Music
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 12: Hayley Kiyoko attends Billboard Women In Music 2019, presented by YouTube Music, on December 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Billboard)

20 Asian American Musicians To Add To Your Playlist Now

These artists represent a multitude of musical genres.

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Over the past several years, the K-pop industry in the U.S. has grown exponentially. The fan enthusiasm behind bands like BTS has drawn parallels to The Beatles, and so many K-pop groups have received the same passionate reception. The attention is well-deserved, but Asian artists represent a multitude of musical genres (even just within the K-pop industry) — a fact that should not be overlooked. Whether you're a fan of indie rock, R&B, hip-hop, or dance music, you won't want to sleep on these Asian American musicians.

Asian artists have recently received some long-deserved recognition in the entertainment industry, primarily in film. In 2020, Bong Joon-ho's Parasite won big at the Oscars. The following year, Youn Yuh-Jung won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Minari, which also scored The Walking Dead alum Steven Yeun a nomination for Best Actor. However, there's still plenty of work to be done within the music landscape to ensure equal representation is achieved.

BTS, most notably, has seen unprecedented success in the U.S. Still, despite being invited to attend the last three Grammys, they've yet to take home an award, highlighting the discrepancy between their immense success and the Recording Academy's willingness to acknowledge it. Additionally, Asian artists have a harder time landing record deals. As American Idol alumni Paul Kim explained to The New York Times, he was blatantly told by industry execs he would have been signed to a label faster had he not been Asian.

By streaming these artists, you're not only supporting them and their art, but you're subsequently showing industry insiders just how valuable they are. Consider this list sonic proof Asian artists are making exceptional, diverse music that can't be boxed into one genre or sound. Each of these artists prides themselves on breaking boundaries and creating their own rules. You may have heard of a few, but many have been flying under the radar for far too long. Your ears will thank you soon enough.

01
Melissa Polinar

Polinar got her start in the late 2000s when viral YouTube covers paved the way for success. While artists like Justin Bieber and Lennon & Maisy were sharing music covers, Polinar focused on posting her original music and her soulful vocals were a hit. In 2019, the Filipino-American songwriter actually re-recorded one of the songs that propelled her career forward, "Try," on its 10-year anniversary.

02
Eric Nam

Born and raised in Atlanta, Nam moved to Korea to pursue music because he felt he had a better chance of succeeding there. “Even if you look at American Idol, or X-Factor, or The Voice or anything, it was always difficult to see an Asian or an Asian-American make it to a certain point,” Nam told TIME in November 2019. Today, Nam is a highly visible and respected name in the K-pop industry. While he's very proud of his K-pop success, he considers himself a pop singer first. He hopes to grow his success stateside and told TIME, "I want people to hear my music and say, 'I don’t know who this person is,' and I could be Black, white, Latino, Asian — it doesn’t matter, but it’s just a great pop song."

03
Clinton Kane

Kane's got every making of a great singer-songwriter, and his lyricism will make a fan out of loyal Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith listeners. The Filipino-American singer's impressive vocal range captivates, and his emotion-driven lyrics will melt your heart. One of his more popular tracks, "Chicken Tendies," has upwards of 2 million views and is a must-add to your heartbreak playlist.

04
Jhené Aiko

As a mixed-race Japanese, Creole, Dominican, and European woman, Aiko has proudly championed her diverse roots throughout her accomplished career. The R&B singer is a six-time Grammy-nominated artist and is well respected within the industry for her philanthropic endeavors. She launched the WAYS foundation in 2017, an organization dedicated to helping cancer patients and their families.

05
Steve Aoki

Steve Aoki is hardly a newcomer to the EDM scene, but as one of the most prominent DJs in the industry, and one of the biggest Japanese DJs ever, it would be a crime to leave him off this list. Aoki even has his own record label and, in 2016, Netflix released I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, a documentary about his career.

06
Karen O

As the lead singer for the rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O has solidified her spot as a rock music legend. Not only is the Korean-American singer's discography with the band a must-listen for any rock music fan, but her 2019 album with Danger Mouse, Lux Prima, earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance.

07
H.E.R.

Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, H.E.R. (aka Gabi Wilson) has become one of the most prominent names in R&B. At just 23 years old, the singer-songwriter already has four Grammy wins and 13 nominations. Along the way, she's never shied away from praising her Filipino mother and Black father, Agnes and Kenny Wilson, for giving her the unique perspectives that propelled her musical success.

08
Toro Y Moi

Toro Y Moi is actually one person (Chaz Bear) and he's become the unofficial king of chillwave. Born to a Filipino mother, the South Carolina native later relocated to California to further his music career. If you need some chill vibes on your playlist, Bear's got you covered.

