Saturday, March 03, 2007

Top of the pops

Following a post on Angry Asian Man, I saw The New York Times has an interesting article on the challenges Asian American singers have in trying to break into the music industry. This could be seen on American Idol this year when Paul Kim was given the boot in the first round of voting. Despite being one of the best singers he couldn't overcome the fact that he was Asian.

The article goes on to talk about how racially ambiguous singers fair better. As someone who grew up during the 80's I could only think of how African Americans crossed over onto the mainstream charts. Creating a parallel market where acts such as Diana Ross and Michael Jackson could eventually break through. Performers such as Prince could start their careers with the mainstream in mind. Of course as the article states the Asian American market is about half that of the African American market. The Asian American market also has the problem of not being uniform because there are many subcultures and backgrounds, Japanese Americans or Korean Americans for example.

There is still hope since there is so much talent waiting in the wings there just need to be that one big hit in the mainstream. As soon as the mainstream audience is used to seeing an Asian singer in their living room it gets easier for the next act, but never easy. Nat King Cole having his own show paved the way for the rappers and singer one sees today. The irony of it all is that because of the stereotypes that many have of Asians and the market realities the first big Asian star is probably not going to be Asian American.

The recent interest in J-Pop crossing into the mainstream may eventually translate into more tours and CD sales (or downloads if the regionalization of iTunes and other stores ever gets looser). Because of the stereotype of a fifth generation Japanese American as being straight off the plane from Japan this interest could be used to promote domestic singers and bands. A bit of a long shot but waiting for the industry to judge people on talent and not the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes is going to take longer and a lot more luck. Just look at Living Colour or Bad Brains two of the best heavy metal/fusion and punk bands respectively but they've never really gotten as far as white bands with less talent. The British invasion is not a direct parallel but is a study in the sound and look of an American subculture being ignored until it is repackaged and shipped back from another country. The mainstream market likes to fit people into niches Asians do classical and Blacks do hip-hop and never the twain shall meet.