As Chinese culture goes, the Year of the Tiger is about strength, bravery, exorcising evils, and — as every new year is — making big changes. So, it makes sense that on this first day of the new lunar year, NYLON is premiering the fierce and fantastic “Gives Them Hell (Serial Killer Slayer)” — a music video that’s all about self-empowerment and fighting back by Los Angeles artist Polartropica (Ihui Cherise Wu), and could not feel timelier.
For many communities, the past few years have been tough, with the collision of the #MeToo movement, rising numbers of AAPI hate crimes, and the constant threat of violence against Black trans women and queer people at large. While Polartropica’s “Gives Them Hell” isn’t a solution to all of these very real problems, its arrival still feels like a powerful, surging antidote — an all-hands-on-deck anthem the world needed.
In rebellious punk-rock tradition, the track is all shreddy guitar, thudding drums, and Wu’s distorted voice as she shouts about dismantling ideas of forced pleasantries and taking ownership of her own bodily power. “I’m fighting for my life,” she sings on the chorus through crashing instrumentation. “We, are fighting for our lives.” For people who already feel exhausted from living in a system that doesn’t value their lives, Wu’s overarching chant on the track — “We will always give them hell!” — is shouted so forcefully that it’s impossible not to feel like a straight-up injection of caffeine into the veins.
It arrives alongside an equally revitalizing video that upends the all-American idea of a “superhero.” Shot in Los Angeles’ chinatown with a cameo from fashion designer Peter Lai, the Wes O'Connor-directed video features Wu and her friends as local superheroes (their superpowers stemming from different parts of their heritages) fighting crime.
“The music video showcases five queer superheroes from all different backgrounds and their backstories,” Polartropica writes to NYLON in an email. “I was born in Taiwan and spent the first year of my life in the countryside living hanging out with my grandmother who sold tropical fruit at the local market. Another superhero in the music video is Violette Dagger, who spent their childhood in her parents' Chinese restaurant. Peter Lai plays the judge at this underground fight club, where all of the superheroes are facing off to see who is the most powerful one that will get to slay the unnamed, unimportant serial killer.”
If you ask us, there’s not a more auspicious and kick-ass way to start off the Year of the Tiger than experiencing “Give Them Hell (Serial Killer Slayer).” Watch it below, and read on for a conversation with Polartropica about the song, music video, why self-defense is crucial, and more.
What are you up to right now — describe your surroundings.
I am recovering from a fun, extremely intense wrestling training my boxing friend Suga Shaw brought me to for the Women of Wrestling TV show, so I am currently in a sparkling bubble salt bath with roses from a friend celebrating the release of our new single, and snacks — Pocky, Korean pear, and a boba iced coffee! There is a voluptuous cat named Luna yonder.
"Give Them Hell" is such an anthem. What was the reason behind focusing on self-defense for this song?
The song is a reminder that it is not only OK to fight back, but essential to, whenever one is faced with a serial killer in real life. I wanted to also celebrate the women who lost their lives and empower their families instead of glorifying serial killers, which is what movies, media, and the mainstream keep wanting to do. It was inspired by Joie Ruth Armstrong, who was so incredibly fierce and fought back when faced with the Yosemite Killer, which led to his capture and prevented him from killing anyone else.
Many times, femmes, queers, and POC are taught to “go with the flow” and be polite, to not make waves to get by in the workplace or in public instead of speaking up or fighting back when it's sometimes necessary to maintain healthy boundaries, both in the physical world and in our professions. When it comes to our lives and safety, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, AAPI hate crimes, and attacks on Black trans women, it's more important than ever to look out for one another and feel empowered in our bodies and minds! As a musician who would periodically take a yoga class, I never thought I would find so much joy and peace of mind while boxing. We're also so lucky in L.A. to have orgs like Trans Defense Fund, Reach LA, and Box For Change for holding free community self-defense classes.
Why have you decided to tie the release to Lunar New Year?
The music video was so heavily inspired by my AAPI heritage, legendary designer and collector Peter Lai (who is a queer elder from Hong Kong) and his beautiful headdresses and style, as well as Los Angeles' beautiful Chinatown. I'm so sad to say that for many years I was ashamed of celebrating Lunar New Year or doing anything that might seem “too Asian,” being surrounded by mostly non-POC industry and music folks. I even had a partner one time say that Chinese food was too "greasy and had too much MSG" when I suggested ordering some for Lunar New year. These past few years I've grown to love, appreciate the beauty, magic and rich heritage of where I come from.
The music video seems like it was a huge production. What was the best part of filming it?
The best part of this video was reuniting with director Wes O'Connor, who was in our last music video "In Another Life," and a cool Doc Martens mini-doc showcasing our vibrant, queer local music scene. We also reunited with Yoko Okumura who plays Neon Matcha in this music video. Yoko is currently directing her first feature, and we got to make Polartropica's very first music video, “Light Up the Sky,” together. We had such an incredible team and cast of talented friends that pulled together to make this production happen. I'm so proud of my team, it was truly a superhuman effort to do all of the filming with so many scenes, characters, children, and even a couple pets in just two days, with the entire video filmed on an iPhone 13, and animations by Jamie Lew.
I can't help but also connect the song to the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past year. How did that news affect you and did it influence the creation of "Give Them Hell" at all?
I know that many of us were shaken by the racist attacks in Atlanta and all over the country during lockdown. Something particularly striking to me were the bystanders in some of the street attacks, when an elder or anyone was getting attacked, many times bystanders would just walk past and try to pretend nothing was happening instead of trying to help. I can understand that it can be scary and wouldn't want anyone to put themselves in danger, but learned that there are methods for bystanders to distract and diffuse the energy, especially with power in numbers. I'm also hoping that this song and video can inspire hope and empower all of us when things can seem seem difficult and helpless!
Finally, any resolutions or hopes from you for the Year of the Tiger?
The Year of the Water Tiger is about vitality, courage, ambition, and generosity. A year for big changes, adventures, being creative and taking risks. My resolution and hope for myself and all of our sweet fans and fellow artists is a fierce, vibrant year of living life to the fullest, going after your biggest dreams, delicious snacks, and abundance in love, friendship, joy, money and whatever your heart desires.