All things Asian in popular culture
By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
It’s the ubiquitous question on everyone’s lips on the first day of school, “How did you spend your summer vacation?”
If you didn’t release a hit single, participate in civic service, or win a cooking-competition reality show, then I don’t think the month of August was quite as fabulous for you as it was for these Asians and Asian Americans. Read on to see how you measure up.
Psy single-handedly thrusts K-pop into the international spotlight
If you haven’t spent the last month attempting the horse-riding dance that has swept the world off its feet, then let me help you out from the rock you’ve been living under.
South Korean rap star and graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music Psy, real name Park Jae-Sang, has taken international fans and the Internet by storm with his satirical song, “Gangnam Style.” The name refers to a trendy district in Seoul, South Korea, known for its wealth and nightlife. The lyrics talks about the kind of guy Psy is and the type of girl he wants to date, while the actual music video pokes fun at the different types of flashy characters that can be found in the Gangnam district.
Despite being on YouTube for just a month and a half, Psy’s music video has already garnered more than 221,509,725 views.
“Gangnam Style” has smashed the YouTube view records of pop star Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” as well as pop singer and Internet meme sensation Rebecca Black’s “Friday” and shows no sign of relenting its top position in the weeks to come.
Most importantly, the music video features Psy’s iconic horse-riding dance — complete with rein-holding and lasso-twirling arm moves — which has spawned hundreds of video parodies around the world.
You know you’ve carved a place for yourself in pop culture fame when you’ve reached Internet meme status. As an article from the Associated Press stated, Psy is currently “having a pop culture moment.”
He has also been steadily making the rounds on the American media circuit, having galloped onto various talk shows, such as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” He even made an appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards in early September.
Psy also recently signed with American record label Island Records — incidentally with Bieber’s manager — which means we can expect to hear new music from Psy on the American airwaves soon.
Psy’s success in America is significant as he is arguably the first Asian pop star in recent memory that has been welcomed into the mainstream, despite being known for a song that is almost entirely in Korean. While Korean pop stars BoA and Rain, and Japanese pop star Hikaru Utada have previously tried to break into the American market, none of them have been close to the success Psy has seen.
But maybe Psy’s ‘secret’ is that he wasn’t trying to make it big with “Gangnam Style” — the song was originally suppose to serve as a comeback single after his two year hiatus from the South Korean music industry.
In an Associated Press interview, Psy said, “I never expect things like this … because [America] is the biggest market in the universe for pop music, right, so everybody’s dreaming about having appearance in the U.S. so I’m still saying, ‘What am I doing … here? This is beautiful.’ ”
And that, dear readers, is how you become viral on the Interwebz: Just be yourself.
Sporting a sharp bowtie, as Psy does in his music video, probably wouldn’t hurt either.
“Hey, this is Barack”: Asian Americans participate in the upcoming elections
If you’re a fan of the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” this recent news story may sound familiar to you.
In November, five people are running for mayor of Fremont, Calif., and one of them is an Indian American teenager, 18-year-old Aziz Akbari.
Despite only being a freshly-minted adult, Akbari is ready to take on American politics — as he continues to finish his homework as a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California. Talk about an overachiever! There is no doubt that Akbari will long serve as a paragon of Asian child perfection to all Asian parents.
Akbari isn’t the only Asian American hearing America calling him to service. In a video skit promoting the recent 2012 Democratic National Convention that was held in Charlotte, N.C., President Barack Obama called up actors Kal Penn and John Cho, asking about their participation at the DNC as the duo calmly sat on a couch noshing on junk food. Penn and Cho, who are Indian American and Korean American, respectively, are best known for starring in the marijuana-fueled comedy film franchise, “Harold and Kumar.”
Penn recently hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He also previously worked as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration. These days, Penn continues to juggle both political and acting affairs alike. Penn was most recently seen in a story arc on the previous season of CBS sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother.”
Asian Americans dominate competitive reality shows
Vietnamese American chef Christine Ha recently won the latest season of the FOX cooking reality show “MasterChef.” What makes Ha’s win notable, however, was her ability to churn out winning dishes despite being legally blind. As the first legally blind contestant ever in a cooking reality show, Ha has been able to dominate her competition with the help of a cane and sighted assistant on the show.
Naturally, Ha’s efforts have made for some top notch emotional television, but not without controversy. Some dubious viewers questioned exactly how blind she was, given her skill and expertise in the kitchen. Through a phone interview with FOX, Ha provided clarity about her vision loss, claiming that while she is legally blind, she isn’t 100 percent blind as most viewers may have assumed.
“It’s a very common misconception that people think blindness is all or nothing, it’s not true at all,” said Ha. “From a medical standpoint, doctors call my vision ‘counting fingers.’ If you hold your hand 10 to 12 inches from my face, I could count your fingers as long as the lighting isn’t too dark or glaring.”
Still, Ha was quick to say that her appearance on “MasterChef” has also inspired other legally blind people to pursue their own dreams. Way to go, Ha — you’ve truly won the hearts of all. And let this win mark the beginning of how Ha will soon take over the (culinary) world — sightlessness be damned. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.