Filipino-Brit Bea Kristi, aka Beabadoobee. Photo courtesy of Amir Hossain
Asian-American women are such a rarity in the music industry. I should know — I’m Asian-American myself and find it difficult to support singers and musicians who look like me. When I do discover these trailblazing women, it’s through friends, other Asian artists and more.
Here are 5 of my recent favorites:
Indie-rock singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner is a Korean-American musician who was born in Seoul and grew up in Eugene, Ore. Her music career started as a student at Bryn Mawr College, where she played with various bands in the DIY scene. In 2016, she emerged as a solo artist under the name Japanese Breakfast. Her voice is imperfectly beautiful, and her ballads range from slow lullabies to songs about robots, to classic rock that rivals like The Cranberries. Her lyrics often speak about life and love, the strength that Asian women have — usually about her late mother and aunt — as well as her heritage.
Don’t let Melina Duterte’s 5’1″ stature or soft vocals fool you — her message is one of empowerment. Duterte grew up in the East Bay and is a child of two Filipino immigrants and writes songs that emphasize the strength of women through their softness and their experiences. She got her start on Bandcamp, releasing music as Unknown and growing fans overnight. Melina is a big-sister type, with a genuine persona. In her latest album, Anak Ko, which means “sister” in Tagalog, she touches on topics of breakups and femininity.
Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a white American father, Mitsuki Laycock is today one of the most in-demand Asian singer-songwriters in a generation. She’s opened for Lorde, won acclaim from rap publications and topped international charts with her latest, 2018’s Be the Cowboy (it was named the No. 1 album of the year by both Pitchfork and Consequence of Sound). Her music speaks to a very definitive audience, usually female, and has an explorative sonic tastes, drawing Instagram meme pages from across a wide fan base. Despite being firmly rooted in her personal experience, Mitski’s music remains relatable to all, with pop beats and an uplifting spirit that’s both dreamy and whimsical. The lyrics are directly linked to the pressures from parents, loneliness, and isolation, and allows for an intimate listening that is like no other.
Beatrice Laus is a Filipina-British singer-songwriter and is known for her “space rock” — a mix of classic rock and bedroom pop that combines the two themes of femininity and a certain edge that is perfectly executed. Even at her young age of 19, she is quickly on the rise, opening for acts like the 1975 and Clairo, two vastly different artists, but is still fitting for rock and bedroom pop fans alike.
Jordan Shih might not be a female, but the 30-year-old Chinese-American from Orlando performs with longtime friend Lauren Morgan as SALES, a band that composes the type of music you listen to when you’re upset or need to chill out. With calming guitar solos and a soothing voice from both members of the band, their themes touch on life, love, and friendships. The music is ripe for any mood, with songs that combine upbeat drums contrasting with slower guitar riffs.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that Jordan Shih and Lauren Morgan are married. They are longtime friends.