Ah, time flies and we’ve already bid goodbye to 2018! A mad year for Asian actors and celebrities in Hollywood, but what about our artists, bands, and musicians on this side of the Pacific? For the past 12 months it’s been a pleasure to write about music and culture for April Magazine. From introducing Manila’s indie rising: Reese and Leanne & Naara, reviewing Hong Kong’s underrated duos: My Little Airport and Winter Bagels, to interviews with Katherine from Crazy Rich Asians, Zauner of Japanese Breakfast, and the feature of the iconic mother Mitski.
In 2018 we saw and heard a handful of women take center stage. As we look back, I picked out the top EPs, singles, and albums released by thriving and successful Asian female artists that made a buzz in the mainstream music industry. They arrived in pop, house and trap, combined with rap and rock, plus lots of stunning indie, synth, and psychedelic sounds. Below are our six favorites of 2018 (with honorable mentions), in no particular order, and what their fans had to say. Don’t sleep on these ladies. They’re all sorts of amazing!
Hayley Kiyoko – Expectations
Hayley Kiyoko made 20GAYTEEN her year, but my love and loyalty for her music goes back to her early days. Kiyoko has now found her voice alongside her loyal fans, knowing that she’s still the ever-so-passionate, wide-eyed dreamer, who strives to uplift, be a voice and celebrate one’s journey (good or bad) through music. — Rholiza.
I like Hayley because she’s an amazing singer, musician, dancer, and creator. But also because she’s a role model for queer people around the world. She promotes love, acceptance, kindness, and she creates a safe space for all of us. Her music really helped me love myself and made me feel comfortable in my own skin. Girls Like Girls is very special because it’s basically the song she came out with and it’s definitely a gay anthem! — Axorrr.
Superorganism – Superorganism
Superorganism is my favorite and I owe that mostly to the very weird and oddball style they embody through their pop sound, their visuals, and their stage performance. From the catchy hooks to the ridiculous visuals, from the swelling guitars to the weird, wobbly synths, and from the almost nonsensical lyrics to the charmingly apathetic-sounding delivery from the adorable, but hilariously foul-mouthed, lead singer Orono. I knew Something For Your M.I.N.D. would be my fave. Their self-titled album was incredible. Follow the whale! — Ana.
Yaeji – One More
I like Yaeji because I love entrancing loopy fun beats that just makes you feel whatever emotion. And I love how she speaks in Korean, it helps me focus personally on the sonics of the song and not get distracted on the content of what she’s saying since I don’t understand it. Maybe that’s intentional. Also part of it is that I really strive to find new and emerging talent in this generation. My favorite thing she’s released this year is the song One More! — Sierra.
I discovered Yaeji because of 88Rising. I really liked her since my type of music usually sounds soft and more lo-fi-ish, while she’s super cool and hella inspiring. Listening to her music sometimes gives me the motivation to draw new things. She’s making a name for herself and that’s also great to watch. My all-time favorite song would be Last Breath, which also has an enchanting video concept with lovely vibes. I especially love her vocals in after that! — Brandon.
Mitski – Be The Cowboy
I remember the first Mitski record I heard was “Puberty 2.” There was something wrong yet extremely personal with her sound. Wrong in a sense like, you know when something is supposed to be whispered, yet she puts it on a megaphone? But she does it without malice and without pretentiousness. There’s nothing flimsy about it. Cut-throat, sharp-edged poetry, which she continues to prove in “Be the Cowboy.” In all it’s groovy-moody-glory, it still punches you in the gut like a motherfucker. — Jethro.
Harunemuri – harutosyura
It’s been a massive surprise to me, seeing Harunemuri jump into different genres of music. She has managed to pull it off so well and create a sound of her own with elements of rap, pop, rock, and even metal in some parts. It’s amazing to see this movement of artists trying new things and breaking down barriers of what music should be. — Jean.
I love to see when an artist can pull together many genres of music and turn it into something completely new. I feel that’s what Harunemuri does so well. Really beautiful blend of post-hardcore riffs and passages with j-pop delivered in a passionate cadence that, despite the language barrier, had me hooked to the emotional potency of every track. — Trevor.
Kero Kero Bonito – Time ‘n’ Place
One of the reasons why KKB are definitely my fave is their writing. I think that especially in “Time ‘n’ Place” the lyrics can be really personal, especially to a teen. I love how KKB handles topics such as derealization, growing up, and feeling hopeless as a teen in a way that doesn’t seem that scary. Ever since the album came out, it has helped me to cope with anxiety, especially the songs Sometimes, Swimming, and Dear Future Self. I appreciate them for how much their music has helped me. — Pjo.
We could go on further with the list so as a year-ender treat we’ll leave you with a couple honorable mentions: the math rock trio, Elephant Gym; Malaysian pop star, Yuna; the metal squad, Babymetal; former 2NE1 Minzy; j-rock group, CHAI; and the rapper/actor Awkwafina.
Happy listening in 2019!