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Meet Akansha: A South Asian American Singer in Mainstream Media

Aanandi Murlidharan

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Every day, more and more artists are being discovered. Due to the power of social media and streaming services, all it takes is one TikTok to use a song for a video to become viral. However, if that is the case, where are Asian American artists?

Why are so few Asian American artists reaching Billboard top 100 or winning the Grammys? Where are the South Asians?

Even within the Asian American community, there is a minority in mainstream media; there are almost no South Asian American singers. Why is this?

A possibility might be that South Asian parents emphasize stable professions (law, medicine, engineering) and therefore do not encourage risk-prone, “creative” careers. Another reason might be that mainstream media does not know how to perceive South Asians. 

In an NPR interview, Asha Putli, a Mumbai hailing artist, described her struggles trying to become a mainstream artist in 1960s America.

“In 1969, CBS came to me and said ‘We want to sign you,’ but they wanted me to change my name,” Puthli remembered. “I remember one of the honchos at CBS telling me, ‘You’re not black, you’re not white, so we’re going to find it very hard to market you.'”

Since Puthli, there have been only a handful of South Asian artists who made it big. 

Blendtw had the opportunity to interview Aakanksha Kuchan. Known by the mononym, “Akansha,” she is a rising contemporary R&B artist from Berklee College of Music. Here, Akansha tells her story and challenges of being a rising Indian American contemporary R&B artist. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into singing? How did you discover R&B?

“I started singing theme songs like Hannah Montana and Sonny with a Chance. Then, I moved to India in the second grade. There, I learned Karnatik Music (South Indian Classical music).

Then I moved on to pop music, the Top 40 pop. That was my beginning for getting introduced to Western music. I started to fall more into different cultural music like Spanish and Arabic music.

I’m very intrigued by the vocal aspect of music. I started listening to a lot of languages. Freshman year of high school, I moved [to New Jersey], where I joined choir. I did not know what choir was until I joined.

I thought to myself, “Wow, people are actually in groups together singing?” I did not know what harmony was, I didn’t know anything. It introduced me to choral music, opera.

Then I joined the vocal jazz choir, and that led to R&B music. A lot of friends from the choir listened to contemporary R&B music. I had one friend who was an amazing R&B singer; he would always sing these crazy runs, so I would always ask him to teach me.

The more he sang, the more I adapted to his kind of singing. I used that, along with listening to other R&B artists. Now, it’s just so easy for me.”

When did you decide you wanted to be a singer?

“I went to this NYU summer recording program at Clive Davis Recording Music Institute, where I was introduced to the music business aspect. There, I met a lot of people and made a lot of connections.

That was when I found out that this was what I wanted to do. We went to all the places. Apple Music, Spotify, record labels; I met all these successful people and saw what it was like for them to share their music through those platforms.

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There is more to music than singing. You need to have a brand. During college apps season when I was a senior in high school, I applied to college, but with a different major than I had expected.

I could not imagine being stuck behind a desk, doing something I didn’t wanna do. I still applied to other schools for different majors because according to my family, I needed a backup plan.”

As you know, there are hardly any South Asian origin singers in mainstream media. This is possibly due to the fact that the Asian American community encourages stable professional careers such as medicine, law, and engineering. Did your family have any hesitations with the idea of you pursuing music as a career? 

“My parents always knew I was going to do this, but they didn’t talk about it. They are actually surprisingly very supportive.

During my junior year of high school, I told my dad that I was thinking of studying medicine, but he was the one who gave me the idea that maybe I should do music. He introduced me to the NYU Summer program.

We wrote out a resume, applied, did everything we could, and I got in. After that summer program, I was able to finalize my decision and committed to doing music. I still have that mindset that through everything we do, we are pursuing our career, while still doing what we love.

I think that if you want to do something crazy, you need to find a way to also make good decisions and live a good life. Right now, I am majoring in music business with a minor in songwriting.

It’s entrepreneurship, also known as the management, marketing, and the legal side of [the music industry]. However, at the same time, I am immersed in the creative aspect of the music industry and pursuing my own music career.” 

Who are some of your biggest R&B musical influences? 

“I started by listening to a lot of 90s R&B, so I was influenced by TLC, Lauren Hill, Outkast, and Wu-Tang Clan. These people made a huge difference in my sound and moved me into contemporary R&B.

They had a great vocal influence on me because of their different and unique melodies. People don’t really use that now, but I’m trying to incorporate that sound within my music.

