Japanese Artist Crystal Kay Is Ready For Her International Debut

 

Born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, to an African American military father and a third-generation ethnically Korean singer mother, Crystal Kay was constantly surrounded by music. She started singing commercial jingles at the tender age of 4 (“My mom’s friend who owned an advertisement production company would borrow me when they needed a child’s voice,” says Kay) and released her first single, “Eternal Memories,” at 13. Fifteen years and 11 albums later, Kay, 28, is looking forward to branching outside of her Japanese fanbase and introducing her unique sound to American audiences.


 

Audrey Magazine: What kind of music did your parents introduce you to when you were growing up?

Crystal Kay: My parents listened to all of the great music of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, from Earth, Wind & Fire, Maze and Luther [Vandross] to Celine Dion and Bon Jovi. My favorites were Michael and Janet Jackson. Watching their videos and shows really inspired me to become an entertainer. My parents’ eclectic taste in music definitely influenced mine in a great way because I love to incorporate different styles to make borderless music of my own.

 

AM: You started in the industry so young. What do you think of when you revisit songs, like “Eternal Memories,” that you performed when you were barely a teenager?

CK: I think, “Damn! I was such a baby!” [Laughs] But I love that song, and I think it captured my innocence and pureness, visually and musically, in a perfect way. It’s also fun to reflect on how much I’ve changed and grown both as an artist and a woman. I’m very proud of my earlier albums and videos.

 

AM: You are a cool and unique mix of cultures. Can you talk about what you’ve taken from growing up in Japan, in addition to the influences of an African American father and a Korean mother?

CK: Thanks! Growing up in Japan has helped me understand unique Japanese traditions and culture. It’s a culture that’s very polite and courteous — sometimes a little too courteous [laughs] — but it’s a nice trait to have, and it makes me different when I’m in a foreign country.

My African American influence is definitely in my sense of music and rhythm. I love to dance, and people always tell me my soulfulness and the way I feel the beat is definitely my black side. I never lived in Korea, but one thing I’ve learned is that Koreans are passionate people. They love to sing and dance, and I love how they are proud of their musical history. I feel I have the best of both worlds musically, and I’m very thankful for that.

 

AM: As a trailblazing mixed-race artist in Japan, has it ever been difficult to express or explain your identity in the public eye?

CK: Moving to New York, I’m finally starting to become more comfortable defining and explaining who I am. In Japan, I never had to really explain myself often, because it was rarely asked. I think that was probably because many people in Japan were just not used to multiracial people like they are in the U.S. And also, I was the first black and Korean singer in Japan, so I was a rare breed. [Laughs]

 

AM: How has the music landscape changed in the last 15 years since you first started?

CK: It’s definitely changing for the better. You can see the growth in number and popularity of mixed-raced artists in the entertainment industry throughout the years. It’s nice to see this change because it helps the youth to be open-minded and see people for who they are, whether they are mixed or not.

 

 

AM: What prompted your desire to debut in the U.S., and what can we look forward to?

CK: I’ve always wanted to share my music with the world. When I first debuted at 13, I thought, “Oh yay, I have a single out, so I’m automatically worldwide!” I always thought, naturally, that music is universal. When I realized I was a “Japanese singer,” my drive to become an international star became stronger, and it was always just a matter of when.

I have over 50 [songs] as of now, and I hope to release an EP very soon. Then I want to start performing so I can finally start spreading my music and create a following.

 

AM: One of your goals is to bring Japanese youth culture to an American audience. Can you elaborate on what Americans are missing out on that you want to share?

CK: Because I’m a multicultural Japanese girl, I want to show a side of Japanese girls that hasn’t really been shown to the world. Let’s reset that stereotype that is often misunderstood as bubblegum cute. There are a lot of sexy, powerful and real women and girls that take charge of their lives. They have their own powerful expression.

 

AM: What do you think about international artists like Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne who incorporate Japanese culture into their music? Is there a way to do it well versus a way that is questionable?

CK: I think it’s really cool how Gwen Stefani played with the Harajuku girl concept, because she really made it her own by creating her version of the Harajuku culture and paying tribute to it in her own way. I also think it’s cute that Katy wears a lot of Japan-themed costumes. You can see that they both adore the culture and appreciate its uniqueness and are not mocking it. Because of them, I’m sure a lot more people became interested in Japan and its pop culture.

It really bothers me when people overuse the neon signs, wrong kanji and geisha girls in white faces and incorrectly worn kimonos in their videos just to be “different.” I remember seeing something similar to that in this R&B singer’s video — I won’t mention any names. [Laughs]

But I want to introduce a cooler and more authentic side of Japan that, at the moment, only I can. I want to show a really unique Japanese subculture that the world doesn’t really know about.

 

AM: And lastly, since we’re talking about crossing cultures, which other international stars would you love to work with?

CK: I would love to work with Calvin Harris. I love his style of dance music, and he has great melodies. I think we can be a killer combo

 

 

To get a taste of Crystal Kay’s new music, click here

 

 

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All photos courtesy of Alli Nakamura
This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Exploring The Chinese Postnatal Tradition of Zuoyuezi: No Hair Washing, No Television, No Crying

 

For new Asian American mothers, the Chinese postnatal practice of zuoyuezi, or “sitting the month” — where bed rest is mandated, only certain foods can be eaten and you can’t even wash your hair — can be a confusing clash between Eastern traditions and Western conventions during those first critical 30 days after childbirth. But as Contributing Editor Ada Tseng learns, there is nothing wrong with a postpartum helping hand — whether it’s family or a zuoyuezi nanny for a month. In fact, when done in moderation, the ancient practice can serve as a more graceful transition into the daunting world of parenthood.

