore rap music and Asian rappers and use Rich Chigga as an example of how race permeates the music industry. When it comes to rap, many people associate rap with the African American society since rap’s roots lie in traditional African story telling. Because of this, many rappers are African American, but that does not mean that rap is the exclusive property of African Americans. When it comes to the genre of rap, we learned that rap is the music of social change. As long as the artist is trying to draw attention to social issues and bring about change, that makes their music rap. Unfortunately, the greater hegemonic power does not see that, at least when it comes to Asian rappers, and calls it appropriation (interesting to note is that white rappers, such as Eminem, are exempt from this accusation). It seems that only Asian rappers are subject to this accusation because of the stereotypes associated with being Asian. One of the predominant Asian stereotypes is the model minority myth. Simply being Asian automatically makes one a model citizen despite the fact that a lot of the imagery present in rap music go against the model citizen profile. Rich Chigga’s most successful song is a medley of gratuitous violence and disrespect yet the people who are watching and listening to it feel it necessary to perpetuate the model minority myth simply because of his race.
Race is a major factor in finding success in the music industry and classical musicians are a prime example of it. In Yoshihara’s works we learned that successful classical musicians are performing at sold out concerts hosted in Carnegie Hall while the less successful musicians are working two or more jobs trying to make ends meet. While there are successful Asian classical musicians such as Yo Yo Ma, he is the exception rather than the norm. The skills of an Asian musician are attributed to emotionless repetition while the skills of a non-Asian musician are attributed to talent. As a result, a non-Asian musician is more likely to find success in the mainstream than an Asian one.
Because their race hinders their success in the mainstream, Asian artists had to find other means of sharing their craft with the world. This is where technology comes into play, and the most important one is a video sharing site called YouTube. In my second blog I explored the ways that YouTube served as a catalyst for helping Asian musicians find success. Rich Chigga may have found success because of YouTube, but no other Asian artist comes close to K-Pop star PSY when it comes to the sheer amount of success that YouTube has helped achieve. While part of the reason why PSY found so much success is due to how easily accessible YouTube and how wide the audience is as well, I believe the main reason why he was able to find success was that there was no middle man record label to phase him out when he wasn’t immediately popular.
In Balance’s “Pinoise Rock,” we can see the record label does play a major role in Asian musicians, indie rockers to be specific, finding success. This was the topic of my presentation blog. When the Eraserheads, a Filipino indie rock band, tried to find commercial success, they were rejected by many record labels because these record labels did not want to take a chance with them because their music was not “pop” enough. This specific issue is why YouTube and the internet in general has been critical in helping Asian musicians find success. They can simply put their music online and the people that want to listen to it can. As a result, small tight-knit communities are formed and despite the fact that these indie musicians may not find mainstream success, that may not necessarily be a bad thing since they are still able to help foster bonds between people of their own heritage.
Throughout this course, we learned how one’s race impacts success and how one is perceived in the mainstream music industry. Many Asian musicians are finding success in other venues such as YouTube, and with YouTube being as global as it is, Asian musicians don’t need to go mainstream to be successful; they can still find ways to share their works with the world and bring people together. While racism and stereotyping should never be acceptable, being kept out of the mainstream may be a blessing in disguise. Asian musicians have full creative freedom to produce the kind of art they want without having to appeal to any sort of higher power. Ultimately, this gives them a sense of agency that has long been denied to them.