Over a year after the release of her sixth album, 1000 Forms of Fear, Australian singer-songwriter Sia is back with a new album underway. With her seventh album, This Is Acting, set for release on January 29, 2016, she’s already beginning to promote it with the release of three of its tracks and on November 5th, she released the music video for the lead single, “Alive.”
Similar to her previous music videos, Sia is nowhere to be seen as we are instead treated to a choreographed piece performed by a child in the trademark bob wig. Unlike the previous music videos, the one for “Alive” has martial arts rather than a dance routine, and instead of 13-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler, it’s 9-year-old Japanese karate star Mahiro Takano who dons the bob.
All focus is on young Takano who appears to be alone in an empty room. She is meditating and stirring tea at the beginning of the video, and then performs a number of moves as Sia is heard belting out the song. Conceptually, the video is an interesting take on a song about overcoming struggles and becoming a fighter, especially in the parts where she looks as if she’s sparring an invisible opponent.
I could see this music video as an extension of a listicle I did last year about music videos that respectfully depict Asian culture. There are many examples where Asian culture is objectified in music videos, such as Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty” and Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love,” but this music video is one of only few examples that doesn’t resort to cultural appropriation. Sia, who also served as the co-director for the music video, made a respectable and creative choice of using the Japanese martial art as a symbolic visual for her song by simply having Takano show what she knows.
In addition, it’s also wise to note that a young Asian girl is the star this time around. According to Entertainment Weekly, Sia found Takano online after coming across videos of her on YouTube. In fact, one of Takano’s demo videos went viral last year, where she is seen performing Kanku Dai kata (a karate form), and it has since garnered nearly five million views. Much like the music videos for Sia’s previous album, as author Shannon Carlyn observes in her article for Bustle, the casting of young girls has not only been a way of filling in for her absence, but also as a way to empower young girls and women to not feel limited in what they can or cannot do.
Ziegler, who beforehand was known for being on the reality show Dance Moms, gained wider notice after appearing in the music videos for Sia’s “Chandelier,” “Elastic Heart,” and “Big Girls Cry.” Due to the seldom appearance of Asians in music videos, the fact that Takano might receive similar attention for her performance in “Alive” is a really exciting possibility. It does, however, depend on her deal with Sia. While Ziegler was signed on to do three music videos, it is currently unknown as to whether or not this will be the only one Takano appears in.
The music video does have the potential to be subjective to enforcing the stereotype that all Asians know martial arts. Ideally, I’d like to think that we’re in a time now where people would know better, but if that were truly the case, then the stereotypical roles and lack of visibility of Asians in the media wouldn’t be as significant an issue as it is. But considering Takano’s background in martial arts, I hope that the music video can be seen more as a way of showcasing her talent, similar to how “Chandelier” showcased Ziegler’s. Besides, it’s not that often where martial arts are included in a music video. Unlike mainstream martial art films where they’re made to look flashy with post-production visual aesthetics, Takano makes it real by simply demonstrating the moves she has learned that has led to her earning a black belt.
This past year, we’ve begun to see a turnout in better representations of Asians and Asian Americans in the media landscape. With this music video out there now starring a talented Japanese girl, my hope is that it ignites the move to diversify actors and performers in the future of music videos.
Judith Hill has been a backup singer for musicians like Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and was to serve as one for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” Tour. She was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom and was a contestant on the fourth season of The Voice. But Friday, October 23rd, marked the beginning of a new chapter for the singer-songwriter, for her debut album, Back in Time, was at long last released.
Back in Time is an R&B/soul funk album from NPG Records. Co-produced by Prince and recorded at Paisley Park, it was originally released as a free download on SoundCloud for a limited time last March.
The album has a retro feel in its overall sound, for Hill, as the daughter of funk musicians Robert “Peewee” and Michiko Hill, really digs deep into the genre. It’s one of those albums where each song—more or less—is going to have you bobbing your head or tapping your foot in sync with the beat.
