Is Asian Girlz the most racist song ever?

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One of the most annoying things about social progress is that it can be incredibly inconvenient. Whereas once it might have been totally fine to hurl abuse at anyone, nowadays you really have think on your feet if you wanted to get by as a bigot.

Even if you wanted to treat yourself to the occasional racial slur, there's the awkward business of backlash. Or worse, you could be forced to hang out with neighbourhood hipsters for the modest pleasure of disguising your prejudice as 'irony'. The bottom line? We've all become too spoiled by politically correct insults.

So when a giant slab of racism lands before your eyes, it can feel strangely confronting sometimes. Last week, LA 'alternative rock group’ Day Above Ground (DAG!) brought us just the thing when they uploaded their new single 'Asian Girlz' on Youtube. Within 48 hours of going live, the video clocked up 235,000 views -- a sharp jump from their usual 800 or so clicks a year.

The band sings to Asian model Levy Tran while trapped in a bird cage.

The band sings to Asian model Levy Tran while trapped in a bird cage.

If you hadn't guessed from the title, the song is NSFW. Basically, it features Asian American model Levy Tran in various states of undress and the band members trapped (for no discernible reason) in a bird cage singing line after line of obscene racial slurs about their obsession with dating Asian girls.

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To give you an idea, the song starts with an oriental riff followed by screen credits in a red, ‘Chinese restaurant’ font. You're then greeted by someone with an early Backstreet Boys cut (that would be lead singer Joe Anselm) who passionately crams in the most number of random, crass and sexually explicit Asian stereotypes you're likely to ever hear in any five minute stretch of your life. It starts with things like, "I love your sticky rice…I love your creamy yellow thighs/ Oh your slanted eyes."

I will spare you from the grossest bits, but the lyrics really range from absurd ("Your momma's so pretty/ Best nails in the city") to deeply creepy ("And you age so well/ 17 or 23? Baby doesn't matter to me") -- devolving finally to what what can only be described as a word salad of arbitrary Asian slurs, "Bruce Lee, Toyota, Spicy Tuna, Sashimi, Fried Lice (yep, that made it in) , Tasty Garden, Sailor Moon".

Levy Tran stars in Day Above Ground's video.

Levy Tran stars in Day Above Ground's video.

And just in case you’re wondering if DAG is equally invested in sexism, at the end of the video, miniature versions of the band members dive into a bubble bath with a naked Tran. One of them turns into a kind of bath sponge which she proceeds to rub on her chest while another actually attempts to swim towards her vagina.

I remember clicking on the link at work (which I don't suggest you do, by the way) and oscillating between being convinced that it was a parody to gasping at the possibility that it could be 'real' and back to utter disbelief again throughout the entire auditory torture.

Unsurprisingly, DAG's little experimental ballad wasn't well received. The Huffington Post called it "The Most Racist Song In Recent Memory". Blogger Angry Asian Man concluded it was “pretty much the worst thing ever made”. Hundreds of angry tweets and online missives were aimed at the band and the female star of the clip, Levy Tran, and a petition was launched to have the song removed from Youtube (which the band has promised to do by midnight 3 August -- but was still up at the time of writing -- which has now grown to 1.3 million views) .

The zinger, however, is DAG’s ‘official statement’ in response to the criticism of the song. On the band’s Youtube page, they noted: “This video is intended to be a satirical, provocative, absurd, & even silly work of art. The lyrics, story, and visuals are so completely over-the-top and ridiculous that we thought it'd be impossible to miss the point.”

As is the case with viral hate bombs, two groups of defenders tend to emerge from the woodwork: those who thinks everyone should “lighten up” because it’s “obviously just a joke”. And others who blame the critics for “giving these nobodies the attention they don’t deserve”, thus making matter worse.

But both kinds of commenters are missing the point here. In the case of ‘Asian Girlz’, it’s not so much the song, but the band’s reaction to the furore that’s worth talking about. Specifically, can blatantly offensive remark actually be written off as “satire”? And who gets to decide when something is racist?

The Satire Defence has always been a favourite disclaimer for intrepid racists.  It’s basically the real life equivalent of putting (Jks!) after any offending statement, act or intention. The genius of hiding something behind satire is that you can always use the same comeback of ,”Well, you just don’t get it, guys!”

But merely adding a ‘z’ at the end of the song’s title does not a work of satire make. As much as the band claims that the clip is an attempt to poke fun of themselves,  the punchline, in this instance, is not about the white guys, but the “Asian girlz” who have been relentlessly caricatured and objectified.

As Anthony Sharwood explains in an earlier opinion piece for The Punch, “What people ... don’t understand is that satire has nothing to do with painting white skin black, or regurgitating sad old one-liners and racial epithets. Satire doesn’t ridicule those who are different to us. " Instead, it uses humour to expose us to our own prejudices.

Racial parody doesn't have to be tasteless. Perhaps DAG should've looked to comedian Jen Kwok to see how it’s done.

