10. Big Bang (Singer / Rapper)
Yes, this is still the men of the year list. So why is makeup-wearing kpop boy band on here? No, fan girls don’t scare us.
To put it simply, Big Bang killed it this year.
People like to discredit pop stars by pointing at the scripts they’re given, likening them to puppets instead of artists. Most of the time, that wouldn’t be too far from the truth. But things operate a little differently at YG Entertainment. If you check the liner notes, group members, G-Dragon and TOP, are on there snatching up songwriting credits and churning out solid concepts for singles like “Bad Boy” and “Monster”. It’s not hard to see why their latest EP Alive made them the first Korean artists to chart on the US Billboard 200.
Not everything was peachy though.
When the group popped up on Worldstarhiphop for rocking the wrong colors (red, a lot of red), it was all out war between two of the illest groups of online commentators. Matter of fact, it still goes on today as fan girls express their love for Big Bang while everyone else (justifiably) side-eyes the shit out of those outfits. But as long as they keep those cultural hiccups to a minimum, they’ll keep dominating like they did this year, hitting up 25 cities in 16 countries, on their first world tour. –Dave
9. Aziz Ansari (Actor)
Parks and Recreation is the funniest show on TV right now and Aziz Ansari is one of the main reasons why. He plays Tom Haverford, a government employee whose taste and approach to women is largely informed by rap music videos. It’s a situation that provides endless lulz but in the last two seasons, they somehow allowed this ridiculous ass character to evolve into a somewhat respectable dude. Ansari plays this to a T and makes us (and his higher-up Ron Swanson) take his character’s new business venture seriously (and it’s called freakin’ Rent-a-Swag!).
Outside of Parks and Recreation, Ansari stays active with his stand up comedy. Following Louis CK’s formula, he released comedy special Dangerously Delicious online for five dollars. He also embarked on a third national tour called Buried Alive. Anyone who’s caught the show knows that this is some of his best material yet as he starts to transition from jokey prankster to grown man problems.
So yeah, 2012 marked a year of growth for Aziz Ansari, onscreen and off. But he also photoshopped his face onto a bunch of hip hop album covers for everyone’s amusement. Comedy is in good hands, small brown ones. –Dave
8. Steve Aoki (DJ / Producer)
You want to see what living looks like? Check out footage from a Steve Aoki party. Better yet, go to a Steve Aoki party. It doesn’t matter if you ain’t a fan of the electronic dance music genre, watching the long-hair-don’t-care DJ jumping around, headbanging, and diving from balconies is a breath of fresh air. Or a mouthful of cake (he’s into plastering the eager mouths at his shows with frosty chunks).
2012 was a memorable year for Aoki as he put out his first studio album, Wonderland. Reviews were positive and again, you can tell dude was having fun with it, featuring everyone from LMFAO to Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. He didn’t slack on the touring front either. Data from Pollstar reported Aoki was the highest grossing dance artist in the United States for the first half of the year.
But not everyone is a fan of Aoki.
Some people feel like DJs are more concerned about wild show antics more so than the actual music. Others hate on him for the same reason they hate on a Paris Hilton, believing him to be famous for being famous. But when there are thousands of partygoers who can attest to the fact that Aoki really do drop bass and he spreads enough joy to keep them coming back for more, none of that matters. –Dave
7. Manny Pacquiao (Boxer)
Manny Pacquiao is the closest living person our generation has to a “Bruce Lee.” He’s a pop culture phenomenon, a freak of nature in the ring, and a man that’s inspired pride in entire nations by shattering preconceived notions about the Asian male body and it’s limitations. Pacquiao set out to put the Philippines on his back and instill hope in the hearts of all Asian third-worlders by besetting his opponents with a strength and power that many could not believe came from so meager a stature and so unknown a region. He is the most dominant Asian athlete in recent memory and has earned that title by fighting the toughest and most willing competition that the sport of boxing has had to offer.
In spite of his loss to the undefeated Tim Bradley earlier this year, which was nothing short of highway robbery and utter fuckery, Pacquiao maintained the respect and adoration of his fans. The split decision, which prompted EPSN sports analyst Steven A. Smith to say that “he would never pay for a fight again,” and promoter Bob Arum to state that Pacquiao’s loss was a “death knell” for the sport, is a testament to the influence that Pacquiao has in the world of boxing. In the wake of his most recent loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, in what many are regarding as the shocking end to Pacquiao’s career, it becomes difficult to overlook the fearlessness with which Pacquiao approached each of his fights and how unrelenting he was in the pursuit of pleasing his fans and providing entertainment to his viewers. The KO, coming by way of a Marquez counter punch, was telling of Pacquaio’s desire to press the action and give the fans what they came to see: a fight, not a dance.
