Cover by Jake West Photography
This past year and a half has been an unpredictable, wild ride. From lockdowns, protests, rise in hate crimes and more, I will be very honest and vulnerable when saying that this has been the roughest year and a half as an Asian American living in the United States. Live music and festivals were my escapes from reality. But with the ongoing pandemic, racism towards BIPOC and rise in Anti-Asian hate, it was obvious. This was the reality to live with and there was no escaping.
Now in 2021: COVID-19 is still on the rise. Developing variants like Delta and Lambda are causing governments to change courses of action regarding recommendations, mandates and lockdowns. However, festivals and event companies have been working endlessly with local governments and public health officials. They’re doing as much as they can to safely bring live music back to us. This includes Head in the Clouds Music & Arts Festival, spearheaded by the pioneering Asian music and media company 88rising, partnering with Goldenvoice. This two-day event is currently scheduled for November 6-7, 2021 at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The Head in the Clouds lineup includes Rich Brian, Joji, NIKI, Saweetie, Elephante, Josh Pan and more. This may seem like any other festival for most people, but this festival is incredibly important; not only to me, but for Asians and Asian Americans across the globe.
Asian & Asian American Representation in Media, from a 90’s born Philippine-American perspective
Speaking as a first generation Philippine American born in the 90’s, I grew up in a small town. I was estranged with my culture, and Asian American culture in general. I watched classic Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network shows for example. Additionally I watched iconic sitcoms like Full House, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, and Brady Bunch as well. It was very rare for me to look at the TV and say, “Hey, they kinda look like me!” (Shoutout to Mulan, Kimi from Rugrats, Brenda Song, and Sandra Oh—to name a few—for fulfilling those moments for me growing up). In my childhood, most kids would own NSYNC or Backstreet Boys CD’s. We’d also ask our parents for magazines with Jonas Brothers, Jesse McCartney and Britney Spears posters to hang on our walls. (Side note: Yes, I still have some of them.)
Early Pioneers of Asian and Asian American Representation
While Youtube was fairly new we had Wesley Chan, Ted Fu, and Philip Wang of Wong Fu Productions; Kevin Wu of KevJumba; Ryan Higa and Michelle Phan paving the way for Asian and Asian American representation in media. When Far East Movement was one of the first Asian American bands on the radio, it was a big deal. I loved finding out that The Black Eyed Peas and the Pussycat Dolls had members who were part Filipino. Back when American Idol was huge, it was wild to see competitors like Jasmine Trias, Ramiele Malubay and Jessica Sanchez; these people looked like me, had a somewhat similar upbringing, and were making a name for themselves on TV. Those were moments where I realized, “I could be like them one day!” That was the Asian and Asian American representation that I grew up with.
Today’s Music, Media and Entertainment Welcoming Diversity
Generations today can now see many actors, athletes, and other talented individuals at the forefront for Asian representation. For example, we have Simu Liu and Iman Vellani as the first Asian superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sunisa Lee just recently became the first Asian American to win gold in the Olympics all-around gymnastics final. Additionally, she is the first Hmong American to ever become an Olympian (let alone a medalist). Yuh-Jung Youn, who portrayed the grandma in Minari, is the first South Korean actress to ever win an Oscar. Additionally, Chloe Zhao is the first Asian woman to win Best Director at an Oscar for Nomadland. We’re seeing way more diversity in the media than before and it is only just the beginning of it all.
The Importance of 88rising’s Head in the Clouds Festival & its Noteworthy Headliners
To bridge everything together, here’s how all of this relates to 88rising and Head in the Clouds. In my opinion, Head in the Clouds Music and Arts Festival is incredibly important as an Asian American. This festival is a representation on how much the music industry has grown and evolved. It shows how American entertainment has welcomed more Asian and Asian American artists to mainstream media. 88rising continues to emerge in this rapidly changing industry, paving the way as the leading pan-Asian music company worldwide. Head in the Clouds, launched by 88rising, is the first major Asian-centric music festival in the United States. Moreover, this year’s headliners have profound impacts in the music industry, such as CL, Joji, NIKI and Rich Brian.
In the early 2010’s people ridiculed my significant other for listening to K-Pop. Naming a few, he listened to Girls’ Generation, f(x), 2NE1, Infinite and SHINee. In 2012 came the viral hit known as “Gangnam Style” by PSY. This, in my opinion, became the catalyst of welcoming Korean music in the US. Now, BLACKPINK was the first ever female K-Pop group to perform at a Coachella. Additionally, male group BTS is topping Billboard charts with smash hits like “Dynamite” and “Butter.” Lee Chae-rin is a former member of 2NE1, famously known as CL. She is at the forefront of Korean music as the first female solo South Korean artist to hit Billboard charts. Iconic tracks include “Hello Bitches” and “+5STAR+.” Additionally, she collaborated with Skrillex, Diplo, and Big Bang’s G-Dragon for “Dirty Vibe.” With her success, it’s no surprise seeing her as one of the Head in the Clouds headliners.