Current contemporary R&B artists include Snoh Aalegra, Rihanna, and Jorja Smith, and their influences are also from 90s R&B. It’s an overall spectrum of artists that I take inspiration from.”

What are some challenges you’ve faced as a South Asian pursuing music? Or just as an artist in general? 

“That happened not in college because I’ve been there for six months, but in high school. We had a lot of South Asians, but not many in choir or musical theatre. They thought it wasn’t my area.

They thought, “why would you, an Indian, be cast as a lead? You are brown.” This cast is white people. I’ve seen a lot of these musicals, they’re often white lead musicals. It doesn’t give a lot of opportunities to people of color.

It just makes no sense. People of color always end up in the background. Every person of color wants to be the lead. They have that fantasy, especially if they’re into musicals.

You would want that attention. I tried out once in junior year and the teacher responded with, “yeah no, you wouldn’t be fit for a role like this,” and they ended up using a blonde white girl.”

“Even in the college I go to, Berklee College of Music, very few Desis go there. People come to me asking me questions like, “What are you? Where are you from?”

I’ve also gotten a lot of questions like, “Are you going to be like Raveena?” but we’ve got different and diverse experiences unique to us. I totally respect Raveena, she’s a queen, but at the same time, we’re telling our own individual stories. I want [South Asians] to be labeled as different individuals.”

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You’ve collaborated with a lot of other up and coming artists. You were just featured on the track Hunnit with Funder. What is that like? How do you think they influence your sound? 

“The track that I just recently was on is very true R&B and has a lot of hip-hop, nuances to it, which I’m not very used to. It’s lyrical rap, so when I had to write my verse it was so new to me.

It was not something that I usually do, but Funder kind of gave me the idea of [the track] as a typical love song. Once we talked it out, I knew what I was going to write my verse on.

It took me a couple days to write my verse because there were so many words packed in a minute. It’s so different from contemporary R&B, which is just a couple words and you sing it over and over again.

It was different, but I really liked that it pushed me out of my comfort zone. Now that I’ve experienced that, I’d definitely try and collaborate with other artists in different genres.”

Releasing your music on Apple Music and Spotify is a huge deal! In 2019, alone, you had 11.7k streams and 7.6k listeners from 65 different countries just through Spotify! Congratulations on that! What was the process like?

“Honestly, I didn’t know that it would be so easy to get on all those platforms when I first started in 2019. I found out that there are distributor companies where you can literally post your track, and they send it to different platforms within two to three weeks.

You just have to pay five to nine dollars. It’s so accessible today; it’s crazy. I just recently read an article that at least 40,000 songs drop on all platforms every day.”

Let’s talk about your most recent single, “Under My Skin.” What is the story behind this song? How do you think your style has evolved since “Goodbye” and “Slow“? 

“The song, “Goodbye” is a good starter song because it is really breaking through and really coming through with my artistry. It wasn’t really about anyone.

“Under My Skin” is a romantic song. I am not a romantic person. I’m not usually in relationships. I don’t do that kinda stuff, at least not yet.

I take experiences I see from others from my friends, people that I know, and incorporate their story within my writing. So whenever I hear a story, I go back home and write the whole thing down and turn it into a song.

That was kind of the basis of “Under My Skin.” Under my Skin was a person who has betrayed you, but you’re not trying to seek revenge. You know that you’ve moved on.

The idea is that they really did get under your skin and took you for granted. It’s your typical “get away from me, I’m a new person.” A lot of artists say that they need to experience this in order to write it. I’d rather just hear someone out and incorporate it into my writing.”

As you know, Indian music has a very distinct style. Do you think you’d consider weaving in elements of Indian culture into your own music? 

“A lot of people ask if I’m going to wear Indian clothes or show off my culture’s music. I am proud of my background, and where my parents are from, but I’m not going to use my culture for profit.

It’s still a part of me, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to wear a lengha in every music video. That’s their perception of me, but I am still an American.

I am pursuing contemporary R&B music, but at the same time, I am Indian. I’m balancing both of these cultures and introducing this balance to America instead of them having this perception that I am just an Indian girl incorporating that weird mix into my music.

I don’t need to bank off of it. It is something that is sacred to me. We do pujas, we go to all these places. That’s when I will truly show that I am immersed in this culture. This is a part of me, but it wouldn’t be used for something commercial.”

What’s a typical day of music production like for you? 

“I usually don’t produce the entire track. I produce the demo track and send it to my producer. Basically, I come up with the melody, try and produce chords, and then just play acoustic for a while. For a couple days, play it.

