By Stephanie Wang
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a designation to celebrate the culture, traditions, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. As a child of immigrants from China, my Asian American identity has been a core part of my identity, allowing me to experience both the cultures of China and the United States. In celebration of this month and recognizing that there’s not a ton of representation of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in music (and frankly, in the media in general), I’m highlighting some of my favorite Asian American and Pacific Islanders artists that definitely deserve a listen.
1) GLADES –
A trio from Sydney, Australia, GLADES create dreamy, electro-pop. Meeting in high school, the three formed GLADES in 2015. They first gained attention after Troye Sivan tweeted out a video of their cover of his song “Fools”. In 2016, GLADES released their first EP, “This is What I Like.” Coming off tours with LANY and Clean Bandit and a new catchy single called “Do Right,” GLADES is definitely on the rise up. Currently, they’re selling out venues for their May headline tour around Australia.
Listen To: Do Right, Drive, Skylines
2) Run River North –
Previously known as Monsters Calling Home, Run River North is an indie rock band from Los Angeles, California. You may recognize them from a Jimmy Kimmel performance they landed after their self-produced music video for “Fight To Keep” featured their Hondas and gained the attention of the carmaker itself. Vocalist Alex Hwang, in an interview with Sound of Boston, speaking on being an Asian American band in the music industry, “On one hand, since there aren’t many (if any) widely popular all Asian American bands, we’re able stand out amongst a predominantly bearded white majority. This feeling is always affirmed whenever we’re done with a show and a handful of people will make it a point to come up to one of us to tell us that they did not expect our sound coming from our group. But the flip side is that we could be easily labeled as a gimmick or just seen as the ‘Asian’ version of that white folk, alt-rock, indie band that people love.” They’ve released two albums, Run River North (2014) and Drinking from a Salt Pond (2016). In addition, Run River North just released a new single earlier this year, “Funhouse,” and will be on tour early May around the mid-west.
Listen to: 29, Run or Hide, Superstition
3) Mitski –
A Japanese American indie singer-songwriter, Mitski Miyawaki graduated from SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music, releasing two albums while she was in school (Lush in 2012 and Retired From Sad, New Career in Business). Since graduating, she’s released two critically-acclaimed albums, Bury Me At Makeout Creek (2014) and Puberty 2 (2016). Her music reflects her cross-cultural identity as “half Japanese, half American, but not fully either,” and many of her songs explore themes of not belonging and vulnerability. Currently, you can find Mitski opening for Lorde on her Melodrama Tour.
Listen to: Your Best American Girl, First Love / Late Spring, I Bet On Losing Dogs
4) ZHU –
Born an only child, per the Chinese national mandate, Steven Zhu, known as ZHU professionally, immigrated to San Francisco with his parents when he was five. At first, ZHU released his electronic music anonymously, determined to let his music speak for itself. It paid off as ZHU would later land a deal with Columbia records and win a Grammy Award nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2015 for his song “Faded,” all without showing his face. Since then, he’s released his first album, GENERATIONWHY in 2016, which featured a collaboration with Skrillex and included a short film he wrote. More recently, he released the single “My Life,” a collaboration with Tame Impala. About his music, Zhu has said, “This project is all about art, and we try to make it all about the songs and the response. Being able to have everyone focus back on music is the first step. But the second is to have influence and have people care.”
Listen to: Hometown Girl, Generationwhy, Faded
5) Hayley Kiyoko –
Hayley Kiyoko is having a great year – earlier this year, she released her first album, Expectations, she’s gained mainstream media attention and a cult following, and she’s going on a headlining tour before touring with Panic! At the Disco and A R I Z O N A later this summer. You may recognize her from the Disney movie “Lemonade Mouth” (where she played Stella) or as Velma from the Scooby-Doo movies. Kiyoko is an openly gay, half-Japanese pop artist who sings about her experiences loving girls and directs her own music videos.. She spoke about the importance of LGBT representation in music in a Billboard interview, saying, “I think [queer artists are] what’s giving people encouragement to really be more comfortable with themselves.”
Listen to: What I Need (ft. Kehlani), Cliff’s Edge, Gravel to Tempo
Other recommendations: TRACE (Listen to: Honey, Low, and Away), SALES (Listen to: Chinese New Year, Ivy, and Jamz) , No Vacation (Listen to: Yam Yam, Dream Girl, and August), The Naked and Famous (Listen to: Punching in a Dream, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Hearts Like Ours), EDEN (Listen to: Float, Nocturne, Rock + Roll), Superorganism (Listen to: Everybody Wants To Be Famous, Something For You M.I.N.D, The Prawn Song), Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (Listen to: Nobody Dies, Holy Roller, and Meticulous Bird), Son Lux (Listen to: Lost It To Trying, Dream State, Easy), Japanese Breakfast (Listen to: Boyish, Road Head, Diving Woman), San Fermin (Listen to: Emily, Jackrabbit, Asleep on the Train)