Rich Brian (@richbrian/@brianimanuel)
Another headliner listed is Brian Imanuel aka Rich Brian. Brian Imanuel became a viral sensation for his smash hit “Dat $tick” as Rich Chigga. Later, he changed his performance name after realizing he wasn’t in a position to make people less sensitized to “Chigga.” For those unaware, “Chigga” is a word that blends the N-word to the word “Chinese.” Other notable tracks from the Chinese-Indonesian rapper include “Gospel” ft. XXXTentacion and Keith Ape, as well as “See Me”; the latter released at the time he changed his name from Rich Chigga, to Brian and now Rich Brian. His debut album Amen made him the first Asian artist to top the iTunes Hip Hop charts at #1.
Also headlining is George Kusunoki Miller aka Joji. Joji is best known musically for his platinum hit “Slow Dancing in the Dark.” Other notable Joji tracks that gained popularity through TikTok include “Worldstar Money” and “Gimme Love.” I personally am more familiar for his work as Filthy Frank on Youtube. As Filthy Frank, he became a catalyst for internet culture, internet memes and oddly peculiar Youtube comedy skits. Most people may not know, Miller actually started the viral dance sensation for Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” leading this single to top the Billboard charts that year.
Niki Zefanya, also known as NIKI, is an Indonesian singer and songwriter who opened for Taylor Swift during The Red Tour in Jakarta. After moving to the US, she released multiple tracks and EP’s under the 88rising label. For instance, her single “Dancing with the Devil” released ahead of her first EP Zephyr. In addition, one notable album is her genre-bending album Moonchild. Niki’s mission is to “empower young Asian artists under-represented in the American music industry.”
More Noteworthy Head in the Clouds Artists to Look Out For
With an incredible and genre-diverse lineup, there are also are some noteworthy artists performing at Head in the Clouds festival that you may be more familiar with besides the headliners mentioned above. These artists include Saweetie, Elephante, and Josh Pan.
Some fans may be confused as to why Saweetie is included on the lineup, but she’s actually part Filipino and Chinese through her mom’s side while her dad is African American. Additionally, it’s hard NOT to know the Icy Queen herself with her chart-topping hits like “My Type,” “Back to the Streets” ft. Jhene Aiko, and “Best Friend” ft. Doja Cat. With her worldwide success (including her upcoming collaboration with McDonald’s) Saweetie joins CL, Joji, NIKI and Rich Brian as one of the other headlining performers for this event.
Tim Wu, or Elephante, who many have seen across big-name lineups like EDC, Ultra Music Festival, EZOO and much more, is also slated to play at Head in the Clouds. Elephante was one of the first Asian American DJ’s that I have seen, and interestingly enough I didn’t even know he was Asian until seeing him live. In an interview back in April with local Bay Area publication Redefining Dichotomies, Wu actually admitted to deflecting about discussing race. “Early on in my career, I was deflective of talking about race, because I didn’t want to just be known as the Asian DJ.” My favorite tracks from Elephante include his cover of “Shooting Stars” by the Bag Raiders, “Troubled” with Deb’s Daughter, and “Age of Innocence” ft. Trouze and Damon Sharpe.
Josh Pan (@joshpan)
Another electronic artist to look out for is Josh Pan. Josh Pan previously performed at the 2019 Head in the Clouds Festival and scheduled to return to this year’s edition. He has released EPs under OWSLA and has worked with the likes of Jai Wolf, Manila Killa, Waka Flocka, Dylan Brady and many more. It’s hard to describe a definitive genre for Josh Pan as he likes to experiment with music: “It’s always been important for me to flow from one style to the next. The music world is so cross-pollinated now and it’s so easy to experiment, why not try?”
Overall, Head in the Clouds is a festival you won’t want to miss.
With massive headliners and other talented artists performing, Head in the Clouds Music & Arts Festival will continue to make history as a music festival with an Asian-centric lineup. Additionally, it will continue to motivate emerging Asian and Asian American artists worldwide and inspire young Asian and Asian Americans to pursue their dreams in music and media.
Head in the Clouds Tickets, Pricing & More Info
2-Day General Admission Lineup On Sale is $249 + fees while 2-Day VIP Lineup On Sale is $399 + fees. VIP passes include early entry, dedicated entrance lines, as well as a VIP merch package including one (1) limited edition 88rising t-shirt, cinch bag, mask and commemorative VIP lanyard. Additionally, you can add parking passes on your purchases, such as 2-Day Preferred Parking at $100 or regular 2-Day General Parking at $50, with both passes good for both days.