There are a couple of songs that really stand out. One of them is the opening track, “As Trains Go By.” Beginning with only Hill’s vocals that sound like they’re coming from a crackly record player, the song is a strong kick off to Back in Time; it sets a general sense of what to expect from the sound. Thematically, the song doesn’t shy away from the repetitive police brutality that’s been hitting the headlines over the past year. One line she repeats throughout is, “Might as well be famous, since I ain’t gonna be white.”
The third track on the album, “Angel In the Dark,” is a unique song as far as its sound goes, as it has the highest amount of production value, giving it a more modern vibe. The production doesn’t hinder Hill’s vocals, but instead compliments it. It’s a standout on the album as she briefly takes a step away from her overall retro sound and experiment with the present.
“Beautiful Life” is more slowed down, as it demonstrates Hill’s vocal ability with power ballads. She thrives in this song, as her voice takes its time building up to a chorus about how life is quite beautiful, despite the downfalls. However, after seeing her duet with Jackson on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” in the This Is It documentary, it doesn’t surprise me that she has the capability to sing this way.
“Cry, Cry, Cry” is likely to be the most musically explored song on the album. Hill channels her inner Aretha Franklin on this one, as her vocals are sung in a way where it’s unlike any of the other songs on the album. This song has the most soul of them all, as she pours a lot of it into each passionate line she hits.
As much as Back in Time is a quality record with its 60s and 70s-sounding vibes, there were a few songs that could have been a little stronger; in particular “Cure,” “My People,” and “Wild Tonight.” With the tempo for those songs being very similar, it started to sound a little redundant after a while. In addition, the songs that made up a core portion of the middle of the album seemed to play at a slow tempo for a little too long. In fact, by the time we arrive at “Jammin’ In the Basement,” the song’s sudden pickup in pace is practically unexpected.
While the album is evident of Hill’s soul funk background (and love for the genre as well), it would have been interesting to see her experiment more with the sounds of her songs. The combined elements of both the old and the new made “Angel In the Dark” particularly intriguing.
Ultimately, Back in Time is a love letter to the soul funk genre, and people who are into that kind of music will most definitely enjoy it. Hill’s voice is a sound that, I feel, has been lacking in contemporary music, and given the album’s cover art of her as a toddler jamming on a toy piano, one can imagine how this first body of work—of likely many more to come—has been a lifetime in the making.
This week’s episode of Fresh Off the Boat is all about relationships. Whether if it’s with a friend, a love interest, or a family member, the relationships you have with people are some of the most valuable things in life. Though sometimes, there are just some relationships that are meant to be let go.
The joint house restoration business between Jessica, Grandma and Honey is off to a rough start. Any suggestion that Honey makes is frugally dismissed by Jessica, even though on her end, Jessica spends $500 monthly to consult Madam Xing, her fortuneteller. When Honey calls out Jessica over taking her fortuneteller’s advice over her “partner’s”, a frustrated but prideful Jessica decides to end their relationship. For a while Jessica seems content with the decision, but after realizing that she doesn’t want to wind up “alone and right”, like Grandma Huang, she attempts to make it right with Honey. Unfortunately, Honey is in no position to forgive. What is Jessica to do?
Meanwhile, Louis is also dealing with a friendship at odds when his former roommate Barry comes to stay for a few days. Barry is nowhere on Jessica’s good side, because he never paid back a loan that Louis gave to him for a vitamin company they attempted to start back in the day. So when Louis finds himself face-to-face with another investment deal, he must decide between loaning over money he’ll likely never see again or save himself a lot of hardship and let go of this guy once and for all.
What I liked about these two storylines for Jessica and Louis was that they really tested their personality traits. Jessica is headstrong, stubborn, almost never admits she’s wrong when she is and rarely ever apologizes. Louis has an open perspective on life and tries to see the good in people. In the episode, they were each challenged with having to do the opposite of what they would normally do. Jessica had to swallow her pride in order to save her friendship with Honey and Louis had to stand up for himself and not let Barry talk him into giving him anymore money. I found these instances to be an interesting path for the writer (Ali Wong, one of the several Asians in FOtB’s writing room) to present.