 

When I first told my husband about the postpartum tradition of zuoyuezi, he thought I was making it up. Literally translated to “sitting the month,” but sometimes referred to as “postpartum confinement,” zuoyuezi is a Chinese practice that encourages a new mother to rest in her home for one month after giving birth. During this time, there are many instructions on diet and recovery that range from drinking herbal soups and eating pork liver, to not washing your hair for 30 days and being confined to the house, room or even your bed, depending on how strictly one adheres to the tradition. In the meantime, family members, friends or hired help collectively pitch in to assist the new mother with cooking, cleaning and taking care of the baby so she can fully restore the balance to her body before attacking motherhood at 100 percent in month two.

“You just don’t want to do anything for a month,” my husband joked. He assumed that I, never one to be called maternal, was apprehensive about the drastic life change that motherhood would inevitably bring and was therefore excited about the idea of inviting anyone and everyone to come help us raise this baby. At least for 30 days.

This was only half true. Both my husband and I are Taiwanese Americans born and raised in California, and our links to our heritage can be traced more through our love of food (shaved ice and beef noodle soup), culture (Taiwanese films and karaoke songs) or general philosophy (respecting our parents!) than formal customs. Never in our years of knowing each other have either of us insisted on adhering to any tradition, so when I waxed poetic about this ancient zuoyuezi practice that dates back to the 1st century B.C., he wasn’t buying it.

That is, until he asked my OB/GYN, who happened to be Taiwanese American, about it, and she admitted that while the practice of zuoyuezi, which takes heavy influence from traditional Chinese medicine, was definitely not something that’s taught in medical school (most Western experts would argue that many of the benefits are unproven), her mother had made her do it when she gave birth to her own children.

I was surprised when my mother first mentioned that I should look into zuoyuezi resources partway through my pregnancy. At the time, my only knowledge of zuoyuezi came from the more extreme and divisive practices that get reported in the news — of the “look at the crazy things Chinese people do” variety. On one hand, it’s known as an antiquated tradition (some would say superstition) that’s more akin to torture than relaxation. The herbal soups you’re forced to eat are disgusting, you can’t wash yourself properly because you can’t risk any cold air touching any part of your body, you’re trapped in your own house, not allowed to watch TV or engage in any activities that will strain your eyes, and mothers or mothers-in-law are on your backs like drill sergeants to make sure you follow the often excessive and old-fashioned rules to a tee.

Alternately, several years ago, reports surfaced about a growing trend of luxury zuoyuezi postpartum confinement centers booming in places like mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which paints zuoyuezi as, for lack of a better description, something that rich people do. Taiwanese celebrities went on talk shows to rave about these facilities that are basically boutique hotels with first-rate nannies and doulas on hand to take care of your baby while you and your husband rest, take classes about parenthood or even enjoy their spa and salon services. And Taiwanese talk show viewers, like my mother, in turn, raved about how these celebrities were able to stay beautiful, skinny and youthful, even after having multiple kids, because they took care of themselves properly after giving birth.

The first scenario seemed unappealing and the second unrealistic, but my mother assured me that there was a middle ground. She explained it to me like this: Western culture likes to glamorize the act of bearing children with phrases like “the miracle of birth,” whereas the Chinese see labor as one of the worst traumas that can happen to the body. Special care is required to help us recalibrate. My mother didn’t feel the need to follow every single rule — for example, many people nowadays who practice zuoyuezi believe that rules like not washing your hair for a month are outdated, harkening back to the olden days when you would wash your hair in the bacteria-laden river, putting your baby’s health at risk. It was more about practicing the “spirit” of zuoyuezi: resting so you can gain your strength back as quickly as possible, maintaining a healthy diet and relaxed state of mind so you can properly feed and take care of your baby.

Later, when I told my mother my husband thought I was trying to get out of work, she laughed. “You’re going to be responsible for and worried about this child for the rest of your life,” she said. “Us helping you out for one month doesn’t get you out of that much work.”

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Many immigrants from my parents’ generation who grew up in Asia but gave birth in the United States believe in zuoyuezi, not necessarily because they had done it themselves, but precisely because they didn’t do it. The Chinese believe that postnatal recovery is critical to maintaining long-term health, so as a result, many women of my mothers’ generation, now seniors, blame their current health issues — whether it be migraines, backaches or arthritis — on the fact that they didn’t properly rest during the month after childbirth. Perhaps it was because their parents and extended family were abroad and unable to pitch in, maybe their in-laws didn’t believe in it, or perhaps they just didn’t have the resources at the time to find a support network in the United States, where postpartum care is still, for the most part, glossed over in the mainstream. (Even now, babies are coddled and scheduled for multiple check-ups right away, but new mothers, even if they are recovering poorly, often don’t return to their doctors until six weeks later.) Because of such regrets, these experienced mothers often vow not to let their daughters suffer the same consequences.

