The Linda LIndas as a Symbol of Empowerment
– On the Girls Punk Band that went Viral
“Fuck it, I’m gonna start a punk band!”
I’ve said this as a joke to my friends several times in the last few years. Even when I don’t say it out loud, I feel like that on a daily basis seeing news headlines, in particular of Japanese politics. When you develop resentment at the social absurdity that cannot be addressed by “legitimate procedures”, people often feel the urge to smash something and scream. I think it’s rather a natural response, but in modern societies, the grown-ups are supposed to act rationally, and are expected to content that urge no matter how strong it is.
There are ways to release such negative energy, such as punching sandbags, workouts, meditation, or maybe dancing away in a club until the next morning. But there is a form of music to express it into, and that is punk rock (at least, that’s how I define it.) You need to be angry and dissatisfied to be a punk. When you say “we gotta start a punk band,” it means you want to vent your spleen in front of everyone. In other words, it is a desire to express your discontent in public.
While I have not formed a punk band (yet), I came across on my Twitter feed a short video clip of four low-teen girls who have put this into action called “The Linda Lindas.” It instantly went viral, shared by people adding rave comments, and they became one of the hottest new bands that the whole industry knows pretty much overnight.
The video clip contained the live performance of one of their songs entitled “Racist, Sexist Boy”, which was streamed online from Los Angeles Public Library, as part of the “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month” program on May 4th, 2021.
The way a group of rather ordinary, cheery looking girls playing oversized instruments and singing along with full effort is just genuinely adorable and cute to anyone’s eyes. And, you can’t help but take pleasure in listening to them shouting, “you are racist, sexist boy! / and you have racist, sexist joys/ we rebuild what you destroy/ poser/ blockhead/ riffraff/ jerkface!”
It turns out that Epitaph Records, a renowned indie punk label founded and run by Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, was already in touch with the band several months prior to this live stream, and they officially announced that they signed a deal afterwards. The live recording of this song at the library was then released as a single on May 27th.
Upon discovering the band’s name, any Japanese listener must have thought of a song “Linda Linda ” by a legendary Japanese punk band, The Blue Hearts, who have made a mainstream success in the late 80s. As stated in a short interview on Jimmy Kimmels Live on June 3rd, the girls apparently took inspiration from the Japanese movie Linda Linda Linda by Atsuhiro Yamashita about the struggles of a high school girls band. They heard the song “Linda Linda” by The Blue Hearts covered by the girls band in the film. As someone who grew up listening to The Blue Hearts as a low-teen, this fact alone makes me want to cheer for them like a distant relative.
Needless to say, they are not getting all this attention by just being adorable and cute, of course. Before playing “Racist, Sexist Boy”, the youngest member 10-year-old Mila (drums, vocals) explains an actual episode where she was racially discriminated against by a classmate right before the Corona lockdown. The boy was told by his father not to get close to Chinese people because of the virus, and when she told him she was Chinese, he actually ran away from her. She made this song together with her cousin Eloise Wong (bass, vocals) based on this experience. Other band members include Mila’s sister Lucia de la Garza (guitar, vocals) and their mutual friend and the most senior at 16 years old, Bela Salazar (guitar, vocals).
Another reason why the song resonated with so many people has a lot to do with the timing. About two months before the library performance, there was a mass shooting by a white man in Atlanta, Georgia that killed six Asian women out of eight victims on March 16th. This incident occurred at a time when racially motivated violence against Asian populations in the US was peaking, partly fueled by then-US President Trump repeatedly calling coronavirus “Chinese Virus” since the previous year, and massive “Stop Asian Hate” protests were taking place in response across the country. The “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month” started just a few weeks following the wave of demonstrations. Furthermore, this incident was also considered as violence against women, since the offender specifically targeted women of color.
It goes without saying, the resurgence of “Black Lives Matter” movement following the murder of George Floyd last year had brought racism to the fore as one of the most urget social issues. So this incident illustrated the very intersectionality of it all, now with discrimination aganst Asians as well as women.
