HomeBad Ass AsiansMusician MJ Lee Speaks Volumes During Divided Times

Musician MJ Lee Speaks Volumes During Divided Times

By Sophia Whittemore
AsAmNews Staff Writer


Many Asian American musicians have been stepping up to the plate to voice their views on the current U.S. political climate through their music. MJ Lee. identifies as “a second-generation Asian American woman with Thai and Korean roots, born and raised on the East Coast,” though in the last ten years she’s lived in California.

Lee. who spells her name with a dot at the end believes the Golden State is not only home to a vibrant and artistic culture, but it is also home for people “who are thoughtful, creative, political, and willing to be different.”Click to download high-res photoAre You Listening by Asian American artist Alex Wong influenced Lee. to write her own brand of music that she describes as “heartfelt pop songwriting that deals with personal journeys, like facing your fears, chasing your dreams, learning to be true to yourself.”

Her musical talent was fostered by a wonderful community in the San Francisco Bay Area as she developed as a singer-songwriter.“One of my favorite memories is of the first time I heard the final mixes for my first album, The Lights Ahead. It was my last day in the recording studio with my producer, with whom I’d been working on the album for several months. When I heard my songs playing back on the studio speakers, I realized I had more than a dream on my hands.”

Her friends, family, and community helped her as she ran a Kickstarter campaign and eventually succeeded in bringing her album to life.Click to download high-res imageHer friends like to call her an “emotional nerd” with a big heart. And that sense of empathy is what allowed her to release her newest song Shine as a call for unity in a period of divisive politics.

“’Shine is about finding hope—thrilling, unlikely hope—in times that are personally and politically challenging. It’s about refusing to give into despair and coming together with other people to love and stand up for one another.”

And the song has done just that. At 13,000 views on YouTube and counting, viewers are greeted with a music video of people celebrating race, sexuality, and religions from across the globe. And that visibility is highly important.

Click to download high-res photoMJ Lee. discusses her struggle as a member of the AAPI community, trying to find her voice when other voices were drowning her out. “Our (the AAPI community’s) struggle to be visible, to have our stories told, to be seen as fully human. I hope that my voice can be one piece in the puzzle of our empowerment.”

Though the song isn’t a traditional protest song, it’s still meant to carry political overtones. Lee. clarifies this with a message that she “made some decisions during the shooting of the music video to be clear about that.”

The music video, indeed, includes a shot of signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Sanctuary For All,” and video of people wearing hearts on their lapels to promote peace and happiness. “As an artist and a person, politics are part of who I am,” Lee. explained. “They are my values and hopes for the future, and they’re inseparable from the work I create.”

Click to download high-res photo

And, of course, for any artists struggling against adversity, Lee. offers some sage advice: “Surround yourself with positive and supportive community…have role models…prioritize your happiness and artistic integrity over having to impress people.”

“If anyone tries to hold you back, find a way to prove them wrong—but do it for yourself.” 

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