Over at AAJA, we developed top 10 lists for work by AAPI journalists and media storytellers that we’ve loved reading/listening/watching over the past year. I decided that I wanted to do similar rankings of AAPI media that don't necessarily fall into the journalism sphere. I had high hopes. But when it came down to it…all I could do was compile my music. So without further ado: here’s some of my favorite new singles by AAPI artists that I would like to share with the world from 2021! (Note: I wanted to specifically focus on work by Asian Americans, so stuff like OPM (original Philippine music) and K-pop aren't included on this list; but a big shoutout to Leanne and Naara's Daybreak live album for being one of my faves to listen to this past year as well!)
Top 10 Singles by AAPI Artists:
“good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo: If you know me, you know that I’m an Olivia Rodrigo stan. So of course this has to be number one on this list too; it was already number one on my Spotify Wrapped, but just clarifying in case anyone was still wondering!!! This was the first Olivia Rodrigo song I memorized on guitar (and I can play almost the entirety of SOUR from memory at this point), and it’s because it’s such a vibe. I don’t always fully let my Aries energy out, but this song brings it out in the best way possible.
“I GUESS I’M IN LOVE” by Clinton Kane: I’m very grateful that my brother introduced me to Clinton Kane by way of him constantly singing this song for music production college auditions. I can’t believe I didn’t know about him before because his style is exactly what I’m looking for in indie pop music. His ability to convey heartache through song through an enormously powerful belt is incredible.
“Working For The Knife” by Mitski: Mitski invented sad girl autumn. That’s it. That's literally it. (But also a lot of Mitski’s feelings about being stuck at a weird point in her career and not knowing what to do with her art….yeah….)
“The King” by Sarah Kinsley: “You’re still young and you’re still free.” A lot of the music I listened to this year was, frankly, depressing. But I really should have listened to songs like “The King” more – songs that remind you what it feels like to be alive. This was a recommendation from the ZAPI Artists Instagram, and it stuck out to me. The opening piano part instantly enraptured me and it just evokes such beautiful energy.
“Hard to Love” by H.E.R.: I have been SLEEPING on H.E.R. (we stan our Blasian and half-Filipina artists here) and I’m so mad at myself for not checking her out more fully sooner. This is my favorite song off her album that came out this year (Back of My Mind) a lot. This particular song immediately hit me because of the beautiful guitar progressions and the sheer lyrics: “It’s hard to love…” “It’s hard to trust…” “It’s hard to change…” And H.E.R. just lets it all out there; the simultaneous roughness yet fullness of her vocal quality that conveys this pain is palpable.
“Love Flew Away” by Laufey: Laufey's another new discovery from this past year; I love her soft velvety voice so much. The wistfulness of this one sticks out to me. And if I have one artist on here who I’d compare to Dodie Clark (who is incredibly important to me), Laufey is it. (And their Christmas collab, "Love To Keep My Warm," is another highlight, but it felt weird to put a Christmas song on a top 10 list from a whole year.)
“Light” by Kina Grannis: "I found a light in the space between." Hope. Light. Love. Kina Grannis's ethereal voice never fails to just completely calm me down and this song off her most recent album this year, "It's Hard to Be Human," conveys this so well. It's a good song to return to when I want to just relax and breathe.
“Gold” by Ella Jay Basco and Ruby Ibarra: I’m still pinching myself that I got to work on a panel with these two artists for AAJA’s convention last summer. This song is about colorism within the Filipino community and is just all girl power, with “I’m brown and beautiful” vibes. It’s something that I honestly don’t say for myself a lot. And it’s been a big pump up song over this past year.
“Larry Itliong” by AJ Rafael, Jason Chu, and Alan Z: It almost seems unfair to compare this song to the others on this list because of how important it is historically (AJ Rafael wrote this for AAPI Heritage Month last May) and how completely unlike anything else it is on this list. If you don’t know about Larry Itliong, listen to this song and learn more about Filipino American history. It’s also just a BOP and such a wonderful celebration.
“for a night like this” by Darren Criss: Don’t kill me for including Darren Criss on this list, but I could not stop listening to this song for the longest time. The vibes of “Masquerade” are so different from anything he’s done before. There is something nostalgic and retro about this music that he’s putting out now and I love the carefree, unbridled joy of this one.