Hapa Singer-Songwriters: Part 2

By Melissa Slaughter

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I listen to music seasonally. Fun pop songs for the summer, indie ambiance for the fall, and chill beats for the winter. When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, the dulcet sounds of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes were the order of the day. Now, living on the East Coast, I listen to snow-time tunes instead of rainy-day mixes. And in the past few months, these Hapa artists have come to my attention. It’s a Hafu-heavy list this go-around, with all the artists being half-Japanese. Maybe I’m craving a visit to the famous Sapporo Snow Festival of northern Japan. Or just craving some miso ramen.

I first saw Miya Folick when she opened for Kate Nash (aka Britannica of GLOW). Her stage presence was captivating and after some post-show internet stalking, I saw that her videos are visually stunning. There’s something very primal, physical, and visceral about Miya.

Her new single “Thingamajig” is like an eerie haunting cry for love. And “Stop Talking” is a cerebral romp surrounded by bubbly synths.

With her debut album Premonitions released in October 2018, she’s bound to make a major splash on the indie scene.

You might know Kina Grannis from the summer smash hit film Crazy Rich Asians. Her wistful version of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” was a highlight of the film. But she’s also had a strong internet presence for the past few years, starring in the Wong Fu web series “Single by 30” and crowdfunding her own record label. Her album In The Waiting sounds like the soundtrack to the most gentle, yet tragic love story film.

Her voice is soft and husky like ASMR; it’s better than any guided meditation. And within her light acoustic sounds live deceptively heart-wrenching lyrics. If you’re looking for something calming, wrapped in depth and poignance, then press play on Kina Grannis.

Originally making his name on YouTube as Filthy Frank and PinkGuy, the reborn Joji has been touring with 88rising (a multimedia platform featuring artists of Asian descent like Rich Brian and Keith Ape).

His videos “Slowly Dancing in the Dark” and “Test Drive” are made for a generation brought up on internet videos instead of MTV’s Total Request Live. They border on unnerving, including a bloody bath in “Will He?” and the blood spurts in “Slowly Dancing.”

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that his beats are good and his music is unique. His lyrics ache of yearning, and a vulnerability that borders on uncomfortable. And his vocals are a like a mumbled version of The Weeknd. Every day since I heard the hook to “Test Drive,” I can’t get it out of my head.

So give Joji a listen, and make sure to watch his videos. His new album BALLADS 1 debuted as No. 1 last month on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop charts. He’s the first artist of Asian Descent to do so.

Kris Roche brings some liveliness back to the winter wonderlands, with his J-pop-laced guitar songs. Vocally, he and Joji are similar: lyrical falsettos mixed with breathy pop tones. Kris’s music reminds me of the Japanese music I listened to in high school. And his wordplay is entertaining, and his mix of Japanese and English makes his songs that much more delightful. Check his latest single “GUI,” on iTunes and Spotify now.

Kris is to Joji what Kina is to Miya. The yin to the yang; the light in the dark winter months. So whether you’re wrapped in The North Face flannel, or chilling in California with a cardigan, you won’t be disappointed with these four artists.


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Melissa has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdophiles and The Nerds of Color. Find her @NotAllNinjasPod.