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Francie Diep
Science journalist, staff writer @PacificStand, appreciator of prose in all forms
Jun 6 3 min read

Five Brilliant Things You May Have Missed From That Rap About Asian Women

Your cheatsheet to “Green Tea,” the new song by Awkwafina and Margaret Cho.

By Francie Diep

(Image: YouTube)

Don’t be alarmed if you see me biking around today, yelling about how you should call your mom. I’m just singing “Green Tea,” a song by rapper Awkwafina and comedian Margaret Cho that was released last week.

“Green Tea” has been called “the ultimate rap anthem for Asian women” and “the Asian woman’s Lemonade.” What makes it so great? Let me count the ways:

1. “Green Tea” Subverts History

Stereotypes say Asian American women have… shall we say… desirable physical characteristics. Yet, historically, that’s been used toward our oppression, not our pleasure. A recent MTV Decoded video traced this history, which includes biased portrayals of Asian women in popular European literature in the late 1800s, and American troops’ extensive relations with Asian prostitutes in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. “The first interaction that three generations of American men had with Asian women was as submissive sexual objects,” says Decoded host Franchesca Ramsey. Check it out:

The “Green Tea” lyrics transform Asian women’s sexuality from passive to overpowering. Awkwafina raps she’ll “turn a grown man into a bashful bride.”

2. “Green Tea” Subverts Rap

Rap is the perfect genre for “Green Tea.” Male rappers have long bragged about their anatomy, with some taking pride in their dominance over women. Awkwafina and Cho brag about their anatomy and their dominance over men.They even have a mansion, decorated in nouveau riche East Asian-American style.

3. “Green Tea” Subverts Orientalism in American Music Videos

Remember when Gwen Stefani used four Japanese women as silent props for her videos and concerts? Or the weird, culturally non-specific martial arts that appeared in Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” and Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love” videos?

Mainstream American singers regularly dip into Asian cultures for aesthetic inspiration, but they never seem to do it quite right. Awkwafina and Cho nail cultural specificity in their video. In one of the scenes, Awkwafina, who is partly Chinese, wears a Chinese-print robe (A nod to Chinese emperors’ dragon robes, maybe?) and Cho, who’s Korean American, wears a hanbok.

4. “Green Tea” Passes the Baton

Cho has already had a long career tackling race, gender, and sex in comedy. Awkwafina only began her career in earnest in 2014. Although Cho raps she’s “never been, never will be a has-been,” the video ends with a bit of baton-passing. “Came out my belly with a suture,” Cho says. “Awkwafina is the future.”

Cho also plays around with an accent and pretends to be a stereotypical Asian mom: “How come you never call me?” she asks at one point. Accents are a controversial topic among Asian-American actors. Many hope that, in the future, Hollywood won’t ask actors to adopt them (although they can be used to good effect).

Awkwafina, a Millennial, is uncomfortable with Cho’s bit. Just before it begins, she calls out, “Margaret? Margaret?” with all the anxiety of a teenager who knows mom is about to do something mortifying. And later: “I feel like the accent is unnecessary.” But the video begins and ends with Cho’s accented phrases. It comes off as unsettling, sharp-edged whimsy. It also fits in with Awkwafina’s statement on Angry Asian Man that “Green Tea” is meant to help young women “embrace their quirkiness, their sexuality, their inner-child and their creativity with passion.”