News / Asia

Asian-Americans Buck Stereotypes, Find Fame on YouTube

The next Legaci or Apl.de.Ap of the Black Eyed Peas is probably out there—uploading videos of themselves on YouTube.

YouTube stars like Ryan Higa, David Choi, Kevin Wu (KevJumba), or Clara Chung (Clara C) may not be household names yet, but their popularity is serving as an inspiration for other young Asian-Americans.

Caught between parents pushing traditional careers and a relatively disinterested mainstream entertainment industry, many young Asian-Americans are turning to YouTube to express themselves artistically, break down stereotypes and change the way they’re seen by the wider culture.

“There’s the stereotype that we’re supposed to be doctors and lawyers, but YouTube is a place where you can show you can do other things in the arts,” said David Choi, a laid back, self-deprecating Korean-American singer/songwriter who has over 900,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, placing him near the top of all YouTube musicians.

For Asian-Americans, it’s liberating to see someone breaking those stereotypes, said Alexander Cho, a PhD in Media Studies at the University of Texas’ Department of Radio-Television-Film.  “The mere appearance of a face that looks like that is compelling to watch.”

Cho added that these YouTubers are navigating between the pressures of being the “model minority,” hard working, overachieving but lacking creativity, and being seen as perpetually foreign and never able to blend in.

Cho said another challenge is the entertainment industry’s reluctance to tap Asian-American talent.

“The entertainment industry is averse to taking risks with faces and bodies they’re not used to seeing,” he said.  “If there’s a face that brings in audiences, they tend to replicate that.”

Breaking barriers

But the YouTubers are going at it on their own, and some are even making a living at it.

Choi, who is from California, started posting his acoustic pop creations on YouTube in 2006, but first gained notoriety in 2004, when he won the grand prize of musician David Bowie’s Mash-Up Contest. Shortly after, Choi nabbed USA Weekend Magazine’s John Lennon Songwriting Contest for teens and appeared in USA Weekend Magazine with recording artist Usher.

Choi, 25, admitted he wasn’t forthcoming about his dreams with his parents, saying they first heard of his YouTube exploits at their church where several people told them, “Oh, your son’s on YouTube.”

He said his parents, despite owning a music store and making Choi take piano and violin lessons as a kid, weren’t exactly encouraging, but they were more receptive than some, especially after seeing an article about him in a Korean-American newspaper.

“My mom said, ‘If you become a musician, you’re going to be poor,’” he said. “That sort of stuck with me, but this is something I wanted to do. I chose it and worked really hard trying to get to where I can support myself.”

He worked for a while as a songwriter/producer for Warner/Chappel music but then struck out on his own. His music has been played on VH1, MTV, A&E, E!, Travel Channel, Style, PBS, Food Network, Disney and others, according to his website. He has also worked with companies such as Kelloggs, Starburst, Samsung, GE and JC Penney.

But Choi is hardly an anomaly.

Up-and-coming Korean-American singer/songwriter Clara C said she was discouraged from pursuing music by friends who told her it was impossible to make it. And even if she did, they said there was no money in it.

The 23-year-old is proving them wrong. Chung got her start on YouTube, but really saw her popularity rise after she won several musical competitions. She performed her self-described “synergy of folk/pop/rock” at a White House-sponsored Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) event at the Department of Education in Washington, and the Hollywood Bowl and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, according to her website.

The California resident said her parents are very supportive and come to see her perform live. She laughed, saying that her choice to attend culinary school earlier in life “broke them in” to the idea that “this one’s not normal.” Chung, who is down-to-earth and laser-focused on her art, is striving to break out of the “Asian YouTuber” genre through collaborations with non-Asian artists.

Going mainstream

Both Choi and Chung have gone beyond YouTube and perform live both nationwide and around the world, particularly in Asia.

Choi, who says his Korean is about a first-grade level, jokes that when he tours Korea, he might be seen as a comedy act.

The momentum for Asian-American musicians is growing. In 2010, the group Far East Movement became the first Asian-American musical act to crack the Billboard Top 10 with the song “Like a G6.”

But the YouTube phenomenon is not just for musicians.

Ryan Higa, who until recently had the most subscribed-to YouTube channel, with over four million subscribers, does comedy. KevJumba strives to take a lighthearted look at Asian-American issues like relationships with parents. He has over one million.

All of this, Chung said, could be just the beginning.

“They’re doing what they want, are inspiring to other Asian-American kids, and it’s snowballing,” she said.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid