Casual Cadenza: Celebrating Asian artists in a time of racism

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In light of what happened in Atlanta five days ago and the continued surge in Asian hate crimes that began last year, shedding light on my favorite Asian artists seemed like an appropriate theme for this week. It won’t do much to educate on the detrimental effects of racism or the misogynistic stereotypes held against Asian women, but I’m hoping it’ll at least spread positive awareness about Asians in the music industry. Feeling down due to the current circumstances is a given. I wouldn’t say a lot of people would enjoy dealing with a pandemic and issues of racism at the same time. However, listening to some good tunes and supporting Asian artists has become a personal remedy that just feels necessary to be shared. 

Rina Sawayama — “LUCID” 

Her iconic debut album cover would sporadically pop up in social media posts, recommendations from friends and even my own Spotify feed, yet I didn’t start listening to it until a month ago. It may be a federal crime that I didn’t discover Rina sooner when “Sawayama” came out last year, but I can assure you that I’m atoning for my sins by blasting “Lucid” as often as I can. With the rising popularity of aesthetics like Y2K, early 2000s trends have taken over both fashion and music. As the perfect combination of pop and EDM, “Lucid” exudes a certain nostalgia for a time when butterfly clips and Nokia cell phones thrived alongside bedroom walls pasted with NSYNC posters. Now deemed as my official summer song, I can guarantee there are no better vibes to communicate once warmer weather rolls around. 

NCT 127 — “Mad City” 

I think it’s ironic that right when I’m reaching the peak of my renewed K-pop phase and years’ worth of cultural repression are finally being diminished, a violent hate crime occurs. Either the universe was giving me a warning sign or they were spouting off some “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” inspo. With the way NCT has taken over my listening habits, I guess I decided to go with the Kelly Clarkson interpretation. “Mad City” is actually a pretty fitting song for the situation, considering anger was one of the main effects of the Atlanta shooting, next to sadness and mourning. It turns out being able to identify with two Korean boys yell-rapping about being mad about everything helps out in dealing with negative emotions. 

Kishi Bashi — “In Fantasia” 

A core memory from early quarantine: listening to “In Fantasia” while going on a daily walk with my parents in California. Back then, I wasn’t even aware who Kishi Bashi was. I just liked how cinematic the song sounded: the soft violin plucking at the beginning, a cool Japanese interlude in the middle and a beautiful use of Bashi’s renowned violin-playing. Now, “In Fantasia” is just a nostalgic trigger for all the weird thoughts and feelings of experiencing a global pandemic for the first time. Following all the chaos that occurred in mid to late March, the world had gone quiet. Normally, feelings of disorientation would tend to make me anxious, but knowing everyone else felt the same way created an eerie peacefulness. Although that peace has long gone, hearing Bashi’s work gives me time to reminisce. 

beabadoobee — “If You Want To” 

For anyone who didn’t think I could get away with mentioning beabadoobee (Bea Kristi) for a third time in this column, I’m sorry. This time, I won’t rave about how all of her songs are bangers (even though they are). Instead, I’ll just point out that as one of the first Asian artists in the Western music industry I came across, my adoration for Kristi doesn’t just stem from being an exceptional singer-songwriter. Most of it is because of the representation she offers and the awareness she brings of how important that representation is. Seeing people who look like me and who have shared the same experiences thrive in these businesses gives me hope that diversity is becoming the norm. While positivity is hard to come by recently, at least that’s a sentiment worth celebrating. 

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