A-pop! November edition — Racism rears its ugly head again at the AMAs, while Asian Americans kill it elsewhere in the media world

By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Katy Perry

Another music award show, another display of racism

If you caught the American Music Awards (AMAs) recently, perhaps you saw the abomination that was pop star Katy Perry’s live performance. On Nov. 24, at the AMAs, Perry sang her hit single “Unconditionally.” The performance was replete with spectacularly offensive Oriental themes, which included cherry blossom trees, a Shinto shrine, and Perry, in her kimono and pale makeup, in what was supposed to be a geisha get-up. In the background, her dancers, also dressed as geishas, were seen waving giant fans.

You may be asking, why would Perry choose a geisha theme for her live performance?

Perry, a long-time lover of Japanese culture, saw the performance as homage. And because the sentiment of her song focuses on one’s unconditional love for someone, I guess it was an easy jump for her to use a geisha — an image that has long stereotyped Asian women as submissive and docile in American society — as the ideal image of “unconditional love.” Her performance was also problematic because it continued to produce and reinforce certain myths about Asian women from a non-Asian perspective.

Too easy of a stereotype to play, Perry. You should know better. But that might be asking a bit much of someone who views cultural stereotypes like this as “homage.”

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Psy (Photo by Eva Rinaldi CC)

On the other side of the spectrum, South Korean rapper Psy performed his international hit song “Gangnam Style” in a unique mash-up with rapper MC Hammer. The audience went crazy over the live performance, but some home viewers were not so pleased to see Psy on stage. Ignorant tweets poured in shortly after the performance with Americans lambasting Psy’s presence.

People tweeted comments about how “chinks like Psy” should not be allowed to sing at an American event like the AMAs, despite the fact that Psy has long dominated American music charts. Ironically, there is a strong chance that most of the people complaining about Psy have actually danced to his music at some point.

The sad thing is that such willfully racist tweets are not new to the AMAs. And this isn’t the first time Psy has been targeted for performing on an American awards show. But when paralleled with the Perry incident above, it is frustrating to see a mega pop star like Perry think it is acceptable to perform a song filled with racial archetypes, while Psy, a Korean rapper with wild success in America, gets flack for not being American. It’s messed up.

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Dara Yu (Courtesy of Master Chef Junior)

Asian American teen owns the kitchen

Let’s switch over to some lighter news.

Teenagers are often criticized for being lazy and unmotivated, but the young contestants of “MasterChef Junior” would have you think otherwise. Dara Yu, a 12-year-old contestant on the cooking competition reality series, took home the first runner-up title. The show, in which 12 contestants in the 9-13 age range compete to win $100,000 and a trophy, recently finished its first run. An while the show’s judges, which include celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, were equally wowed by the food that Yu and the other final contestant Alexander Weiss produced, Yu ultimately lost to Weiss’ advanced technical prowess in the kitchen. Tough luck, Yu.

Although she did not take home the top title or winnings, Yu is still able to take one thing to the bank — schoolyard bragging rights that she can cook circles around her peers, and most likely many of the adults in her life, too!

Asian American zombie fighters make for sexy men

Actor Steven Yeun, known for his role on the hit zombie drama series “The Walking Dead,” recently landed a coveted place on People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” list for 2013. Though self-explanatory, landing a spot on the publication’s annual list means that Yeun is part of a select group of very sexy men, which is mostly comprised of notable figures in the media. While Yeun did not win the title of THE Sexiest Man Alive — that award went to Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine — this is still an important honor because sexiness among Asian Americans needs to be recognized! It’s just more love for us in the media.

Some people were surprised that Yeun made the list, including the actor himself. “When I first heard that I was going to be in the issue, I asked if they were sure,” said Yeun in a video interview with People. “That was the first thing I asked, and then maybe [the] second question was, is this a joke? But it’s an honor. It’s really awesome.”

Congrats to Yeun for being hailed as one of the sexiest men in the world. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. (end)

Vivian Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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Photos on flickr