How many deep-rooted Asian stereotypes can you cram into a five-minute music video? Dozens if you’re the American boy band Day Above Ground, the Los Angelenos who galvanized the Asian American community on Tuesday afternoon after blogger and cultural critic Angry Asian Man blasted the video for their song “Asian Girlz” in a scathing post.
While we’d love to offer a frame-by-frame analysis of everything questionable about the most racist music video we’ve ever seen, doing so would give us ebola. Our shortlist, however, includes:
√ those stereotypical Asian-style singsong chimes;
√ the Chinatown-style font;
√ the tacky anime-style animations;
√ the sexy office worker trope;
√ the notion of Asian people as mysterious with magical powers;
√ the conflation of all Asian countries and cultures;
√ the shout outs to Los Angeles County communities with high Asian populations by white people and confused-looking Asian Americans wearing the band’s T-shirt;
√ the list of words and phrases (“Toyota! Sailor Moon! Fried Lice! Tibet!”) traded back and forth between a dead-eyed sociopath with frosted tips and his heavily-tattooed turdbro;
√ Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra
√ the steady stream of racist lyrics that sound like something your grandpap may have muttered in a fugue state during the Korean War, like “I love your sticky rice/Buttfucking all night/Korean barbecue/Bitch I love you” and “I love your creamy yellow thighs/Ooh your slanted eyes/It’s the Year of the Dragon/Ninja pussy I’m stabbin’.”
The outrage is paired with a sense of disbelief that not a single person in the band’s entourage, recording studio, or film production crew — or even the outfit’s bassist, Marcello Lalopua, the guy with the permaderp face who the band used as a shield in their now-removed video description that said there’s no way they could be racist because he’s Indonesian — posited that overt racism doesn’t fly in racially-charged America and a video like this is a surefire way to torpedo a fledgling career in the entertainment biz.
As expected, the response from the Asian American community was swift and uniform in its condemnation, much of which was directed at Levy Tran, the Vietnamese-American pin-up girl who appeared in the video as the shrunken fivesome’s scantily-clad puppetmaster, stripping in front of the caged band before pleasuring herself with them in the bathtub.
“She’s a misguided individual with no respect for the suffering that her grandparents and countrymen experienced at the hands of American soldiers less than half a century ago,” wrote one commenter on the band’s Facebook page. “Your cheesy fliers confirm your lack of taste, skill and artistic vision. I hope you guys spend the rest of your lives serving coffee to the very Asians that you’ve disrespected.”
“The reason why lyrics and music like this isn’t good and is considered racist is because some ignorant 14-year-old asshole could listen to this song and start using it as a way to degrade Asian women. That bully at school who loves to pick on Asian girls will start spewing out words like ‘get dat ninja pussy over here’ or say she only has money because her mom does his mom’s nails.”
“I understand you need to make a living, but have some fucking standards. As a Vietnamese-American female, you and your Tila Tequila sisters are making us look like gutter trash.”
“Never have I ever seen this many racist references in so little time, and that includes neo-Confederate anti-black songs. I hope this band learns the lesson that making this stupid of a mistake can kill whatever chance they have of making it.”
“While I’m disappointed in how [Levy Tran] is reinforcing racist stereotypes, I can also sympathize with the possibility that she wasn’t aware of these stereotypes and actually grew up playing into them to gain popularity and make friends as a way of raising her social status.”
“Remember that Asian girl in the political ad that featured Asians of indeterminate ethnicity in rice paddies talking in broken English? Yeah, I wonder that every time. I’ve noticed Asians especially are more likely to take roles that make fun of their race or in which their race is a punchline. I attribute that to Western media’s dislike of Asians in media; how many successful Asian actors have YOU seen in Hollywood films? There’s like less than five well-known Asian actors and they’re always in kung-fu/martial arts movies, nothing else.”
“I really really hope you get run over by an 18 wheeler.”
While it’s easy to write this video off as a PR stunt to generate viral interest for a mediocre band in a highly competitive industry — or even a sick joke, which is what LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero would like to believe — the unsigned outfit’s digital trail, juvenile antics (the highlight of their summer was apparently throwing fortune cookies at concertgoers) and response to the criticism doesn’t appear to indicate a very high level of cognitive functioning.
Sometimes a spade is just a spade and “Asian Girlz” appears to be a textbook example of what happens when five uneducated and ignorant brosephs churn out what they genuinely think is a fun and cute summer jam. The result, however, is an unfortunate reminder of the blind spots that continue to exist when it comes to the perception that it’s okay to attack certain ethnic groups in the country but not others.
Shortly after Angry Asian Man drew attention to the video on Tuesday afternoon (it was actually premiered, and evidently ignored, last week at an LA venue), the band pulled the video from Facebook, reposted the video on YouTube with a revised description and nuked all user comments from orbit:
“We appreciate all the criticism and support,” read the statement. “Our song ‘Asian Girlz’ was not written with any malicious, hateful, or hurtful intent. We know it is racy and does push the boundaries further than other songs out there. Understand that we do not promote or support racism or violence. We love everyone no matter what race, religion, or sexual orientation. Please respect our decision to delete any violent, insensitive, or hurtful comment and also one that supports racism. We hope that we can continue with our lives with much love and peace.”
Days Above Ground singer Joe Anselm told Beijing Cream in an email on Wednesday morning that the band “doesn’t really have an official statement” and “we stand behind our art.”
After being bombed with negative feedback on her social media portals, Tran shuttered her Instagram account on Wednesday afternoon and issued a statement on Twitter immediately afterwards:
“I sincerely apologize to all who feels that I set Asian women back 50 yrs,” she wrote. “I know I lost respect from a lot of ppl. It wasn’t my intention. It was meant to be light hearted and fun. Satirical. They are sweet boys and not at all racist. That is all I will say. I’m sorry once again.”
As the video continues to rack up negative press and dislikes on YouTube at a steady clip (it’s currently at 82,000 views with a 15-to-1 dislike-to-like ratio), Team Oblivious is set to move forward with a gig on Saturday, August 10 at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard, a bill that will see the video beamed on a giant outdoor projection screen to a city with the highest concentration of Asian Americans in the country.
Movements are underway on social media to urge the House of Blues to drop the band from their lineup and cancel the screening.
We’ll have more on this perfect storm of racism, ineptitude and outrage if anything else happens.
Pete DeMola is a writer and creative consultant in Hong Kong. He tweets @pmdemola.
UPDATE, 8/2, 11 am: House of Blues announced Thursday afternoon that they have yanked Day Above Ground from the lineup for the gig on August 10. Despite the story going national on Thursday, the band remains mum and haven’t yet issued an official response.
UPDATE, 8/3, 11:48 am: The band tells Pete Demola, “It’s not racist… it is a work of art that, if you are an artist, you stand behind.”