What Went Wrong When Spotify Celebrated AAPI Heritage Month

And how the music industry can do better

Sherry-Lynn Lee
Published in
9 min readMay 30, 2021
Michelle Branch performs in a concert. Photo: Getty Images

The perception of us as Asians who happen to be in America, as opposed to Asian Americans, is so deeply rooted that even well-meaning efforts like Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month features put their foot in it.

Now that we’ve wrapped up AAPI Heritage Month, I want to point out something that I found very jarring. Many music streaming services and music companies highlighted AAPI Heritage Month on their platforms. That is awesome. However, while some did it well, others only further proved how deeply ingrained the “othering” of AAPI artists is in the industry. I preface this with the knowledge that the intentions were good. But I cannot pretend the execution measured up in every case.


Spotify clearly went to great lengths to introduce the western world to Asian music from all over the world. Extensive playlists for seemingly every sub-genre of Asian music were made available under the AAPI Heritage Month category. Unfortunately, I don’t think that was the point of AAPI Heritage Month.

Spotify AAPIHM page with caption: Celebrating the AAPI community.

At first glance, this looks like a great effort to amplify AAPI voices. It says it right there at the top: “Celebrating the AAPI community.”

What Spotify seems to have neglected is the second “A” in AAPI. Most of those playlists highlight Asian voices but not necessarily Asian American or Pacific Islander voices. Although the main collection description says these playlists are curated to celebrate the AAPI community, the individual playlist descriptions are cavalier about our Americanness, erasing it for the most part to primarily celebrate our Asianness.

A look at the first two featured playlists is enough to tell you how clueless Spotify is about the AAPI experience:

Spotify playlist #1: Jasmine

Illuminating Asian artists everywhere.
Celebrating AAPIHM with a Spotify Single from Audrey Nuna.



Sherry-Lynn Lee

LA-based writer, artist, producer who used to be a Silicon Valley engineer. Mauritian, Canadian. Hosts award-nominated Nuances Podcast. https://nuancespod.com