Music is sound. All sound is not music.
Sound is the silent hum of your fan rotating in circles in the corner of your room, the vibration of your electric toothbrush against your gums, the high-pitched pinging of your microwave in the distance, the squealing of a school bus when the driver steps on the brakes. Air particles are vibrating in the air around you just because; there’s no rhyme or reason. There isn’t an artistic purpose behind these vibrations.
However, where these vibrations strike an emotional chord in you, where they name the unnameable, predict the unpredictable, and express the inexpressible, there is music.
This summer, before going away to college, I watched a groundbreaking film, “Crazy Rich Asians,” directed by Jon M. Chu. It was a classic and heartwarming love story of a young and progressive couple of Asian descent; the story follows their journey together while they battle both familial and cultural conflicts. The film turned the tide of Hollywood movies with its all Asian cast, its attention to detail of Asian intricacies like food and family traditions, as well as its destruction of Asian stereotypes that have pervaded our society.
Personally, I feel that the soundtrack really spoke to the film’s fusion of American and Asian culture that many individuals in the film and individuals like myself — whose parents have been born and raised outside of the U.S.– experience and must uphold on a day to day basis in order to thrive comfortably in society. Whether it be Jasmine Chen’s jazzy and bubbly, “Waiting for your return.” or Sally Yeh’s electric cover of Madonna’s classic single, “Material Girl,” I myself, who does not even hail from East Asia, felt an unreal connection to this soundtrack’s fantastic blend of American and Chinese beats. Amidst the modern and western beats and melodies, I could feel Chinese lifestyle and beliefs precipitate with the Mandarin lyrics’ level of sincerity and sensitivity towards concepts as ambiguous as love and self-identity. This was undoubtedly music.
“Yellow,” which was the song from the final, entrancing scene of the film, and the story of the song’s selection for the scene is a blaring example of this movie’s unparalleled musicality.
According to a Washington post article titled, “Owning ‘Yellow’: How ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ singer turned a Coldplay song into a Mandarin anthem,” by Allison Chiu, the Coldplay song deeply moved director Chu to the point that he was adamant of using this song for “Crazy Rich Asians.” Warner Bros, who released and distributed the film in the U.S. was reluctant since the song’s title, “Yellow” is a derogatory term for Asians. However, for Chu, “Yellow” redefined song-writing and the purpose of music. More importantly, “Yellow” redefined what it means to be “Asian,” which has always been a discussion of anxiety and shame for the director. As a result, Chu devised a very articulate and inspiring letter to Coldplay, requesting to use their song in his film.
According to the article, Chu wrote:
“I know it’s a bit strange, but my whole life I’ve had a complicated relationship with the color yellow. From being called the word in a derogatory way throughout grade school, to watching movies where they called cowardly people yellow, it’s always had a negative connotation in my life. That is, until I heard your song.”
For the first time in my life, it described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, the love. It was an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image.”
Coldplay’s “Yellow” was so potent that it redefined and actually clarified something as multi-layered as cultural identity, especially in a place as diverse as the U.S..
When I think of yellow, I think of a vast array of things–sunrises, sunsets, lemonade, summer days, Crayola, ducks, McDonald’s, terrifying wasps, my mom’s curry, the unfortunate Asian stereotype…the list can go on.
Yellow clearly means a lot of things; its definition, its connotation is vast, blurry, and ambiguous. Through their simple choice of words however, Coldplay condensed all of these varying, blurred definitions of yellow into one: as just something beautiful. I am amazed at how Coldplay gave something as undefinable and inexpressible as the color “yellow” value and meaning. This resonated with a lot of individuals, like Chu, who now have a renewed level of respect for the color yellow, and more importantly, themselves.
Until I watched “Crazy Rich Asians,” I did not realize how powerful a mere compilation of voices and instruments could be. But now that I think about it, there are all sorts of sounds that are integral to the functioning of our daily lives, to our sanity:
The sounds that stream exciting and thrilling beats in our headphones express empowerment and push us to overcome physical limitations at the gym. Soothing instrumentation calms some of us into thinking critically and efficiently while doing tasks like homework. Lyrics constructed to the steady beat of vibrations could speak to us subliminally and offer some useful comfort when we’re feeling blue. In all of these instances, these sounds connect with us at a personal level and vocalize the emotions we are unconsciously feeling or are unconsciously desiring to feel. With their ability to name the unnameable, predict the unpredictable, and express the inexpressible so simply, these sounds provide a refuge for all those feeling lost in the unclear and obscure world we are a part of today.
These sounds are music.