Get to know Awkwafina, the rising star from Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians

Get to know Awkwafina, the rising star from Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians


Text: Rachel Chan

Image: Instagram | @awkwafina

Kicking off the Ocean’s 8 press tour last week, here’s the low-down on things that you didn’t know about this rare Asian-American gem

1. Awkwafina is her alter ego
For those of you who don't already know, 'Awkwafina' is not her real name (not to be confused with the bottled water brand either). Born as Nora Lum, this 29-year-old actress/rapper chose this alias when she was 16 to create an opposite of herself — someone who's more confident and outspoken. "The name 'Awkwafina' definitely [refers to] a person I repressed. She's the girl who's high on sleepover energy, running around and dunking ice cream cones in her eyes. College was like prison reform where I learned to be quiet and more passive — so when Awkwafina comes out on stage, she's that crazy high school kid that doesn't really care about anything," she said in an interview.

2. She started getting into music at a young age
Dating all the way back to when she was just 11, Lum gained her musical chops at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Art in New York, where she played the trumpet in the school's band. As she got older and fell in love with underground rap music, she started to rap into a tape recorder to hear how she sounded like and made some beats on the GarageBand application in her first MacBook laptop. She cited that hip-hop allowed her to release all the teen angst in her.

#tbt to my trumpet

A post shared by AWKWAFINA (@awkwafina) on

3. Her rap song, 'My Vag', went viral and made her famous in 2012
Yes, she did make a song about her genitals, and it is as explicit as it gets. It's a response to American rapper Mickey Avalon's 'My Dick' that obviously received flak from some feminists. "I do feel that there is a lack of the low-brow, vagicentric topics like queefing or even the repetition of the word 'vagina' in music and especially in hip-hop. However, I tend to tell people that my intentions were (and are) less political than they seem," said Lum in an interview. Unfortunately, when her boss found out about the music video for 'My Vag', she got fired immediately. She also made a smartly titled and cleaner version in her debut album, Yellow Ranger, called 'My Vag (Vag Redux Edition)'.

She teamed up with comedienne Margaret Cho in 'Green Tea'
Upholding Asian pride in this unapologetic number for the end of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, this iconic collaboration with Cho embraces their Asian-ness. The hilarious music video pokes fun at the typical Asian stereotypes, which included exaggerated accents, a Japanese school uniform on Lum and a Korean hanbok on Cho. "When I saw her as a young kid, it was astonishing. I had never seen that. Just the image of her, the powerfulness of the Asian woman, and especially the Asian-American, one that had no accent and was shameless and unabashed in every way," she said. "Awkwafina wouldn't exist in a world without Margaret Cho."

5. She has a web-show called Tawk
Five seasons in, the show was created by Awkwafina to showcase some of the best unrecognised talents with a focus on people of colour that has featured names like actor Josh Peck and rapper Lil Debbie. Produced by Astronauts Wanted for Verizon's go90 video platform, Tawk was nominated for the Streamy Awards in 2016 under the News And Culture category and made an official Honoree during the 20th Annual Webby Awards.

Catch Ocean's 8 on 14 June and Crazy Rich Asians on 22 August in cinemas. For last week's #WomanCrushWednesday, click here.