Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Japanese Breakfast, and The Linda Lindas Share A Stage, and Make Rock History

Three bands, one stage, and a whole lot of rockin’, badass, Asian American women

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Lauren Nakao Winn

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Words by Melissa Slaughter

Mixed Asian Media: JoySauce is proud to present something very special—a partnership with the ultra talented team over at Mixed Asian Media. In JoySauce’s mission to cover stories from the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora, we’ve always considered it incredibly important to include mixed AA+PI perspectives. Since their team already has that piece on lock, we’re delighted they were willing to join forces to help us share even more fresh, funny, interesting, irreverent stories each week. Take it away, MAM!


It was the worst weather possible. Cold, dreary, wet. Remnants of Hurricane Ian passing by New York City. Bad enough to deter anyone from venturing outside, but not so bad that Forest Hills Stadium would dare cancel a show. The venue is far into Queens, inconvenient for dropoff by most transportation, and they don’t allow umbrellas…even during a rainy show.

Despite these disheartening obstacles, thousands packed into the 13,000-seat arena to see a monumental rundown of artists: the return of the iconic NY band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the dreamy alternative pop band Japanese Breakfast, and the teenage sensation The Linda Lindas. For some, this might have just been an average rock show: three bands with massive appeal. But for me, and many people present, it’s worthy to note that these are three bands led by Asian women. Mixed Asian women to be exact. A college boyfriend introduced me to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I immediately fell in love with Karen O and her devil-may-care attitude. So when this lineup was announced, I knew that this was a big moment.

The moment wasn’t lost on any of the artists performing. During the dedication of their hit song “Maps,” YYY front woman Karen O stated, “For me it’s like history in the making...We have…deeply soulful, deeply brilliant Asian American women. If the young Karen O…if I saw this show I’d be fucking stoked!”

It wasn’t until recently that Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has been asked about her Asian identity in interviews.

Lauren Nakao Winn

Over the past few years, Karen O has been opening up more and more about her biracial background. First, there was Interview Magazine, where she and Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast sat down to bond over their backgrounds, food, and the feeling of losing a close person in their 20s. “With everything going on with Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate and identity and being biracial in this country, I’m realizing it’s far more complicated than I ever let myself understand,” Karen O told Zauner in 2021.

This year, with the release of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ new album Cool It Down, she’s done several in-depth interviews for Vulture and The New Yorker. “Typically, the people I connected to most deeply, most effortlessly, were other half-Asian kids. But the Korean kids at school, not so much, and the white kids, not so much.” Not only was Karen O asked about her Asian identity for the first time possibly ever, but both interviews were done by Asian American journalists, E. Alex Jung and Jia Tolentino, respectively, two of the best pop culture writers in the business today.

The world has changed a lot since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs first formed. They broke into the mainstream in 2001 in a big way and helped usher in “the rebirth of the New York rock scene.” Their first show was opening for the White Stripes, then came the massive hit “Maps” in 2003. In all her recent interviews, Karen O laments the lack of women in rock, and the loneliness it caused her. “I was totally isolated, and there wasn’t anyone I could relate to…And the men around me—which was, like, everyone—couldn’t relate even if they tried. It was a lonely place to be…” So seeing three female-led bands in succession made this concert at Forest Hills all the more exhilarating.

The Linda Lindas and Japanese Breakfast (above) recently opened for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in New York.

Lauren Nakao Winn

It also shouldn’t be surprising that Karen O’s loud, weird, artsy, brash, dangerous stage performance inspired generations of female rockers. Rockers like Zauner. “I love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs so much. That band has changed my life,” she told the Queens audience towards the end of her set. “I remember being a young girl and discovering this band and simultaneously thinking, ‘If one half-Korean woman can do this, I can do it too.’ But then I had another tugging feeling that if there’s already one, there couldn’t be another. And it’s just such a relief that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought us on to open for them and embrace us whole heartedly.”

