News / Asia

Asian-Americans Buck Stereotypes, Find Fame on YouTube

TEXT SIZE - +

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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid