Polartropica: The Art of Balance and Visibility

Polartropica's Ihui Cherise Wu discusses individuality, APAHM, and of course her love for watermelons.

In the midst of trying to locate an additional letter “P” balloon to complete the inaugural celebration of APAHM, Ihui Cherise Wu, better known as Polartropica, welcomed me to her cheerful panics, and hilarious ventures of scouring local Party City branches. Despite the time restrictions that were obviously at play for her upcoming show, Wu’s disposition was as sweet and welcoming as her melodic tracks.

The galactic, electro artist can easily be compared to the rarity of sighting a unicorn, thanks to her avant-garde, pop charm and lavish outfits. “It’s so funny how people I just don’t know, ask me ‘oh what kinda of music do you play’ and sometimes it’s really hard to describe cause I don’t want to be pigeonholed, you know? Like especially with people that are like ‘you’re outfits are crazy, like what do you [do]?’ I just tell them I try to pretend we’re from outer space,” laughs Wu, “Like ‘yeah, we’re just from outer space.'” Since her Astrodreams EP, Wu’s persona as Polartropica has grown within Los Angeles than more than individuals from “outer space,” but as individuals who offer a sense of escape, and at moments, underlying tones of realism.

As Wu continued to explain past experiences within previous bands where members would tell her “you’re smiling too much,” the galore of sparkles made sense as she strayed into her own project. “You know I was just starting out and I might have gone overboard. I was like ‘I’m gonna have as much fun as possible! Everything is going to be rainbow.’ And now I can do it!,” says Wu, owning her individuality.

Polartropica ( Martin Santacruz Jr. / GUM)


Being not only an artist but a presenter for this year’s APAHM showcase, that ran for the month of May with encore shows in June and an additional show set early August, Wu’s Taiwanese-American aspect seemed to be a part of Wu that never was as explored as now. Stemming from an emotional Facebook post, Wu detailed any “assimilation” and embarrassment that was held from a younger perspective. This was a common sentiment for many of different nationalities in America that simply spoke to the human aspect we all possess, and at times, forget. Wu’s beautifully written and potent post led to the question of when does one finally say, “this is who I am?

“I think it was something I really didn’t wanna face or like even think about for a long time and I kinda just buried it and like didn’t realize that I was actively repressing those feelings and memories….Like Yoko [Okumura], who is the director for a lot of my music videos and we work a lot together, she’s kinda the same. It was weird, like all these Asian film things would be like ‘hey we want to represent you’ and she’s like, ‘I want my work to just be so good it doesn’t matter if I’m a woman, doesn’t matter if I’m Asian’ – don’t want that to be the complete focus. I guess I just came to the realization [and] I’ve seen the importance of individuality and like the different voices and the diversity, like how important that is to just really highlight, because that’s what makes each artist. Or it’s all of our individual experiences you know, that’s what makes it meaningful.

“And you know, everyone is trying to do the same thing and a lot of it’s like how we grow up, where we came from, you know, different things, so doing that I started realizing, man, I’m really happy to be part of this movement, highlighting and just supporting women, you know, in music, in media, booking, the whole community, and it took a little longer for me to be like wow because then there’s this Asian-American Community that I kinda distanced myself from for so long.

“I went to this film festival and looked at all these women directors that are so talented and like looked at their films I’ve never heard of, or seen these people! They just don’t get hired or highlighted, such an invisible weird thing that we don’t, like even me in music, I don’t really see that because we see what everyone sees. But I think it helps when people share their experiences and it really also just helps seeing everyone else’s story, like Madame Gandhi, you know just like, really inspires other people to reflect. It’s like a slow movement and it’s the community that’s going together. It was so hard for me to post that, all my family in Taiwan, you know my young cousin to see that I didn’t want to associate myself at one time. Late at night, thought ‘gosh why am I doing this? What is this feeling?’ That feeling, it’s actually more important than [how] I originally felt.”

Polartropica at The Moroccan 5.6.18

“But I think in a way it’s more genuine because you had to be honest with yourself and, like you said, go through your own experience.”

“Yeah, totally.”

“I do agree with you, how you kind of don’t want to be pigeonholed, or your friend as well when she mentioned being a director of “Asian descent” you want to be more than that, more than a female, more than your ethnicity, so I do agree with that, but then kinda goes into a whole Catch 22 — how can you represent your individuality as well break those barriers? I understand, if you put a label then you’re kinda putting yourself in that box. How do you find a balance?”

“I think they can be accomplished together. As far as a balance, the art has to be in place, I have to have something I want to say or express and a world I wanted to create, through Polartropica.  The fact that I am an Asian American female is inescapable — so it’s just embracing that and understanding how that influences my work, and being honest about it is important.  It’s just being genuine to yourself. I don’t see them as competing aspects anymore, just another element. And the change is just realizing that the things that make us different and set us apart is what makes us special and our voices so unique and compelling, which is so cliche and seems so obvious, but I didn’t really understand that until I embraced who I am and where I come from and reflecting on/validating my own experiences.

“If we could just open a pathway to the future for women, people of color, you know, to have inspiration so they can develop their own and have a platform to express themselves, I feel like that’s even more important than the art. I guess, to me now there has to be a balance, the art has to be good, I’m gonna keep doing it, you know however and whatever feels right and inspires me, but I think to put some of the energy to outreach and supporting the community, that feels more important to me. The whole movement is bigger than any of our individual voices, like we all add to it. But yeah its definitely been a transformation. To see it as a bigger picture — music, art, film, media — as a whole because it’s so intellectual how we’re all portrayed, how media sees it, that’s the visibility aspect and if that doesn’t change, things are just…just, not…how do I say this? It has to change. And we’re working on it.”

Polartropica at The Moroccan 5.6.18
Polartropica (Martin Santacruz Jr. / GUM)

“Well, this is the first step.”

“Yes, definitely. So exciting and I’m glad we’re having this conversation. 5 years ago I mean, I wasn’t really thinking about this. As women, getting awkward comments you know, we were told if you wanted to succeed to not pay attention to that, deflect it, forget about it and keep going; glaze over it so you can keep moving forward. And it’s so cool that we’re all doing this together, we’ve all been through things, working on cool things, like GirlSchool, which was so amazing! Every year seeing everyone come together.”

“I feel like I’m all over the place,” laughs Wu as she finished her communal joy. Drifting into an ease of other worldly topics, which somehow is a natural effect when speaking with Wu, I couldn’t help but ask where her obsession with watermelons came from, noting my first introduction and association to her came from the fruit.

“Oh yeah,” laughed Wu as she prepared to explain. “I think it’s my favorite fruit and I don’t cook. I’m a horrible eater, I have the worse habits. I think watermelon was my staple diet for a long time, just like scoop parts of it, like it’s cool, it’s dessert. I always had half watermelons in my car if I was driving long distances. Then the photo for that shoot, the watermelon was the best, the way it’s shaped. But then I also have a lot of clothes that have watermelons on them.”

Polartropica (DontMeanMaybe / Courtesy of Facebook)


Not being anti-watermelon, just curious, I disregarded the fruit and followed Wu’s magnetic charisma, which weaved in and out from her curation for the first night of APAHM, to additional work, mentioning a musical in the works that focuses on virginity and the “outdated idea” that represses many women. Expressive and completely supportive of all walks of art, Wu’s maturity seeps through the bubblegum blanket. Recently unveiling her latest single “Golden Soul,” which is a heavier composition that stemmed from someone close battling opioid addiction, we see Polartropica in a different light. Shimmering and hopeful melodies nurture the tender, lyrical sentiments, hidden beneath the dreamwave, all in all allowing Wu, and Polartropica, to continue weaving a world of freedom in which all are welcomed.

And if anyone is wondering, Wu successfully found her balloon.

Moonroom presents – DESERT OASIS: an AAPI artists & allies showcase featuring Polartropica, The Colour Coast, Mini Bear, Zhao with special guests Past Hype, and more TBA August 2, 2018 at The Satellite

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