There are many ways to practice zuoyuezi, and while the details vary, the general principles are consistent (see below). Many opt for the do-it-your- self version, where the grandmothers take it upon themselves to carry out the tradition for their daughters or daughters-in-law. While this is the cheapest option, it’s a lot of work to ask of someone, especially in this day and age where many of us wait until we are older to have children. And by the time we do, our mothers are also older and less capable (or willing) to do the hours of shopping, preparation and cooking in order to prepare specific meals meant to heal the body, restore blood loss, prevent swelling, promote production of breast milk, speed up uterus contractions, restore hormone levels and help the new mother get her pre-pregnancy physique back.

Another option is the postpartum center mentioned previously. While it’s more common in Asia, these “mommy hotels” do exist in the U.S., though they’re more underground, often only advertised in Chinese-language newspapers and television programs. Though they carry a stigma in the Western world — as the sites of the “birthing tourism” controversy, where foreign mothers give birth in the States to secure their children the American citizenship that they can’t get themselves — more and more Asian American citizens take advantage of these centers where the mother and husband can stay for a month, while their babies sleep in a separate room, looked after by a team of nannies, nurses or doulas.

Somewhere in the middle lies the option of using food-delivery services — nowadays, there are even tastings for expectant mothers — or hiring a live-in nanny (ah yi or “auntie”) who will cook all your meals and take care of the mother and baby, especially at night, so the new parents can get their rest.

After considering our own specific needs and preferences, we opted for the live-in nanny, who would stay in our house to help out for the first month.

While I can only speak from my own experience, the process of hiring a live-in nanny in the United States remains strangely shrouded in mystery, and looking back, required more last-minute improvisation and luck of the draw than most people may prefer. Because these services are not widely advertised online or in English, we could only depend on word of mouth. Friends, and friend of friends, directed us to a woman who ran a nanny referral service from the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. (Later, we would learn that there are many different nanny referral services, but at the time, it seemed like all our inquiries led to the same woman and cell phone number.)

Without a website or even a contract that outlined how this would work, the woman told us that we couldn’t meet or interview the nannies in advance, because they were all currently working for clients 24/7 (many of these nannies are literally booked for back-to-back months with no break), but we would be assigned a caregiver based on my projected due date. We were assured that all the nannies were extremely experienced and had proper certification. That said, because zuoyuezi traditions vary from region to region (not only China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but many Southeast Asian countries have adopted their own versions of the postpartum traditions as well), it’s hard to believe there’s any sort of consistency.

The only instructions we got were that we needed to prepare a bed for the nanny in the baby room and to call back a month before my due date to work out other logistics. During that phone call, I was told that I was in luck: she had two nannies that would be available during the week of my delivery date. “What if I go into labor earlier than that?” I asked. “Don’t worry so much,” she said. “Then I’ll find someone else.”

Under normal circumstances, trusting a faceless voice on the other end of the line — and, sending her a check for the referral fee to reserve my spot, no less — seemed to defy all logic. There were even rumors that nannies were often sent back by unsatisfied clients, and as an American not used to taking leaps of faith to uphold Chinese traditions, there seemed to be no guarantee that this wasn’t all a scam. But my mother trusted in the process, and I, valuing the promise of postpartum help above all else, had committed to the ride. As it got closer and closer to my delivery date, I had become comfortable with the notion that this could go a myriad of ways, taking solace in the fact that, worst case, we’d send the nanny back.


Sure enough, I went into labor eight days early, and the nannies she had been reserving for me were still out of state, finishing up their previous jobs. But sure enough, she was able to go through her contacts to find another nanny, who had just finished up a job the day prior and could be picked up at a location 20 miles away from us the next day.

Looking back, there were many ways things could have gone wrong with the prospect of allowing an unvetted stranger to live with you for a month — not to mention, trusting that stranger with the high-stakes task of taking care of your baby. One of the most complex and frustrating aspects of having kids — from pregnancy, labor, post-labor recovery, to parenthood — is that everyone from family members to professionals give often-conflicting advice, and adding in a zuoyuezi nanny with her own convictions just adds an extra variable to the madness.

Especially for Asian Americans, clashes of East versus West beliefs abound, from macro levels (in a sense, the entire philosophy of confinement clashes with Western medical science that does encourage rest but not extreme bed rest, which may cause your muscles to atrophy and, in turn, cause you to recover slower) to the micro-minutiae (Westerners tell you to drink lots of water to generate breast milk, whereas Chinese believe that water makes you bloated and less able to shed your baby weight, opting instead for herbal drinks and teas).

However, the zuoyuezi ah yi can also serve as a neutral third party who is able to dispense advice and reach compromises with a new mother, without the emotional baggage of a nagging parent or the unintended consequences of disobeying the wishes of a well-meaning in-law. As a result, the experience can be an exercise in trust and communication, with much less at stake.

In my particular case, our nanny — a middle-aged woman who, as is typical, didn’t speak much English — had certain principles about how to properly sit the month, but was flexible about other aspects, turning a blind eye when I slipped out of the house every so often to get some fresh air, when I spent the better part of the day watching videos on my smartphone when I was supposed to be resting, when my hair was clearly washed every other day, or even when my mother, who was responsible for grocery shopping, took it upon herself to not even buy ingredients (like the infamous pork liver) that she assumed I wouldn’t like or certain Chinese herbs that she thought would stink up the entire house.