(NSFW language in this video)

 

Update: Asian Girlz has now been taken off Day Above Ground's YouTube page. 

70 comments

  • God, this is just as bad as Robin Thicke coming out and saying his horrible video "Blurred Lines" (featuring naked models, clothed men and lyrics about rape) is actually a form of satirical feminism. As he put it:

    "We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, 'We're the perfect guys to make fun of this.'"

    Hmmmm, yeah. Hilarious. Racism and sexism as so "ironic" these days.

    Commenter
    Red Pony
    Date and time
    August 06, 2013, 9:07AM
    • I'm sorry, but there is nothing about 'rape' in Blurred Lines. I have read the arguments by people who claim it is, and they are all guilty of reading WAY too much into it and making up their own conclusions.

      Commenter
      Jason
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 10:25AM
    • Have you seen the clip, Red Pony ? It succeeds completely in making the band come across as total fools (intentional or not). If anyone thinks this clip is offensive, then you should see the way in which White guys behave towards Asian girls in Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Bali, Manila (etc, etc). Sadly, it is far worse and breathtakingly racist / misogynistic than anything in this video.

      Commenter
      Aussie Expat
      Location
      Hong Kong
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 10:58AM
    • I agree with you that the lyrics to Asian Girlz are offensive and just plain stupid. It's bad.

      However I think that everyone is sort of over reacting to blurred lines which is pretty tame in comparison to other songs that are much more overt in degrading women, promoting rape/sexual violence and sexism. A lot of well known songs/number ones have had lyrics that are a bit questionable...

      Just saying and I know I'm totally going to get blasted for this lol.

      Commenter
      Carla_bunga
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 11:07AM
    • Well put Red Pony.

      I recently saw that Blurred Lines film clip and was just gobsmacked at the degrading tone of it. I'm no prude or conservative but both of these music videos go way beyond acceptable.

      I have a 13 yo step-daughter who showed the Blurred Lines film clip to me. She thought it was funny. I had to explain to her why it wasn't funny. Its effectively porn but sold as entertainment and under the guise of parody when really is just sexist, racist, unintelligent garbage. And not just the girls this conversation has to happen with. I had to explain to her brothers why it wasn't funny. We don't want the kids to feel embarrassed about their bodies or their [fast approaching] sexuality, but we don't want them thinking that women are objects only for men's enjoyment. The girls need to learn how to respect themselves and not openly give it away, and the boys need to understand that a woman's body is her domain and cannot be just taken when he wants it.

      I just don't think its a conversation we should have to have with 13 yo kids. These 'adults' need to put their brains into gear before they make this sort of tripe. And not just the bands; remember there is an entire entourage of people and promoters that make these things possibly.

      Commenter
      Bec
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 11:20AM
    • At least Blurred Lines is a good song...this one sounds like a regurgitation of the worst kind of generic teen pop you can imagine.

      Commenter
      zzz
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 11:25AM
    • @ Jason, a sample of lyrics from Blurred Lines: I'm gon' take a good girl/ I know you want it/I hate these blurred lines/I know you want it/ I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two/ Nothing like your last guy/ he don't smack your ass and pull your hair like that/ Do you like it hurt/ like it hurt/ baby can you breathe/ but you're a good girl/ you know you want it.

      If you don't recognise the rape and violence themes in this song and the fine line between consent and force - I mean, even the TITLE gives it away! - then heaven help us. Obviously you've never been raped, in particular by someone you had expressly refused to have sex with but who had decided against your own protestations that you did, in fact, want it. Especially the bit about having your ass ripped in two, because that's a massive turn-on for a woman.

      Where, oh where are the men who can separate their desire for women from any empathy they might feel for them?

      Commenter
      Cam
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 11:37AM
    • Well, lines like "I know you want it", "do it like it hurt" and "I'm gonna give you something big enough to tear your ass in two", sound pretty rapey to me.

      And yes, regrettably, I've seen the video clip. Of course the singers look like idiots, but they seem to think they're being terribly post-modern and hilarious.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 11:45AM
    • Aussie Expat, while i do agree with you on some level i think you branding every white guy in asia as racist and misogynistic is down right offensive, i know my singaporean/chinese wife and my kids would find your comment damn rude and offensive. stereotyping is not the answer even if these DAG idiots and Thicke are a bunch of publicity seeking no talent morons.

      Commenter
      Hornberger
      Location
      Singapore
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 12:44PM
    • It was a tasteless song and clip, but it has flushed out how weird the notions of racism and sexism have become.

      So having any preconceptions based on ethnicity or culture is now racism, rather than the traditional definition of denigrating people because of their skin colour? So now statements of fact regarding bone density, stature, family structure, are no longer physiological or anthropological observations of reality but are in fact derogatory? Folks, if you have cantered down that avenue of fantasy, you will have lost contact with the real world.

      Commenter
      Matt Hartley.
      Location
      Koh Samui
      Date and time
      August 06, 2013, 1:27PM

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