Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to many western artists in the APA community. I remember hearing “Like a G6” by Far East Movement for the first time, and absolutely losing my mind when I saw the music video and realized they were a group of Asian dudes. For me, it was strange seeing Asian artists perform in English and represent a genre closely associated with the west, as all I knew at the time was K-pop artists and Chinese singer-songwriters that my parents would blast in the car.
With that, it’s fair to say that I’ve made it pretty far since then. Over the past few years I’ve discovered so many talented and diverse Asian-heritage artists that (with the rise of digital streaming) are finally getting the recognition they deserve! Here are a few of my personal favorites:
Introvert - Rich Brian, Joji
“Introvert” is one of the more melodic songs off of Amen. The content of the song is super down-to-earth and relatable to the regular folk. I felt that it was easy to connect with much of what he was saying on this song (+ the rest of the album), and personally, I have really fond memories of listening to this song on loop on the train last summer, so I guess there's a nostalgia factor too.
worldstar money - Joji
“worldstar money” is a very simple and stripped-down song that closes the In Tongues EP. Joji’s lo-fi vocals accompanied with an extremely sad ukulele is hauntingly beautiful. The song soon hits a twist when some light drumming is added, taking you to a climax before going back to where it started.
Only in the West - Yeek
Simply put, this song is a “sad bop”. It makes me want to get up and dance and simp all at the same time. There’s also a wildly uncomfortable line in the middle that caught me off guard at first but somehow never fails to make me laugh every time I hear it now. It’s pretty hard to miss.
Wi Ing Wi Ing - HYUKOH
A friend of mine showed me this song in 10th grade, and although I haven’t really kept up with a ton of HYUKOH over the years, this one holds a “place in my heart” (and several old iTunes playlists). Although it’s a super fun song on the surface, I recently translated the lyrics and it’s actually really depressing (again, we love a good sad bop).
drink i’m sippin on - Yaeji
This one took a while to grow on me, but now it’s one of my favorite songs. The bassline is infectious, and I love how she blends English and Korean so effortlessly. On a slight side note, I also respect her so much as an electronic artist for not only representing women in the field of electronic music but also the Asian American community! Wow she’s cool.
Machinist - Japanese Breakfast
Jbrekkie starts the track with a monologue, which transitions into a spacey yet catchy backtrack accompanied with her slightly auto-tuned vocals. The whole experience pretty much embodies what I imagine it’d feel like to enter some utopian city while flying on a floating cloud. Close your eyes and let me know.
A Pearl - Mitski
I feel like this song is really reminiscent of a lot of older alternative music from the 90s and 00s. The instrumentation progressively gets heavier and the emotion in Mitski’s voice is evident, taking you on a full-blown emotional rollercoaster as it enters a climax and then returns to the resolution. It’s one hell of a ride though.
10-20-40 - Rina Sawayama
And while we’re on the theme of sad bangers, here’s another one. Rina highlights her struggle with depression, masked under a sparkly and catchy instrumental. Even though I love so many of the songs off this EP, this one especially stood out because of how it manages to sound retro yet futuristic at the same time -- reminding me of many early 2000s pop anthems while having some progressive elements to it. The guitar solo halfway through also always gets me reaaaally excited.
Something for Your M.I.N.D - Superorganism
Now we’re changing the mood and toning it down a little. I love this song’s quirky and youthful sound, as well as the various odes to East Asian culture, such as the Korean phrases sprinkled into the chorus and the mention of “cocoa candy straight from Japan”. I also saw them live recently and seeing this song performed with all the cool visuals in the background, as well as their organized dance choreos, was truly an experience.
If You Want To - beabadoobe
I first discovered this song through my YouTube’s recommended tab and was initially drawn by the creative concept of the video. When I returned to the song, I loved how sweet yet edgy it was. Bea’s high pitched and mellow voice is a great contrast with the song’s alternative rock instrumentals. It blows my mind that she’s so young and just recently learned to play music!
Greek God - Conan Gray
Now here’s a power anthem for y’all. I’ve watched Conan Gray on YouTube since High School, so it’s fair to say I was super stoked when his music career took off. So many songs off of this EP are stunning, but I was especially drawn to Greek God because of the production quality. Conan’s always layered his vocals beautifully, and Greek God is no exception, making it an ultimate earphone-listening experience.
That’s my list of 11 – that’s 10 more than what I knew when I was 12, and 11 is not nearly enough to represent all the APA voices in western music. Over the years I’ve discovered so many artists of diverse sounds, who despite being minorities in the music scene, are garnering their audience and fan-base the same way that many non-Asian artists have. With the rise of platforms such as 88rising, and with K-pop as a growing genre in the west, I’m excited to see more Asian-heritage artists emerge.
- Katie Li