Being Asian In A White Music Scene

By | May 10, 2021 at 3:00 PM
Photo by Nick Karp

When you’re sixteen, you never really look around the room to see if you’re the only Asian person there. It’s not something that occurs to you when you’re so happy to be front row at a show. For me, I was just excited to share a similar interest with other people my age and to be able to talk about bands we enjoyed. I never realized how important it would be to see other people who looked like me on stage and behind the scenes. 

My origin story in the music industry is like a lot of people who started on Myspace at an age that was probably restricted at the time. Myspace was a gateway to bands like All Time Low, Paramore, Cobra Starship, and The Cab. I never fully grasped how much of what I was consuming centered around white people, until I got older and even as recently as the last year.  So to be honest, for a good portion of my teen to early adult years, I tried to fit myself into this box of what I thought would be more appealing to the community I was in. 

One of the first instances I can remember when seeing somebody who looked like me clicked something in my brain was when I found The Summer Set. I had learned their drummer, Jess Bowen, is Flipino and it instantly made me feel better about existing in that space. At the time I couldn’t explain why it meant so much to me but knowing there was somebody else Asian and a woman meant that I could exist in this world. 

I guess in retrospect I was always looking for that representation in artists I listened to and photographed. It explains a lot of the bands I gravitated towards in the scene, where many had members that were Asian like Yellowcard, Seaway, gates, and Like Pacific

But there weren’t many Jess Bowens during the Myspace days and it was definitely rare to see other Asian fans at the shows I attended. Most of the friends I made were white and, looking back, the combination of it all made me reject my culture in a lot of ways. For starters, I was always scared to suggest food places that were Asian. I’m not talking about Chinese takeout, I’m talking about bao, sushi, pho, ramen, and bánh mì. These things weren’t “cool” or trendy yet. So I stopped having those be part of the life I was living in the music scene. If my friends wanted pizza or to go to a diner, that was it and I wasn’t about to stir the pot. I didn’t want people to think I was weird. 

Recently, I’ve started to reflect on that period of my life. I often ask myself if everything I liked at that time was my choice or if it was to fit an imaginary mold that was presented to me by the very white centered music scene. That question really messes with your head as you try to navigate the road to embracing your cultural identity while existing in a white male oriented world. It’s so clear to me now that I craved seeing representation that reflected me in the music I consumed. But it wasn’t always there. Thankfully, in 2021 there’s a lot more. Discovering artists like BLACKPINK, Audrey Mika, and Jackson Wang have changed my world. I’m still trying to navigate one big mess, but at least I’m doing it unapologetically, proud to be who I am and that’s an Asian American woman in the music world.