Similar to the Chinese superstitions examined in the season one episode “Very Superstitious” (which Ali Wong also wrote), it was interesting to see how the practice of Chinese fortune telling was incorporated into this episode. While Jessica didn’t dive too deep into why knowing her fortune was very important to her, fortune telling is a respected practice in Chinese culture used in social and business decisions even to this day. Looking back on the episode, while Honey was in the right for calling out Jessica’s willingness to listen to Madam Xing over her, she could also have been seen as insensitive for not respecting a part of Jessica’s culture. After all, as we see by the end of the episode, Madam Xing was technically right about when they should sell the house.
It wasn’t just the adults who were at odds with the relationships in their lives. Eddie wants to buy a $50 necklace for Allison for her birthday, and in order to raise money to buy it, he takes up a new job at the house of his new neighbor, rapper DMX (or Earl when in the presence of his baby daughter Genesis). Not only is Eddie forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but he’s also given so much work to do that he becomes so tired and grumpy at school, not even Allison wants to be around him. At a loss over being away from her, Eddie’s new boss takes him under his wing (as well as his greenhouse of orchids) and teaches him how “presence triumphs presents.”
Once again, this episode shows how far Eddie has come along since the first season. Before when he wanted to buy something, he was told to get a job to earn the money. This time around, he instantly went looking for work when the price of the necklace was out of his budget. At the same time, Eddie also shows how much Allison really means to him by putting in all this effort to give her something nice for her birthday. It’s a sweet gesture and a trait that’s not always found in middle school boys.
This week’s episode was another score for Fresh Off the Boat!
The afternoon sun blazing overhead, I trudged up a set of stairs and, upon entering the foyer, was met with a bubble of voices and laughter, which filled up the cozy interior of House Roots Coffee. It was here where I met Alex Hwang, vocalist of the Los Angeles based band Run River North. Warm coffee mugs in hand, we retreated to a quieter room, where I learned more about the band and the inspiration behind their new album Drinking From a Salt Pond (available for pre-order now).
1. RRN band members’ entire being encapsulated in three words. Interpret as you desire:
Daniel Chae (violinist, guitarist): “Renaissance, running, tones.”
John Chong (drummer): “Drummer, model-esque, and uh, this is tough. Black & white, is that a word? I’ll use that.”
Sally Kang (keyboardist): “Demure, goofy, and big head”
Jen Rimm (violinist): “Little sister, vogue, and um, incredibly tough. Yea, tough.”
Joe Chun (bassist): “Four arms, four arms, and four arms.”
Alex Hwang (singer/songwriter): “Okay, who am I missing. John, Jen, Joe, myself? Okay, myself. Um… Monsters Calling Home.”
2. If the bottoms of your feet have been itching to know the reason behind Hwang’s lack of shoes on stage, here’s the nitty gritty: It’s just more comfortable.
Hwang on his exposed extremities, “As an Asian, you grow up in your house not having shoes, and I think of all the most comfortable places I’m in – like the shower, the bathroom, my home… I’m the most relaxed there. And the common thread for most of them is, I’m either alone, or I don’t have shoes on. So since I can’t be alone on stage, if I can take my shoes off, that’d be great… I just feel more connected to the ground.”
Growing up in a Korean household in which the shoes stopped where the carpet started, I can completely relate with Hwang’s desire to kick off his shoes for the sake of comfort. I’d hesitate to jump up and down with bare feet on some of the grodier stages that RRN’s performed on, but to each his own!
3. Stories from fans are sources of inspiration for the band.
“We’ve been really lucky to go on tour and travel the country like two, three times now, so we’re meeting people from Iowa, Michigan, Tennessee. We’d never have imagined that people would like our music. And when we do, we show up, and we have time to talk to them and there’s a lot of stories out there that seem to resonate with our stories, and it’s not too different,” says Hwang.
