Thanks to streaming, YouTube, and, well, time, the musical landscape is becoming more diverse, but Asian-American women tend to still find themselves seriously underrepresented in the mainstream.
But if you look closely, there's a movement of young, confident women who are shaking the status quo, offering everything from groovy R&B and shimmering pop to intricate rap bars while telling compelling stories from their unique perspective.
Here, we highlight some of the most exciting up-and-coming Asian-American female voices adding much-needed dimension to the music space, providing a taste of a more prismatic future.
KATIE's lusciously smoky tone first won over judges on the Korean TV talent show K-pop Star, where she got her start in 2015. The Korea-born, New Jersey-raised singer, who spent a stint at Berklee School of Music to study to be a jazz singer, went on to sign with K-pop juggernaut YG Entertainment and then later with AXIS, a newly formed creative collective from former YG creative director SJ “SINXITY” Shin. "Thinkin' Bout You" is a single off of her debut EP, LOG, which also features a version of her song "Remember" featuring rapper Ty Dolla $ign.
Brooklyn-based Kathy Yaeji Lee (known as Yaeji) is a 25-year-old Korean-American electro/hip-hop artist who's boldly chosen not to limit herself to one language in her music — a fluid blend of English and Korean.
Yaeji moved to Seoul, South Korea from Atlanta in the third grade and then spent some time in Japan before returning to the States to study conceptual art, East Asian studies, and graphic design at Carnegie Mellon University. After getting her start in the New York DJ scene, Yaeji released a few singles including a remix of Drake's "Passionfruit," which gained much attention, and went on to release two EPs and play at Coachella in 2018. Now, Yaeji has embarked on a world tour that includes Boston's Boston Calling Festival and Primavera Sound Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain.
TRACE grew up in Orange County, California with music in her blood, as her mother is Carol Kim, known as "the Tina Turner of Vietnam," but it wasn't until college until she considered pursuing music professionally. In 2016, TRACE started a Kickstarter campaign to create her first EP, Low, which garnered 20 million streams and a record deal with Ultra Music. Since then, she's released a slew of singles including "Anxiety," with merch where the proceeds went to California chapter of non-profit organization National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) to raise awareness on anxiety in the entertainment industry. Her second EP, led by the recently released single "All My Friends," is due to release later this year.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Audrey Chu, formerly known as Audrey, is a 20-year-old Korean-American pop/R&B artist who is currently taking a gap year from New York University’s prestigious Clive Davis Music Institute to pursue music full time. And though she's only been writing music for around a year and a half (but singing for as long as she can remember), the singer has been gaining attention for her unique style, or as she's characterized it, "if Sade did trap." Her style ranges from the quirky trap stylings of "Soufflé," a song about leaving home from the first time to expansive and airy R&B, like her January 2019 single "Empty Hands."
Chinese-American pop singer Chloe Tang was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. She began playing classical piano with her father when she was five years old, and after writing her own music growing up, she eventually pursued songwriting at the University of Colorado Denver. In late 2018, she opened for Dua Lipa at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, CO. Now, the Los Angeles-based artist is promoting her newest single "Hype," a haunting R&B song about identifying toxicity in your life and acknowledging your own value.
Los Angeles-based R&B singer Lenis gained recognition for her confident debut single "Told Him" in 2017, becoming a streaming hit on Spotify in the US, Canada, and several other countries, and topping several playlists. It's been a year since her last single, “Until the Day Of," as she's been balancing the fast metabolism of the modern music industry with her resolve to make authentic, quality work. So it's fitting that the Korean-American artist needed some time to cocoon before releasing her newest song, "Butterfly," a soft love ballad decorated with Lenis' signature caressing lilt.
Rapper Ruby Ibarra spent the first four years of her life in Tacloban City, Philippines before moving to San Lorenzo, California, where she fell in love with hip-hop. Her early influences include classic '90s rappers like Tupac, Eminem, and Wu Tang Clan, but found her own style as she grew up and began to perform publicly at small venues in the Bay Area. Thanks to a few standout YouTube videos that gained over 100,000 views, she gained the attention of DJ Kay Slay and went on to release her debut mixtape, Lost in Translation, in 2012. In 2017, she released her debut album, Circa91, and has steadily released videos and music since, including a submission to NPR's Tiny Desk series, "Someday," a self-penned song about growing up in an immigrant family.
It may not necessarily be fair to call Tiffany Young up-and-coming, since the Korean-American singer spent the better part of the last ten years as a household name in Korea. Young left home in Los Angeles at 15 to become a member of Girls' Generation, the most successful K-pop girl group in recent history. Now, however, she's back in the States to make a name for herself at home, on her own terms. She's armed with a debut solo EP, Lips on Lips, whose five pop and R&B-tinged tracks help tell the story of her journey thus far, as well as her rebirth.
In #NotYourTokenAsian, we take on the pop products, stereotypes, and culture wars that surround Asian-American identity. Follow along as we celebrate our multiplicity during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.