by Dusk Arts
At the time of this writing and for a good while before it, many people of political power and several media figureheads–I'll call them "racists"–have been painting COVID-19 as a distinctly Chinese virus. As a result, both Chinese and non-Chinese Asian people across the world, particularly in the West, have been suffering various forms of harassment and hate crimes simply because reactionary cowards can't be bothered to think for themselves and challenge the white supremacist narrative being foisted upon them.
Being a platform of advocacy for LGBTQ+ folx in the music and entertainment industries at large, Q Review thought it more than appropriate, at the very least in the form of this article, to offer a gesture of solidarity toward the Asian community against the bigotry being leveled at them. (For more information about the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, please visit Stop AAPI Hate.)
It is no coincidence that where one form of bigotry can be found, others are almost always present. By the same principle, where we find support for LGBTQ+ rights, we should also find support for racial equality. This article begins our series of those that not only support LGBTQ+ artists who haven't yet gotten the attention and appreciation they deserve, but also those in our community whose struggle for equality exists at multiple and intersecting axes.
Despite such ordeals, the struggle for social justice need not constantly be a dour trudge. I think the message of Q Review is best summed up in the (perhaps heavily abbreviated and paraphrased) words of the first ever American to openly advocate for the right of gay people to love each other, anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman: "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution!"
If anyone understands that, it's the artists whose voices we uphold at Q Review, especially those who use their art and platform to call for social progress. There are those who revolt with the fist, the bullet, and the bomb, but ours is a revolution of song and dance. Make no mistake: art is a weapon that causes no suffering yet fights for freedom and justice.
Don't believe me? Why do homophobes throw a fit every time they see a man wearing eyeshadow? How about high heels? These people are literally threatened by rainbows and body glitter. Just as well, racists scream and cry whenever they hear a black person speak rhythmically over a drum beat. Of relevance to this article, they go into conniptions when Asian people... exist? Unfortunately for them (the racists, not Asian people), they're going to have to get used to it because the musical artists listed here are several examples of Asian LGBTQ+ folx proving that living proud and out loud is the best revenge.
So read on! Or if you've had enough of my grandiose prattle, skip the article and just start listening!
If you like contemporary pop, you need get into some Danielle Kinoshita. Why? Could it be that she plays contemporary pop music? Yes. But she doesn't just play any contemporary pop music. Oh, wait. She does? But that's a good thing; variety is the spice of life. She's done songs with electronics, chill piano, Latin influence, and hip-hop crossover tracks. Despite the broad palette of sounds in her repertoire, everything sounds perfectly coherent and Kinoshita pulls it off every time. There's something for fans of every facet of modern mainstream pop, and with such an accessible discography, you can start listening anywhere.
Polartropica is a sci-fi/new wave/indie pop darling that makes liberal use of synths, spandex, and hair-dye. In other words: she's awesome and maybe some of it'll rub off on you if you listen to her. She takes the some of best sounds of the 80s, 90s, and 00s (yes, the 00s had good music, fight me) and melds them together in a way that goes beyond contemporary pop–which should be unsurprising considering her aesthetic is the rebellious child of space disco and Raygun Gothic. She's clearly from the future and used a time machine to learn all the musical and sartorial secrets of every era firsthand. I won't question why she chose the here and now to release her music; I'm just grateful. In fact, I wish I had a time machine so I could go back to when she put out her first EP Astrodreams. Then I could be pretentious and say that I've listened to it for years–not to mention I'd be genuinely enjoying several fusions of great sounds during all that time. I mean, a couple of the songs on that EP even get jazzy or go trip-hop. The people of the future must be good at everything.
Her latest release is a cover of The Everly Brothers' classic "All I Have To Do Is Dream" (trust me, you know this song) and it transcends all time and space. Hear what it's like to defy the laws of physics with Polartropica.
cutsleeve's (no, I did not forget to capitalize the C in their name) all-femme, all-queer, all-East Asian, all-badass lineup makes emo-y alternative rock with a healthy dose of sweet noise and melodic crooning that at once calls back to both the developments made by DC hardcore in the mid-80s and 90s underground punk and alternative, including riot grrrl. Their first non-single release, the EP the parts we could not abandon (and no, I still did not forget to capitalize anything), is chock full of radio-ready modern guitar pop that sacrifices absolutely no artistic credibility for potential mainstream appeal.
