Monday, November 4th, 2019

Lim Kim – Yellow

Sounding a bit different to her most recent appearance here


[Video]
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Ryo Miyauchi: Writer Kristen Yoonsoo Kim recently wrote a great essay on the popular hue she calls “worry yellow,” like the killer-bee color used in the album art of Beerbongs & Bentleys. She begins the piece by talking about her “yellow” Asian skin tone: “‘Yellow’ sounds diseased in a non-glamorous way.” Diseased may be too harsh to describe Lim Kim’s “Yellow,” but it does bask in an overwhelming amount of physical unease: it sounds a lot more like a PAN records release than anything from her K-pop past. However, it’s certainly non-glamorous. It’s far from lacking in pride or self-confidence: before we even get anywhere close to the roaring “who’s the fucking queen” chorus, the song endlessly drills “yellow” to your skull. But Lim Kim’s not exactly here for the warm embrace of the public. She could’ve possibly produced a clean pop spectacle in a style that’s a lot more familiar, influenced by hip-hop, perhaps, based on the cadence and language she deploys in her verses. Instead, she chose something trickier, wearing ethnic stereotypes openly as the “yellow killa,” and a production that conjures such a title. It plays into stereotypes so straightly, it can be an uncomfortable experience even as an Asian audience sitting in, which can be its own discomfort, particularly during moments like “my flavor’s like wasabi.” But that flinching reflex seeing another perform a less-than-perfect self still taps to the idea that we must be exceptional at what we do to prove the value of our identity to the West; that we have to get our messages perfect and craft it in the right pop image (that image often based on some Western one). What Lim Kim brings in “Yellow” with its sound and attitude isn’t nice or glamorous, more drawing upon the fear, anxiety or disgust others may see in us as pure outsiders or our kind seeing others break the illusion of us as the Perfect Beauty.
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: South Korea’s had a handful of great art pop projects as of late, and they’re all from women: CIFIKA’s Prism, Cacophony’s Harmony, Sumin’s OO DA DA, and now Lim Kim’s Yellow. For her reinvention, Kim ended up crowdfunding her latest album and collaborated with No Identity, a producer who’s previously worked with Korean rap provocateur Kim Ximya of XXX. No Identity incorporates traditional instrumentation alongside brash, sound-design focused production techniques that feel indebted to deconstructed club (it’s no coincidence that Arca has been seen supporting Lim Kim’s new work). The result is a sort of contemporary M.I.A., and it’s at its most exhilarating when Kim shouts out “Who’s the fucking queen? I!” in the most assured tone. As an empowerment anthem, it can feel a bit garish and simplistic, but the instrumentation sells her confidence. When she chants “Break domes of male dominance,” her unwavering tone and the surrounding drums prove hypnotic — you never once doubt her intent. In a time when K-pop’s been increasingly conservative, “Yellow” proves to be the most undeniable single from Korea this year.
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Jessica Doyle: From reading commentary I get the impression that Lim Kim is trying to challenge and circumvent, rather than just use, stereotypes of East Asia. But for me, the video and song alone don’t contain enough ideas to suggest that what she’s doing is that much deeper or more compelling than what CL was trying to do four years ago.
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Leah Isobel: Lim Kim’s tart-sweet voice anchors this thrilling bit of amelodia, rushing into the track from all angles. It’s starkly different from her pop-friendlier past, and misses a bit of that catchiness, but her audible elation makes up for it.
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Alfred Soto: I love tracks that sound as if a swarm of bees were attacking every guy who ever questioned the clarity of a woman’s inner voice.
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Michael Hong: A perfect representation of East meets West. Lim Kim’s flow is markedly direct, stepping out of the pervasive boundaries of a K-pop idol towards the confidence that’s much more prevalent in Western rap. But her reference points are distinctly Eastern and she portrays every Asian woman tired of being poorly represented. As she claims the word “yellow” for herself, flourishes reminiscent of traditional East Asian music are pushed into the foreground of the track. It’s a forceful demonstration rather than a token Easter egg simply for those that dare look deeper. The chorus — boasts like “who’s the fucking queen?” interspersed between chants of “yellow” — becomes the new mantra for any East Asian woman tired of being portrayed as meek and subservient.
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Kylo Nocom: Rich Brian’s “Yellow” ineffectively condemned Asian male emasculation by bragging about his own success. It was a dishonest attempt at earning his own artistic worth, yet his employment of DAMN. producer Bēkon and narrative-pushing of “no one ever wants change” bullshit are used to put his ass above rappers deemed less intelligent than him. Lim Kim’s “Yellow” is comparatively much more fascinating, but its wit will be overlooked by those whose conceptions of social consciousness in rap are limited to jazz wankery and dull boom-bap. Here, the power of Asian women isn’t reinforced by simplistic subversion but rather by warping the roles already imposed upon them into grotesque forms. The beat is the same type of orientalism that Baauer delivered in 2016 with the mystical Eastern themes multiplied a thousand times until made horrifying. Lim Kim approaches those she seeks to uplift with sincerity interspersed with stereotypical images seemingly designed as distractions for those looking on the surface. “My flavor’s like wasabi” and “our style lookin’ so kawaii” would slot in well with the lyrics of “Harajuku Girls” or “Hello Kitty,” yet they lack the veneer of exoticism and instead ask the question: “Are you horrified yet?” The bridge is pure chaos, as if every portrayal of Asian women in media became one singular unit armed against men with off-key la-la-las. It works as a wondrous slideshow of microaggressions refashioned into a weapon, sharper than any white nerd’s model katana and dangerous enough to reignite claims of Yellow Peril across the West.
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One Response to “Lim Kim – Yellow”

  1. I recently went to a choral festival and heard a choir sing “Ain’t Got Time To Die,” which will (hopefully) be the closest performance I hear to the musically-appropriated stylings of Fergie’s infamous “National Anthem.” The vowels were affected, mouths were contorted into unwieldy shapes, and the tone was swallowed and dark, an shoddy chasm that tried to mimic the operatic sound of the classical spiritual. That was, before it all fell apart into the default brightness of the adolescent voice and somehow, someway gospel became intermingled with the disaster. Lim Kim creates the same spectacle on “Yellow,” but she’s able to commit with calculated wit, subtract disaster from the whole equation. Here, race isn’t just a showcase of vocal profiling and lyrical content, but a disorienting spark that can put your “pants on fire.” It’s the dissonant and frenetic energy of a periphery that can finally be center stage (“This is Asian phenomenon”), all while embracing the very elements that shoved them aside. Even the minutia feels thought-out, nuanced, Kim chewing up the word “male dominance” as if it’s a phlegm globber, Kim tired of its taste in her mouth, and the final line flips the narrative even further, spitting the pejorative right back in the face of society with just enough silence for her to cross her arms in a don’t-fuck-with-me glare: “I’m the yellow killa.”

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