Asian-Americans Artists in Indie Rock/Pop: A Starter Kit

Music is inclusive, or at least it should be.

Mitski 'Your Best American Girl' | Photo by YouTube
Mitski 'Your Best American Girl' | Photo by YouTube

By Kiana Fernandez

Starting at an early age, I have been an avid listener of indie rock and pop. While I would listen to all of these bands and artists, it was difficult for me to fully relate to them. Though music is universal, I still felt a bit left out looking at a stage of predominately white faces. I wanted to seek out more bands and artists who shared a similar cultural context with me.

After a lengthy while pondering Spotify Discover Weeklies and recommendations, I have fallen in love with Asian-American artists I stick to and listen to on repeat. In this selection, I've cultivated a list of Asian-American artists ranging from well-known to a bit more obscure in the indie rock and pop genre. These artists make space for Asian-Americans in the music scene. Enjoy.

1. Mitski

Recommended songs: Your Best American Girl, Francis Forever, Townie

Most of my adolescence can be described by Mitski's "Your Best American Girl" on her album "Puberty 2". The line that hits the hardest for me is "Your mother wouldn't approve of how my mother raised me, but I do, I think I do". It tells a story of a girl who tries to live up to a standard of an American girl when she pursues a romantic partner who is "all-American" or white. Her solemn, yet striking melodies speak of mourning and acceptance - not only pain and nostalgia, but also of a certain recognition things are the way they are. Her music holds truth and provides healing - any song by Mitski is a must listen.

Mitski, Japanese-American singer-song writer | Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Mitski, Japanese-American singer-song writer | Photo by Wikimedia Commons

2. Japanese Breakfast

Recommended songs: Softs Sounds from Another Planet, Everybody Wants to Love You, Diving Woman

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast serves up some sweet and sunny tunes that make you want to sing along. While Zauner's first album "Psychopump" offers sounds that are light and airy, her new second album "Soft Sounds from Another Planet" keeps up that light feel but saturates the sound into something that sinks deeper. Both albums keep up an astral aura that will make you sway with each song. In her song "Diving Woman", the line "I want to be a woman of regimen / A bride in her home state / A diving woman of Jeju-do" references a South Korean practice where females take a head of the household position diving for fish. Here, she references a part of her culture that she strives to emulate: a female figure beyond patriarchal standards. In an interview with Out Magazine, Zauner said she aims to create and support narratives that represent all people of any gender identity, sexual preference and race.

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast | Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast | Photo by Wikimedia Commons

3. Jay Som

Recommended songs: : The Bus Song, I Think You're Alright, (Bedhead)

Alongside Mitski and Michelle Zauner from Japanese Breakfast, Jay Som's contribution to the indie rock genre generates representation and develops a space for Asian-Americans. In her most popular song "Bus Song" from the album "Everybody Works", a melody that layers bedroom pop with dreamy instrumentals distinguishes her sound. Her music provides a happy medium for those moods when you want to chill out and when you want to dance.

4. Toro y Moi

Recommended songs: Mirage, So Many Details, Girl Like You

Half African-American and half Filipino, Toro y Moi offers a lively sound to the chillwave genre, mixing sounds of R&B with clean, electronic instrumentals. In the song "Mirage" from album "Boo Boo", a funkadelic beat travels alongside smooth vocals. It is difficult to put Toro y Moi strictly in a box indie rock or pop genre simply because his work transcends a genre - it is a beautiful hodgepodge of sounds that work.

Toro y Mori in Camden | Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Toro y Mori in Camden | Photo by Wikimedia Commons

5. Asobi Seksu

Recommended songs: Thursday, Trails, Counterglow

Asobi Seksu is pure magic - each song presents an elevated melody of shoegaze that is energetic and sparkling. The band is led by Yuki Chikudate, a Japanese-American vocalist and keyboardist. "Thursday" from the album "Citrus" is a good preview of these electric melodies. Not only are the instrumentals simply entrancing, the vocals string through the sound with a wistful force.

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Kiana Fernandez is a sophomore advertising student at the University of Texas at Austin.