In the end, it was like my mother said: We didn’t follow all the rules, but we captured the “spirit” of zuoyuezi. Not only am I grateful for the recovery time where my sole responsibility was to rest and bond with my baby, but I was given the gift of one month to observe someone who’s been taking care of babies for decades; to practice regular acts of breastfeeding, burping and changing under professional guidance until I was comfortable; and to soak up her advice that was catered to my individual baby.

Two months later, I can say that I feel fully recovered, but perhaps more importantly, now that nannies and grandparents have left the nest, I’ve learned to trust myself a little bit more and be confident that, if nothing else, my month of zuoyuezi sent me off into the abyss of parenthood in the right direction.

As for the long-term effects, will the fact that I was able to practice zuoyuezi keep my body strong and slow down the aging effects associated with childbirth? Will I regret bending the rules and wish that I had resisted washing my hair for 30 days? Find me in 30 years, and I’ll let you know.

 

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This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here

 

Add To Your Rotation: The Music of Japan-based R&B/Pop Musician Crystal Kay

 

Already a star in her native Japan, the super cool R&B/pop singer Crystal Kay, who is of Korean and African American descent, is mounting her international attack with a brand new video for her song “Dum Ditty Dumb.” Find out more about Kay and how she’s ready to bring a different side of Japanese pop culture to the world in our Fall 2014 issue, coming soon.
Here, check out her music while she tells us about the inspirations behind some of her recently released English-language songs (including a teaser video with her collaboration with Far East Movement!).

 

“Dum Ditty Dumb”
“That is a very fun and crazy song that was inspired by the dope track my producer Jon Jon made. The energy had all of us coming up with these mad ideas, like throwing in Japanese and tribal-like rhythms with Japanese shamisens in the background. The beat drop felt crazy but sexy at the same time, so I wanted to write and sing something that was aggressive but sexy in a confident way.
“[Music video director Tani Ikeda] got my concept of “Yokohama Ratchet Pop” and how I really wanted to introduce and rep my Yokohama culture. She was able to incorporate that in such a cool and playful way by mixing 2D and animation, which was something that hasn’t been done before.”

 

Check out the behind-the-scenes video, as well as the final result, below.

 

 

 

 

“Busy Doing Nothing”
“I wanted to turn it into a loser boyfriend anthem — something we can all relate to, in a fun and playful way. The melody is so catchy. People would be singing along to it after hearing it just once.”

 

 

“Rule Your World”
“I’ve never really done a very sexy and dominant song. I’m coming to that stage as an artist, exploring and experimenting with my new sound.”

 

 

Far East Movement “Where The Wild Things Are,” featuring Crystal Kay
“We are label mates in Japan in the Universal International label, and we wanted to see what would happen if we worked together. I was already a fan before I met them. After we met, we all just clicked! I love how we’re all Asian which made it feel even more like family.”

 

Check out the teaser video below.

 

 

Joyce Meng and Jennifer Q. Chen Show Anyone Can Pay It Forward With Givology

 

The idea of Givology came to Joyce Meng in a dream in 2008, when she was still an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. A child of Taiwanese immigrants, Meng was always acutely aware of the value of education and humbled by the knowledge that millions of children around the world do not grow up with the opportunities she had because of their lack of access to education.

She wanted to create a nonprofit that would help link philanthropists to grassroots academic programs that were working effectively to make quality education accessible to children whose families may not otherwise be able to afford it. But more than that, she wanted to start a movement of giving that would inspire people like her to give back to communities in need around the world. A college student at the time, she understood that many people — youth, especially — may not have much money, but they have the desire to donate what little they can afford, the time to volunteer and the passion to be a part of a greater humanitarian cause.

“Philanthropy should be democratic,” says Meng, now 27. “Oftentimes, if you’re not a big [donor] with big dollars, non-profits don’t give you transparency, and you don’t know how your money is being used. But even if you just have $5 to give, you should have the same choice of where your money goes. Givology is based on the concept of making an organization fully transparent and to give everyone involved a voice.”

She immediately reached out to Jennifer Q. Chen, a fellow classmate in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business who was doing her thesis on rural education, and a partnership was born.

They drafted a nonprofit business plan for what they always envisioned to be a 100 percent volunteer organization in the Penn dorms and libraries. They did everything themselves, from building a website to passing out informational flyers, and launched Givology in less than a year, in December of 2008.

Looking back, Meng says it took a good two to three years for them to figure out what they were doing. But part of the reason they’ve been able to achieve so much in such a short period of time is their fearlessness and willingness to dive in full force. “You don’t know what’s going to happen until you do it,” says Meng. “It’s hard to pre-plan everything, but you can always adapt and change, figure out what works and learn from what doesn’t work.”

Meng and Chen have been very diligent about vetting various educational projects and choosing ones that they can confidently give their stamp of approval to, in terms of impact per dollar. “We want to work with truly innovative organizations who know their community better than anyone else and can therefore create targeted programs that address the heart of the problems,” says Meng. “Good intentions are not enough. We really care about the actual impact that they’re making and that there’s oversight and a good team behind them.”