But get this: one of my best friends is a Chinese-American lesbian (and not in that "I'm not racist; I have a black friend" way, but in a we're-literally-moving-in-together-and-starting-a-queer-anarchist-art-commune way) so I obviously had to tell her about this band and her first response (for real though: I just copied and pasted her message from Skype) was: "i love cutsleeve's stage name. it's a reference to this emperor from the Han Dynasty who decided he'd rather cut the sleeve off his robe (which was stuck under his male lover's body while sleeping) than to wake up his lover." Look at my guy This One Han Dynasty Emperor going to bed with a knife labeled "In case of robe under sleeping lover, cut sleeve." What a considerate emperor. (Seems rare for their type.) And what an interestingly, historically referential band name that I assume with 99.999% certainty was chosen by cutsleeve with full knowledge of its cultural significance. Isn't it amazing how we can learn from people whose perspectives are different from ours?
On that note, cutsleeve use their music to address similarly meaningful and heavy topics that indeed need addressing. As an all-femme band, they address misogyny and sexual harassment; as an all-queer band they address heterosexism; as an all-East Asian band, they address racism and the stereotypes that come with it. So STEP OFF, white men who fetishize East Asian women as submissive housewives. Make your own dang sandwich! Wash your own dishes! Raise your own kids! See what righteous intersectional feminism the music of cutsleeve inspires me to? Listen to cutsleeve–or forever wallow in the muck of willful ignorance and ill-begotten privilege.
Anyone who writes the lyrics "Fuck with me and I’ll start a riot" gets an A-OKAY in my book. Especially if they follow it up with "Society’s never worth the price" and "I will not obey all your commands." Who is this succulently audacious–dare I say, brazen–rebel? It can only be BRAZN.
I mean obviously it was going to be BRAZN. His name is right there in the header. It would be weird if it weren't him.
He's only got two songs out so far and both were released earlier this year. First came "ANDRO" then "BLUE RASPBERRY" (the capslock is strong with this one). "ANDRO" has those totally BAMF nonconformist lyrics about queer pride–BUT WAIT; there's more: BRAZN made THREE music videos for the song. Not one, not zero, but two more than is usual for this kind of thing. If you ask me, I think he should do five more videos for the song. No, seventeen more. Heck, do sixty-nine. That would be NICE. And he could probably break a world record at that point.
WOW. Not even kidding: I just looked it up and found a news article from four days ago (at the time of this writing) and apparently some guy is about to break the current record with sixty-four music videos. My joke is now your destiny, BRAZN!!! Get crackin'!!!
Sick of all those forced emotions from tryhard popstars? Want pop music to be more genuinely sensitive and less edgy? Welcome to Grace Mari, who at times takes a quasi-folk and/or balladic approach to her songs. While remaining entirely accessible throughout the five songs she's released (on Spotify) she makes use of no electronics, auto-tune, or conspicuously synthesized instruments. Her approach is purely natural and organic, a refreshingly cold drink of water in the contempory pop milieu. And if you're looking for a LGBTQ-themed song, look no further than "Sorry, Mama," which tells the story of a queer daughter asking her mom to accept her for who she is.
Be aware that unless she upended her vocal and musical approach in favor of hip-hop, there exists another Grace Mari on Spotify (and elsewhere?).
If you're like me, you don't love dancing. If you're not like me, you love dancing. Is it possible that someone could be making music that appeals to both of us? Is it with LEADR. His(/her/their) songs "Waves," "11:11," and "White Bird" are all chillout electronica with a hint of EDM–the impossibly possible perfect balance for either dancing or listening.
But a lyricist he is as well: "Gaia" asks Mother Nature herself to teach ignorant people that being LGBTQ+ is perfectly natural. As for the music, its occasional distorted electric guitar riff among the calm electronic sounds is a great touch that many wouldn't think of. Another example: "Hi, I'm Human" is a reminder of how all people regardless of their sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else are united by their humanity–explained with utmost simplicity by the eponymous greeting–and that therefore they deserve equal respect. Who's going to disagree with that? Racists, probably. And homophobes. And transphobes. And misogynists. Actually, a lot of people, but they all totally suck so screw them.