4. Hwang has impeccable taste in music (Subjective, perhaps. Keyword: perhaps).
“I’m really digging this one song off the Fitz and the Tantrums album. It’s called The Last Raindrop. It just came up while I was running, I think it’s just a fantastic song,” says Hwang as he searches through his iPhone. He also loves The Killers, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, and Death Cab for Cutie.
5. Music and food is what keeps the band together. Literally.
With two girls and four very different guys, the band’s been hard pressed to find activities to do together.
“We bowl sometimes,” Hwang jokes. “We eat a lot as a band, we eat out pretty well, but not too much… Daniel and Sally like to drink a lot of coffee or go to coffee shops. Joe likes to climb a lot, and tries to get the rest of the band to love it, but he just loves climbing… John and Jennifer recently got into surfing, so I think we’re going to try to get out and do that more… I think music is what we’re barely doing together.” Making music together may be their only common denominator, but the synthesis of these six diverse friends creates a sound that captivates audiences during their soulful live performances.
6. Fact is, Run River North came about because of Kollaboration.
Hwang had been volunteering backstage during Kollaboration’s live shows, throughout college and during his first two years out of college. “I really loved what they were doing, and I met some of my closest friends through Kollaboration. I loved helping out and I just wanted to see what it was like backstage before I put myself in front,” reflects Hwang.
In 2011, Kollaboration was having their show at Nokia Theater, and Hwang decided to take advantage of the opportunity to perform at one of their largest venues: “So I just asked a bunch of musicians that I knew. First, I wanted to see if they liked the song [Monsters Calling Home], and if they wanted to audition with me. It wasn’t that we were gonna make a band and just do this. It was more like, ‘You want to play in Nokia Theater on stage? Let’s do this.’ And it became the first five people that are in the band.”
7. RRN’s second album is coming out by the beginning of next year, and it will be starkly different from their first.
Drinking From a Salt Pond is scheduled to be released in late January or early February of this coming year. The album will herald an end to the alternative folk sound that has become synonymous with Run River North, in large part because of the sound of their self-titled debut album, Run River North.
“We’re in this spot where it’s been a really tough year for the band. Just trying to come up with songs, and since this is our full-time job, if we’re not playing gigs, we’re not making money, so that’s a pretty big strain. And after having to tour for three years, you see everything about each other. So, all of that – put into a pot – it’s really easy for all of us to be short-tempered and toxic in our relationships,” Hwang reflects.
Yet in spite of that fact that they’re “hanging around a stagnant salt pond that’s not giving life,” Hwang explains, “somehow we’re able to make some pretty fresh stuff.” RRN seeks to strip down everything to the core in order to be as raw and honest as possible.
“I think that’s what drinking from a salt pond is like. You know this is wrong, and you know this isn’t what it’s supposed to be, but you have to take that sip, and you have to admit that there’s something wrong… just to be honest I guess,” says Hwang. “It’s not, ‘Everything’s going great.’ No, everything kind of sucks right now, and yet, even though everything kind of sucks, things are still growing and things are still fruitful, things are still good. So in the midst of crap, there’s still something going on.”
The music production is also stripped down to the bone, devoid of excessive effects. “We’re really putting a mirror to who we really are, and not trying to put any filters, or cool Instagram filters, or cool reverb, or even my voice in the record,” explains Hwang. “We’ve stripped out a lot of effects… There’s a little bit of delay on it, slap back, but a lot of the times, our vocals, and a lot of the takes too, are just really raw, and it’s exactly what we’re doing. This is who we are as a band. Sometimes it sounds kind of shitty, but I think that’s what we want – to kinda portray that we’re not the most talented, skilled people. We’re a band, and out of what we have together, here’s what we have.”
Watch the music video for the first single from the new album below!
8. And finally, some great news for fans in Asia.
The goals for the new album remain as ambitious as the last album’s – to play wherever they can, and at the biggest stages possible. Hwang also expresses that the band desires to play abroad, particularly in Asia.