These projects range from teacher training in Pakistan to student scholarships in rural China to programs for indigenous girls in Guatemala that pair them with mentors. Meng is also inspired by schools like Somaliland’s Abaarso School of Science and Technology, which has successfully placed top students from throughout Somalia with full scholarships into prestigious colleges like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Uganda’s Circle of Peace School, which she actually visited during the second year of Givology, where she learned that a mere $50 donation can send one kid to school.

 

Five years later, Meng and Chen’s work on Givology has earned them much respect and recognition. They had an early supporter in The New York Times international development and human rights columnist Nicholas Kristof, and in 2011, they were approached by the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation to launch a partnership between the two organizations. Meng and Chen even made Forbes’ 30 under 30 list this past January.

Today, Givology boasts about 200 volunteers and 23 chapters, and they’ve raised almost $400,000 for 50 grassroots partnerships in 28 different countries. Their team of “Givologists” help with everything from organizing fundraising events and launching new chapters to building their social media presence and writing newsletters — even translating letters from their much-championed pen pal program, which allows the donors to communicate directly with the students they sponsor, so that donors see where their money is going and students know that there’s someone out there rooting for them to succeed.

“There something very pure about being a 100 percent volunteer organization,” says Meng. “Everyone volunteers in high school and college, but then people drop off afterward. But it doesn’t matter if you have crazy workdays. Everyone has something to give, and we all strongly believe in the idea that small dollars and small hours can be aggregated into a powerful force of change.” (Most of the Givology team, including Meng and Chen, are juggling their Givology work on top of busy day jobs.)

Despite their success, the Givology team is always looking forward. Each year, they embark on a new project to get the word out about their organization. Last year marked the publication of their first book written and self-published collectively by Givology volunteers, #GiveInspiration: How to Give Effectively, which is both a handbook for effective giving and an overview of lessons they’ve learned over the years.

This year, they are launching a Givology product line. They’ve recruited artists passionate about their cause to contribute graphics that will be made into T-shirts, posters and other merchandise.

“Young people can do so many things, but often aren’t given the opportunity,” says Meng. “But everyone can give back, and we should make giving part of our daily lives.”

For more information on how to get involved, go to Givology.com.

STORY BY ADA TSENG

 

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here!

ALISA XAYALITH of The Naked and Famous On Stage Fright and Breaking Through

 

Just four years ago, Alisa Xayalith was a shy singer from Auckland, New Zealand, who had suddenly exploded onto the international indie music scene with her band The Naked and Famous and their surprise hit song “Young Blood.” Though it’s the power of her voice that drives the catchy electro-pop anthem, Xayalith didn’t have much experience performing live. She had stage fright, often hid behind her long black hair, and didn’t yet know how to act the part of a front woman.

“You have to look up this [2010] video on KCRW of us playing ‘Young Blood,’” she says. “I was so timid! When I look at that girl now, I think, ‘Who was that?’” She laughs. “Performing feels like second nature now, but it’s definitely been a process.”

Her hair newly cropped and dyed into a bleached blond pixie cut, Xayalith, 27, isn’t hiding anymore. There is no secret to becoming more confident in front of a crowd, she says. It’s all about practice. In the last few years, The Naked and Famous has performed all around the world, most recently touring with Imagine Dragons and performing at Coachella, before kicking off the European portion of their international tour in June.

As a child, Xayalith grew up listening to a lot of Laotian folk music because her dad was a singer in a local Laotian band in South Auckland. But she also remembers her father introducing her to English-language songs. “He used to sing me ‘Mona Lisa’ by Nat King Cole,” she remembers. “And then when I got older, I became obsessed with Mariah Carey for a long time.”

Her mother passed away from breast cancer when Xayalith was just 7 years old, a personal tragedy that she finally got the courage to write about in “I Kill Giants,” a track on The Naked and Famous’ second album, In Rolling Waves, released late 2013. The saddest of days, she sings. Why couldn’t we save you?

 

 

“I had written these lyrics and Thom [Powers, her The Naked and Famous bandmate] really loved them,” says Xayalith. “He said, ‘Don’t change them. I’m going to use them for something.’ It’s the most revealing that I’ve ever let myself get, lyrically, and I was really apprehensive about it. But he really pushed me.”

Xayalith, Powers and bandmate Aaron Short met at Auckland’s MAINZ music college in 2006. (David Beadle and Jesse Wood joined the band in 2009.) Xayalith always wanted to be a singer, but she says her songwriting skills weren’t fully realized until she met Powers and they started writing together. Soon they formed The Naked and Famous. The band name is taken from the song “Tricky Kid” by English trip-hop artist Tricky, which has the line “everybody wants to be naked and famous,” about being ambivalent to the idea of celebrity.

Their first collaboration was a trip-hop song that Xayalith says she’d be embarrassed if anyone heard now, but their second song, “Serenade,” which ended up on their debut EP, gave them their first taste of success when it reached number one in New Zealand’s college charts.

“I remember Aaron, Thom and I were sitting in the living room listening to the countdown, seeing if we’d be on it,” she says. “Aaron has a recording of it actually. All of our friends were there screaming, ‘You guys are number one!’

“But international success didn’t come until we released ‘Young Blood’ in 2010,” she continues. “That song changed our lives. It catapulted us out of New Zealand.”