In fact, what you could do as a small token of disrespect to bigoted cowards is support LGBTQ+ POC artists like LEADR by listening to their music and exposing it to a wider audience, thus normalizing queerness and fostering racial/cultural harmony–you know, like in LEADR's songs!
(Note: listening to music is not a substitute for direct political action! But you can totally bring a portable speaker to a protest march and blast some tunes!)
YOU need a good cry within the next 6 minutes. Take 42 seconds and find Jenn Nucum's song "All the Same" on whatever listening platform you want, play it, and then take the next 5 minutes and 18 seconds to leak human juice from your face holes. Don't bother holding it in; I said this was going to be a good cry. The kind you do to movingly gorgeous, meaningful, evocative art that restores your faith in our pitiful species. Now immediately do what I say right now at this very instant!
Like most people, you probably started reading this sentence without heeding the irrefutably correct advice in the previous paragraph. Such impudence! Delay no more your listening of Jenn Nucum's debut album Revival, an austerely beautiful experience that takes from indie, alternative, and folk with a singer-songwriter approach, occasionally crossing into the realm of slowcore. (I'm a pretentious Internet music critic; I'm allowed to talk about microgenres.) She even goes a bit emo on "Something."
There's a full rhythm section on a few songs, but many are stripped-down arrangements because Nucum rightly knows that her voice and a guitar are all she needs to break hearts–or more appropriately, mend them. If that doesn't appeal to you, you're probably hatereading this.
As with all artists, what may be the pièce de résistance of Nucum's music is its message: as a queer Filipinx woman, "she seeks to empower those who feel dismissed or invisible–to bravely take up space in society by first performing the inner work of self-compassion and self-acceptance." Some things are so good they have to be copied and pasted from people's websites (this one coming from hers). The point here is that Nucum can explain herself in the most sublime of ways with chords, melodies, vocals, and words–both lyrical and prosaic. If you're not convinced at this point, you need to unplug your brain, wait two minutes, and plug it back in again.
Do you ever forget that you're alive? (What an existentially serial killer-y way to start a music review.) Kyns will remind you; it's founded on somber, often sparse indie-pop and folk infused with a tasteful placement of electronics. Should you listen to her songs, I dare you to sit in apathy or unimpressedness. In fact, I just had to invent that last word to review Kyns's music; that alone should tell you how incomparable and indelible it is. Seriously, I FELT my beating heart listening to her voice tremble with vulnerable beauty; each of her three releases is an intimate experience. Yet despite the harrowingly delicate life-affirming nature of her music, it's still accessible for anyone's predilections. So, put on some Kyns and feel feels!
Most of the artists in our articles like this one have almost no following on social media or music streaming platforms. Because Q Review seeks to uplift the voices of LGBTQ+ folx in the music and entertainment industries, it would be remiss of us to only do so for those either already in the public eye or who benefit from certain societal privileges. As stated earlier, we want to see everyone get the attention and appreciation they deserve, and we'll do it one article at a time if we have to!
If you are an LGBTQ+ artist looking to build upon your small following and/or you are a member of a disenfranchised community, get in touch with us! If you are a fan looking to help such an artist gain exposure, tell them to contact us!
get in touch with us > https://www.qreview.ca/contact.html
Thank you for listening to these artists and supporting our wonderfully diverse community! And remember: solidarity!
Dusk Arts is an independent volunteer writer for the Qreview.
About the Author
Dusk writes for Q Review because propagating the gay agenda is cool and badass. Some of their favorite genres of music are symphonic power metal, ethereal wave, dream pop, shoegaze, and black metal (the kind that doesn't espouse right-wing poseur dreck). They believe that the best way to achieve social justice is through economic justice, which can only be secured through organized, cooperative, mass political action. They do not use social media publicly, but accept hate mail, death threats, and all other backhanded compliments at firstname.lastname@example.org.