17 MARCH 2023
Welcome to this week’s edition of Culture Wire, a newsletter brought to you by Singapore-based pop culture and lifestyle marketing agency Culture Group.
A PSA before we jump in – we have written a longer newsletter than usual this week, as we hope to do the main topic justice. There is so much to unpack and takeaway, and we know it will be worth your extra five minutes!
Let’s get straight to it.
In this week’s edition:
- Innovation of the Week: Michelle Yeoh boleh!
- Fax, No Printer: How many gamers are there in Southeast Asia?
- Regional Round-up: BLACKPINK are breaking records, snacks are going retro, and skincare’s getting a Gen Z makeover…
Innovation of the Week
🎥🏆 MICHELLE YEOH BOLEH!
You’d have to be living in a parallel universe to be unaware: earlier this week, Michelle Yeoh made history, becoming the first Southeast Asian performer to win the best actress Oscar for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once (EEAAO). The film won seven Oscars in total, including one for Ke Huy Quan, the first Vietnam-born actor to take home a gong. And while it was very much Yeoh’s night, her win resonated with many. As the actress observed: ‘for all the little boys and girls who look like me… this is a beacon of hope and possibility’.
💡 Our take
There’s so much to unpack when it comes to Yeoh’s win, including the lack of representation in Hollywood, self-identification and yes, ageism. We want to explore what it means within the context of pop culture.
For too long, local SEA markets haven’t been able to support homegrown talent. A lack of government investment in culture across the region made it hard for local studios – and by extension local content – to flourish. Michelle Yeoh moved from Malaysia to Hong Kong – where she enjoyed considerable success in the kung fu sub-genre – before going to the US. It’s a similar story for Ronny Chieng and James Wan. So while Malaysia is rightly proud of Yeoh, many netizens were quick to point out that it couldn’t really ‘claim’ the win (and no, there wasn’t a public holiday).
But something is happening. Southeast Asians just keep popping up in pop culture. NewJeans’ Hanni hails from Vietnam. All the members of the new K-pop band HORI7ON come from the Philippines. And who remembers Jakarta and revered Indonesian actress Christine Hakim’s appearance in episode two of The Last of Us? As home-grown talent (and backdrops) enjoy global exposure and success, it will drive greater visibility for the region. It’s a virtuous cycle!
If we were being cynical, we might say this has something to do with appealing to SEA’s youthful population whose purchasing power will drive economic growth across Asia over the next few years. And yes, diversity in media is important for Gen Z. But one thing to remember – this group will not accept token representation. Michelle Yeoh’s win is historic, but what truly resonated was her portrayal of an authentic and complex diaspora character (breaking the age-old Asian character stereotypes!), plus all the genuinely-Gen Z elements in EEAAO – think the emotional depth, Kishōtenketsu parallels and anime inspiration, not to mention that Ratatouille reference.
One actionable takeaway to bring this back to Southeast Asia. To meet expectations around diversity and relevance, and gain wallet share, brands need to partner with homegrown talent and amplify local stories today. We’re not suggesting you make another EEAAO. But how about telling unique, culturally nuanced stories that truly resonate with young people? This could allow you to craft narratives that appeal beyond the region, too!
Fax, No Printer*
For those of you born before 1997, ‘fax, no printer‘ is Gen Z speak for ‘undeniable facts I agree with’
Can you guess what percentage of online consumers in Southeast Asia are gamers?
4 out of 10
6 out of 10
7 out of 10
🧑🚀 Indonesian indie game studio Khayalan Arts has announced a new game called I Need Space. Inspired by the pandemic, the country’s struggles with climate change, and the PlayStation classic Tomba, the game is aiming to push boundaries and reach for the stars. Sukses terus!
🖤💗 BLACKPINK in your… playlists? The hugely influential K-pop girl group is now officially the most streamed female band on Spotify, beating the previous record holder Little Mix. From the Oreo collaboration, to the Netflix film and their ongoing world tour, BLACKPINK is going strong!
🎙️ But who will take the record from BLACKPINK? YG Entertainment will host auditions for a new K-pop group in Manila, looking specifically for Gen Z Pinoy talent. The Philippines has been a hotbed of K-pop fandom and seen the rise of its own P-pop genre. Will it be the birthplace of a new global sensation?
👾 Time for some old school cool. Mamee Monster, every Malaysian and Singaporean’s favorite after-school snack, is bringing it back to the 1970s with retro packaging. And with Gen Z across the world looking back to the 70s with fringe, flares, and Glen Campbell, is it time to jump on the nostalgia train?
🧖 Gen Z spends more on skincare than any generation before it. Combining fandom interests with skincare (skinterests?), Anessa is launching a sunscreen range featuring the manga character Doraemon. How will your brand appeal to Gen Z’s polycultural passions?
This Week's Trivia Answer
🎮 C. 7 out of 10
A report released by Samsung and ONE Esports has revealed that 70% of all online consumers in Southeast Asia classify themselves as gamers. This didn’t just mean that these consumers were all dedicated e-athlete hopefuls – they sorted themselves into categories like Hardcore, Casual, Enthusiasts, and Spectators (people who like to watch livestreams).
Gaming has permeated every aspect of online life, with bands like K/DA taking over music and VTube streamers becoming the norm on YouTube. Given the reach of gaming, it makes sense that it’s quickly spreading into every vertical online. If your brand isn’t moving fast enough, we’re here to help!
🚀 Over and Out!
What does Michelle Yeoh’s win mean to you? Hit reply and let us know your thoughts.
Pop culture insights are better when shared with friends. So feel free to subscribe, pass this email on, or share the love on social media. Thanks for reading Culture Wire.
Your Culture Mavens,
Acacia, Aliya, Angela, Kiko, & Vicki