 

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Xayalith still remembers fiddling with the melody that ended up turning into “Young Blood.” When she showed Powers what she was working on, he immediately recognized the potential behind those chords, and they came up with the music for the song together in two hours. “It was just a natural moment of inspiration that we harnessed,” says Xayalith. “Then I wrote the lyrics, and Thom said, ‘How about you sing it higher?’ And I was like, ‘Really? I don’t know about this!’ But I did it, and he said, ‘Alisa, we’ve got it.’”

At the time, the band members were still working day jobs — Xayalith was working at a record store and in fashion — and they were recording their first studio album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, on the side. When “Young Blood” blew up in New Zealand, they were suddenly wined and dined by record labels and eventually dominated the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards, winning everything from Single of the Year and Album of the Year to Best Group. American audiences eventually caught on after “Young Blood” was featured everywhere, from Chuck and Gossip Girl to American Idol and the 2013 film Carrie.

Soon after, the band moved to Los Angeles to pursue their music full time and recorded their entire second album in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood of Laurel Canyon. In addition to the vulnerable “I Kill Giants,” the songs on In Rolling Waves are moodier. The first single, “Hearts Like Ours,” is about being brave despite anxiety, while their second single, “A Stillness,” deals with rising above fear and learning to be calm. “What We Want” — their first collaborative effort with a singer-songwriter outside of their band, Max McElligott from Wolf Gang — is a melancholy duet. The somber tone throughout was inspired by the first song the band wrote for the album, “Grow Old.” “It’s one of those slow burn, sad, miserable songs,” says Xayalith. “It’s a Naked and Famous love song, so that means it’s not very happy.”

As Xayalith juggles an intense touring schedule, which means she’s only “home” in L.A. a few months of the year, she hopes that their sound continues to evolve. “Our early music had a punk attitude,” Xayalith explains. “We wanted to be pop, but also had a love for rock music, like Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Queens of the Stone Age. If you look at our body of work, you can see that our music is multigenre and hard to pinpoint.

“But it’s important for us to develop and change,” she adds. “We don’t have to worry about consistency and continuity, because the music is always going to be written by us and sound like The Naked and Famous.”

– Story by Ada Tseng 

 

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here!

Who Won the Title of Supreme Asian Chef at the Vegas Culinary Battles Finale?

(L to R) Perry Cheung, Chris Oh, David Park, and Jay Cho

After East Coast and West Coast semi-final competitions in Atlantic City and Los Angeles, the quest for Culinary Battles 2014: Supreme Asian Chef culminated in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, where the four finalists competed in the final showdown on April 26, 2014.

The two chefs representing the East Coast were Culinary Institute of America – New York student Jay Cho of Coma Food Truck, which brought Korean/Mexican fusion food to Vancouver, and Dave Park, who has plans to open his first restaurant hanbun in Chicago that will showcase Korean street food with a modern twist.

The West Coast competitors were Seoul Sausage Company’s Chris Oh, a self-trained LA chef known for winning numerous cooking competitions including The Great Food Truck Race, Knife Fight and Cutthroat Kitchen, and Perry Cheung of Phorage, a classic Vietnamese restaurant in Los Angeles known for its locally-grown and sustainable ingredients.

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After each chef settled in their stations, the secret ingredients were revealed — pork belly, cabbages, and an assortment of citrus fruits — and they had one hour to prepare a special dish that would be judged on presentation, flavor, originality, use of the secret ingredient, and overall quality of the dish.

Without access to a pressure cooker or a grill at their cooking stations, most of the competitors expressed initial confusion on how they would best prepare the pork belly in under an hour. But not Seoul Sausage’s Chris Oh. Donning a black cap with KTOWN scrawled across the front, Oh was cool as a cucumber, joking about being slightly drunk already, encouraging ladies to ask him for his cell phone number after the competition was over, and taking a moment to do the infamous horse dance when “Gangnam Style” blasted over the loudspeakers.

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David Park, who endured some good-natured teasing about his expensive knives (and more impressive knife skills), immediately chopped up the pork belly and put it into a food processor. Jay Cho began by cutting the skin off the pork belly to tenderize the meat and allow the seasoning to absorb faster. Oh started by creating a flavorful sauce. But it was Perry Cheung who impressed the judges earliest by choosing to immediately deep fry the pork belly, so it would caramelize faster and therefore buy him more time to concentrate on the rest of his Culinary Battle strategy.

After the hour was over, host Diane Hendriks accompanied each chef, one by one, to the table of judges: Top Chef: New Orleans finalist Shirley Chung; Sean O’Connell, Executive Chef at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas; food writer and burger guru Damon Gambuto; Master Chef Joe Poon, a TV personality also known for his food sculptures; and Barbie Marshall, a contestant on Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen.

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David Park’s dish was a pomme purée topped with shishito peppers, deep-fried enoki mushrooms, and brûléed citrus, with the pork essence infused into the sauce. While the judges liked the presentation and thought it was smart to use the ground pork to extract flavor, they ultimately decided that the pork-infused sauce wasn’t enough to make up for the missing fatty pork their mouths were watering for.

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Halfway through Chris Oh’s allotted time, the judges still couldn’t figure out what he was doing with the pork. Turned out he had bigger engineering plans in mind. Not one to be constrained by limitations — he began his career cooking out of a friend’s SUV after all — Oh turned his butane burner into a makeshift grill, all while sipping on a beer like he was cooking for his friends in his own backyard. The result was spicy, sweet Korean BBQ-style pork belly paired with a citrus, mayo-based cole slaw — a simple but tasty dish that represented his signature style of combining Korean flavors with southern comfort food.

