If you somehow haven’t heard of 88rising yet, you most definitely haven’t been on the Internet for a while, and by for a while, I mean at least two years or more. This New York-based media company and record label, which promotes and manages Asian artists, has been generating the biggest buzz in the past two years, riding the waves of the cultural change and high off a soundtrack collaboration with Marvel for their first Asian-American superhero movie and an extremely successful music festival held earlier in November, Head In The Clouds.
It all started in 2015 when the California-raised Japanese-Korean Miyashiro left his job running an electronic music channel at Vice to start a media initiative that he pitched to investors as “Vice for Asian culture,” his goal was to tease out the cool in Asian culture and magnify it, on a global scale.
The number 88 means double fortune or double luck in Chinese. It seems more than fitting that Miyashiro set up his Asian media company right before Asian culture at large came into an unexpected global spotlight. Just as 88rising was gearing up to expand, South Korean boy band BTS was just beginning their reign of the U.S. charts while selling out around 50,000-capacity stadiums worldwide in minutes, John Chu’s all-Asian romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians became the highest-grossing rom-com in nine years, and Netflix’s well-received To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before steered the Internet into a conversation about the lack of Asian-American families on screen. Asian-American musicians like Mitski and Japanese Breakfast have also been rapidly catching on, contributing to a single booming effect for the culture.
Through the growing intersection of music and Asian cultures, the label has managed to rack up Head In The Clouds Music & Arts Festival, the first Asian-centric music festival to launch in America in 2018, from 20,000 attendees to almost 50,000 in just a span of three occurrences. As tedious as it might seem to keep track of such milestones, fans of Asian actors, artists, and creatives haven’t had much to celebrate as a community until recent times. It’s not that the talent wasn’t out there, there just wasn’t much of a platform for it.
Rather than working within engrained music industry networks, 88rising built its clout largely through shrewd use of social media, producing viral hits like “Rappers React to Higher Brothers” in-house and developing personal relationships with platforms such as YouTube, Apple Music, and Spotify to expand the algorithmic performance of their content.
In just a couple of years, 88rising has become an authority on how to create Asian and American pop-culture crossovers. The company understands how to sell Asian artists to American audiences. Similarly, it offers a vision of Asian cool to industries — music, advertising, fashion, television — that are desperate to be cool in Asia. This business strategy of giving American industries an avenue into profitable Asian markets, while at the same time offering Asian artists a route into the U.S.’s usually closed-off music scene, has paid off in the number of fervent 88rising fans alone.
While people and artists of color should be given the space to speak on their struggles and identities, truly unbiased representation would look like artists of color enjoying success in the mainstream with or without having to represent a marginalized community. 88rising allows a platform for Asian creatives to amplify their messages of identity and gives Asians around the world the opportunity to actually resonate with mainstream culture and not feel out of the box or “uncool”. The label is doing its bit to push Asian talent out of tired, racist stereotypes and give them the recognition they deserve while continuing to celebrate Asian creatives and inspiring future creatives around the world. 88rising has generated unexpected buzz ever since its origination and has never lost that expanding globe-spinning momentum. With plans to diversify its roster even further and take its massively successful festival to at least five other countries, 88rising really does keep rising and breaking barriers.