I watched some of the speeches made by Asian American women at the “Stop Aian Hate” demonstrations, and it struck me that many of them pointed out that racial discrimination against Asian people has long been unspoken due to the common stereotype of Asian women as “model immigrants” and “submissive,” which also they internalized themselves. As someone who has lived in the predominantly-white society in Australia and Germany myself, I could relate to such claims. (While I personally learned to be assertive exactly for that reason!)
Also, when you look at the history of the punk movement, it’s hard to deny that it’s been a predominantly white culture. I am not in the position to criticise it for it as I was never directly involved in the scene, but the experience of subtitling the documentary feature “Afropunk” back in 2003, and working as an interpreter for the director when he came to Japan to promote the film left me with some strong impressions.
Since then, “Afropunk” became a platform to celebrate the counter music culture of Black people and now turned into a huge music festival, which some people lament that it’s gone too commercialized. Nonetheless, what the Black punk kids constantly speak about in this low-budget DIY documentary is the racial complexity of devoting themselves to punk, which is a “white culture”, and how they feel isolated to be a punk in Black community. Bad Brains were the ultimate symbol of empowerment and one of the very few heroes for them.
The fact that non-white girls punk band is gaining support from all over the States and even beyond is a very 2021 phenomenon that should be welcomed. It might be that the punk scene needed reformers like them to update itself. Punk culture has traditionally been supporting feminism in criticizing and breaking down existing social institutions and norms. And The Linda Lindas can be seen as the rightful heir of feminist punk.
It is mentioned in the Pitchfork interview that Mila and Lucia’s dad is a Grammy-awarded producer and engineer who runs his own studio, so The Linda Lindas is not a literal “garage band,” but rather a second-generation elite punk band. (Unsurprisingly, all their music has been produced and mixed by the father so far.) The band was born out of a show when they played alongside Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s (she is also an Asian American of Korean descent) at Gxrlscool festival in Los Angeles, and in the following year, Kathleen Hanna (the leader of Bikini Kill) invited them to open the reunion show of Bikini Kill after seeing them cover “Rebel Girl”, which is one of the defining songs of Bikini Kill. Kathleen Hanna was one of the driving forces of the feminist punk movement Riot grrrl in the 90s. This has led them to appear as a band on the feminist/empowerment Netflix movie Moxie this year playing a cover of “RebelGirl” as “the youngest member of the revolution.”
So there are surely many adults involved in shaping who they are, and lots of industry connections that have been utilized, but The Linda Linda’s short history as a band determinedly represents feminist values, and they seem to be well aware of their sense of purpose that is to change the world. Evidently, they released a song called “Vote!” to encourage voters late last year while they themselves obviously can’t yet. In the song, Eloise shouts, “if you don’t speak/ you’ll never be heard/ so shout and scream/ make it clear and sure.”
According to the biography of the artist page on Epitaph website, the girls received so many comments of praise from little girls to grandmothers from all over the world who watched the video of “Racist, Sexist Boy.” Just like how they were inspired by Linda Linda Linda, they would surely be the ones to empower the next generation of girls especially of those with immigrant backgrounds. When you’re pissed, It is ok to say so. The age of cynicism is over, and it’s time to claim yourself. There’s absolutely no need to be submissive!
Young punks used to find virtue in being antisocial and treated like a nuisance of society, so there is a sense of discomfort now seeing ones invited to play in a public library and being cheered by everyone from small children to grandmas. Are they challenging any social norms if they’re already so well accepted? To interpret it positively, maybe it’s a sign that the time and society have finally caught up with the punk attitude.
Last but not least, allow me to remind you one thing. Those of us grown-ups who are cheering from the comfort of your own couch for the young girls speaking up on behalf of you, do not forget that we are the ones that failed them by not doing enough to make change. You don’t necessarily need to start a punk band, but you also need to speak up, and shout! (Yuko Asanuma)
Translation by Yumi Sugimoto
Text By Yuko Asanuma