The idea that there can only be one, that someone similar to you is your competition, is gatekeeping, a tool of the people in power who want audiences to buy what they want you to buy. (Yes, these are still overwhelmingly white men.) While the Internet probably has more pitfalls than pros, it has also allowed for some democratizing of art, taking at least some of the power away from those in charge. It’s how a couple of girls out of California can go viral on their local library’s YouTube channel. The Linda Lindas had a sudden smash in May 2021 with their song “Racist, Sexist Boy,” written about an encounter the drummer, 12-year-old Mila de la Garza, had at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The song is directed to a classmate, but I think it’s more applicable to that kid’s father. (Seriously, what’s your damage, guy?) The band consists of half-Chinese sisters Mila and Lucia (15), their cousin Eloise Wong (14), and their family friend Bela Salazar (18). These girls weren’t even born when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ first album Fever to Tell dropped, but they’re the ones opening the Forest Hills show, and they shred like seasoned punk rockers.

Back at the show, sitting on an ice cold metal seat, I can’t help but notice that there were a lot of Asians in the crowd. Something I’ve never seen at a rock show. Lots of families and kids, too, since this show had something for everyone to enjoy. All three bands have different vibes and span a variety of genres, from 90s riot grrrl punk to 2000s indie rock to 2010 dream pop, but they flowed seamlessly into one another. Each act brought their own style, and the audience ate it up. The three bands are clearly fans of each other. At various points, I could see The Linda Lindas jumping around the front row to the “Y Control” or “Date with the Night.” Despite the weather, everyone seemed to be having a good time. “New York, you are hardcore!” Karen O squealed at the hometown crowd. A few days later, this lineup was replicated at LA’s Hollywood Bowl (in what I can only guess to be perfect, temperate California weather).

When Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came onto the scene, there were very few women in rock, making things pretty lonely for her.

Lauren Nakao Winn

The Linda Lindas rocked out on their songs “Oh,” “Growing Up,” and, of course, “Racist, Sexist Boy.” Japanese Breakfast brought out a gong, and Zauner danced around the stage to songs like “Be Sweet,” “Posing In Bondage,” and “Savage Boy.” The Yeah Yeah Yeahs opened with their new single, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” about the existential dread of the ravages of climate change. Karen O’s livewire performance is accentuated by the fringe and flair of her custom made Christian Joy outfit. All in all, a perfect performance in not-so-perfect conditions.

In the moment, I felt as though my inner child was being healed. I feel about my upbringing much how Karen O felt about hers. “There was so little in American culture that spoke to the Asian or Asian American experience. It was a fucking desert for so long.” Growing up in rural Oklahoma in the 1990s, I rarely saw Asian Americans anywhere. I grasped at any representation I could find (but not Mulan. That’s a different story). So even now, as an adult fully immersed in my own Asian American experience, I still find myself clinging to my community, to any representation, afraid it will slip through my fingers at any moment. Afraid that seeing us in the mainstream is just a passing trend, until tastemakers deem the Asian phase over.

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast.

Lauren Nakao Winn

When I see shows like this, I have hope. Knowing that 22 years ago, there was Karen O onstage, spitting on herself, wailing, and dancing like a demon. Now you have Zauner, Mitski, Sasami, and Miya Folick taking their own places on stage. In turn, a path is paved for a few teenagers to write a song encapsulating the fury of #StopAsianHate, “We rebuild what you destroy. You are a racist, sexist boy.” This is just one lineup, one concert, but it gives me hope for many, many more artists to come in the future. These influences compound upon themselves. It makes those who stand on the shoulders of giants, giants unto themselves.

Published on October 22, 2022

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Words by Melissa Slaughter

Melissa Slaughter has lived in all four time zones in the continental United States. She is a podcast producer based in Brooklyn, New York. You can hear her work on her independent podcast We're Not All Ninjas (with co-host Alex Chester), as well as on shows from Pineapple Street Studios, Netflix, and HBO.

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Photography by Lauren Nakao Winn

Lauren Winn is a pop culture whackjob who works in fashion. She is a sucker for genre-meshed aesthetics, a textbook workaholic, a bonafide digital media queen, and the sum of many rotating hyperfixations. If you want to get on her good side, greet her with a LaCroix or follow her on insta @laurennakaowinn.