With golden chopsticks in hand, a young Asian woman grills strips of wagyu beef as she sings seductively to the beat of Ariana Grande's 2019 single "7 rings." The woman wears Grande’s signature high ponytail but goes by the name Arigato Grande. The video, which was posted to YouTube in April, is a parody called “7 Meats.”
Arigato Grande’s version of the song swaps lyrics like “my wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossin’” for “this grease be poppin’, this meat, heart stoppin’.” The parody mocks Grande’s misspelled tattoo, which was supposed to read “7 rings” in Japanese characters, but instead reads “small barbecue grill.”
The idea for the parody began with a post on the closed Facebook group, Asian Creative Network. Jenny Ly, 24, said she came up with the idea in late January while at a Korean barbecue restaurant.
“Drunk Creative Idea: Anyone down to make a 7 rings parody about KBBQ?” she wrote.
“I posted it to be funny,” said Ly, a customer service representative who vlogs and writes creatively on the side. “I never expected anything to come out of it.”
But a few hours later, ACN member Morgan Mok, a songwriter and music producer, responded.
“I’m happy to produce it,” Mok wrote. “Please comment if you're interested in singing.”
The parody may not have been possible two months before Ly’s post.
ACN was co-founded in November 2018 by Han Ju Seo, a student at Washington University in Saint Louis. Seo said she started the group after noticing a lack of posts for artists in the popular Subtle Asian Traits Facebook group — a meme group with more than 1.3 million members — compared to the many posts about advice for science, technology, engineering and math career paths.
“I made a post calling for all the Asian creatives,” recalled Seo, a psychology and anthropology student who pursues performance arts in her spare time. “Within a few minutes, that post started blowing up.”
The overwhelming response motivated Seo to create ACN. Since November, the group has grown to more than 23,000 members.
For Seo and ACN co-founder Cynthia Zhou, the group is all about providing creative resources for Asians and empowering Asian artists to continue their pursuits. It’s also a space that Seo herself said she yearned for growing up.
“A lot of my friends were the engineer [or] pre-med type, and I was sitting here wanting to do art,” she said. “I've always wished it was more common for Asians to follow these kind of creative endeavors.”
Seo isn’t alone in that wish. In a 2014 op-ed for The Guardian, sociologist Jennifer Lee examined the need for Chinese and other Asian immigrants to reframe “success” and allow their kids to aspire toward more creative fields.
“... Their parents believe that careers in writing, acting, fashion and art are risky because these professions involve subjective evaluation, thereby making their children vulnerable to bias,” Lee wrote. “By contrast, careers in medicine, engineering, law or pharmacy require higher credentials and advanced degrees, which protects their children from the usual types of discrimination.”
As a result, there can be a lack of family support for those who choose to pursue creative career paths, which leads to underrepresentation for Asians and Asian Americans in the arts. Zhou, the ACN co-founder, said that creating spaces where young Asian artists can network is crucial.
“I think it means a lot to see that, and to understand that it's possible, to take that leap of faith,” she said.
For ACN members like Therese Neri, 22, a nursing student in Texas who is a digital artist in her free time, this type of support early on could have been life changing.
“If I had this group when I was growing up, I'm not even sure I would have ended up being a nurse,” Neri said.
Leelu Ravi, 18, a freshman at New York University and one of the earliest members of ACN, added that one of her favorite aspects of the group is how it acts as a self-curated showcase of Asian and Asian-led creative work.
“White artists have dominated the cultural expectations of this world for a very long time — especially in the context of museums,” said Ravi, referring to studies that have revealed the lack of diversity at New York commercial art galleries. “To actually have a huge body of work that's all Asian art is so refreshing, and it kind of helps you feel a sense of belonging.”
Aside from cultivating Asian creative talent, ACN also allows for discourse about specific issues that Asians often encounter in the creative space. For example, Ravi applauded “7 Meats” for its open mocking of Ariana Grande’s misspelled tattoo and the bigger conversation of cultural appropriation that it invited.
“In mainstream art communities, people wouldn't really give a platform for that type of discussion. But we needed that here," Ravi said.
A work in progress
Despite its success in creating an online community for Asian artists, ACN is still a work in progress, with some members hoping for more South Asian and Southeast Asian representation.
“A lot of East Asian creatives in the group tend to get their work boosted a lot more,” said Neri, who is Filipino American.
Seo and Zhou, as well as other administrators for the group, are actively trying to solve this problem. One solution, Zhou said, could be to recruit more non-East Asian administrators who are largely responsible for signal-boosting members’ posts.
Neri and Ravi, who identifies as Indian American, welcome the idea.
“I think if they see a South Asian or Southeast Asian admin actively making posts and sharing art, that would really help them start sharing their art and their experience,” Ravi said.
For members such as Ly, ACN has already provided a more concrete path in the creative space. After the release of “7 Meats,” Ly said many potential collaborators have reached out, hoping to work with her on future projects.
Now, ACN’s founders are hoping to start mentorship and skill swap initiatives that will help more members reap the rewards of an extensive network of Asian creatives.
“Every aspect of the video ... was done within a month, just from people reaching out to each other on this Facebook group,” Zhou of the "7 Meats" parody. “It was like, ‘Wow, if this is what we can get done in one month, how much can we do in like 10 years?’”
CORRECTION (June 4, 2019, 9:15 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Jenny Ly's age. She is 24, not 22.