There came a point last month when I looked through my “Recently Played Songs” and realized something: all of them were from Asian and Asian American artists. What can I say? It’s a magical time when Olivia Rodrigo, Laufey, and Mitski all decide to release new music within the same two-week timeframe.
But I knew right then and there that this fall’s Short Takes had to focus on the trailblazing Asian and Asian American artists currently taking the music industry by storm. While all three artists are vastly different in their musical styles and genres, they are alike in that they are changing the faces of music as we know it. In the worlds of pop, jazz and the indie scene, these three artists are at the top of their game – and showing no signs of stopping.
See below for our thoughts on the new albums and why all three should be on your playlists.
GUTS, By Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, Sour, was unsurprisingly one of my top listened to albums when it was released in 2021. Everyone knows her breakout hit “Drivers License” which catapulted her into the spotlight, and she followed that up with iconic hits like “Deja Vu,” “Good 4 U,” and “Brutal” which officially cemented her status as a breakout popstar that the world had its eye on. So when Olivia released her sophomore album, GUTS, in September, expectations were understandably high. Could she keep the momentum going? Would GUTS even come close to reaching the colossal heights of Sour? Turns out, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
GUTS continues to strike the perfect mix of teenage angst, vulnerable lyricism, and catchy pop hooks. It’s ambitious, heartfelt, and messy in the best ways. It also shows off Olivia’s incredible versatility as an artist – proving that she has the chops to pull off raw emotional ballads like “The Grudge” as much as she can command an over-the-top pop-punk banger like “Bad Idea Right?”
Of all the tracks off GUTS, my personal favorite happens to be the very first track of the album: “All-American Bitch.” The focus of the song speaks to something that I (and I’m sure many other young Asian American women) can relate to – the impossible standards that society places upon young women, and the resulting feeling of never feeling good enough. It’s a powerful anthem, complete with screams in frustration toward the end of the track that immediately switch to her final lines of the song: “All the time / I’m grateful all the time / I’m sexy, and I’m kind / I’m pretty when I cry.” If that dichotomy doesn’t sum up what it’s like to be a young woman in 2023, I’m not sure what does.
Bewitched, By Laufey
Listening to Laufey has been one of my favorite music discoveries of this year, and I might not be the only one in that camp. Laufey’s newest album, Bewitched, released in September and went on to break an all-time record as the biggest debut for a jazz album on Spotify, according to Music Business Worldwide.
Bewitched feels both modern and timeless, which is one of my favorite things about the album. While Laufey’s smooth, soothing vocals could be mistaken for a classic vocalist of another era, her lyrics are something that many young adults today will surely relate to. In “Dreamer,” the 24-year-old singer talks about not wanting to lose her sense of wonder and fantasy, while “Second Best” highlights her feelings of not being put first by someone she considered her “everything.”
And though I adore standout tracks like “Dreamer” and “From the Start,” one of the songs that stuck with me upon further listens has been a song toward the end of the tracklist titled “Letter to My 13 Year Old Self.” In one part of the song, the Icelandic-Chinese artist sings, “I’m so sorry that they pick you last / Try to say your foreign name and laugh / I know that you feel loud, so different from the crowd / Of big blue eyes, and long blonde hair, and boys that stare.” It’s a deeply moving song where Laufey speaks directly to her young teenager self, opening up about feeling like an outsider as someone of Asian descent in a crowd of “blue eyes and long blonde hair.”
It’s no surprise that Laufey has cited jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as some of her biggest musical influences. But in an interview with Australia-based magazine RUSSH last month, Laufey also mentioned Taylor Swift as one of her favorite musicians, saying, “She has done for pop and country what I hope to do for jazz.” From all the success she’s seen so far with Bewitched, it feels like Laufey is well on her way.
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, By Mitski
Mitski released her seventh studio album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, last month and so far, the album has received near universal acclaim, with some critics calling it her best work yet. And if you are a Mitski fan already, you know that’s a high bar to clear.
The 33-year-old singer-songwriter has said this album is her “most American album,” something that NPR asked her about in a recent interview. “Especially with this album, I think I’m trying to reconcile all my various identities with being American today. I feel like I’ve always been seeing my own identities through the eyes of other people who haven’t lived my identities. And I kind of think maybe that’s also very uniquely American,” explained Mitski. “I’m Asian American. I’m half white, half Asian. And so I don’t really fit into either community very well. I am an ‘other’ in America, even though I am American. And I almost feel like a majority of Americans are actually ‘other,’ and that’s kind of what makes America what it is.”
That’s a theme that’s explored throughout the 11-track album, which is one of Mitski’s most cohesive works to date. Some of my favorite songs include “My Love Mine All Mine,” which imagines the speaker’s love shining down from the moon after they have gone, and “The Frost,” which grapples with feelings of loneliness and being an outsider. Another standout for me is “I Don’t Like My Mind,” which is fairly self-explanatory.
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We shines in all of the ways fans would expect from Mitski. Her lyrics continue to be raw and poetic, and the melodies are arresting and powerful.