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Kai Ryssdal: Two words as we take the show down the pop music pipeline now: Justin Bieber. If you are a teenager — or if you have one in your house — that name will mean something. For the rest of us, Justin Bieber is one of the top pop stars out there right now. He’s on the radio all over the place. Also, television. Here he is on David Letterman not too long ago.
But it’s not Justin Bieber we’re going to talk about today. It’s actually the guys singing behind him. Four Filipino Americans who go by the name Legaci. Josh Kun is here from the Annenberg School at University of Southern California. Josh, great to have you back.
Josh Kun:Absolutely, thanks.
Ryssdal: What’s the big deal these guys are Filipino-Americans?
Kun: Well, part of the big deal is that you just don’t see many Filipino Americans, or for that matter Asian American, on the pop charts or the R&B charts, so to suddenly see this quartet of guys on some of the biggest stages in American pop music is a big deal.
Ryssdal: How did they come to attention, then, of who I must say is not my favorite pop artist in the world, Justin Bieber?
Kun: First of all, I heard you listening to Justin before I came in, so I just wanted to let listeners know. They came to his attention the same way Justin Bieber came to the world’s attention, which is actually on YouTube.
Ryssdal: Tell us the very quick back story of Justin Bieber on YouTube. I mean, some guy literally found him.
Kun: Yeah, literally, he had posted I think not very many videos of himself doing mostly covers on YouTube. And this guy, Scooter Braun, discovered him and brought him to the R&B star Usher. And together they created the epidemic that is now Bieber fever that we all have.
Ryssdal: That’s right. So back to these guys, Legaci, this Filipino-American band. Found ’em on YouTube and…
Kun: Yeah, Legaci’s been trying to basically break into the industry the old-fashioned way, really, since the late 90s. And because they had been hitting so many different walls, they had decided, all right, if no one’s going to give us a deal in the old-school way, let’s do it the new way. Let’s go on YouTube and let’s just record ourselves in a very grassroots fashion, doing covers of some of the biggest pop and R&B songs on the charts.
Ryssdal: Well let’s hear what they sound like. Let’s play a cut off their YouTube channel. This is Legaci:
“Replay” by Iyaz covered by Legaci: Shawty’s like a melody in my head, that I can’t keep out, got me singin’ like na na na na everyday, it’s like my iPod stuck on replay, replay.
Ryssdal: OK, so pleasant enough. Certainly not painful, not my style, but that’s an entirely different interview. Very quick thoughts on the caliber of their music.
Kun: Well, I think they’ve mastered kind of classic, four-part R&B harmony. And they sound as good, if not better, than many artists currently on pop charts.
Ryssdal: What’s it going to take, then, for major record labels to get smart and say, “I gotta sign one of these guys.”
Kun: This is one of the great mysteries. I mean, if you look at the amount of Asian Americans on YouTube versus the scarcity of Asian Americans on the pop charts, it’s this big kind of like “why?” question. And some people believe it’s kind of lingering, old-school racism. Others believe that within U.S. pop culture the idea of Asian Americans as somehow not quite “American” still persists in many ways. And many others just talk about kind of more basic stereotypes — that, in fact, mainstream U.S. culture is not used to seeing Asian American kids who aren’t mathematicians or who aren’t behind the scenes as DJs.
Ryssdal: For all that we have, in the last four minutes, dissed Justin Bieber, the guy has amazing power, right? I mean, unbelievable market power.
Kun: Incredible power. Market power and an incredible pop star.
Ryssdal: So does he have, or can these guys, Legaci, make it on the backs of Justin Bieber?
Kun: Absolutely. I mean, I think what’s interesting is that he is very aware of why he is where he is, which is YouTube. And he’s been very explicit about the fact that he wanted backup singers who were from YouTube. And now, apparently during his upcoming tour that’s about to begin, he’s going to be stopping the show in the middle and allowing Legaci to step to the center of the stage to sing one of their own songs with the idea that, alright, I was discovered on YouTube, and these guys were too. So it takes away the kind of racial component in some ways and says, look, this is all about YouTube. So if you love me, you’ve got to love them, too.
Ryssdal: All right, so we’ll go out on Legaci singing Justin Bieber, the YouTube clip that got them noticed. We’ll play that underneath as we say goodbye to Josh Kun from the Annenberg School right at USC down the street. Josh, thanks a lot.
Kun: We’ll be singing along here. Thanks, Kai.
Ryssdal: Yeah, no we won’t.
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