by Mimi Chen, AsAmNews Contributor
Growing up with traditional over-achieving Asian attitudes, the Kaye sisters, Charlene and Liann, didn’t dream of being the creatives they currently are.
“I think, like many children of immigrants, we were told, you know, to go to college, get your degree, get a stable job and etcetera, etcetera. And so Charlene was the first one to branch off and say, I want to be a musician,” Liann said in an interview with AsAmNews.
Both sisters started pursuing traditional careers before pivoting to more creative fields. Charlene is a singer-songwriter with several professional records. Liann is a filmmaker and screenwriter.
Apparently, their parents didn’t initially react well to the change of heart. However, they noted that their parents were deeply creative people.
“We’re fortunate because we’ve had the access and the privilege to grow up in America and be surrounded by lots of creative folks. Our mom is a very talented interior decorator and has such an eye for static and color. Our dad is a writer and a very sensitive absorber of movies and music. Both of them grew up poor in Singapore, and so they didn’t really have the resources to live their craft, to push their craft to its fullest. I think Liann and I are kind of making up for lost time in a way.” stated Charlene.
Charlene was the first to stray away from her parents’ wishes and pursue her dream of becoming a pop musician. She has released several songs under the moniker of “KAYE,” including 15 music videos that utilize the film-making talents of her sister Liann.
Liann spent several years in the corporate world before she decided it was time to concentrate on her passion for filmmaking and screenwriting. Although she started out her career creating music videos for her sister and other indie musicians in the New York scene, she was also working at Global Citizen as their director of video. Her current focus is on narrative, recently releasing her first mini-series on YouTube called “The Blessing.”
Recently, Liann has been dissecting the easter eggs in Charlene’s music videos in a mini-series on her TikTok @liann.kaye. In the videos, the sisters use subtle approaches in altering people’s stereotyped attitudes towards Asians.
“I kind of discovered that Tik Tok was an extremely powerful tool for promoting whatever creative projects that you’re doing. So I had been using it to talk about behind the scenes things of my mini-series. And then lately as we’ve been releasing music videos, I would just kind of talk about where the concept came from for each music video that we’ve been doing,” Liann said.
The final episode of the series clarifies directing notes on the music video for a song Charlene released five years ago called “UUU.”
Liann mused through pop history to explain her actions.
Back in the early 2000s, Gwen Stefani had an entourage called the Harajuku Girls, four Japanese ladies who followed her around and were contractually obligated to only speak Japanese in public. The Harajuku Girls were featured heavily in the Hollaback Girl video, dancing behind Stefani and on the red carpet. However, during that era, they were just always behind her, not speaking.
“And so it was just a weird moment that doesn’t seem like a lot of people talked about,” Liann said.
As Liann continued digging into the pop culture history of the depiction of Asians. She also noticed Avril Levine had a video called Hello Kitty. Similarly, the video depicted a white woman with these emotionless, silent Asians behind her doing dance moves. While people defensively point out the video was made in Japan with a Japanese crew, still it propagated the image of a dominate white woman, according to Liann.
“And then finally, Katy Perry,” Liann continued, “I don’t think there’s really any defense for what she did, but she went straight yellowface and, you know, like had slanty eye makeup, her hair was black, I believe in the AMA performance and then had an outfit on that was combining a kimono and qipao (Chinese dress) and a lot of dancers behind her taking Asian culture into the performance, but not uplifting any Asian people.”
In contrast, for “UUU,” Liann said, “why not have her be the front woman with two white women behind dancing? We’ve never seen it before, so it was just a fun twist of visuals.”
In Charlene’s latest release “Neon Gods,” the fun “smashing of sterotypes” continues.
“The one that appears on our most recent video for my song, Neon God, is exceptionally personal to us because we both grew up being forced to play piano and violin,” Charlene said.
It’s also another Asian trope, she says, where Asians are continually being portrayed as either classical musicians or K-Pop artists.
“We actually cast these two little girls that resemble Liann and I to carry these violins and then smash them,” she said.
While Charlene’s latest project is the recently released project “Neon Gods,” Liann recently celebrated obtaining representation by signing with the Color Creative Management.
“We’re working on two features, one of them in development and we’re going to be pitching to a streamer soon,” she said.
Meanwhile, their parents apparently have silently approved their creative endeavors, said Liann, “as long as I don’t ask them for money or anything, then they’re good.”
Socials for the Kaye sisters:
(28) KAYE – YouTube