Kickass Asian Artists Performing at COACHELLA

Story by Taylor Weik. 

Temperatures may have been chilly in early January of this year, but the 2014 lineup for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival had just been announced, and all anyone could talk about was springtime and the shorts and tanks they’d get to wear in April under the hot Indio sun.

Coachella has consistently set the bar higher and higher in terms of surprises each year, the most recent example being Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s performance with a hologrammed Tupac in 2012. What could Coachella have in store for us this year? Judging from the lineup, more kickass Asian artists.

Take one of the Dum Dum Girls. The all-female rock band was started back in 2008 by singer-songwriter Dee Dee Penny, and their current drummer is Sandra “Sandy” Vu, who is of Vietnamese descent. When she’s not drumming for the girl group, Vu fronts her own music project, SISU. The drummer can also play guitar, piano and flute.

 

Then there’s Edward Ma, also known as edIT, one of the three members of The Glitch Mob, the L.A.-based electronic music group. Ma began deejaying during his college years at USC and then began producing music professionally as the Con Artist.

Alisa Xayalith is the frontwoman of the New Zealand electro rock ensemble The Naked and Famous, known for their hit song “Young Blood,” and is of Laotian descent. The vocalist manages fine in a band of all men –– she grew up in New Zealand with three brothers.

Bo Ningen is a four-piece punk band that hails from Tokyo. The members — Taigen, Kohhei, Yuki and Mon-chan — refer to themselves as “enlightenment activists from far east psychedelic underground.”

Representing the R&B genre is solo artist Jhené Aiko, who, among other ethnicities, is Japanese. Known for her soft, relaxed vocals on tracks by Drake and Childish Gambino, Aiko is easing into her own. The singer released her EP Sail Out last year and plans to drop her debut album in May.

Coachella runs on two weekends from April 11 to 20 and is already sold out. With the popularity of Coachella increasing each year, it’s cool to see a parallel growth in the diversity of its performing artists.

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get yours here. 

VOICES CARRY: Awkwafina

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies. 


 

Nora Lum — the Chinese- Korean American rapper known as Awkwafina, who in 2013 made a name for herself with her viral hits “My Vag” (a response to Mickey Avalon’s 2006 song “My Dick”), “NYC Bitche$” and “Mayor Bloomberg (Giant Margaritas)” — admits that her catchy moniker doesn’t really mean anything. She chose it mostly because it sounded ridiculous as a rap name. “I always think it’s hilarious when companies attempt to feminize a product,” she says, “and I always knew that Awkwafina wasn’t a rap game name where people would be misled about the kind of music [I] would be making.”

As a kid growing up in Queens, N.Y., Lum, 25, was influenced by the musical tastes of her Chinese American dad (Bob Dylan, Townes van Zandt), and she started her musical journey playing trumpet, inspired by the likes of Chet Baker and Louis Armstrong. Though she never intended to become a rapper, nowadays, she’s drawing attention with her funny, provocative and very share-able videos, while also being respected for her beats, rhymes and tongue-in-cheek delivery. Her debut album Yellow Ranger (also the title of one of the tracks) was released in February.

First Song: I think the first song I ever wrote (and actually sang and recorded) was when I was 15 around Christmas. I had this holiday songbook for my trumpet with an instrumental background CD. Basically, it was a really lowbrow, raunchy cover of “Jingle Bell Rock” that I don’t have to go into right now.

Inspiration for Her New Single “Queef:” There were literally tiny drunken cherubs farting out light when I had this idea. It came out of nowhere. Basically, I had this (almost spiritual) vision of a woman being endowed with superhero powers that manifested into earth-shattering queefs [slang for vaginal flatulence]. Unfortunately, the vision didn’t quite continue into what would actually happen once she had the “queefage” or how it would help fix the world’s problems.

Why Yellow Ranger: When I was young, I played Power Rangers with all my friends and remember feeling angry when people said I should play Trini [the Yellow Ranger]. I always wanted to be Tommy or Jason, or Kimberly if I had to pick a girl. Trini was seriously lame to me as a kid. But as an adult, the connotations Trini carried with her seemed less offensive and (as much as I detest the word) empowering.

On Being Labeled a Feminist Icon for Songs like “My Vag:” I minored in women’s studies in college, so it would be wrong of me to deny knowledge about the importance of female visibility in certain industries. At the same time, I think it’s also important for people to understand that rapping about vaginas is something I do because I own one. Rapping about being a woman is something I have to do by default because I’m also not a heterosexual man with a penis. I think that making songs that bring up blush-worthy content can be easily confused as either aggressive, rogue feminism or being a girl without a social filter at parties. At the same time, I am proud that my music has been embraced by other women and celebrated as something good for feminism.