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It really just needs to sink in for a while. I threw out hundreds of songs like that. There are a couple songs that hit within the first few days, and once I get comfortable with the acoustic version of it, I start using my midi, Logic ProX, and add the harmonies.

That’s just the rough version. I make all the demos, and then [the producer] sends it back and makes it much better. Then, I add the vocals from the studio inside my house.”

What can we expect from you in the future? Any plans for new music? An album? 

“I have a new song that’s coming out. It’s a ballad. It mainly talks about the issues that are going on right now in terms of Black Lives Matter and colorism within the South Asian community.

I’m talking about me and my sister’s experiences — essentially, societal problems. It also talks about how I’ve been stereotyped, and how I’ve been talked about solely using my culture as my identity.

It’s really a pivotal moment in terms of my artistry because it’s just a piano and my voice. It’s more about the lyrics, the voice, and how people feel.

The lyrics are mine, it’s from my experiences. It’s just something that people will relate to especially people from [the Desi] community. It’s different, and I’m really excited to show what I’ve come up with to the world.”

“I’m also planning two music videos for this summer; the song that I just talked about and another summer bop that I will be filming a music video for in August. It’s not as depressing as the one I was talking about before.

It’s very relatable. It’s talking about anxiety, dealing with people as a woman, and not being judged by people. It’s basically about women struggles, but it has a very upbeat, inspiring tune to it. Those are the two things I have for this summer. I’m working on more songs and maybe an EP in the future.” 

Lastly, what’s your advice for aspiring South Asian artists? 

“My parents have been supportive, but other members of my family have not. You only have one life, and if you know that aspect or that thing is what you want to do then there are ways. It’s not impossible.

There are outlets in which you can explain to your parents that this is what I wanna do, this is how I’m going to go about it. Just be strong in where you stand, and who knows? They might go along with it. At the end of the day, it’s your passion.

You don’t want to be living another person’s life. You want to be living your life. There are always things you can do to convince your parents. It did take me a while.

It took me all my life to convince [my parents], but eventually, they knew that this is what I want to do and I have the talent. Prove that to your parents, that you are fully invested, that you have the talent, and they might say yes.

We need more representation. We need to take this opportunity because there is no representation to fill in that spot, and that’s the part that I’m playing. There are not many South Asians in the R&B industry, so it would be cool to see faces like mine.

It’s high time that we follow our passion and do what we want to do.”You can listen to “Hunnit,” “Under My Skin,” and the rest of Akansha’s music on Apple Music and Spotify. You can also follow her on Instagram @axkansha for more updates on her music journey.

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Is Rate My Professors Worth the Hassle? 6 Reasons You Should Avoid It

Emily Bevacqua

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When it comes to choosing classes, students often turn to Rate My Professors to learn more about which professors and courses to take. However, with lack of accurate information and biased opinions, Rate My Professors isn’t as helpful as students think. 

Class schedules are the bane of a college student’s existence. Creating a perfect one is impossible and picking professors is a gamble. Unless students can see the future, they won’t know if a class is going to be interesting or if the teaching style is going to be boring.

Students have to create backup schedules and sometimes even backups to the backup schedule. It’s unpredictable. The only way to get some insight into the process is by doing research.

There are a couple of ways students can guess at how a class will be. First, universities provide descriptions of courses, and departments post more specific information on their own websites. This usually helps students decide if the material will be interesting and something they want to learn.

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The other way to gain perspective on a class is through other students. Turning to friends who have had the professor or taken the specific course before can be useful. However, with large universities, a friend may not have even heard of the one in question. So, students then turn to the “trusty” old site, Rate My Professors

Rate My Professors is a website where anonymous users post reviews on professors and their courses so that others can gain insight. People have been using this site for over a decade, ranking quality and difficulty of the class on a scale of five with a brief explanation. 

The problem with this site is that it’s really inaccurate. Relying solely on this information is a mistake. Students shouldn’t trust Rate My Professors, and here’s why:

1. Posts are outdated.

Sometimes, users haven’t posted about a professor in years. Julia Keefer from New York University has 6 ratings, the newest from 2010. Similarly, Michael Himes from Boston College hasn’t been rated since 2011.

These professors still teach at the universities yet they are being judged by opinions from ten years ago. Teaching styles, material, and people change over the years. It is inaccurate to trust opinions that are so old.

2.Opinions are the extremes.

