16 Asian American artists you need to know about in 2021
Never before has the world seen such an amazing roster of talented Asian American artists. We’re blessed with Houston-based, Vietnamese American R&B/lofi star keshi. Vancouver-based, Korean Canadian R&B crooner SLCHLD. LA-based, Hong Kong American indie artist Cehryl. And so much more talent that we feel deserve a lot more airtime.
Yet in the past decade, although we saw K-pop prove that “Asian” pop stars can make it in America (thanks to BTS), Asian American artists have been continually fighting for similar visibility in the industry. Korean American singer Paul Kim said once that, “I was told over and over by countless label execs that if it weren’t for me being Asian, I would’ve been signed yesterday.”
This year, we’re finally seeing what we hope to be a turning point in mainstream acceptance, with Joji’s sophomore album charting at #1 on Spotify, H.E.R. taking Song of the Year at the Grammys, and Anderson .Paak winning Best Melodic Rap Performance.
And as Tokimonsta once put it, "I am Asian American and one of very few people representing our group in music. Lately, I've become more outspoken because I think it's important for people like me—Asians, women, and minority groups—to know that I care about us.”
Each of these artists have reflected in interviews on their identity and how it’s shaped their approach and sound as an artist, so we decided it was only proper to celebrate some of the latest and greatest AsAm releases from the past year, in no particular order, starting with a deep dive into our favorite vibes for those 4am sleepless nights.
1. Keshi (Casey Luong)
Dubbed the “lo-fi prince” (and we agree), Keshi was born in Houston to Vietnamese parents and grew up in nearby Sugar Land. He started learning guitar and recording music at age 13, but ended up going to college and becoming a registered nurse while he worked on convincing himself and his parents that music could be a full time thing.
In college, he adopted the Keshi moniker (his childhood nickname) to start experimenting with new styles, and his first singles on Soundcloud in 2017 broke through to millions of plays. Two years and two albums later, after a particularly bad day at work while juggling both sides of his life, he decided to go full-time on music and signed with Island Records.
2. SLCHLD (Doohyuk Jang)
Born in South Korea, R&B/soul artist SLCHLD grew up in Vancouver and began his career as a graphic designer. Known for his catchy lo-fi beats, guitar riffs and exceptional vocal range, he’s found a devoted following across continents.
He began releasing music on Soundcloud in 2017 with songs featuring both English and Korean lyrics, and recently moved to Seoul to continue producing new music and further his career. As a big fan of Korean singer Crush, he draws musical influences from a variety of artists like Drunken Tiger, Jason Mraz, Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, and more.
3. KATIE (Kim Seo-hyeon)
Born in Bucheon, South Korea, R&B breakout star KATIE moved to New Jersey at age 10 and went on to briefly study jazz at the Berkelee College of Music. Immigrating and adapting to the US helped influence her decision to pursue music: “When I went to America, it took a while for me to settle there and make friends. So I spent a lot of time in my room just listening to the radio back then. I think that’s why music came into my life and kind of filled the emptiness I guess, which I’m really grateful for right now.”
After applying to the reality TV show K-Pop Star 4 and placing first after a record-breaking performance, she signed with YG Entertainment and trained for a few years before moving to Los Angeles to join a new label in pursuit of more musical freedom.
4. Griff (Sarah Faith Griffins)
Born and raised in Hertfordshire, England to a Jamaican father and a Chinese mother, bedroom pop star Griff first encountered music after being gifted an iPod shuffle with Taylor Swift’s Fearless on it. With influences spanning Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Stevie Wonder, she started making music on her brother’s laptop which had Logic installed, and in high school she started working with more and more producers until she landed a contract with Warner Music in her senior year.
5. Nieman (Nieman Gatus)
Filipino American R&B/pop singer NIEMAN was born and raised in Los Angeles. Originally a film major, he was heavily involved in drama and musicals growing up, yet deciding to pursue a music career was always “a scary thing growing up in a Filipino household”. His breakout single “Why Do I Still?” went viral on Spotify in 2016 and made it onto the Billboard charts, in part due to dancers creating choreos for it. Later, he released a collab EP with his cousin Moira Dela Torre (the Philippines' most streamed artist), and toured Southeast Asia.
6. Cehryl (Cheryl Chow)
Hong Kong American indie artist Cehryl was born in Hong Kong, studied at Berklee, and lived in LA for a few years. Known for her acoustic compositions, emotional lyrics, and dreamy, calm beats, she grew up listening to artists like Jay Chou and Avril Lavigne. Her latest EP, Time Machine, is dedicated to her time in college experimenting and growing musically.
7. khai dreams
Half-Vietnamese American lo-fi artist khai dreams was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Known for his chilled out beats and frequent ukelele samples, he’s amassed a solid following on Soundcloud and Spotify, yet has stayed pretty low-key - he hasn’t revealed his real name yet.
His influences span Studio Ghibli (which he watched growing up), Frank Ocean and Tahiti 80. Now based in Los Angeles, his recent release Sunkissed has been streamed over 80 million times and used in over 300,000 videos on TikTok.