 

 Wanna hear “My Vag?” Go to AudreyMagazine.com/awkwafina.    

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

Spring 2014 Cover Story featuring Singer-Songwriter YUNA

Story by Ada Tseng. 

Singer-songwriter Yuna Zarai (known as Yuna) has a quick and easy remedy for writer’s block: “I just call up my best friends and ask, ‘Hey, do you have any drama that I can write about?’ Usually, they’re like, ‘Sure!’ And then I’ll show them [the resulting song] as a gift.” She laughs. “My friends are so easy.”

Many of her self-penned songs are about relationships — from happy-in-love songs (“Lullabies,” “Favourite Thing”) to heartbreak (“Mountains,” “I Want You Back”) to a perfectly satisfactory fling you know won’t last (“Lovely Intermission”). “Decorate,” a song from her first international EP in 2010, about missing a recently departed lover so much that you keep your home decorated with objects that the person likes just in case he or she comes back, is another example of a track inspired by one of her male friends. “It’s such a sad song, and a lot of people think I went through that,” she says. “[But] I’m really close to my best friends, so if they feel sad, I feel sad, too. It’s emotionally draining, but I get affected immediately.”

The 27-year-old grew up in Malaysia, making a name for herself in her home country before relocating to Los Angeles a few years ago. Her self-titled international album Yuna, released in 2012, had a famous supporter in Pharrell Williams, who produced her hit single “Live Your Life” and often mentioned her name when interviewers would ask him about new artists to follow. In addition to her music, Yuna is a fashion trendsetter as well. She runs her own online store November Culture, and earlier this year, she launched her own clothing line 14NOV, which features more conservative clothing such as headscarves, turtleneck maxi-dresses and oversized cardigans. “There are a lot of girls, especially in Los Angeles, that want to dress up sexy and fabulous,” she says, “but there are also a bunch of girls like me that would rather cover up!”

The Malaysian singer has gotten a lot of questions about her Muslim heritage since her debut in the United States, a country not accustomed to seeing a pretty girl in a turban singing and strumming her guitar onstage, but Yuna tends to downplay any potential politics in favor of talking about her music. In some ways, despite her uniqueness (the eye-poppingly beautiful fashion plate would stand out in a crowd even if she weren’t the star of the show), she comes across as your typical girl-crush. Dressed in a shimmery black-gold headscarf with gold statement necklaces and a long, black pleated skirt (“I’m really into black and gold right now,” she says), she was charismatic performing at a sold-out Bootleg Theater show in Los Angeles last December, for an audience that happened to include her own parents who had flown out from Malaysia to see her.

Yuna started creating music on the piano when she was 14, but songwriting remained a mystery to her until she picked up the guitar at 19. As soon as she learned how to play three chords, she started making up songs for her friends, teasing them about liking boys or not being over their exes.

Yuna essentially learned English through music. “At first, it was just me re-creating songs I already knew,” she says. (Her English is now fluent, with only a hint of Malay accent.) Inspired by many American female singer-songwriters, including Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill, as well as Malaysian artists like Ning Baizura and Sheila Majid, Yuna says she feels more comfortable writing lyrics in English, where you can be more conversational. “Malay is such a beautiful language that when you write songs in Malay, it has to be poetic.” She’s only written seven Malay songs — one per year she’s been in the business, she jokes.

“Deeper Conversation” was the first song she wrote that garnered public attention. In her last term studying law at university, she started a MySpace page for her music. Soon enough, she started getting requests to perform at jazz bars in Kuala Lumpur, the radio began playing her songs, and she was making a name for herself in the Malaysian independent music scene.

Her father, who worked in law but loved playing the guitar, was especially supportive, as he was the one who used to take his daughter to record stores when she was younger. “He said, ‘Only once in a while is there someone like you who can write music, so you have to pursue it,’” Yuna remembers.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Carlo Fox and Ben Willis from the indie record label and management company Indie-Pop Music had stumbled upon Yuna online. At the time, MySpace had an independent music chart, and Yuna’s Malay music was in the Top 10. If only she sang in English, they thought. When they found she did, they became obsessed with finding her.

Yuna admits she was a little suspicious of these American strangers who wanted to meet her. When she didn’t respond, Willis went on Facebook and started friend-requesting as many of her followers as he could (at the time, she had about 300,000; now, she has almost 2 million).