09
Ruby Ibarra

Ibarra is a Filipino-American rapper from San Lorenzo, California who also dabbles in spoken word poetry. Her music is meaningful in more ways than one. A number of her songs touch upon her experience as an Asian American woman. In April 2021, she released a powerful song and video called "Gold" with Ella Jay Basco, which exposed the harmful effects of the skin whitening industry.

10
Ella Jay Basco

You may recognize Basco from her appearance in Birds of Prey, but her music is not to be slept on because it's making major waves. Her song "Gold" with Ruby Ibarra highlights her Filipino heritage. As she told People, "From top to bottom, we wanted to make sure that our Asian-American community was represented with this project."

11
Mitski

Meet your new favorite alt-rock queen. Mitski's dreamy melodies appeal to the indie-rock crowd more than anything, and, if you're a sucker for a sad bop, this Japanese-American songstress has plenty of those stacked up.

12
Yaeji

Yaeji was born in Flushing, Queens in 1993 and grew up between the U.S. and Korea. Since she moved around so much as a kid, she found friendship on the internet, where she first connected with the bossa nova, jazz, and Korean indie music that drove much of the Korean DIY scene. She soon returned to the States to attend college, where she discovered a love for producing and DJing. Now, she meticulously blends hip-hop elements with her house-driven sound for a listening experience that is unlike anything else.

13
Hayley Kiyoko

Kiyoko has been given the nickname Lesbian Jesus since she’s so outspoken about LGBTQ+ representation in the music industry. The Japanese-American singer is a true trailblazer and her pop music genius has landed her hits with Kehlani, MAX, and AJR.

14
Jay Park

Park is an industry heavyweight. The Seattle native got his start in the K-pop industry as part of the band 2PM, but he went solo in 2009. Today, not only does the star have dozens of hits under his belt, but he has two record labels of his own that specialize in R&B and hip-hop music: AOMG and H1ghr. Park uses his superstar status to give others the spotlight, and he's put his support behind other artists like GOT7's JAY B and Yugyeom, and Raz Simone. Whether you're a self-proclaimed K-pop stan, or you're just recently getting acquainted with the genre, Park's discography is required listening.

15
Jin Au-Yeung

Born and raised in North Miami Beach, Florida, the Chinese-American rapper, aka MC Jin, has some seriously impressive accolades under his belt. After becoming popular among his musical peers for his epic freestyles, he was signed to Ruff Ryders in 2002 at just 19 years old, becoming the first Asian American solo rapper to be signed to a major record label in the U.S. He's since parted ways with the label and now travels back and forth between the U.S. and Hong Kong, seeing success in both places. In May 2021, the rapper released a single called "Stop the Hatred" with Wyclef Jean to raise awareness about hate crimes toward Asian Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic.

16
Olivia Rodrigo

Rodrigo needs no introduction, but I'll do it anyway: This Filipino-American actress-turned-singer-songwriter's mega-hit debut single "drivers license" was unavoidable in January 2021. Its heartbreakingly relatable lyrics about a crush moving on with someone else struck listeners to their core and immediately soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also went viral on TikTok, before making its way into a Saturday Night Live sketch. Rodrigo's songwriting skills have fans likening her to industry heavyweights like Taylor Swift, so it's no surprise her debut album, Sour, is one of the most highly-anticipated albums of summer 2021.

17
Run River North

Run River North is not just one musician, but three. The band formerly known as Monsters Calling Home is an indie rock band from Los Angeles. The group has an eclectic sound that draws inspiration from each member: Daniel Chae, Alex Hwang, and Sally Kang.

18
ZHU

When ZHU first entered the electronic music scene, he used an alias and remained anonymous. By 2014, the artist also known as Steven Zhu was ready to share his identity with the world. ZHU got his start in San Francisco, California, but has made his mark on the EDM scene globally.

19
Darren Criss

Criss rose to fame starring on the television series Glee and he's since proven himself to be a true triple threat. His work can be seen across TV, film, and music. In September of 2018, Criss became the first Filipino-American to win an Emmy in the lead actor category for his portrayal of Andrew Cunanan in FX's The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. He’s also got several full-fledged EPs under his belt.

20
Amber Liu

Amber Liu (also known mononymously as Amber) is of Taiwanese descent and grew up in Los Angeles. She made a big splash when debuting as a member of the K-pop girl group f(x) in September 2009, but has since gone solo. Her 2019 solo track "Other People" racked up millions of streams, and she dropped her solo album, called y?, on May 7. She’s continuing to grow her superstar following on social media, where she has 5 million Instagram followers and over 2.3 million on Twitter.