8. H.E.R (Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson)
Half-Filipina American contemporary R&B artist H.E.R. was born in California and made her debut into the entertainment world at age 10, first as a singer and then as an actress. In 2016, she made her official debut under the stage name “H.E.R.”, receiving widespread praise and attention from top artists and celebrities—all the while keeping her identity a mystery, flaunting only her silhouette on her album covers.
She explains in interviews that “H.E.R.”, which in fact stands for “Having Everything Revealed”, was used in order to separate her personal identity from her musical craft. She claims, “you get to know who I am in my music”. With four Grammys, H.E.R.’s (or would it just be H.E.R.?) influence is undeniable.
9. Jhené Aiko
Born and raised in LA, Jhené Aiko comes from Japanese roots, with a Japanese grandmother on her mother’s side. Her musical career began at age 14 with R&B group B2K, where she was featured in several songs and music videos. In 2012, Aiko signed with Def Jam’s Artium Records and her 2014 debut album, “Souled Out”, debuted at #3 on the US Billboard 100 and received critical acclaim. Intention-wise, she cites Tupac as one of her influences—his drive to stay true to himself has given her motivation to lay her identity and perspectives out in her music. Musically, she cites John Mayer as her major influence due to his writing and vocal capabilities.
Indian-American R&B/soul artist Raveena Aurora grew up between Queens and Connecticut in a Sikh household. After releasing her first EP “Shanti” in 2017, she gained a cult following for her dreamy, lilting vocals and thoughtful lyrics and videos that explored intersectional subjects like self love and her Indian heritage. With her latest album Lucid, she goes on to discuss sexual assault in “Stronger” and her immigrant mother’s tough path to the US in “Mama”.
11. No Rome (Rome Gonzalez)
Filipino indie rock/R&B artist No Rome grew up in Manila, Philippines before relocating to London. He learned how to write music from his father, and cites My Bloody Valentine, Box Car Racer, Bjork and Aphex Twin as significant influences that helped shape his “ultra-modern” pop sound. He started releasing music in 2013, and after his second EP “Hurry Home & Rest” he signed with Dirty Hit Records and relocated to London. In 2018, he had a breakout single “Narcissist” where he collaborated with English pop rock band The 1975, and since then, he’s performed at Coachella, collaborated with Charli XCX, and is planning his debut album.
12. Layton Wu
Taiwanese bedroom pop guitarist Layton Wu was born in Taiwan and grew up in the psychedelic rock scene. In 2016, he met Taiwanese beatmakers like Sonia Calico, qiubo, and rgry, and started to blend these genres together, referring to himself and his style as “hybrid”.
Continuing that self-exploration, he moved to Chicago where his other favorite musicians like Noname, Curtis Mayfield, and Leroy Hutson were based, to further immerse himself in the “melting pot” of the city. In 2019, he collaborated with Taiwanese American citypop artist 9m88 on her debut album, and in 2020 released his full-length mixtape “Summertime” which showcases his unique blend of bedroom pop, surf rock, and intricate beat crafting.
13. Jereena Montemayor
Filipino American R&B/soul artist Jereena Montemayor grew up in Houston, Texas, where she started her music career making guitar song covers in her bedroom and uploading them to YouTube. After finding fame as a cover artist, she recently released her first EP “Reminiscing” a week ago - give it a listen! (And shout out her single “Filipina Girls” which is another of our favs)
14. Joji (George Kusunoki Miller)
The first Asian artist to ever top Billboard’s R&B/Hip Hop album chart, Japanese Australian Joji was born + raised in Japan and at 18, moved to the United States. Responsible for the viral “Harlem Shake” (let’s be real, we all tried this at some point), he went from being Filthy Frank the entertainer to Pink Guy the comical rapper to Joji as we know today. Compared to his prior personas, he once said “Joji’s just me.”
In 2017, he debuted under the name Joji with his debut EP “In Tongues.” His melancholic R&B music has earned widespread appreciation and has often been described as dark, deep love songs. Drawing from his roots, he explains that his music is drawn from his upbringing in Osaka.
21-year-old, Indian Australian Ashwarya was born in Melbourne and recently debuted with her first single “PSYCHO HOLE.” She brings a novel sound to the scene as she seamlessly folds Hindi into her music, noting influence from her childhood + Bollywood. She describes her music as “energetic, dark, romantic, and kinda icy”—but ultimately she takes elements of improvisation and emotional expression for her music to be honest to herself.
Her newest single, “Biryani”, is named after the Indian rice entrée, and specifically originates from her memories eating her mom’s biryani, her love for the dish, and the people she’d eat biryani with. We’re excited to see her musical career continue!
16, Jai Wolf (Sajeeb Saha)
Born in Bangladesh and New York raised, electronic music Jai Wolf’s musical career began in 2011 with mashups and remixes under the artist name No Pets Allowed. In 2014, he left No Pets Allowed and began Jai Wolf. His sound is unique and easily recognizable, and has landed him official remix opportunities for artists such as ODESZA and Alesso + his own music has been remixed by artists like Skrillex. In 2015, his debut single “Indian Summer” earned spots on numerous charts. In 2016, he released his debut EP “Kindred Spirits” and in 2019, released his debut album “The Cure to Loneliness.” He incorporates Indian classic elements into his music all the while bringing his own identity to the table, thus producing his incredible style.