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Chef Jay Cho impressed the judges with his dish’s beautiful presentation and the variety of creative and delicious flavors he managed to put together in an hour. However, some thought that the pork belly was a bit tough and under-seasoned, and others suggested he may have been little too ambitious: ultimately, there were too many elements going on that didn’t quite come together smoothly as the judges would have liked.

perrycheungAnd last but not least, Perry Cheung presented the judges with his classic Chinese red braised pork belly and a cabbage slaw tossed with crispy bacon and a hint of grapefruit. While the judges called the presentation “rustic,” which seemed to be code for simple and slightly sloppy, Cheung’s careful concoction of flavors — utilizing everything from soy, lemongrass, ponzu, citrus, honey, and balsamic vinegar reduction — resulted in a dish that was completely gobbled up by the judges within minutes. “You had me at vinegar reduction,” said judge Shirley Chung.

As the show took a quick break to tally up the judges’ scores, if nothing else, it seemed clear that this time around, the West Coast had dominated East Coast.

In the end, the winner was Perry Cheung of Phorage!

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(L-R) Joe Poon, Shirley Chung, Perry Cheung, Barbie Marshall and Diane Hendriks.

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Congratulations to all the finalists! The Culinary Battles: Supreme Asian Chef competition will be televised on the ICN TV Network in the near future.

Haikus With Hotties: Freddie Wong

After last issue’s inaugural haiku exchange with our ultimate Smoking Hot Asian Guy (SHAG) Godfrey Gao, who could possibly follow but über-popular YouTube star, filmmaker and former competitive gamer Freddie Wong, otherwise known as FreddieW? Known for his slick, gun-toting, VFX-heavy, Michael Bay-inspired action-comedy videos that have garnered more than 1 billion views on his three YouTube channels (RocketJump alone has 6.6 million subscribers), Wong shows us you don’t need to be an international supermodel to seduce us with gravity-defying poetry.

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O Freddie, Freddie!
Wherefore doth thou beguile my
eyes with hot cat ties?

FREDDIE:
Before I answer
I must commend your usage
Of the word wherefore.

Do ladies prefer
sultry action stunts or smooth
Guitar Hero skillz?

FREDDIE:
The women, I’ve found,
are impressed by neither guns
nor plastic guitars.

After surviving
make-believe bullets, best fix
hair first? Or glasses?

FREDDIE:
When the myopic
Hand’s been dealt, one should always
Secure clear vision. 

 


But the fun doesn’t end there:

Behind the Scenes of Freddie Wong’s Haikus with Hotties Photo Shoot (Photos by Craig Stubing/Unwrittenfilms.com):

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Freddie Wong gets in the holiday spirit

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Freddie Wong’s smile melts hearts around the world

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Pardon me, were you taking a photo of this backdrop?

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No photos please, I’m concerned my hotness will shatter your camera

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Hey girl, brought this bow tie out just for you

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I’ll be right here… waiting for you.

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Bad guys don’t stop just because Freddie is at a photo shoot

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Freddie Wong hates ties, even beautiful ones with cats on them.

 

 

 

 

 

Our previous Haikus With Hotties with Godfrey Gao:

 

Who should be next in our “Haikus With Hotties” series? Tell us what you think!

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Spotlight on Unforgettable’s Awardees | Jose Antonio Vargas, Inspiration Award

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has written for the likes of The New Yorker, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Rolling Stone to document stories of Americans around the country. Recently, he decided to tell his own story.

The Philippines-born Vargas was brought over to America as a young child and didn’t even know he didn’t have the right papers until he went to take his driver’s permit test as a teenager and was told his ID was fake. As a young adult, he became obsessed with proving himself as a true American, doing excellent work, paying his taxes, and eventually winning a Pulitzer — even if it meant keeping a very big secret. Eventually, he was tired of hiding and lying about his identity. He shook America with his 2011 The New York Times Magazine essay, in which Vargas came out as an undocumented immigrant.

Since then, Vargas continues to fight for the plight of undocumented immigrants, which many dismiss as “illegals.” He’s founded the organization Define American, which shares the many different stories much like his own. Earlier this year, he not only testified before the U.S. Senate on immigration reform but he also turned his personal story into a documentary film — fittingly called Documented — which premiered as the centerpiece for the AFIDOCS film festival in Washington D.C.

How did your documentary Documented come about?

Jose Antonio Vargas: Well, this was not the film I was originally going to make. Originally I was going to do a DREAM Act film. I was following five different people with different backgrounds, and I was going to do it Waiting for Superman style. Where you’re doing a vérité-style documentary, you just film, film, film, because you don’t know what you’re going to get.

And then halfway through the filming, one of my filmmaker friends asked me, “How could you do a film on immigration and not include your mom?” I barely talk to my mom [who he hasn't seen in over 20 years because she lives in the Philippines, and he cannot leave the US], let alone did I want to see her on film…. So in some ways the [autobiographical] film was not something I wanted to make, but it was a film that I needed to make.

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On the Define American page, the Documented logo is made up images of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Why did you want to link your story with images of social media?

