Cully Perlman, married to a Korean Woman, weighs in on Day Above Ground’s attempted career suicide.
When Day Above Ground recently released the video for “Asian Girlz,” the reaction was swift and brutal. I’d heard it was the most racist song and video ever, a hodgepodge of stereotypes, sexist, misanthropic, etc. etc.
Naturally I checked it out, and naturally, being married to an Asian, I wanted to see what I thought about the video. So I watched it on my laptop, but I watched it in silence without hearing the lyrics or music. And I’ll be completely honest here: my daughter, who is half Korean, was sitting beside me and watching Super Why, and my wife, who is Korean, was cooking dinner only a few feet behind me. I didn’t want either of them to notice what I was doing.
Once the video started playing, I knew I’d made the right decision.
If you haven’t seen the video by now, you’ve probably at least heard about it. Here’s a few of the lines members of Day Above Ground sing, edited here for brevity, and so I don’t bore you:
Butt fucking all night. Creamy yellow thighs. Slanted eyes. Ninja pussy I’m stabbin’. I’ve got your green tea boba. Spicy tuna. Fried lice.
And so on. Really. I’m not making that shit up. That’s actually in the song.
Of course, I didn’t know until after I’d watched the video of the gorgeous tattooed Asian woman strip near-naked and bathe with mini band members swimming between her legs. I didn’t know how bad the lyrics were. They’re so bad, I feel embarrassed including them in this article. They baffle me. They make me question the sanity of the band members. And they make me question the line most artists eventually approach: where it is, what does it take to cross it, and what steps need to be done to remedy these errors.
My wife is Korean. I’m mixed race. Instinctively, I’m drawn to ethnic humor. At home, when someone says “fried lice,” it’s usually my brother-in-law or my wife. Someone always laughs.
Admitting it here feels wrong. But at home, we go back and forth. They call me names; I poke fun at their accents, what they eat. We knock each other in a million other ways based on our backgrounds, our ethnicities. But we do it at home. We do it to each other, because we’re a family, however peculiar, however diverse. We’re allowed to, because in our way, we’ve given permission to each other to go there. In all the years my wife and I have been together, not once has anyone gotten upset from our politically incorrect humor. But there’s a difference when you take what’s done at home and put it out there for everyone else to hear. For everyone else to see.
As a writer, I’m all about the free speech. I believe it is essential to democracy. Without free speech, the world shrinks, becomes unlivable. But sometimes you have to reign in the stupid. Sometimes free speech isn’t about saying what you can, but what you should. Sometimes it’s about staying classy. Sometimes it’s about showing respect. Day Above Ground missed that. They took for granted the trust given them. And now they’re paying the price for it.
What’s tough for me to swallow, and tough for me to write here, is that I believe the band is sincere when they say they had no ill intentions, that the song “comes from a good place.” I believe them. Really I do. Yet I don’t really care. It doesn’t change the fact that what they put out there was wrong.
My wife and I disagree on a lot, but we agreed on this. As a Korean woman obsessed with American Idol, The Voice and pretty much any and every singing and music competition, my wife just shook her head. The worst part, she said, is that on top of it their music sucks. But I couldn’t agree with her. Maybe the music sucked, maybe it didn’t. I didn’t know. I hadn’t listened to the music—I was stuck on the words. I got tripped up by the language, the horror of what they’d written and sang in public. For the world to hear.
On one of our first outings as a couple, a year or so after we started dating, we met up with some of her friends at Café Brass Monkey, a decent-sized karaoke bar on Wilshire, in Koreatown. All of the friends were Korean. All of them sang. I watched some of them destroy songs I loved. They had a blast, and so did I.
Others tried their best to hold a tune. Some did, some not so much. But that was part of the show, part of why we had come. When my wife went up there and sang “Son of a Preacher man,” I got chills. She can sing, can hold a tune and she knows the words…there’s just something about her when she’s out there, something special. That night, under the dim lights and surrounded by Koreans, I fell a little more in love with my wife. She held a tune and sang Dusty Springfield’s classic like it was the last song anyone would ever hear.
I think Day Above Ground should take a step back from the events of the past couple of weeks and reflect on what’s happened, where they went wrong. Sure, sometimes you go out there and tear it up, have a few drinks and let loose and have fun. But sometimes you need to sing your songs like they’re the last songs anyone will ever hear. My wife does that. Maybe Day Above Ground should too.
Photo by Derek Gavey.