With lyrics such as "I love your creamy yellow thighs," and "ooh your slanted eyes," it's not hard to imagine why many music lovers have been outraged about one Los Angeles-based band's new music video.
Day Above Ground's "Asian Girlz" premiered last week on YouTube to a flurry of negative criticism for its "racist" lyrics, including a post in which the Angry Asian Man blog highlighted it as "the worst thing ever made." Within days, the video has received more than 1 million views and amassed more than 12,000 comments, most of them angry.
Phil Yu, Angry Asian Man's founder and editor, stands behind his characterization of the video.
"It dehumanizes Asians and Asian women," Yu said Friday. The lyrics, he added, "are sexist and racist and at the very end [they] prove it by going through a litany of Asian thinks like sushi, noodles and Bruce Lee... It's not really about Asians as people, it's Asian from the perspective of these guys..."
But in a Friday morning interview, Day Above Ground lead singer Joe Anselm said the song is not racist "because no one in the band is racist."
Derrick Clifton: What inspired "Asian Girlz?"
Joe Anselm: Well, it was mostly out of the admiration for the relationships that the band has had or has with Asian females. It was tongue-in-cheek and we knew it was going to be outrageous but everyone in our circle of friends -- and we have quite a lot of Asian friends and all of our band members are from LA. It was a joke, it was in jest, we just ran with it and thought it was funny. People enjoyed it.
DC: Who wrote the song?
JA: The song was written by the band. The entire band. We take credit for all songs written by the band. Some ideas came from certain members. It was a team effort.
DC: So how did the band's relationships with Asian women inspire the lyrics?
JA: Well, let me ask you -- have you ever been with an Asian woman?
DC: Joe, I'm gay, so I have not been with an Asian woman.
JA: Well an Asian man then? Well it's about being accepting of another culture because you love a culture. All the profanities and other stuff is outrageous and it was just to make fun -- it's funny. And it's mostly about the stereotypes that most white men that are infatuated and have fetish with the Asian woman. It's about the stereotypes that they see and that's the only thing they do see. It's tunnel vision. That's the basis and the core of their fetish with them. So we're kinda making fun of ourselves and obviously we're not that blind anymore. We're making fun of the culture of white men with Asian women. It's all around us, we see it everywhere, and there's nothing wrong with it. White guys with a small mind -- a small kind of vision I guess you could say. Basic stereotypes that people can't see past.
DC: Do you think fetishizing Asian women is OK?
JA: I'm not here to say that, I'm just here as an observer.
DC: So, what can we say this song is?
JA: It's a satirical observation
DC: What was the creative direction of the video? What was the vision?
JA: It's kind of cut and dry. It's inspired by the director. We deliberated over different ideas to create the best visual message to get the point across. If you watch the video closely, the punchline is in the end. There's a shrinking potion she picks up off the shelf and the Asian woman is in control the entire time. She goes on dates with men who are obsessed with Asian women and she shrinks them and puts them into a case. They worship her as a goddess and it's all silliness after that. People are missing the point.
DC: Why are they missing the point?
JA: I don't know.
DC: When you say people, are you referring to the Angry Asian Man blog?
JA: Obviously there have been people in that certain group who have misunderstood it and others who misunderstand it as we speak. I see there are more people who understand it and see it as something that's not that serious.
DC: Who's the director of the video?
JA: The director of the video -- I'll withhold that information and I'm not sure how much he wants me to put his name out there.
DC: So, aside from the director, how did you all find and hire Levy Tran?
(Note: Levy Tran is the star of the video)
JA: She was kind of a diamond in the rough when I was looking for the right girl for this video. She was very natural and playful and very just sweet sweet girl. Very intelligent and it's a damn shame of the names they're calling her because of this.
DC: Have you spoken with Levy this week?
JA: There's been communication put through to her from us and she put out an apology. She didn't mean to offend anybody.
DC: Your critics say this is disrespectful and dehumanizing to Asians and Asian women. What's your take on that?
JA: I think [Angry Asian Man] is misunderstood. It's satire. We're actually worshipping the Asian woman. It's plain to see that we're the ones who are being subordinated underneath this image, this ideal Asian goddess.
DC: Does this worship Asian women or does this go back to satire?
JA: It goes back to satire and stereotypes.
DC: Do you think the song's lyrics or video are racist?
DC: Why not?
JA: Because no one in the band is racist.
DC: Could you define what racism means to you?
JA: No comment on that one.
