Fourteen Seniors Selected as Harvard College Class of 2024 Marshals
‘We Feel Overwhelmed’: Allston Struggles to Support Migrant Families Amid Record Influx
Seeking to Fill Progressive Gap, Dan Totten Runs for City Council on Housing, Climate
Could Losing Legacy Admissions Sustain Racial Diversity?
‘Urgent Action’ Required: Harvard GSAS Report Recommends Changes to Financial Aid, Advising
Stories told through creative and artistic media can often be the most emotive and resonant. Through musical expression, singer and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Wang is emerging as a local artist with compositions that pay homage to narratives lost in history, aiming to speak to various experiences of Asian American communities.
31-year-old Jeffrey Wang is a musician from Arlington, Mass. who goes by the moniker “Model Peril.” The name is referencing the dichotomy of the experience of many Asian Americans, being cast as embodiments of both the mythic “model minority” — a stereotype that frames Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals as a monolith of economic success and socio-political deference — as well as the concept of “Yellow Peril,” a xenophobic notion that East and Southeast Asian migrants pose a threat to the “civilized” West. In this way, wang reclaims the stereotype in a more positive light, renouncing the negatives through his music.
Still, Wang has come a long way in finding footing in his artistic identity. Despite learning to play the violin at age seven, Wang admitted he didn’t enjoy it until college. Moreover, although he had been writing songs for the past decade, he had not been satisfied with them.
“I would get 90% done with songs, and then I would be like ‘Nah, I don’t like this, these songs,’ and kind of put them away and move on.”
This shifted for Wang, however, with rising anti-AAPI hate that occurred particularly over the Covid-19 pandemic and the apathy he observed from the general public about said rise in hate.
“Like the Atlanta shooting back in 2021, I realized a lot of people — at least from my sphere of social media — didn’t seem like people cared too much,” Wang said.
Wang’s frustration at this lack of empathy drove him toward understanding the history of Asian people in the United States, which he found incredibly lacking in his educational experience.
Wang points out that AAPI history in the classroom tends to center around the Asian continent, leaving a gap in knowledge about the communities within this country.
“There’s pretty much no focus on history inside America about Asian people, except maybe the internment camps, and I personally remember we pretty much barely touched on it.”
Thus, Wang’s self-titled album, anticipated to release next spring, seeks to bring awareness to untold tragedies of our American history. “Model Peril” centers around the experiences of East and Southeast Asian communities specifically, starting with his newly released song, “1930, Watsonville.” The single focuses on a fictitious couple during a historical tragedy whereupon a white mob attacked Filipino farmworkers, after Filipino men were seen dancing with white women.
Despite the grave subject matter of many of these songs, Wang seeks to create a completely different tone, one that he said would sound more energetic, so the darker context isn’t as apparent. Wang cites “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People and Say Anything’s “Alive With the Glory of Love” as examples of such songs he draws inspiration from.
The juxtaposition of lyric and sound creates a unique listening experience with new songs, as Wang explains for himself, “I’ll start singing along with it and not realize the lyrics are either really poignant or pretty messed up if you were actually to say that out loud without music. And then that sticks with you when you come to that realization.”
Thus, Wang believes, enjoying a song beforehand may compel listeners to dive deeper into the historical undertones after they perhaps come to discover the graver lyrics. With this focus on East and Southeast Asian history, Wang sought input from a variety of audiences to help him tell these stories.
“I’ve had listening parties for every single song I’ve written,” Wang said, “to make sure I get feedback from everyone, musicians and non-musicians, people in the Asian community — and people outside of it and other minority communities.”
As a result, Wang reports seeing improvements in the emotional development of characters in his songs. Moreover, collaboration is a meaningful part of his songwriting process. “I see it much more as a group thing rather than just me trying to do something to shove it down people’s throats. I just want it to be more like a communal aspect.”
Wang also finds audience feedback vital, as he works to ensure his art remains respectful of the history from which it draws upon. “I don’t want to make it seem like I’m trying to exploit this for attention or anything like that,” he said. “I’m gonna make sure I do right by these tragedies.”
In highlighting these untold tragedies, Wang contextualizes the presence of Asian communities in American history.
“Sometimes I feel like the Asian community is a little closed off to other minority communities because we have the whole model minority thing,” Wang said, “and I think sometimes that gets to people’s heads — thinking that we are actually better, or something, than other communities — which is unfortunate because, if you really dive into the history of all these tragedies, you can see that we were treated the same exact way.”
“The term ‘Asian’ is just way too encompassing for more than half the population of this world, so I don’t think it’s fair to lump us all in.” In the future, Wang sees the possibility of taking collaboration further, to be able to accurately represent the nuanced and disparate AAPI communities through features on his album; “There are tragedies for South Asians, and more Middle East tragedies too, so I think, if possible, to find people in those communities that I could help create something similar.”
For now, though, Wang has a start on his creative vision. With its enthralling, yet sobering, effect, “Model Peril” brings light to histories of American people that have nearly been all but erased.
“1930, Watsonville” is available to listen to on all streaming services. Wang’s self-titled album, “Model Peril,” is expected to be released in the spring.
—Staff writer Emma H. Lu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.