Peggy Gou!!! She’s everywhere and for good reason. Guys love her, girls love her, everyone loves her- AND FOR GOOD REASON. Peggy Gou is having a moment.
People often refer to those who find unprecedented acclaim in a short period of time as having the “recipe” or “ingredients” for success. When Peggy first released “Starry Night,” I liked the track- really liked the track- but I did not anticipate how much it would grow on me and that it would absolutely rock the crowd with positive energy when she played it live at Factory 93’s Secret Project. After listening to it on repeat for hours yesterday, I came to the conclusion that its quality stems from the fact that it simply has all the right base ingredients- a recipe perfected.
Unlike female-driven Spanish vocals that have a clear sexual allure, the recent influx of female-driven Korean vocals sparks a sense of bouncy curiosity in me stemming from the certain wisdom that you can hear and feel. Yaeji was the first artist who I heard blend Korean and English into an electronic record- her sing-songy voice and the tonality of her native tongue take the form of an instrument entirely unique to the English vocals that alternate throughout the track. “Make it Rain Girl” does not literally mean ‘bring about precipitation’ nor does it take on the meaning that Fat Joe intended on his track “Make It Rain.” Yet somehow, I feel that I know what it means- not because of what she is saying but rather how it feels when she says it.
A ella le gusta la gasolina. Dame más gasolina! Daddy Yankee’s 2004 hit dance record brought a track that is almost entirely in Spanish into heavy rotation quite literally everywhere- pop radio stations, my 9th and 10th and 13th and 20th birthday parties, and clubs around the world through countless edits and remixes. The Puerto Rican party boy’s repetitive vocals emphasize a word that holds a peculiarly positive connotation in the English language. I often refer to songs as “gas” and in my college party years, “all gas, no breaks,” was a phrase that one could expect to hear fraternal flocks chirping whilst walking into an event with copious amounts of beer in hand. Where “Gasolina” and “gas” are not spiritual or beautiful words, the words seem to embody fun and energy and the English to Spanish parallel facilitates a cross-cultural bond without having to do or say much.
Where Nachos and Burritos were created to make Mexican cuisine more palatable to the American tongue, Vietnamese Pho- obscure in its broth’s reliance on oxtail and other cuts of meat that most would stray from even at a steak house to craft the clear consistency and unparalleled flavor- does not allow for structural changes as it become increasingly popular in America. Pho is so unique in flavor that substituting or altering ingredients can quickly ruin the taste, texture, and allure of the dish.
The year Daddy Yankee released “Gasolina” was roughly the same year that my parents felt I was old enough to be introduced to Pho- it quickly became my favorite food and at certain points in my life I’ve found myself eating the delicious soup dish upwards of three times a week. Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” closed a gap in my perception of popular culture in abolishing a listener’s need to understand the lyrics of a song in order to enjoy it. As a fluent Spanish speaker and someone who prefers tamales and sopes to burritos and nachos, I admit that there is little to no hidden meaning or cultural innovation integrated into the track or the Americanization of foreign cuisine.
(DISCLAIMER- Yes, David Chang and all those who support him, ethnic fusion has its time and place but let’s just move on for the sake of time.)
The poetic, free form structure of Peggy’s vocals on “Starry Night” sacrifices word count and coherent grammar for deeper meaning- the careful selection of what to integrate sonically and how to integrate it is masterful. “Ocean, starlight, moment, now, us.” Recite those words over in your head with your eyes closed- a clear mental image arises for me. Can you see it? The simplicity and annunciation of each word are perfect and no word can be substituted or altered without tarnishing the sonic flavor. While you may ridicule me for comparing the most exciting Korean DJ and pop culture phenomenon to a Vietnamese dish, Peggy Gou reminds me of pho.
Peggy is so very perfect in her selection of what to wear, what to play, who to work with, what to say, how to say it, and when to say it that she cannot, should not, and will not be asked to change any of the ingredients that make up the boisterous wave of art and culture that she has come to represent. While not everyone orders the combination pho that is filled with chewy tendon and tripe, these foreign ingredients cannot be removed from the broth that holds the dish together. Similarly, Peggy’s discography runs deep- she has a wide array of Classical Korean music that most people at Secret Project would not be drawn to. Granted, it is this obscure music at her roots that shapes her foundation, that has deeprooted integrity, and allows her to be herself while dominating an industry that has seen very few females or individuals of Asian descent find the level of success she has- do n0t change the ingredients in pho!
Written by Kian McHugh / Title photo by Style Du Monde / Photos by Jamie Burkes / Edited by Kenzie Jones