Despite the disappointing 2012 showing that Pacquiao has had in the ring, he still managed to be the second highest paid athlete in the world, second only to Floyd Mayweather Jr., accruing $62 million as of June, not including the estimated $20 million payout he will receive from the Marquez bout. Forbes also listed him as the 33rd most influential celebrity of the year, due to his boxing adulation, his duties as a Filipino congressman and his work as a recording artist.
Although many would argue that Manny’s lack of focus on fighting is to blame for his most recent losses, it is safe to say that his status as a global pop culture icon has transcended the sport of boxing and his multi-faceted aspirations have propelled him into super-stardom. When the jokes about his last bout get old, only a champ remains. And we’re sticking by him. –MUG
6. George Takei (Actor)
His original claim to fame may have been from playing Sulu in Star Trek, but George Takei has somehow morphed into much more in recent years and that includes 2012, which was a banner year for him. Openly gay and a staunch supporter for human and LGBT rights, Takei was awarded the Humanist Award by the American Humanist Association for his work and advocacy. His self-described legacy project, Allegiance, is a musical about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, inspired by Takei’s personal experience, also premiered this year.
Takei got his professional start doing voice work in Hollywood, which also continues to this day with radio as a frequent guest on the Howard Stern show and television guest spots like the suave Ricardio on Adventure Time.
But Takei’s greatest claim to fame in 2012, might be how he became the quasi-Mayor of Facebook with his personal page having over 3 million likes. He has become known for his quirky, funny, and satirical posts of pictures, which often include his trademark phrase, “Oh Myyyyy!” Check out his book, Oh Myyy! (There Goes The Internet), if you want to know all his internet-y secrets.
Oh Myyy, indeed. –Richard
5. David Choe (Artist)
David Choe’s year started off with a bang. When it was revealed to the public that he had Facebook stock that would be valued at $200 million after the company went public, everybody wanted to know who the artist was. But instead of answering every journalist on the line, he did things in the way he always does things. His way.
First, he went on the Howard Stern show and asked the radio veteran to adopt him. Then he met with Barbara Walters and spray painted her back and chest. And then he went on his podcast Koreans Gone Bad to break down what happened, briefly, before opening up the floor to discuss important matters like the time an old guy walked in on him masturbating in a sex shop.
And that was the end of that, and it was great.
For the rest of the year, Choe gave back to his fans. He created a sticker app called Choebot, gave a talk at UCLA to college kids about not going to college, made a portrait of the RZA for Sandy Relief, sold his prints for ten dollars a piece, and participated in a 24-hour long Q & A on Reddit with guest appearances by Asa Akira, Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince, Steve Janowski, Dan the Automator, and the list goes on. We didn’t enter the Choe Matrix this year, it entered us. #notgay –Dave
4. David Chang (Chef)
The saga continues, David Chang, David Chang. (RZA voice)
In 2012, Momofuku chef David Chang kept building. His Lucky Peach publication explored more topics like Chinatown, of course with the unique Lucky Peach approach, tackling the culture through recipes, creative writing, and art. His Momofuku empire also expanded, this time in Toronto, right in the downtown core at the Shangri-La Hotel, and has received positive reviews (The Globe and Mail claims it’s the best in Toronto).
Chang also continued to light up television screens, popping up on episodes of HBO drama Treme and finally creating his own PBS series Mind of a Chef. The latter gave fans an in-depth look at what matters to Chang, whether it was the admiration for unassuming hole-in-the-walls that happen to be Michelin-rated or trying to make moldy foods a thing.
So yes, the saga continues for David Chang as he continues to shake up the culinary world on his quest to perfect his craft and go through these chambers. –Alex
3. Ai Wei Wei (Artist)
Ai Weiwei is the face of 21st century artistic activism. With the release of his 2012 feature documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a lot of light has been shed on the life and times of the notorious Chinese dissident. He exists as a player in a perpetual jousting match with the Chinese government. His weapons? A smart phone, social media- namely twitter, his middle finger and an army of artisans at his disposal. His reason for fighting? A lift of censorship, the freedom to be as weird as he wants to be and what might be a simple dislike towards China’s socialist regime. It’s as if, one day, they looked at him the wrong way and he was never able to let it go.