“She probably thought I was an Internet stalker,” says Willis. “But literally, the first person to hit me back happened to be her mom, who told her, ‘Just get on the phone with this guy. He sounds really nice!’”

“I probably didn’t respond until six months later,” says Yuna. “I was busy, and I didn’t have the courage to think about going to America. But in the end, because I had all this English music that never made it in Malaysia, I knew that I couldn’t discover my own true strength until I gave it a try.”

“I had never been to Malaysia,” says Willis, who ended up flying over by himself to meet Yuna. “But when I got there, she and her cousin picked me up, and she gave me the key to my hotel. She said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you when you’re out here.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what? I’m the one who’s trying to sign you.’ But I hung out with her, her bandmates and her family members for three days. We really clicked. I said, ‘Look, I want to help bring your music to rest of world,’ and the rest is history.”

Last October, Yuna released her second album, Nocturnal, on the Verve Records label. This work allowed her to experiment further in creating her signature sound — pop with hints of traditional Malay music. “Falling” uses an African thumb piano called the kalimba to make a gamelan sound, heard in a lot of Southeast Asian music. “Mountains” was inspired by what Yuna calls “a Borneo vibe,” whereas “I Wanna Go” makes use of the kompang, a Malay tambourine.

But her hit single “Rescue,” inspired by the Malay music form dikir barat, might be the one song that you can’t get out of your head. A women empowerment ballad inspired by her girlfriends, as well as influential women she had just met at a United Nations event, the chorus is about how even when things in life get a little difficult, the girl’s got light in her face / She don’t need no rescuing, she’s OK.

In 2012, Yuna was recognized with a National Youth Icon Award, awarded by the prime minister of Malaysia for her exceptional achievements in arts. But nowadays, it’s not just Malaysian fans that gush about her influence anymore.

“Once the rest of the world feels the way we feel about her, she’s going to be a game-changer,” says Willis. “And not just from the musical perspective. Whenever she’s ready, I think she’s a massive cultural figure who’s been put here to do important things.”

Want more Yuna? CLICK HERE to hear her alluring, can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head music. 

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

Paris Fashion Week: Chinese Designer Yang Li

Story by Ruby Veridiano.

There was something eerie in the air inside the Palais des Beaux Arts as everyone hushed to prepare for Yang Li’s Autumn/Winter 2014 debut. Perhaps it was the elongated silence followed by Bruce Springsteen’s somber voice belting “Dream Baby Dream” that created a bit of a haunting feeling. That, and the word “DREAMER” in all capital letters mysteriously kept appearing.

It felt as if everyone in the room held their breath until the first look appeared on the runway. It was a steely blue dress that stopped inches above the kneecaps, clean and crisp except for the waist, where an overflowing peplum spilled out to be caught and held by the model’s right arm. If one piece described the tone of the entire show, it would be this one– a contrast between the seriousness of Li’s tailoring and an effort to bring an air of optimism through volume. Models slowly sauntered down the runway with a detached demeanor about them, adding to the air of seriousness, mystery, and goth. And yet, by etching the word “DREAMER” in a floor length skirt and an oversized top, Li still makes an effort to infuse a ray of hope amidst the gloom, making for something beautifully strange.

With black as a dominant color, asymmetrical, long-sleeved dresses paraded down the runway with lengths long in the front and short in the back. Paired with black hats, it looked like an outfit fit for a modern day witch with a prerogative to cast her spell. Burgundy and camel also made the palette, appearing as high-buttoned jackets, long skirts, and straight-legged pants that reminded me of military uniforms.

Fur pieces and unexpected peplums disrupted some of the seriousness in Li’s designs, hinting at a bit of whimsy. After all, no matter how dark a personality, there is indeed, a dreamer inside everyone.

Yang Li is a Chinese designer born in Beijing. He moved to Australia at age 10 where he played basketball and skateboarded frequently. He studied fashion in London at the famed Central Saint Martins School. He is a protégé of Raf Simons.

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Paris Fashion Week: South Korean Designer Moon Young Hee

Story by Ruby Veridiano. 

Oversized menswear pieces juxtaposed with billowy volume in blacks, browns and navy sums up South Korean designer Moon Young Hee’s Fall/Winter 2014 collection. The combination of romantic, overflowing chiffon fabrics combined with relaxed tailoring created a medium between the masculine and the feminine, softening structured silhouettes.

After a trail of black and brown ensembles, the soft, creamy, marshmallow-like pieces that came as oversized jackets and pants were a treat. As one who believes in wearing whites and creams in winter, I found them to be a breath of fresh air, deliciously interrupting the darkness of black hues that are more typically worn in the cold season, especially in Paris.

