This little number comes from our very own Vincent Chen. Read on!

We here at Ninja Pants have received a fair amount of feedback expressing concern about strict standards and the ramifications of negative reviews towards the Asian American music community. Albums from megastars with cult followings like Lyrics Born and Ken Oak Band have been trashed by writers here, including yours truly. But beyond the pedestrian debate as to whether we are too harsh or if the music is just simply bad, I wonder, “How much are we as writers influenced by stereotypes and the dominant ideology ourselves?”

Asian American musicians and artists face certain obstacles as barriers to entry into the contemporary mainstream pop charts and public eye. In a market dominated by images of William Hung and Yo-Yo Ma as some of the most prominent faces out there, of course the popular ideology is going to formulate stereotypes of Asians ranging on the extremes of a laughable spectacle to a dull cellist. Neither really convey any style that resembles the cool, hip vibe that seems mandatory to receive any real cred in both pop music and the subcultures of indie rock and underground Hip Hop. Combined with other racist notions of Asian males being meek, asexual nerds, does this popular musical representation make us take artists like Surprise Surprise or Notorious MSG less seriously than we should?

Moreover, does being conscious that institutional and structural racism exists remove me from being influenced by the same hegemonic notions that can be intentionally reproduced by the rich, white CEOs of record companies? Just because I know that the heads of news corporations, FOX, and American Idol purposefully chose to represent William Hung the way he was represented, does not remove me from buying into it, does it? At the very least, this knowledge does not impact the amount of exposure I receive. Ergo, being conscious of all the inequality of racial and cultural representation in mass media does not necessarily leave me immune to letting it affect me, perhaps in subtle or even subconscious ways.

Therefore, one must wonder how much we, as members of the Asian American community, have internalized self-hating notions about our own people not only in music, but all walks of life. We feel this burn every time we cringe internally when worrying about being “too Asian”, hanging out with too many or only Asians, or being embarrassed when family members speak broken English in public. As much as I want to portray a proud identity of myself as an Asian American with no history of insecurities, there is no doubt many of us go through these same growing pains during our earlier years trying to discover and decide who we are.

Returning this discussion back to the music scene, it is probably impossible to discern how much of our opinions are based upon legitimately objective ears as music critics or by social constructions perpetuated through individual, ideological, and institutional influences. I guess it’s just the old nature vs. nurture argument in a way, and no doubt it’s hella scary to think that we are all more products of our environments than we’d like to be. Regardless, let me end with a toast to the promise of groundbreaking Asian American artists that can throw down existing stereotypes and help us all break the chains holding us down with some good music, growing exposure in new and positive roles, and ultimately greater prominence.

We must realize that we need to actively participate in defining our own self-identities by sifting through all the bullshit and thinking critically. Kind of like how we should tackle music reviews too.

vincent chen

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