I challenge you to name three Asian American musicians. Not K-POP artists like BTS, but American. Can you?
Why is that so difficult? Don’t be surprised if you haven’t even really even considered this question before. We don’t often look for something that’s not there… but in this case we should. There are so many talented Asian American musicians out there. Unfortunately, with few exceptions (did you know Bruno Mars is Filipino?), Asian American musicians have not been able to break through. Some of them have been ‘discovered’, but ultimately music execs struggle with how to ‘market’ them, which has resulted in either them dropping the artist or the artist rejecting what the label thought was needed to make them into a marketable musician. Instead, many have had to forge their own paths, leveraging platforms like Youtube and Soundcloud to build upon a local, loyal following.
In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM), for this week’s Dose, I’d like to highlight three Asian American musicians that are at the top of my list with the hope that some of you might also have a listen (while we’re all stuck at home).
#1. Run River North. I was lucky enough to see this group made up of six LA based Korean-American friends back around 2012, not long after they had first hit the scene. I’d say the best way to describe them is like a cooler, deeper Mumford and Sons. This group of classically trained musicians are TIGHT musically, and have rich lyrics that speak to the Asian American experience. Their big break was after a music video of their song “fight to keep”, which was recorded entirely in their Hondas, was picked up by Honda who got them a gig on Jimmy Kimmel Live. They had multiple meetings with label execs, but were not picked up as they didn’t fit a familiar mold. Again, the question was how to market them. But they’ve stayed the course, going through changes and seeing some of the band members leave, ultimately putting out a second album last year and playing at SXSW.
#2. Kina Grannis. You may know this Japanese-American singer from her flowing ballad featured in the wedding scene in Crazy Rich Asians, or perhaps you may remember her jelly bean stop motion music video that she shot herself (taking 22 months) that went viral and helped get her onto Jimmy Kimmel Live and Ellen, OR even further back, perhaps you remember her winning the Dorito’s challenge and seeing her music video play in 2008 during a commercial break of Super Bowl 42. That Super Bowl spot earned her a record deal, which had been her dream, but she turned it down as she wasn’t willing to change her vision for who she wanted to be as a musician. Thus, she’s taken a very unconventional road to get to where she is today. She’s an amazing singer, songwriter, producer and even actress.
#3. Japanese Breakfast. The most recent addition of the three to my playlist, this is the solo musical project of the very talented Michelle Zauner who was born in Seoul, Korea to Korean and Jewish parents and moved to Eugene, Oregon when she was 9 months old. And there’s a definite Pacific Northwest indie vibe to her music that combines big guitars with surprisingly sweeping arrangements – her latest album Soft Sounds from Another Planet catches you, and then doesn’t want to let you go. Check out that album on Spotify, and as a special treat, the first song she performs in this tiny desk performance she did for NPR is killer.
There are so many more talented Asian American musicians out there – please check out Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month playlists on Spotify and Pandora and follow those you like. And if you have some that you recommend, please let me know! I’m always looking to add to my playlist as well.
Happy AAPIHM everyone! #AAPIHM, #StayHome, #AloneTogether, #HateisaVirus