His artwork has taken on a dimension of outrage, rebellion and fucks not given, as he tackles the continuing injustices the government has inflicted upon his country and his person. In a 2012 art display at the Smithsonian, which Ai Weiwei was unable to attend due to a three month arrest in China where he was held without charge, his piece featuring a pile of porcelain crabs as a nod to an 800 person dinner, held at his Shanghai art studio, that he was prevented from taking part in by the authorities. Shortly thereafter, his newly erected art studio was razed to the ground by the Chinese government.
His battle with the authorities has become so ingrained in his work that he has become a living breathing example of performance art. The wound he sustained from a blow to the head by Chinese law enforcement, resulted in surgery and, as the documentary shows, a series of online images that he tweeted as proof of the operation he underwent. His unwillingness to back down from intimidation, threats of violence, and actual violence are what makes a simple picture of him “flipping the bird” to Tiananmen Square as powerful and striking as Ai’s critics have made it out to be.
Along with his 2012 feature in the Smithsonian, Ai was also the recipient of the 2012 Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent by the Human Rights Foundation, an honorary degree from Pratt Institute, an honorary fellowship from Royal Institute of British Architects, he was elected as Foreign Member of Royal Swedish Academy of Arts and was the recipient of The International Center of Photography Cornell Capa Award.
As eccentric as he is prolific in his criticism of Chinese authorities, he has even parodied South Korean Rapper Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video, in protest of Chinese censorship of online media. His parody was officially titled “Grass Mud Horse Style” which is Mandarin slang for “fuck your mother” and has become a popular meme for Chinese online enthusiasts. Ironically, the video itself was banned in China, but still serves as a testament to Ai’s contemporary and open minded approach to activism, which makes him number 3 on this year’s top 100 list. –MUG
2. Jeremy Lin (Basketball Player)
He captivated the Asian American crowd, whether it was in New York, in Canada, or back home in Taiwan. Then he captivated just about everyone else and became the biggest story worldwide for nearly a month. The tiny details matter (please don’t suspend me from writing for Gumship for using tiny to describe an Asian) with Jeremy Lin’s story, like the fact that he was featured on back to back Sports Illustrated covers, or how his performance against the Lakers in front of an national audience made everyone believe again that Madison Square Garden and New York was truly the Mecca of basketball.
As quickly as he rose to prominence, he fell out of favor with Knicks management and media members just as fast. He missed the playoffs with a knee injury and was widely criticized for not showing toughness in returning; and the Knicks decided not to match Houston’s contract offer to him in the off-season.
So Lin’s story continues in a different city, with less of a spotlight on him as he tries to relaunch the Rockets back into contention.
He’s struggled so far to start the season. But then you take a step back, and realize that we have an Asian-American starting as a point guard in the NBA, and tiny details like this makes you realize that this is still a great story.
One of the greatest this year, or any year. –Alex
1. PSY (Rapper)
Even if you’ve been living under a rock, you heard that pulsating bass line penetrating through the earth’s surface with worms horse-dancing all around you. And they ain’t even got limbs, bruh!
Op, op, op, oppan gangnam style!
Okay, a hundred talk show appearances, a thousand articles, a million covers, and a billion Youtube views later and it’s hard to maintain enthusiasm for PSY’s mega hit.
But let’s not forget what we’re really celebrating here.
PSY’s an industry veteran with over ten years in the game. He’s carved a niche for himself as a dude who doesn’t fit the industry standard of having perfect features and dancing like nobody’s watching. He’s been in trouble with the law and his music has been banned from Korea’s airwaves on several occasions. This is a dude stuck in a rigid system, playing by his own rules, and never compromising his craft.
We’re sick of the song at this point. We’re sick of non-Asian folks giving us high fives randomly at work and asking us to teach them the dance. But we’re still going to bump it whenever it’s on the radio or in the club, and we might humor these silly people or at least not throw ’em in the sleeper hold, because, AYYYY SEXY LAYYYYDEHH.
We don’t know how the man’s ever going to follow up the success that was Gangnam Style in 2012, and that’s okay with us. He really, really did the impossible and deserves the shine. Most importantly, you know he’s still going to hold himself accountable on an artistic standpoint, in America, back in Korea, wherever he is. And that’s all that we ask.
PSY is an exemplary dude and represents all you can and should be in whatever you want to do. Clap it up for the man of the year or, you know, invisible horse dance. -Dave