88rising’s Head In The Clouds Festival Marks a Milestone for Asian Representation in Western Media
LOS ANGELES, CA– When I was young, my favorite music artists were Avril Lavigne, Coldplay, Kanye West, and Beyonce. I idolized Demi Levato and Selena Gomez, trying to replicate their fashion and lifestyles. But as I grew up, it became more apparent that in Western Media, I never saw any artists that looked like me or had similar cultures to me. As an easily impressionable pre-teen, this lack of mainstream Asian representation unconsciously impacted my self-esteem because I thought that to be successful, or beautiful, you could not be Asian. However, companies like 88rising challenge the status quo, empowering Asian creatives, and uniting the community.
Since its inception in 2015, 88rising has become a record label that has bridged the gap between Asian culture and Western Media. Artists like NIKI, Rich Brian, and Joji are bringing a new generation of Asian music artists to the forefront– which is a sharp contrast to years ago when the only recognized forms of Asian culture were K-pop and anime.
The Head In The Clouds Festival celebrates this emergence of Asian creatives, and this year’s festival was surrounded by overflowing anticipation. This year’s festival comes two months after 88rising’s historic “Head In The Clouds Forever” set at Coachella, which marked the first-ever label-curated set to hit the festival’s main stage. The fact that 88rising was able to curate a set for Coachella highlights how the label is cementing its presence as an innovator in the space and is continuing to push the boundaries of Asian representation in media. I’ve been following 88rising and its artists since 2016 when Rich Brian was not Rich Brian, and he made YouTube videos on how to microwave bread; so I was really excited to attend the festival for the 4th time, and see how my favorite artists had grown while also discovering emerging talent.
The lineup was definitely unexpected– diehard 88rising fans knew that Rich Brian, NIKI, and Warren Hue were performing but were surprised when it was announced that Joji would be performing a DJ set under Yebi Labs. Also, many were shocked that usual Head In The Clouds regulars, like DPR or Keshi, were not present on the original lineup. Musically, the lineup was very diverse and covered a wide range of musical genres. If you were a fan of EDM or electronic music, there was Dabin or DJ Tripple XL. If you like rap/hip hop, there was Rich Brian, Warren Hue, and 1nonly. If you like R&B, there was Yeek, Audrey Nuna, and NIKI. If you like bedroom pop music, there was mxmtoon. There was also some K-pop and K-R&B acts, like CHUNG HA, Jay Park, and Bibi. Let’s not forget about Chinese superstar Jackson Wang formerly of the supergroup Got7.
Four days before the festival’s commencement, NIKI tested positive for COVID-19. After hearing the news, a lot of fans were disappointed because they were looking forward to seeing her perform her new album– Nicole. Personally, I wanted to hear her sing “High School in Jakarta” and “Oceans & Engines.” Nevertheless, I hope she is resting and on her way to recovery, and I look forward to catching her on “The Nicole Tour” later this year.
Two drastic changes were made to the lineup to compensate for NIKI’s absence. For one, Keshi was brought in. And two, Joji’s set was extended– after the debut of Yebi Labs, he was going to perform some additional songs live. While I was disappointed that NIKI could not make it, the new additions definitely piqued my interest. I’ve seen both Keshi and Joji previously, and I loved their performances– so I was looking forward to seeing them again.
In the past years, there were two stages– the 88rising stage and the Double Happiness stage– but this year, there was an addition of a third, the Club Year of Dance Tent stage. With the number of artists and stages, it was difficult to prioritize who I wanted to see. However, set times rarely overlapped, so if you’re very focused on seeing as many artists as possible, you could catch a little bit of every performance throughout each of the two days.
The vast number of artists and stages could definitely keep you busy for the entire day, but there were also plenty of other things to do around the venue if you wanted to take a break from the music. While walking around, I enjoyed collecting free goodies around the venue. I waited in line for NIKI’s ‘Nicole’ photo booth, where I had the opportunity to get my yearbook picture taken. It served as a cute reminder of the weekend while promoting her new album. Another highlight was the food, which was curated by the 626 Night Market. There was something for everyone with options like All Dat Dim Sum, Baozza, Shake Ramen, Tao’s Bao, Monty’s Good Burger, and Boba Guys. My favorite was the salmon hand roll from Temaki Time– super fresh and absolutely delicious. There were also photo installations if you wanted to capture that Insta-worthy moment. If you wanted to buy some cool swag, there were the merch tents and Joji’s pop-up shop.
Even though it is the middle of August, and temperatures in Pasadena reached the high eighties, the security was once again very proactive about keeping everyone safe and hydrated. They were unafraid to hand out free water bottles and sunscreen and made announcements to try to prevent pushing in the crowd. However, because of the heat and harsh sunlight, I did see some concert-goers faint from dehydration, which is unavoidable. Compared to the other festivals that I’ve been to, 88rising does a great job with its security and medical personnel, so it’s reassuring to know that if I needed help or medical attention, I could find someone quickly and efficiently.
I also talked to other patrons, who raved about the shuttle service. They parked in Old Town Pasadena and took the shuttle to the venue, which they said was efficient and clean. Compared to the $50 for a two-day general parking pass and $100 for the preferred, they only paid around $10 in total for the parking and were able to leave the venue faster than if they parked in the Rose Bowl parking lots.
All things considered, this year’s Head In the Clouds Festival was fantastic. It was well organized, and the performing artists were phenomenal. Sure, there were aspects to the festival that could definitely be improved, such as the lack of music playing between each set or how separated the VIP area was from the stage, but those things are nitpicky and didn’t take away from the festival experience at all.
Obviously, my sentiments about 88rising and Head In The Clouds are shared by many others because the label’s popularity has grown exponentially in recent years. Consequently, they recently released dates for two more festivals in Manila and Jakarta, expanding their reach and influence to fans worldwide. 88rising’s massive success is a testament to its hard work and dedication to showcasing international talent and forming a community through shared cultural experiences.
Seeing the drastic change in the music industry from my childhood to now makes me strangely emotional. I’m overjoyed that Asian kids are growing up with role models in music that are similar to them and can affirm their experiences and feelings. Representation in media is critical to validating our humanity and our place in the societal fabric– and companies like 88rising are the front runners in incorporating Eastern influences into Western media in a way that feels genuine and natural. 88rising inspires its audience to wear their culture on their sleeve, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.