May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month. This week we pay tribute to the Asian and Pacific Islanders who enrich the feminist music scene. From pop to punk and hip hop to rockabilly, these artists defy stereotypes and shows the ways the personal is political.
You can also listen to these songs on Unsweetened: A Playlist for a Feminist Future on Spotify.
Mitski, “Your Best American Girl”
In an interview with the Line of Best Fit, Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski said,
I write personal stories about relationships, and living in this world and being a human being… but I happen to live in a world which views me as an Asian American. So my experiences are tainted by that, even if I’m not conscious of it. Someone said ‘the personal is political,’ where it seems like me just being honest about my experiences as a human being and as a person translates as being political about being an Japanese American person. I’m not in this to be political or a social activist, it just happens that my being honest is a very political thing.
“Your Best American Girl,” with its layer of heavy distortion, is a love song and confession to being wholly infatuated with a person (or a country), while knowing they can never truly be yours.
Taimane Gardner, “Clinically Insane”
Ukulelist Taimane Gardner plays the instrument like she’s taming a lion and stretches it far beyond the familiar melodies of Hawai`i. In her song, “Clinically Insane,” she unabashedly takes on the topic of health care and people being forced to choose between medications and putting food on their tables.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, “Meticulous Bird”
Thao Nguyen’s powerful genre-defying songs are personal and political at the same time. In this song, the Vietnamese American sings about an abusive relationship over a metallic bassline and shards of synth.
Yoko Ono, “Open Your Box”
Japanese immigrant Yoko Ono released her debut album “Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band” in 1970. The avant-garde rocker incorporated a Japanese vocal technique called hetai in this song that was banned from radio in Britain, because of the sexual imagery.
Japanese Breakfast, “Boyish”
In Korean American Michelle Zauner’s solo project, Japanese Breakfast, she grapples with the grief of her mother’s death and body image. In this song lush with layered soundscapes, she sings about insecurity, stereotypes of Asian women’s bodies as “boyish,” and what it’s like to love someone who isn’t physically attracted to you.
The 220.127.116.11’s, “Arkansas Twist”
The 18.104.22.168’s are a Japanese rock trio, whose music is reminiscent of American surf music, rockabilly, and garage rock.
Kimie Miner, “Of a Queen”
Kimié Kauikeolani Miner is a folk singer-songwriter of Hawaiian and Portuguese descent. “We are the makings of a queen.”
Hopie, “Be a Lady”
Hopie was born in the Philippines and immigrated with her family to the United States when she was three. She combines hip hop with a unique 1920s sound to challenge gendered expectations.