The theme throughout Hee’s fall/winter 2014 collection was large proportions– oversized jackets, wide-legged pants and thick trenches with enough volume to bundle up in. Personally, while Hee’s designs are not typically the type of silhouette I would normally choose for myself, I enjoy the thought of comfort and movability in them. The theme of comfort is also reinforced through the choice of Creeper shoes, square-shaped, flat loafers that all the models wore throughout the show.

Moon Young Hee is a South Korean designer based in Paris who released her own namesake brand in 1992. She is known for her neutral colors, monochromatic schemes and her take on deconstructed womenswear.

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Paris Fashion Week: French Cambodian Designer Christine Phung

Story by Ruby Veridiano.

 

French Cambodian designer Christine Phung delivered Pret a Porter perfection for her fall/winter 2014 collection that could easily be worn from the runway to the chicest ski slopes. Accessorizing with bejeweled skis and ski goggles and set on a winter palette of bright blues, navy, grey and white, the collection inspired a craving for winter wonderland, conjuring images of rock, ice, snow and sky. Mixed in with burgundy and a bit of coral, the designer also reminds us of the flames that burn to keep winter warm.

Sleeves with snowflake embellishments, kimono sleeves, flowy dresses designed with exquisite pleating and Swarovski crystal-studded skirts and jackets were some of the most notable pieces. The pairing of burgundy with navy blue, demonstrated through a patchwork pattern for skirts, jackets and sweaters, were also key pieces in the ski inspired collection. Personally, I thought all the pieces were true to the promise of “ready-to-wear” and I would absolutely (and eagerly) wear every single thing.

Phung set the tone of the afternoon with a poetic description of her collection, framed around the story of a fictional character the designer created from her imagination.  In the story, the character runs through the snow under the stars, unsure whether she is falling or flying. The confusion between the feelings of “falling and flying “was reinforced to the audience by the singer who sang a mesmerizing set of live music– a perfect pairing  for the looks in this collection.

Raised in France by a Cambodian father and French mother, Christine Phung credits her dual heritage for influencing her work, giving her an appreciation for printed fabric and materials. Her Asian background speaks through her designs in the form of volume, kimono sleeves, the use of vibrant color and the choice of using of silk in her materials.

She is an award-winning designer based in Paris.

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Traditional Korean Instrument Could Win SportsCenter Contest

Story by Ruth Kim. 

Traditional Korean gayageum player Luna Lee is one step away from winning ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Fan Jam contest.

The “Fan Jam” contest challenged participants to come up with the best original cover of its iconic “da-da-da, da-da-da” opening theme song. The competition began with eight contestants who showcased a variety of talents, from solo electric guitar to beat-boxing.

Lee, who iamkoream.com featured in a Video of the Week playing Jimi Hendrix, is going head-to-head against acoustic guitarist Trace Bundy. The winner will receive a trip to ESPN headquarters in Connecticut to perform as its “house band” for the day. Voters, who can vote for their favorite cover until Thursday on the SportsCenter Facebook page, determine the winner.

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Although both musicians play acoustic instruments, the distinctive sounds each have their own merit. The extremely technically-skilled acoustic work exhibited by Bundy is clean, classic guitar playing at its finest with virtuoso-like finger-tapping. However, the unique and authentic sound of Lee’s gayageum, a 12-string Korean zither, accompanied by a rock-and-roll track, holds its own in the competition.

Lee released her eponymous debut album, featuring music by Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, in November. Check out her YouTube channel here.

This story was originally published on iamkoream.com  

The Queen’s Reign Ends: Yuna Kim Settles for Silver

Story by Olivia Ouyang. 

Yuna Kim, or the Queen as she is fondly known in the skating world, delivered the program everyone expected of her. Unfortunately, perfection was not enough for the gold medal. The 2010 Olympic Champion and 2013 World Champion led by a small margin after the short program but ultimately settled for silver, 5.48 points off of gold.

It was Adelina Sotnikova who usurped the Queen, claiming for Russia their first gold medal in women’s figure skating. The nineteen-year-old, who won her first Russian national title at the age of twelve, was a bit of a dark horse coming into the competition. In the build up to the Games, Sotnikova had been in the shadow of her younger teammate, Yulia Lipnitskaya, who helped Russia win the team figure skating gold. However, Lipnitskaya faltered in both the short and long program and settled for fifth.