When someone posts a review on a restaurant, they either loved it or had the worst dinner of their life. The same goes for Rate My Professors. Alan Fridlund from the University of California Santa Barbara is, as one student puts it, “a divisive professor. Some people love his humor and passion for the subject while others hate his politics.”

His ratings are all over the place. Some give him a 4.0 to 5.0 quality rating while others give him 3.0 or even a 1.0. They say he is a “Very funny guy, [and] makes what he talks about seem very interesting.”

However, a student also said, “I found many things he said to be quite inaccurate in his lectures. His Republican viewpoints often collided with his teachings, and he misinformed so many students.” With drastic viewpoints, Fridlund seems questionable. Which review should potential students for his classes trust?

3.Few ratings give good (or bad) overall reviews.

With any collection of data, the more input, the better the conclusion. Professors can have hundreds of ratings, which provides a more accurate judgment, but they can also have as few as three or less.

Cameron Myler from New York University has one rating, which happens to be a good one. This gives Myler an overall quality of 5.0. However her fellow colleague Jing Yang, also has one rating that gives her an overall quality of 3.0.

4.Professors have no reviews or a page.

Some professors don’t have any reviews at all, as is the case for Lisa Samuel from New York University. There are also times where they do not even have a page on the site, like Elena Kalodner-Martin from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This can make students jump to the conclusion that the professor is new to the school and lacks experience, which can deter them from taking the class.

5.The course isn’t reviewed.

Specific courses oftentimes don’t have any reviews, but the professor is rated on others. Judging them based on a different class is jumping to conclusions. They may teach a 100 level course in a completely different way than an upper-level one.

6.Users don’t provide details.

Students can be lazy. They want to help other college kids, but they don’t want to put in too much effort. Descriptions on Rate My Professors can be very short. For Harold Peterson from Boston College, his three reviews say, “Best professor ever,” one is blank, and, “Very easy. Don’t take anyone else for Principles of Economics.” Judging Peterson based on those few words is unfair.

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If students are going to use Rate My Professors, they have to look beyond the site. They shouldn’t trust these anonymous opinions alone. University websites provide professors’ profiles through faculty directories. This gives more information on their qualifications, accomplishments, and personality.

Students can also ask classmates that they’ve worked with before. Asking others within a major, increases the likelihood that they have taken the course or had the professor. Alternatively, students can post in Facebook groups to see what other peers who’ve recently taken classes with the professor have to say. 

In the end, picking a professor is still a guessing game. Thankfully, the Add/Drop period at the beginning of the semester allows students to change their mind after attending the class a few times. It’s okay to change a schedule once the semester begins. Students have to be happy with their courses in order to gain the most from them and keep a healthy mind.

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Are Ethical Fashion Brands the Solution for a Better World?

Anna Anderson

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Fast fashion brands have grown in popularity for their low-cost clothing and convenient accessibility online. However, these brands bring about major consequences in the world. From maltreatment of workers to heavy environmental damage. 

First, the workers in the fast fashion industry are often underpaid and overworked. Some are abused and must work in poor conditions, such as overseas. Human beings should not have to undergo this brutal treatment or face such exploitation. Instead, they should be paid fair labor wages for their hard work, time, and efforts.

In addition to this, fast fashion heavily contributes to the pollution of our water. After fast fashion brands manufacture clothes made of synthetic fabrics, consumers buy them and wash them. Every time someone washes these materials, it leads to polyester pollution.

Since the water inside washing machines, which is now contaminated with microfibers from these synthetic fabrics, streams into fresh bodies of water, a large portion of wildlife actually ingest these unhealthy and inorganic fabrics.

Another impact on the environment is excessive waste. These fast fashion companies produce clothing in bulk, leading to more than what is necessary.

If people don’t buy all of the excess inventory, then it goes to waste. The clothing made of synthetic fabrics is incinerated or goes to landfills and never decomposes. 

Lastly, the fashion industry is responsible for 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Fast fashion also uses up 79 billion cubic meters of fresh water every year. All of these factors are destroying the Earth’s ecosystem.

These effects make it important for all of us to do our part in decreasing our consumption of the industry. Thankfully, there are many ways to address the problems above.

First, you can do research on different brands with the help of the internet. You can find out if your go-to stores are actually the perpetrators of workplace abuse and stop shopping there, and research brands that are kind and caring towards their employees. 

With more research, you can also look for organic and vegan brands. Their fabrics, which most likely consist of organic cotton, won’t do as much damage to the Earth. There are hundreds of these stores out there, and with online shopping, it’s easy to buy from them. 