(Joe continues after a pause)
It didn't come from a place of hatred. Racism is seeing people for what they are on the outside and not what they are on the inside. It didn't come from a place of hatred. It's satirical. The lyrics are all satirical.
DC: Do you have any words to share with your fans -- some of whom may not be happy about the video?
JA: All of our fans are definitely have enjoyed the video and have been supportive. They think it's a really funny song.
DC: For quite a few people, "Asian Girlz" is their first impression of Day Above Ground. What do you have to say to them?
JA: Stick around. And you can see what the band is really like.
DC: Some reports are saying your gig at the House of Blues in Los Angeles has been canceled. Is this true?
JA: It is true.
DC: Did the House of Blues give you a reason?
JA: They didn't cancel it but the promoter was scared about violence, riots, anything that might be normal at a rock and roll concert. I'm upset that it was cancelled. It seems that we didn't expect this controversy and it's been part of rock and roll since the beginning. No one wanted to give it a chance. It's upsetting to me but what can we do? We'll find another venue, we'll find another show.
DC: Do you think you should lose other gigs or your sponsorships because of the video?
JA: No and I don't think we will. I believe that the tide has already turned. The effect of the statement we released is present and clear.
(The statement to which Joe refers is included below after the interview ends)
DC: If you stand behind the expression and don't feel the video is racist, why take it down?
JA: That's just what we decided to do because of overall safety. We don't want anybody getting hurt. We didn't know the video would do this and it's not worth jeopardizing the safety of anybody in the band. That is the main reason. It's surprising how we put out something that never came from hatred and the response that we're getting. Some of these comments and backlash is overwhelmingly hateful. It's disturbing. We've gotten death threats, we've gotten phone calls, I don't know how people even found our contact information. But the main reason is safety.
DC: If the video wasn't offensive, do you think it would've gotten such a strong reaction?
JA: I think that anything people feel that violates their system of ideals will be offensive to them. Any misunderstanding also creates that as well.
DC: Earlier, you said some members of the Asian community are misunderstood. Why do you think that is?
JA: I can't elaborate on that, I don't know. This was put out as a satirical piece, it was a body of art, whether they agree or not. It's an expression of freedom of speech overall and we stand behind it. And that's going to be my closing statement.
It was after this that Joe Anselm closed the roughly 15-minute interview, citing the band's travel schedule and other items for the day.
Below is the statement Day Above Ground posted to their YouTube channel, which has since been removed:
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.
But some very vocal groups, especially the blog, "Angry Asian Men," attacked it right out of the gate very aggressively. Their fury was soon amplified by the blog/news cycle. Shortly after, the views and craziness began climbing by the second.
Angry Asian Men, to you we say - all's fair so well done! We salute you. Seriously. No satire intended this time.
So due to the overwhelming misunderstanding of this video & the anger it has incited - especially the bizarre and horrible personal attacks on actress Levy Tran - we're pulling the video down within the next 48 hours.
But we'll leave it up until then to give anyone who cares a chance to see for themselves what it's really about before it disappears from our channel and website forever.
So just step back, take a breath, and relax.
We thank those who've watched the video & understood it in the spirit it was intended. We loved your thoughtful comments. You are heroic souls, indeed. We will be posting some of your comments (along with the funnier negative ones) on our website. Here are just a few of the hundreds that caught our eye...
mishisoup 58 minutes ago: I think the video is amusing (and really weirrrd, haha). My view as a 26 year old Asian American woman is that I'm not offended because I know the difference between someone seriously trying to be demeaning and someone who's joking around. This is obviously the latter. The age thing was funny. Com'on guys, relax.
LordAkaneon 9 minutes ago: Day Above Ground = a fake band created by the NSA so that you don't notice that Edward Snowden was granted Asylum in Russia
Bob Smith 3 minutes ago: How does it perpetuate ignorance? The band is intentionally being ignorant. They're ridiculing ignorance. They're also getting a laugh at the expense of white men who are made small and caged by their affection for Asian women. They're making fun of white guys who only see the most basic stereotypes and who are the most basic stereotypes
18dot7 9 minutes ago: i dont get all the yellers ... they only cater to the cliches already sunk in most westeners mind ... from what i get, they are exposing the stereotype thinking of most people ... and it looks to me as if they hit the nail to the head ... MOST think its racist - and THAT is prolly what they intended ... think thrice ...
We think it's a shame that a music video aimed at entertaining was shouted down. But, as the curse goes, we live in "interesting times."
"It's only Rock n' Roll. (But I like it.)" - The Rolling Stones
"Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." - Banksy