Last month, Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival was held with over 70 artists performing at one of the biggest music festivals in the United States. Artists like Jay-Z, Chance The Rapper, Gorillaz, and Solange were on this year’s lineup. One of the more interesting acts was ZHU, a Chinese-American artist who prefers to keep his face anonymous. In 2014, he released a collection of songs including “a medley of reworked Outkast classics that took the online music world by storm.” His hit song ‘Faded’ earned him a Grammy nomination around the same year. On ACL’s page, he is described as they described the rising star as “a unique voice making a name for himself – without ever having mentioned it.” Even he achieved success including his debut album Generationwhy, ZHU was one of the few Asian artists performing at a big venue like ACL.
Asian American artists have rarely represented in media such as movies, TV shows, and music. In Mireya Navarro’s essay “Missing: Asian American Popstars,” she explained from music journalist Oliver Wang’s words, “Making up only 4 percent of the country’s population, they are too small a market, and too fragmented in language and nationalities, to offer a solid springboard for its aspiring stars the way other ethnic groups have done” (NY Times). C.N of Asian Nation, a site for scholarly articles on Asian American culture, had a similar analysis on this issue. In the article, a few Asian American musicians noted one of the reasons why there weren’t many musicians in mainstream was “…there [we]ren’t Asian American superstar musicians out there is because Asian American artists haven’t really developed their own sound in the same way that Blacks and Latinos have, nor do they have major media marketing outlets such as BET or Telemundo to help them” (Asian Nation). These reasons reflects in current issues regarding Asian & Asian American entertainers from whitewashing Asian characters in films to fearing being a caricature or stereotype of what an Asian person in Hollywood’s perspective. Festivals were no exception. While they are a platform for showcasing artists from different genres, music festivals have little to no Asian & Asian American artists performing at their venues.
However, there has been small changes coming up especially in music festivals. Aside from ACL, One of the biggest music festivals, Cocahella, added Korean hip-hop group Epik High to last year’s musical lineups which they became their first US headline performance. South By Southwest (SXSW) partners with non-profit organization for Asian American entertainment Kollaboration to host an event “K-Pop Night,” where they bring K-Pop artists to come and perform their hits in Korea from f(x), where were the first K-Pop act to be part of SXSW lineup, MFBTY, and this year’s headliners Red Velvet & Tiger JK. SXSW has also create a space for Asian American artists — a first for the festival– to showcase their music featuring Reonda, Run River North, Big Phony, and more. NPR, who attended the festival back in March, interviewed one of its performers, Melissa Polinar on her experience performing at an event dedicating to celebrate Asian Americans. She reflected, “So, as much as people say ‘we’ll embrace who you are and your uniqueness’ — now, it’s a huge movement, but back in the day, I didn’t really have that support. (…) A lot of people have backed me and believed in me and what I do — not because I’m an Asian chick, but because I sing and write songs” (NPR). SXSW also featured several seminars on Asians and Asian Americans in the music industry as well as a fan meet up with Asian & Asian American SXSW community.
While festivals have a long way to go in terms of providing a venue for Asian & Asian American artists, today’s audience has slowly welcome them to the stage and embrace their incredible music. Music festivals like ACL allows a chance for artists to showcase their music and reaching out to a wider audience. Whether it is adding seminars on Asian American musicians inclusion or spaces to introduce more Asian & Asian American artists, there is no doubt music festivals are slowly moving afraid in today’s issues. Until next time, ACL.
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