When I first started to listening to Kpop in 2015, I was surprised for several reasons:
- I don’t know what I was expecting Kpop to sound like, but my first impression was to think: “Holy shit this music is better than anything I’ve been hearing on American radio.” I was TOTALLY part of the problem, you guys. I had subconsciously written it off in my head as “lesser than” because the majority of white Americans, whether we know it or not, are programed to think this way unless presented with an opportunity to deviate from the racist norm of this damn country and come up with their own damn opinion. And as annoyed as I am when I share a Kpop MV with a work friend and they say “That’s actually good,” I can’t be too critical because I was once that person, too.
- There are a lot of Kpop idols who are actually Asian American. (Also: not all Kpop idols are Korean.)
In America, AAPI is invisible to the music industry. Think about it: how many Asian Americans can you name that are currently on rotation on Top 40 radio stations? Now go back several several decades and think about it. The more I started learning about Kpop and getting into different groups, I learned that the Asian American members left the US (Canada too) and moved to South Korea in an effort to have a better chance at a music career. And these artists, you guys, they have more talent than most of the shit we are being forcefed in car commercials, the grocery store aisles, etc.
Imagine, as a kid, knowing that you were born with this beautiful voice, or the body to dance like no other, and realizing at a certain point that your odds of breaking into the US whitebread market are pretty abysmal. So now you have to leave your family and home behind and move across the world to South Korea in hopes of building a career off your natural talent.
When I first got into BIGBANG and realized how huge they are around the rest of the world, I was naively shocked that I had never heard of them before, and also perplexed at how they hadn’t managed to crossover to the US market like Psy had (btw Psy is not a one-hit wonder, and I always have to laugh when people here think that Gangnam Style was just some gimmicky one-off – Psy is insanely popular everywhere else and has his own label now). And when BTS’s ambitious fans aggressively pushed them into the ears of America, I was really excited at first but then realized, “Wait, this is America, this could be bad” and sure enough – the racists proved me right. The comments I’ve seen on articles or Instagram posts about them have been heartbreaking, infuriating, and just plain disgusting.
I was having a conversation once at work with my friend Regina about BTS, and when I said that they aren’t even the best Kpop group, just the ones who got lucky enough to make it big, she was like, “I wonder why it hasn’t happened to more groups yet.” I looked her dead in the eye and said, “Because America only has room for one.”
So today, I want to put the spotlight on some of my favorite Asian American singers who deserve so much more recognition here in the US and I am BEGGING you to listen to at least one or two, please, show your support to these hardworking and talented people!!
Born in New York, Jessi is so goddamn badass. Not only is her music fierce, but her personality is HUGE! Henry and I love watching her on Korean TV shows, making everyone uncomfortable, lol
Why isn’t this on the radio here?
2. Amber Liu
Amber is probably my favorite from this list. Once a member of the beloved SM group f(x), she is now back in LA pursuing a solo career and we NEED TO SUPPORT HER. The CRJ vibes in this one, tho:
And if you’re looking for something to add to your Peloton playlist, this is one of her older solo songs, when she was still in Korea:
I believe f(x) was actually the first Kpop group to ever perform at SXSW, which is a fun Amber-related fact. (Yes – it was in 2013!)
Bobby is a Korean rapper from Virginia. He moved to South Korea, won a bunch of music survival shows, and went on to become one of the most prominent rappers in the scene. He’s currently the rapper in Ikon, but he has some solo stuff as well:
I also want to include this track he did several year ago with a side project of his and Song Mino’s:
4. Eric Nam
Eric is from Atlanta, and before we get into his music, I want to leave you with a link to the Op Ed piece he wrote for Time in the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings.
This is SUCH AN ICONIC SPRING JAM FOR ME.
5. Tiffany Young
Tiffany was born and raised in California and moved to Seoul as a teenager to become a trainee at SM, where she subsequently became a member of one of THE MOST LEGENDARY KPOP GIRL GROUPS IN THE WORLD: Girl’s Generation. She opted to not renew her contract a few years ago and has since been working on her US solo career.
Every time I hear this song, I mourn the fact that it wasn’t around in the 80s for me to request at my rollerskating birthday parties:
You know what guys? Fuck Friday 5! Here are some more!
HOLY FUCKING SHIT THIS GIRL’S VOICE COULD BE A WEAPON. Every time I listen to her, I lament the fact that she’s not rubbing elbows with Beyonce at the top of the charts. How!? This is a travesty.
I’m posting this but I can’t watch it because this song is from my favorite Korean drama, Goblin, and just hearing the opening notes guts me, but this is an excellent example of Ailee’s live vocals:
But yeah, keep putting Taylor Swift at the top, America.
7. Henry Lau
Henry is actually Canadian-born but I’m including him here because he’s Henry and this list would be remiss without him because he is a DELIGHT and also a classically trained violinist.
^^^^ This is from another FANTASTIC Korean drama: While You Were Sleeping, and now I’m crying lololol.
My Henry also loves Henry, lol.
Chungha is another bonus/exception because she was born in South Korea and then spent a chunk of her childhood in Texas. But when she decided she wanted to pursue a career in entertainment, she moved back to South Korea. America, we could have had this:
You guys know she’s one of my faves so I had to fit her into this list!!
I know that sharing some music videos isn’t revolutionary or a game-changer in the grand scheme of things, but I really am trying to keep this #StopAsianHate conversation going. I’m saddened at how little I have been seeing across my social media on this topic. Where are all the white allies?! White influencers have also been suspiciously quiet (but you go ahead and post those photos of your Starbucks match latte!).
I hope that you will take some time to watch some of these. Maybe you will find something you like! It’s beyond time for the American music industry to start being more inclusive. I personally have had enough of Halsey and all the other girl singers that do that weird fake baby vocal fry. Let’s make room for the Ambers and Ailees of the world, thank you.
(I am also donating 100% of March sales over at Hello Hanguk to AAPI organizations, and Henry and I also signed up for a Bystander Intervention training webinar. There is so much more work to be done, so much more education we need to seek out, and so much more self-reflecting that we can do. Don’t be ashamed to admit that you need to work on adjusting the lens in which you see others, because I definitely have a long ways to go! I can’t, as a white person, sit here and say that I am 100% perfect because I clearly am discovering hidden biases within myself that I never knew existed until it had the opportunity to be exposed. (Case in point: my “shock” that Kpop music was “actually good.”)