In the last week, "Royals" singer Lorde managed to put out a new single, pick up several Grammy nominations, and — if that weren't enough — to catch flack online about her rumored boyfriend, James Lowe.
Commenters savaged Lowe for his appearance and for being Asian.
Lorde called justin bieber & one direction ugly.... Her boyfriend is a deformed Asian guy. pic.twitter.com/Igb8qK824y— biebers_baby_danger (@Avon_Steps_kid) December 11, 2013
Celine Parrenas Shimizu, who teaches Asian-American studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said Lowe's harsh treatment exposes an enduring stereotype of Asian men in U.S. society as embodying "effeminacy, asexuality or queerness."
"This explains why there is this incredulity of seeing a young white megastar with a person who is considered less appropriate a partner because he is short, because he looks like the president of a chess club," Shimizu said, citing commenters.
For his part, Alhambra comedian Andrew Fung went online to get a look at this fellow Asian guy and liked what he saw.
"And I was like, 'Oh, he's a skinny Asian guy! It's not like he's a buff K-Pop guy,'" said Fung, who's one half of the Asian-American comedy duo The Fung Bros. "That's very cool."
Asian-American men deal with a range of stereotypes — math nerd, kung fu master, submissive "yes" man — that don't do them any favors. A recent analysis of data of racial preferences from the dating site "Are You Interested?" shows that Asian men register low on women's list of romantic partners, while Asian women are the most popular.
The difference between how Asian men and women are treated in the dating world was not lost on some commenters:
But photos of one of the most popular singers in the world draping her arms over a "skinny Asian guy" at a beach upends biases about Asian male desirability — much to the joy of some.
lorde is dating an asian guy #praisethelorde— Chip Skylark (Ryan) (@rtsuD2) December 13, 2013
Fung guessed there would have been less controversy had Lorde been linked to a more conventionally attractive Asian-American male such as John Cho ("Star Trek") or Sung Kang ("Fast and Furious 6").
But, Fung said, "I'm glad this nerdy Asian guy is in the limelight."
He and his brother, David, gleefully celebrated the couple in a new video on their YouTube Channel, which has captured more than 55,000 views.
Much of the online vitriol has come from teenage fans of Justin Bieber and One Direction, who seem to be under the false impression that Lorde in some way slighted their idols. (Some also criticized a purported seven-year age gap between 17-year-old Lorde and the older Lowe).
UC Santa Barbara's Shimizu has examined the range of image problems Asian men have in her book "Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies."
For example, and unlike now, Asian men were portrayed at the other extreme in the 19th century: sexually dangerous, Shimizu said.
Now, Shimizu said, the image of Lowe with Lorde is a powerful counterpoint to prevailing stereotypes. "She's expanding our idea of who can be beautiful and who can be worth loving," Shimizu said.
News of the backlash to Lorde's boyfriend has made the rounds on social media, with many decrying comments as racist and mean-spirited.
But Brad Yau, a 29-year-old web designer from Pasadena, said he just chalked up the comments to ignorance.
Even though he knows some people think Asian guys are dorky, "It doesn’t matter what people say."
"I think I’m cool," Yau said. "Therefore, I am cool.”