Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Race and Music – Is it “normal” for an Asian girl to like Sarah McLachlan?

Posted by chinesecanuck on May 21, 2008

Racialicious has an interesting post about ethnicity/race and music today.  Kelvin, a guest contributor, spent his childhood years in Nigeria listening to a diverse group of artists, including Phil Collins, Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson.  He is now in his 20s and living in the US.  His tastes are apparently being challenged.  Kelvin likes rock.  His undergrad was at a historically black school according to his post, a fellow student asked him not to play his favourite tunes while on campus.  A totally WTF situation, IMHO, but not unusual.  I have had similar experiences.  Apparently, Asians aren’t supposed to like country (which I did for a couple of years in high school).  Asians aren’t supposed to like Sarah McLachlan or Jewel (I stopped listening to Jewel after 1998.  Her Spirit album was the last good one) either.  Instead, we’re supposed to listen to pop music from our ancestral homeland or hip hop, especially if you are under 35.  Apparently if you were a teen before major-major immigration from Hong Kong (mid 80s or later), you can listen to “white” music without much criticism.  I have a friend in her mid 30s who grew up listening to George Michael, early Madonna and Culture Club.  It was normal for a Chinese kid to listen to “white” music back then.  Not really the case for Cuspers (people born between 1977 and 1981 – we’re the ones who aren’t sure if we’re Gen X or not) or Millennials (1982 or later).  Cuspers and Millennials, at least those who grew up in certain parts of Canada grew up smack in the middle of mass immigration from Hong Kong.  It’s now all about Cantopop, “English” pop, hip hop, Emo, etc…Cantopop is just like American/British pop (but in Cantonese…you know….the music basically all sound the same) and the others?  Not really my thing.  Seriously.  A few years ago, my parents’ friends were in Vegas and were really disappointed to find out that Celine was taking a break.  Geez.

I recently bought the new Sarah McLachlan compilation album, Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff II (mostly songs from soundtracks, “special” releases or concerts – you guys should check out the first Rarities album…it has an extended version of “I Will Remember You”) and some people looked at me as if I had purple and green skin.  “You like Sarah McLachlan?” a girl ( who was around my age…late 20s) asked.  “Yeah, I do.  In fact, I have all her CDs, including her bad ones.  You know, the stuff she recorded after becoming more mainstream.”  The other woman had an “oh” look, as if I had done something really wrong.  I knew immediately what that meant.  It meant “why are you listening to that stuff?”  I always thought that music transcended race, that it didn’t really matter what you listened to.  I guess I’m just wrong.

What I really want to know is why.  Why can’t I enjoy Sarah McLachlan’s music?  Is there something about her that turns Asians (or rather, Hong Kong Chinese) off, especially Cuspers and Millennials?  I don’t know if it makes any sense to me.  Does it to you?

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One Response to “Race and Music – Is it “normal” for an Asian girl to like Sarah McLachlan?”

  1. I find your perspectives very strange.

    Yes, it’s pretty ‘normal’ for an Asian girl to like Sarah McLachlan and Jewel. Lots of Asians like Sarah McLachlan and Jewel, even my parents.

    Who was the person who was surprised you liked Sarah McLachlan? Maybe it’s that you come off as a ‘snobby’, classical-music kind of person, and Sarah McLachlan is mainstream. (If CHUM FM plays it, then it’s officially mainstream, and also appeals to the Baby Boomers.)

    CC’s Note: Sarah did NOT really become mainstream until her Surfacing album (and IMHO, her last GOOD studio album) in 1997, the same year she launched the Lilith Fair (though some say that it’s debatable, since “I Will Remember You” (long version) was in a movie soundtrack). The girl who asked me about Sarah McLachlan was someone I worked with a few years ago.

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