Hwang explains that the band’s identity is flexible and cannot be contained into a racial category. “It feels like we’re kind of a world band,” says Hwang. “We’re not this White, Korean band, and we’re not this Asian, Korean band. So I think we can go to both places and be like, why don’t you tell us what we are, when we play?”
And he’s absolutely right. When I first heard “Monsters Calling Home” off their first album, I couldn’t believe that I was listening to a folk rock band composed entirely of Korean-Americans. Ignorant on my part, probably, but my surprise also goes to show the rarity of Asian front men in certain music genres, let alone a band composed entirely of people like me. People who harbored a duality in identity: we are neither Korean nor American, but at the same time, we are fully both. We cannot be shackled into a single racial category, but we embrace this flexibility.
And that’s exactly what Hwang and the band is doing. So kudos to Run River North for breaking racial boundaries, setting milestones, and embracing that complex blend of their identity as Asian Americans.
New media, especially platforms like YouTube, WordPress, and Instagram, have redefined the entertainment industry and have allowed even the average person to create and distribute their art. Ten years ago, being a Blogger, YouTuber, Vine-famous, or even “big on Instagram” weren’t credible past-times, much less viable careers. Now in 2015, PewDiePie has earned $12 million dollars last year playing video games on YouTube, web-based sketch comedy group Smosh released a movie, and YouTube beauty guru Michelle Phan has her own book and cosmetic line.
One person who has been on the frontlines of this evolution of storytelling is actor, writer, and filmmaker Chris Dinh. Most recognizable for his work with WongFu Productions, Dinh also has done a number of independent work with friend Viet Nguyen. Most recently Dinh and Nguyen released their crowd-funded movie, Crush the Skull, a full length feature based on their shorts series with the same name.
“I’m trying to find my thing too. The thing that makes me laugh. It tends to be in that dark comedy realm. Super dark and hopefully fun. It’s just meant to be a fun ride.” Chris Dinh
While Dinh visited Boston for a Crush the Skull screening at the Boston Asian American Film Festival, Kollaboration got to sit down and talk to him about what he thought of new media and the future of storytelling.
Kollab: How do you define new media?
Chris: If I had to define it, it’s anything that is… I almost want to say anything that is digital, but not only digital, but anything that has been created organically out of a need to just express a person’s interest or passions. It can not only be YouTube, but now there’s Vine and there’s Instagram and Snapchat. Anything that you can just pick up and do yourself and tell a story that can reach an audience.
Kollab: Why did you get into new media with YouTube and all that?
Chirs: I was working at a traditional production company, it wasn’t indie, but it still worked in the traditional ways. And it’s a very slow moving system and I just felt like we would spend all this time in development, but we were never shooting anything. Then I saw how quickly people were uploading YouTube videos, and I just felt like it was exciting. I wanted to be a part of it somehow, I didn’t know how, I just wanted to be a part of it.
Kollab: How did you end up a part of it?
Chris: So I got into it because there was a film festival in New York, this really cool group of Asian Americans started it, and they started this cool thing called the 72 Hour Shoot-Out. It’s a competition, they give you perimeters, you shoot and deliver a short film within 72 hours. That was one of the first short films that we did that was digital for me, and that was my first taste of the online world. Shortly after that I met the WongFu guys and it was the right place at the right time kind of stuff. They were doing what I wanted to do, so I just wanted to hang out with them and do whatever they wanted to do.
Kollab: Crush the Skull was made entirely with new media, you started with YouTube and then you went on to Kickstarter to make the film. Was there anything about that process that surprised you?
Chris: What’s surprising about that is how hard it is. Actually, I don’t know if it was surprising, because I knew it would be really hard. Because we had just done the WongFu campaign, and then I was going out there and doing another campaign right after that. It made me feel weird to keep asking for support, I felt bad about it. But timing wise, we had no other options, we had to. But we had some amazing people come through to support us. It was both tough, and inspiring. Because you’re like, ‘Oh mygosh, we’re not going to make it,’ and then people came through for us, and then we feel super inspired by that.