Another environmentally friendly option is shopping at thrift stores. They sell gently used clothing that isn’t ready to be thrown away. If you live in a big city, there are many thrift stores you can visit. There are also online thrift stores such as ThredUP, Poshmark, and Depop.

When thrifting, you can find unique and vintage items that can’t be found elsewhere. This can upgrade your closet significantly. 

In a similar vein, you can rent or borrow clothes online. Apps like My Wardrobe Hq enables people to borrow clothes from each other. An American company called Rent the Runway allows people to use designer clothes for events. These clothing methods lead to less fast fashion consumption and less clothing waste. 

Sometimes, you won’t want an item anymore even if it is still in good quality to wear. Instead of throwing it away, you can give it to someone who wants it. Decrease waste by donating your old clothes to charity or taking them to thrift stores. 

You can decrease water waste by washing your clothes less often. This puts less fibers into the environment and keeps your clothes in better shape. Fewer washes mean less damage to your clothes. It’s also the perfect excuse for less laundry and fewer chores to do. 

All the ways above can be integrated into your lifestyle and shopping habits. The shift doesn’t have to be overnight but can happen in waves. Every action counts and leads toward a better world. We can all do something to decrease our support for fast fashion and shop more sustainably. With these ethical fashion practices, we can make a huge difference.

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How the pandemic will contribute to negative social-emotional development

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During this pandemic, students across the country have lamented their lack of social interactions, missed their friends, and developed new hobbies to fill their days. The assumption has always been that COVID-19 quarantine is temporary.

Soon, students will be back on campus and the social scene they’ve been missing for the past several months will roar back to life. But by the time life does get back to “normal,” they may have missed out on something much more permanent: growing up. 

Usually, when we think of social-emotional development, we think of babies learning to decode facial expressions or to play with other kids their age. But in actuality, we continue to grow and develop emotionally our entire lives, and one of the most pivotal moments in that development is during college.

This kind of development is another perhaps unavoidable casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone, from kindergartners to college students, has been pulled from their development and left stagnant in safe and unchallenging social isolation.

For college-age people, this is the period of your life where you are supposed to finally grow up. You might learn to live alone or make friends independent of your family. But throughout you have an institution that, if it’s doing its job right, provides you with a little safety net should you fail. 

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The social-emotional development college students gain is hard to measure but incredibly important. It helps students thrive in a non-academic setting, fostering healthy relationships and learning to independently manage themselves.

There are few other times in students’ lives where they can learn to build that network of support around themselves, knowing that they still have an institution to fall back on. 

During this pandemic, many students came back home, their fellow students scattering across the country and the world. One consequence of returning to a childhood home is the risk of reverting back to high school years and lifestyles. In college, many students develop their personalities and new responsibilities that may be stripped away upon returning home.

Social worker, Claire Lerner, wrote in Psychology Today that noticeable regression in children during times of stress is very common, particularly in the time of COVID-19 where stress seems to permeate the air. Even as someone who is technically an adult, when students aren’t in an environment that promotes growth, then it’s all the easier to backslide or at the very least, remain stagnant.

And social-emotional development isn’t just a meaningless phrase—it can have real importance both academically and professionally. One famous study in the Journal of Counseling & Development found that emotional growth was a better indicator of students persisting (not dropping out) than just academic success.

Students who are well-adjusted are able to cope with the stress of academics and social situations in college, and presumably, the real world better than students who merely get good grades and test scores. 

According to another study in the Social Innovations Journal, the real value of a college degree is not necessarily just knowledge actively gained, but in the emotional intelligence and maturity achieved.

David Castro and Cynthia Clyde, the authors of the study, wrote that college is really about learning soft skills, not just technical expertise that is often more job-specific. With school going virtual, students are missing out on the opportunity to develop many of the skills they pointed out like, “communication, negotiation, the ability to work in teams and team-building itself.”

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As long as social distancing and isolation continue, students will continue to miss out on deeply important social connections and moments of emotional growth. As more and more universities unveil their plans for fall, it looks like fall will be a new edition of “Zoom school” for students around the country.

The only way for schools to safely reopen is if this virus is stopped in its tracks, and this seems to be quite a challenge for the United States as is has so far, failed to do so. Face-to-face interactions are priceless and an essential part of the college experience. Social distancing is not just about missing your friends—it’s also about losing the chance to transition naturally into adulthood.

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