Last Friday, comedic rapper Awkwafina took the stage at Goodrich Hall in a performance hosted by Asian American Students in Action (AASiA) and the Entertainment Committee (ECOMM). The 24-year-old New York native enthusiastically performed some of her wittiest songs, entitled, “Queef,” “NYC Bitche$,” “My V@g,” “Flu Shot” and “Yellow Ranger.” Although the concert lacked the full-house attendance it deserved – Awkwafina’s beats and quick wit, as well as a few die-hard fans, more than compensated to produce a high-energy concert.
Off-stage, the artist identifies as Nora Lum, a young woman of Chinese and Korean descent who hails from Queens, N.Y. Before Lum adopted the stage name Awkwafina in college – “Some of us are just meant to be named after water,” she attests in her song “Janet Reno Mad” – she attended LaGuardia High School, which specializes in visual and performing arts, where she studied classical and jazz music and played the trumpet. Lum began her musical career by humbly making beats on Garageband when she was 17. “I think boredom and the creative dreamer within – yes, I really just said that – were the original culprits in my music making. Back then, every single thing I made sounded highly embarrassing and just plain terrible. But I knew that if I was patient with the process, the sound would eventually be less intolerable,” said Lum in an interview with the Record.
Throughout her college years at SUNY Albany, two years studying abroad in Beijing and a few tentative post-grad desk jobs, Lum was constantly inspired to write songs and make beats, a tendency that finally pushed her to pursue her rap career full-time. “I did have a day job and I left it right around the time I shot the video for ‘My V@g.’ At the time, I was a post-grad who was willing and ready to be a slave to the desk job. After about a year, I was sure that life just wasn’t for me, and I envied my friends who were loving their jobs,” she said. Until Awkwafina truly emerged, she worked in a variety of fields. “But now I feel like I’m doing something that I’m really into, regardless of the nature of the work.”
Now, the up-and-coming artist has dropped a mix tape, Yellow Ranger, which bursts with energy, caustic wit, comedic appeal and dance beats, and has released zany music videos that have racked up over a total of one million views. Her videos are filled with fast-paced humor, interjected with cut-scenes of the incorrigible Awkwafina trolling, lampooning and satirizing. In one video entitled “Mayor Bloomberg (Giant Margaritas),” she not only plays excerpts of Bloomberg’s attempts to deliver a speech in Spanish, but also prank calls New York City’s 311 information line and self-deprecatingly explains to her cat that her “second vestigial gooch really solidified her identity in a spiritual, philosophical, everyday walking around kind of way.” Regardless of the humorous, brazen content of Awkwafina’s songs, the aural tone of her music ranges from tinny and elaborate to low, resonant beats that are dangerously catchy. (Trust me, you may be embarrassed to start humming “Queef” to yourself in public, but you will.)
Awkwafina’s spontaneous inspiration for her music generates seemingly random, yet whimsical subject matter – turning the embarrassing or mundane into the funny or exciting. Lum commented, “My musical inspiration is pretty much divided into two parts: the concept and the music. My beat influences are whatever sounds I’m listening to that I like, and the concepts are a mixture of random brain farts, intoxicated moments or life blips that I eventually string together into a verse. Finding joy in the ordinary is something I do always.”
Awkwafina has also inadvertently spawned a feminist following with “My V@g” and “Queef,” celebratory, powerhouse songs that are odes to her femininity. “My V@g,” in which Awkwafina cleverly boasts and swiftly fires insults, rose in popularity and became a parody of and much-needed female counterpart to Mickey Avalon’s popular song “My Dick.” Lum jokingly remarked, “I guess ‘My V@g’ in itself does have feminist undertones, but it is also just the reality of my genitalia.”
Addressing the intention of both works, Lum said, “The queef song came from one of those aforementioned brain farts. I imagined a woman in an X-Men like scenario where her queefs were this unwanted super power that would save the world. How? No freaking idea. I don’t think I intended the song to be this revolutionary feminist power play, but rather a playful anthem to something that happens to the best of us (at the worst of times).” For Awkwafina, her gender, culture and background will always inform her music, but by all means do not encapsulate it. “My music will always be a reflection of my identity, whether it is as a woman, an Asian-American, or just a crazy bitch.
For Awkwafina, I think race is just one aspect that she focuses on. I want Awkwafina to represent a realistic modern identity, one that is multi-layered and complex, yet relatable … At the end of the day, I am Asian, but I am also just an American kid that grew up on The Beatles, Lunchables and National Lampoon’s Vacation – I am what I am.”
Goodrich last Friday night was full of excitement during her performance. Awkwafina, clad in striped leggings, high tops, a hoodie, a beanie and her signature half-ironic, half-hipster larger-than-life glasses, entertained the audience during and between songs; even when technical and other difficulties arose, she sparked up funny conversation with the students. Olivia Clarke ’17, a first-year celebrating her birthday at the concert, recalled, “Awkwafina interacted with the students as equals. She totally wasn’t full of herself or anything and she really engaged us!” Much to Clarke’s surprise, Awkwafina not only wished her a happy birthday, but also pulled her and friends on stage alongside her as pseudo, spur-of-the-moment back-up dancers. Awkwafina hung out with students after the performance, seen getting mozzarella sticks in Paresky Snack Bar and was rumored at one point to have chilled with the owner of a chinchilla on Spring Street.
Luckily for the eager audience at the College, Awkwafina is not yet fully-booked coast to coast and still a relatively-unknown name in the music industry, producing hilarious, but home-made videos and collaborating with friends, more than music producers. However, after her feisty and energetic performance last Friday, we can be assured that won’t be the case for long for this woman making waves and stirring up trouble in a male-dominated industry.