Two Cents: All Accents Are Not Created Equal


With so many Asian artists attempting to cross over to the US music industry this year (BoA, Wonder Girls, Se7en, Utada Hikaru, etc), it goes without question that increased public awareness also brings increased scrutiny. Across the board it seems like a lot of people are commenting on how (fill in the name of an Asian artist here) needs to work out their accent (Utada being the exception). Or how they sound foolish or embarrassing. Go to any youtube video or forum post about these artists and you’ll undoubtedly see all the negative remarks. You know I’m not going to lie, I’ve made similar comments many times myself.

However I think it begs the question, what makes an Asian accent so “ugly”? I mean, British and Latin accents are almost unanimously considered attractive or sexy, yet Asian accents are often the subject of ridicule and shame. What makes Enrique sound so exotic and smooth, but Se7en awkward and funny? What made the Spice Girls sound so endearing but the Wonder Girls like level 2 ESL students?

It really makes me wonder… are all of our perceptions of audible beauty truly so objectively aligned that we can collectively say Asian accents in English are unattractive? Or do we believe they are ugly because pop & social media has always deemed it so. Is our disdain for the Asian accent fostered by nature or nurture? And if it is by nurture, can and will that perception ever change?

Given, I understand that there will always be caricatures and extreme extrapolations of reality. If there weren’t, then people like Russel Peters & Bobby Lee would be out of the job and we’d sorely miss some laughs. But will there ever be a time when an Asian person’s limited ability to enunciate their R’s will be as welcomely accepted as a Latin’s tendency to roll them?

In a perfect world, as long as one can understand what the artist is saying then that should be more than sufficient. But the world ain’t perfect. So until then it’s “herro” and good bye.


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