OFFENDER : Blue Note Records
CATEGORY OF OFFENSE : Gender ( Asian male as Undesirable)
MEDIA TYPE : Online
Tags : music, indie, Asian men, Ken Jeong, the bird and the bee, Universal Music Group
The Bird and the Bee are a Los-Angeles based indie pop duo, consisting of lead vocalist Inara George ("the bird") and Grammy-nominated producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin ("the bee"). They have featured Asian actors in several of their music videos, which could have been a positive step towards racial inclusivity – especially since the indie music scene is grounded in ‘whiteness’.
Unfortunately, however, the representation of Asian men in these music videos come loaded with tired stereotypes.
“Diamond Dave” is a single from Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future (2009). The song expresses Inara George’s admiration for the lead singer of Van Halen, David Lee Roth, who is also known as Diamond Dave.
The accompanying music video was directed by Inara George's husband, Jake Kasdan. It presents George and Kurstin holding casting auditions in the hope of finding a close-enough impersonator of "Diamond Dave". While the other white male actors (Eric Wareheim and Simon Helberg) also put on comically disappointing impersonations of Diamond Dave, it is Ken Jeong’s impersonation that is set up as the worst of the lot.
Released in 2010, the music video for “Love Letter to Japan” has a clear reason for featuring an Asian male character. The lyrics basically amount to a romantic confession, presumably from the perspective of an American woman to a Japanese man:
“From the west to the east I have flown to be near you
I have come all this way to be close, to be here with you
And now, all my heart I will lay down precisely at your feet
My beloved, oh my sweet
All the gifts you have given me
The patience and the peace
Cherry blossoms and the candy
I am yours, I am yours
For as long, for as long as you will have me”
If you were expecting an American music video equivalent of Japanese Story (2004), however, you would be disappointed.
Directed by Barny Clay (live action) and Paul Cheshire (animation), the music video is mostly set inside a video game arcade in Los Angeles. An Asian schoolboy goes all-out on Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), presumably to win the admiration of a virtual female character (Inara George’s animated alter ego). After a brief ‘training sequence’ he successfully delivers a ‘perfect’ performance - there is a questionable surreal sequence where he dances in front of bronze Buddha statue – but is informed that he only came in second.
The music video ends with him sitting on the DDR stage after the arcade has closed, with the screen flashing ‘Game Over’. Despite the song’s lyrics, the message is clear: Asian guys just cannot get the girl, even if she’s just a virtual character.
This message continues in the 2015 music video for “Recreational Love”, the title track from the duo’s latest album. Yohan Lee and Jaylee Chen star as a young Asian couple in the karaoke-inspired music video, which was directed by Joe Stakun. The karaoke-inspired aesthetic makes the music video look like an East Asian production, thus failing to effectively present Asian Americans as the lead characters.
And once again, the plot features the Asian guy not getting the girl. After some cheesy lovey-dovey sequences, the music video decides to end with a J-horror plot twist that features Jaylee Chen’s character turning Yohan Lee’s character into a carbon copy of herself. While the twist ending complements the song’s lyrics, the director’s choice of using an Asian man for the butt of the joke appears to have been guided by socially conditioned bias.