Capturing Italy’s first Olympic figure skating medal was Carolina Kostner, the 27-year-old veteran. In her third and final Olympics, Kostner finally suppressed her nerves and skated a clean short and long program. After disappointing finishes in Torino and Vancouver, an Olympic bronze medal is an appropriate way to cap the career of one of the most beautiful skaters of all time.

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One of the best and most emotional programs of the night came from Japan’s Mao Asada, who was thought to be a gold medal contender coming into the competition. However, after a disastrous short program, Asada sat in sixteenth place. Heartbroken after her skate, Asada came into the long program with something to prove. With steely determination, Asada skated a clean program and broke into tears at the end. She ultimately moved up ten spots and finished in sixth place. Although she was unable to capture another medal, Asada could not have asked for a better skate with which to end her career.

The Americans threw down respectable programs and all three finished in the top ten. Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, and Polina Edmunds placed fourth, seventh, and ninth respectively.

Since the start of the Games, the ladies’ figure skating competition has been posed as a battle between the girls and the women. The free skate event tonight demonstrated the qualities of both youth and experience. In four years, the Olympics will be in South Korea. At that time, Kim will be 27, the same age as Kostner is now. If the Queen is able to keep up her level of skating, there is a good chance she will be able to reclaim her throne in front of a home crowd.

 

The Rise of the Asian Male Figure Skater

Story by Olivia Ouyang.

On a night when mistakes abounded, history was made. The men’s free skate competition was far from memorable, with falls occurring left and right. However, it was an evening for the books. For the first time in the history of Olympic figure skating, an Asian male won the event. Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu skated far below his abilities, falling twice during his program. However, he was able to edge out the competition and solidify the rise of the Asian male skater.

The Japan Figure Skating Championships is considered one of the hardest competitions simply because of the depth of the country’s field. Its two other representatives, Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi, finished fifth and sixth respectively. Takahashi, who made history in 2010 by becoming the first Asian man to win the World Championships, did not even make the podium at Japanese nationals. However, given his experience, which includes a bronze medal at the prior Olympics, Takahashi was given a spot on the team.

It is worth noting that all three medalists are of Asian descent. Silver medalist Patrick Chan is of Chinese descent; both his parents immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in the early part of their lives. Chan created a stir a few years ago when he told Reuters that he wished he could skate for China because the country appreciates their figure skaters whereas Canadians only value hockey. The statement was later retracted. The three-time World Champion was a contender for the gold medal, trailing Hanyu by less than four points. After Hanyu’s errors, the door was open for Chan to step in and clench the gold. However, the veteran skater made numerous errors and was unable to close the gap.

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After the short program, only 3.5 points separated third and eleventh place, leaving the bronze medal was up for grabs. It was Denis Ten, the 2013 World silver medalist, who rose to the occasion. Representing Kazakhstan, Ten is of Korean descent. His great-great-grandfather was Min Keung Ho, a Korean general in the war against Japan for independence in the early 20th century. Ten rose from ninth the third place with one of the best programs of the night.

Michael Christian Martinez, the first figure skater and only athlete from the Philippines at these Games placed a respectable nineteenth place. Read more on his story here.

The ladies’ competition gets underway today. Unlike the men, Asian women have dominated the past two Olympics, beginning with Shizuka Arakawa’s victory at the 2006 Torino Olympics. Reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim of Korea is competing here in Sochi to defend her title. Also in the mix is Mao Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist who is looking to improve on her prior finish and get gold.

Korean Couples Take Matching Outfits to the Next Level

Story by James S. Kim. 

If you’re looking for something other than chocolates and flowers to give to your significant other this Valentine’s Day, take a note from what many young couples are doing in South Korea on a daily basis.

The “couple look,” or publicly advertising a relationship by wearing matching outfits, is quite easy to spot on the streets, beaches and cafes of South Korea. While it can be as simple as a matching T-shirt or shoes, there are couples taking it to the next level, curating entire looks that match from head-to-toe, from jackets and pants to socks and underwear.

The “couple look” culture has understandably spawned a sizable market for specialized retailers, according to AFP. Many online retailers sell couple attire for snowboarding, swimming and running, as well as pajamas and lingerie for the more intimate moments.

There is no substantial data to show how well these businesses are doing, but many young Koreans say donning the couple look is a sweet way of showing affection for one another and even showing off their relationship in public. Married couples have also been getting in on it as a way of reaffirming their love.

Needless to say, things can get complicated if a relationship goes south. Articles of clothing are a bit more permanent than chocolate or flowers, but at least it’s not his-and-hers tattoos.

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This story was originally published in iamkoream.com