The Billboard “Issue”

The music mag's inaugural AAPI issue is great, but needs one small change

Peggy Gou

Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Billboard recently unveiled its inaugural AAPI issue to commemorate Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. While many commend the surge of AANHPI-centric initiatives from various organizations and corporations, it warrants careful consideration.

Billboard's execution of the project largely impresses, spotlighting trailblazers like Steve Aoki and record label 88rising, who have significantly advanced AANHPI representation in entertainment. The inclusion of an interview with the Asian photographer who shot the cover images, conducted and written by an Asian writer, also deserves kudos and underscores the importance of opportunities and representation. Billboard’s current CEO is Mike Van, a Vietnamese American, which is a historic accomplishment too. It’s unclear if he had any editorial input with the AAPI issue, but the issue's terminology gave us pause.

Peggy Gou, a DJ born in South Korea, raised in London, and residing in Berlin, graces the cover as Billboard's milestone star. Gou's accomplishments are undeniable, and the interview itself is worth a read, but labeling this as an "AAPI" issue is misleading. Gou's background places her outside the AA+PI identity. It's crucial to address this without gatekeeping Gou's achievements. Her journey as an Asian DJ resonates with the struggles of feeling marginalized, experiences shared among BIPOC communities. Yet, the misnomer for Billboard's AAPI issue disregards Gou's European upbringing and residence, inaccurately grouping her within the American Asian community. This could have been alleviated by simply calling it the API issue.

There is plenty of discourse over the use of “AAPI” as a term to begin with, but if Billboard’s issue really was for AANHPI Heritage Month, the “American” part is in the name. Heritage month originally started as Asian Pacific Heritage Week with the introduction of a 1977 resolution from U.S. Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Mineta of California. It was first celebrated in 1979 after President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution into law to create the event. Then in 1992, President George H.W. Bush designated the month of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

As May unfolds, organizations and corporations championing AANHPI initiatives must avoid conflating disparate cultures and communities. While Gou's narrative is compelling, it diverges from the experiences of Asian Americans. Each community possesses its own cultural and communal nuances deserving celebration without misrepresentation.

If Billboard was having trouble finding an AA+PI cover star, artists like Olivia Rodrigo, H.E.R., Jason Chu, Travis Atreo, thuy, Iam Tongi, Hayley Kiyoko, Raveena Aurora, or Eric Nam would have all been fine choices. 

Published on April 30, 2024

Words by Daniel Anderson

Daniel Anderson is a disabled Chinese American adoptee based in Seattle. His freelance writing specialties include K-pop, entertainment, and food. He believes that any restaurant can be a buffet, and the key to success is to take a nap each day. Follow his adventures on Instagram @danzstan.