We’ve all seen the atrocities of Western appropriation of Asian culture in many music videos, such as Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love” and Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls.” But what about music videos that exhibit Asian culture without degrading it to Oriental set dressing?
Avril Lavigne is the latest celebrity to participate in the long tradition of objectifying Asian culture in media. Her Tokyo-set music video for her song “Hello Kitty” – the fourth single of the Canadian singer’s self-titled album – fuses the kawaii aesthetic of Japan with cupcakes galore and shouting out random Japanese phrases, all the while accompanied by her blank-faced posse of Japanese back-up dancers. The music video, which was originally released on April 21st, was removed from YouTube due to strong backlash from the public. However, it was re-uploaded to her Vevo channel merely two days later.
RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video… — Avril Lavigne (@AvrilLavigne) April 24, 2014
I began to wonder if there are any music videos out there at all that fuse the Asian culture into the content without straight up objectifying it. As it turns out, there are a number of examples actually, which was a satisfying discovery for me. So rather than ranting about how awful Lavigne’s music video is, I present to you three positive examples of music videos portraying Asian culture:
1. Black Eyed Peas – “The APL Song”
This music video is an excellent example of how to use Asian culture to tell a story. The song focuses on band member Allan Pineda Lindo’s (apl.de.ap) upbringing in the Philippines before being adopted by a family in the United States. Featuring a Filipino World War II veteran and childhood photos of Allan, the music video is a touching one that focuses on identity and culture in a very appropriate manner. The song even has a full chorus in Tagalog that’s from the song “Balita,” which was originally by the Filipino folk rock group, Asin.
2. Alex Clare – “Too Close”
This is a more recent example that also uses elements of Asian culture to tell a strong, visual story. As the video shows the British singer-songwriter sing about his lack of readiness for a committed relationship, it intercuts with a scene of two Kendo fighters dueling with each other in an abandoned building. From the looks of it, the Kendo duel symbolizes the turmoil and wrath within Clare of being unable to commit. Tastefully made and visually appealing, “Too Close” showcases Japanese culture and martial arts in a respectable way.
3. The Beatles – “Across the Universe”
While this is not an “official” music video for the song, it was nonetheless an interesting discovery to find. In the later years for the Beatles, they were heavily influenced by transcendental meditation. They were so intrigued by the practice, that they even made a trip to India in 1968 and studied under guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Seeing the Beatles and other participants decked out in traditional clothing and flower garlands (or malas) with the song playing over the archive footage, I felt the respect for the Indian culture that the band members want to convey in this video.
Do you know of any more music videos that don’t culturally appropriate Asian culture? Share the video in the comments below!