“Something that maybe Asian American who have a really negative opinion of Asian american films. Like for some they just get turned off when they hear that term, and so maybe capturing some of them like, ‘Hey it could be fun! You should support it.’ The more you support it, the more fun films like this can exist.” Chris Dinh
Kollab: Being a part of independent films like Crush the Skull, you do so many different roles. Do you prefer it that way, or do you wish you had a larger crew?
Chris: I wish I had a larger crew who wore many hats. (But) it’s really fun for me. I grew up watching Charlie Chaplin, and I was so inspired to read and learn that he was the same way. They were kind of like the YouTubers of the day. They were doing everything, producing, writing, casting, composing, how cool was that? It’s so rewarding to be able to do.
Kollab: With all these platforms, the market is almost too saturated. Do you think it’s still worth it, or should they start through the traditional route?
Chris: I think that you should try everything. Maybe you tell your stories best through Vine, or YouTube, or a novel, or poetry. There’s so many ways to express yourself, it’s so cool to see what works for you. Yes there’s a lot of saturation, but there’s communities that are being created and I think that put it out there and find your community. But it’s definitely worth it to share your story.
Kollab: Because of your presence on YouTube and social media, it’s a very different connection to fans. How would you describe your relationship with fans?
Chris: I like how easy it is, and I hope that anyone who follows our stuff can just come up and say hi. Storytelling is supposed to be a way to connect with people, and it would be weird if it was like, ‘Yeah, I want to tell stories and connect with you, but I don’t want you to feel comfortable enough to come say hi.’ (At the BAFF panel on new media) when we were talking about creating our own space, people feel like they’re just consuming it, but it’s actually participating. It’s so important, not only making that content, but just the act of clicking on it and watching. That’s all a part of creating that space together for all of us to share our stories. For me, that’s how I see the relationship (with fans). We’re all in it together, and we’re creating the space together.
Kollab: Regardless of the platform, why is storytelling and creating a shared space so important?
Chris: I hope I don’t sound crazy, but someone once said that when language was created, it was when we created time travel. I always found that really fascinating because I think storytelling is very much a part of being human. You share a story because you want someone to share in that experience with you, and sometimes it’s just about sharing in that experience. Sometimes it’s I want you to know more about me, or I want to know more about you so we can become closer. We try to tell these stories so you can step into my shoes for a little bit so you can know what life is like for me or what life is like for you. I think it’s all about understanding each other a little better and stories are a great way to spread empathy.
“Empathy is how we’re going to find and settle these big huge conflicts in the world today. When we always see these other groups as “the other,” we’ll never be able to find peace or resolution. I think that’s what story is all about, in all these forms. It’s all about sharing stories so that we can relate to each other and share in these experiences.” Chris Dinh
Kollab: Now that all these new platforms are available, what do you hope to see for the future of media?
Chris: This is where I’m going to start sounding crazy. I think the future is going to be really crazy. We’re going to be able to get to a point— and it sounds like it’s really super futuristic, but it’s not because we’re super close— I’m going to be able to wear a virtual reality helmet and almost live the experience of my parents. Someone will be able to program that world so I can see what it was like growing up in Vietnam, or stepping onto the boat for the first time to escape. Language is a beautiful thing, but one day when we can totally step inside someone’s stories, literally step in through technology, then I’m going to appreciate my parent’s stories in a totally different way. I think that’s subconsciously what we’re trying to achieve in storytelling and technology. Until you can really experience it, I think that’s the future. That’s crazy talk, but at the core, that’s what story is.
Kollab: Any last general advice or words of encouragement?
Chris: For any storyteller out there who wants to start telling stories, on whatever platform that they choose, my advice would be to take it as seriously as, let’s say a doctor takes med school. All the people who are doing it at the highest levels consider any of the various ways to tell stories see it as a profession and as serious as medicine or law, or business. It’s going to be as difficult as any of those other fields, so treat it accordingly. That’ll help you have a long future in it. We see a lot of the fun outcomes, but what you don’t se is that they take it very seriously. It’s a pretty difficult journey, so be ready for that.