Jose Antonio Vargas: It’s the idea that undocumented people are documenting their lives. For many people, social media is a narcissistic cesspool of vanity. [laughs] It’s just what I ate yesterday and where I’m going tonight. But for undocumented people that aren’t even recognized by the government, it’s our way to be recognized.

 

For more information on 2013’s Unforgettable annual gala, click here.

For free tickets to our Unforgettable after party, click here. Hope to see you there!

 

Spotlight on Unforgettable’s Awardees | David Choi, Arts & Entertainment Award

David Choi is a Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter/music producer who first gained fame on YouTube for his original song “YouTube A Love Song” in 2006. Since then, he’s paved the way for independent artists who are building a fanbase and making a living themselves by mobilizing social media resources. Choi wrote and self-produced all three of his albums Only You, By My Side, and Forever and Ever, which debuted at #97 on the iTunes top album charts, his songs have used in both American and Korean television shows, and his YouTube channel boasts close to a million subscribers and over 117,000,000 total video views.

You talk a lot about a moment in high school, where you went from hating practicing your musical instruments to being obsessed with composing music. What happened?

David Choi: Well, I didn’t know you could create music. Learning an instrument is not being creative. It’s just practicing someone else’s music. You can’t be creative when somebody is telling you exactly what to do.

Once I realized I could be creative with music, something just grabbed me and made me want to do this forever. It was weird. Maybe it was me wanting to succeed? I don’t even think it was that. I just really loved it. It’s like when you fall in love with somebody, and you want to spend time with them every single day. That’s how I felt about music.

Do you find that your good songs come to you very quickly, or do you have to work hard to rewrite, analyze the lyrics or the structure, and rewrite again?

David Choi: Now that I’ve been doing it for so long, it feels more innate. I will write a song, and what matters to me is not necessarily whether it sounds good, cool, or unique, but whether it’s honest. That’s the first part. Then the second part is sitting on it after I record it, and later listening back and being more judgmental. Here, I’m putting on my producer’s hat and looking at song structure etc.

There are definitely songs that I rewrite constantly but if I keep having to do that, often I’ll just let it go. I feel like it loses something after too much revision. But that’s just the art side of me talking, not the practical side. It’s about balancing the two.

 

Check out David Choi on the cover of KoreAm Journal’s December 2013 issue. Buy a copy to read the full cover story.

For more information on 2013’s Unforgettable annual gala, click here.

For free tickets to our Unforgettable after party, click here. Hope to see you there!

Spotlight on Unforgettable’s Awardees | Janet Yang, Audrey Woman of Influence Award

Janet Yang is a film producer and cultural ambassador who works to bridge the gap between the Hollywood and Chinese film industries. President of Janet Yang Productions and The Manifest Film Company, Yang’s numerous credits include The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Joy Luck Club, High Crimes, The Weight of Water, Disney’s High School Musical in China, and most recently, Shanghai Calling.

What quality do you think has helped you become successful over the years?

Janet Yang: I don’t get too stuck on things. I don’t think, “This is how it has to be.” And especially working in China, it’s a handicap if you come in thinking, “This is the only way.” Studios go in, saying “This is how it’s done,” and it comes across as arrogance because it’s not how they do it in China.

Working in Hollywood and the West, the individual is often glorified, and that sometimes leads to over-sized egos. If I had a huge ego, it’d be really hard, because you’d be constantly butting heads with everyone. Not that I’m a wallflower or doormat, but because I’m pretty agile and I’m willing to let people have their space, I can concentrate on doing whatever’s necessary. If I need to be the alpha dog, I’ll be the alpha dog, but I’m not too attached to playing a certain role, and I think that’s helpful in terms of getting along with people.

Looking back, what has it been like being one of the few Asian American female power players in Hollywood?

Janet Yang: That’s always been a tricky question, because in this lifetime, I’ve only been Asian and a woman, so I can’t absolutely say how it’d be different otherwise. But I sometimes feel like we don’t have a club. It’s harder to have an instant identification with this group or that, when you’re in between cultures. You don’t know which club you should belong to, and you don’t particularly want to belong any existing club, so we have to make up our own club.

In the early days, especially in Hollywood, I was often in institutions where I was the only woman, and I definitely felt somewhat conspicuous, but it never felt like it was a true handicap. It could have been an asset. These days, people tend to remember me, and I’m sure it’s because there aren’t that many Asian women. So, how can I complain? I was just doing my thing, and doors opened up.

Do you have any advice for anyone who looks up to you and your career path?

Janet Yang: I don’t know. [laughs] That’s the problem when people ask, “How did you plan your career?” I didn’t plan it. I had no idea what I was doing. I was really more driven by my passions, I had this thing I wanted to do, and I was following my nose. So don’t try to imitate what I did. You can’t chart it on a graph, because it doesn’t make any sense. It was less of a plan and more of an evolution.

Especially in this day and age, the opportunities are coming from God knows where. It’s a crazy environment, so I feel like one has to be really clear about who you are, and hopefully what you’re good at and what you love to do overlaps, and then focus on those things. There are so many choices nowadays.

 

For our full Janet Yang profile in this issue of Audrey Magazine, click here.

For more information on 2013’s Unforgettable annual gala, click here.

For free tickets to our Unforgettable after party, click here. Hope to see you there!