By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
2021 was a bit of a weird year. There was a pandemic raging on, which saw a lot of us trapped in our homes, spending hours on TikTok, and watching every streaming platform. At least, that’s what I did. All that effort was worth it. Because it enabled me to write this for you, with amazing broadness.
Without further ado, here is my list of the top 10 API celebs who kicked butt in 2021, in scientific order:
10. Olivia Rodrigo
Upon its release, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut single, “Drivers License,” smashed a bunch of records. Like, this song broke Spotify’s record—twice—for most daily streams ever for a non-holiday song with over 15.7 million global streams on Jan. 11, 2021 and over 17 million global streams the next day. Her debut album “Sour” hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart and spent a total of five weeks there, making it the longest reigning number-one album by a female artist in 2021. Time Magazine also named Rodrigo its Entertainer of the Year.
Uh, did I mention that Rodrigo is only 18 years old! (She’s also Filipina, German, and Irish.) The fact that she’s so young and has an entire career ahead of her is why she’s not higher up on this list. That and the fact that I know some of you haven’t heard of her yet. Just wait!
9. Taika Waititi
Taika Waititi, of Māori heritage, was super busy in 2021. Despite being mostly known as a film director, Waititi managed to win a Grammy Award in 2021 for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media as a producer of the “Jojo Rabbit” soundtrack (a 2019 film he directed).
He briefly flexed his acting chops as Ratcatcher’s dad in “The Suicide Squad,” in a performance that kind of made me choked up despite it being a Suicide Squad movie, and he released “Reservation Dogs,” an acclaimed Indigenous American teen comedy series, out into world. For that, we are forever grateful to him.
8. Michelle Lee
Michelle Lee did a little bit of career shifting in 2021. She started off the year as Editor in Chief of Allure Magazine, a publication she had helmed since 2015, and then announced in July 2021 that she was leaving that long-time role to head over to Netflix as its VP, Head of Global Editorial & Publishing—a brand new role for the streamer. Lee’s a huge freaking deal, guys.
7. Ken Jeong
Ken Jeong was secretly everywhere in 2021! And for that, I salute his work ethic. I also appreciate that his current career is mostly as a professional reality show judge. We need that kind of ubiquity for our people.
Okay, all in one breath, this is what Jeong did in 2021: He acted in “Operation: Rainfall” (terrible movie—don’t watch it), he starred in the live action “Tom & Jerry” movie, he was in “Boss Level,” he was a voice actor in “My Little Pony: A New Generation” and “Extinct,” he was a judge on reality shows “The Masked Singer,” “The Masked Singer UK,” “I Can See Your Voice,” “The Masked Dancer,” and OMG I’m skipping a bunch of things because I don’t want to write them all out. Dude was busy being in our living rooms last year!
6. Padma Lakshmi
Padma Lakshmi is still helming the critically acclaimed “Taste the Nation With Padma Lakshmi” and “Top Chef,” but in addition to that, 2021 saw her release a children’s book titled, “Tomatoes for Neela” and named the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA)’s 2021 Advocate of the Year, which recognized her work spearheading the agency’s #HalfTheWorld campaign, which raised awareness about the rate at which COVID-19 has exacerbated worldwide inequalities.
5. Gemma Chan
Gemma probably first came to most of our attention through her U.S. breakout role in 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians,” and she hasn’t stopped since.
In 2021, she acted in two mega movies: Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and Marvel’s “The Eternals.” Also, last May, Chan launched the #StopESEAHate campaign, which assists East and Southeast Asian victims of hate crime.
4. Silk Sonic
This one is a little bit of a cheat because Silk Sonic is actually two wildly talented APIs with unimaginable skill and creativity. Yes, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. The two of them formed a band and released music together in 2021.
The first single of their first album, “An Evening with Silk Sonic,” was “Leave the Door Open,” which won all the awards. Soul Train Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, a BET Award, an American Music Award, and we’re not sure how many Grammy Awards they’re gonna win just yet, but I’m guessing the answer is “many.”
3. Dwayne Johnson
It feels almost like a joke to always be including Dwayne Johnson on this list every year, but the dude refuses to stop being prolific and successful! In 2021, he starred in adventure-y action flicks such as “Jungle Cruise,” “Free Guy,” and “Red Notice.”
He also executive produced the TV series “Young Rock,” a show based on his childhood, featuring a number of awesome Pacific Islander actors. He was also in a video game? I’m not a video game person, but you might know it? It’s called “Fortnite: Battle Royale.” Is it popular? What am I saying? Of course it’s popular. Johnson is in it.
2. Chloé Zhao
Chloé Zhao is a Chinese-born filmmaker. She was formerly very indie, but then in 2021, she came at us with a Marvel Studio film, “The Eternals,” which she directed and wrote.
Also, earlier in the year, her 2020 film “Nomadland” was sweeping all the awards. It won a Golden Globe, a British Independent Film Award, an American Film Institute Award, Critics’ Choice Awards, British Academy Film Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, and also Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. Like, for real.
Uh, duhhh BTS is number one! Man, these dudes aren’t even human. They are probably time travelers from the future who traveled back to this day and age with secret sneaky knowledge about how to achieve world domination through pop superstardom. And they’re doing it, man! They are doing it!
I can’t even list out their 2021 achievements because there are too many. Instead, I will list out the ones that are kind of the most interesting to me. Um, in 2021, they became brand ambassadors for Tamagotchi. Yes, the little pocket pets of our childhoods. They also had a really cool McDonald’s meal come out in 2021. The BTS meal was a 10-piece chicken McNugget meal with medium fries, a medium Coke, and sweet chili and Cajun dipping sauces.
Stacy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.