Emil Guillermo: Asian American Filipina Olivia Rodrigo's three Grammys make her the Gen Z future–for now

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This weekend, you could have been celebrating as one of the lucky 3.19 percent to get into Harvard’s incoming freshman Class of 2026.

It’s the lowest acceptance rate ever, which means that of 61,220 people who applied, 1,954 students made the grade. Lucky you?

Or were you in the other pile of 59,266?

I thought about every one of those rejects this weekend as I saw Olivia Rodrigo reap the benefits of what she did when she was 18.

She wasn’t waiting for John Harvard to sing her praises.

Rodrigo produced and released the album, “Sour,” which became a worldwide hit in 2021. The album also featured her debut hit single, “Drivers License,” the cry of a young woman who comes of age, but without the older man she once loved. It comes with the piercing hook, “‘Cause you said forever, now I drive alone past your street.’”

The biracial Asian American Filipina (the rare mix of Filipino father and mother of Irish-German descent), who grew up in Southern California and starred in Disney television projects like “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” made a splash on Sunday at the 2022 Grammys.

Nominated in 7 categories including the biggest ones, for Album, Record and Song of the year, Rodrigo won Best Pop Solo Performance for “Drivers License,” Best Pop Vocal Album for “Sour,” and “Best New Artist.”

She’s already won Time Magazine’s 2021 Entertainer of the Year, and Billboard’s Woman of the Year in 2022.

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I don’t even know where or if Rodrigo went to college. Does anyone care?

But I mention her because she is an Asian American Filipina with exceptional gifts. If she uses them to pursue her artistic and creative passions, who needs Harvard?

Asian Americans were once told to go to law school, medical school, or to be an engineer to seek their American dream.

Now there are other paths to follow, with increasingly more examples of arts and entertainment success. Witness the rise of Awkwafina. Or Vanessa Hudgens, another mixed race American Filipina born in Salinas, Calif. In the typecast world of showbiz, there’s room for more than one of us. It just takes talent, drive, and a little luck.

Rodrigo serves as a model for all those who got college rejection notices this weekend. Don’t despair. Don’t concentrate on what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you have and who you are. Take your kiss-off note from Harvard, etc. and go to your 2nd or 3rd choice with pride. Or go to none of your choices. Pursue with a passion the thing that makes you YOU.

Would that be your singing voice? Your other musical, writing, dancing, acting, rapping, (fill-in-the-blank) skills?

Before Sunday, I’d never heard of Rodrigo. Maybe that’s because I don’t listen to a lot of current pop music. Although interesting to note, I do know the music of Bonnie Raitt, who was given a lifetime achievement award by the Grammys last night. (And by the way, Raitt did go to Harvard.)

Now as for Rodrigo, when I asked my Gen Z daughter if she had heard of her, she texted back in BOLD CAPS: YES. HUGE FAN. But of course, they’re both of mixed race Filipino origin.

In fact, Rodrigo is being talked about as if she could be the voice of her generation. As a Filipino American of mixed race, she certainly represents the diversity of the youngest American generation. She sings songs of universal appeal, but from a modern mixed Asian perspective.

I’ve now listened to her music and can see why she’s already capturing the imagination of a global audience.

Interesting how there was no shortage of Filipino representation at the Grammys. Bruno Mars, the mixed-race soul styler born in Hawaii, whose father was Puerto Rican/Ukrainian/Hungarian/ Jewish and whose mother was Filipina. Now part of Silk Sonic with Anderson Paak (Black/Korean), Mars won four Grammys, including Song of the Year, for co-writing “Leave the Door Open.”

In that category of 10 nominees, Mars was joined by H.E.R., a/k/a Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, the half Filipina/half African American songstress from Vallejo, who won the category last year for “I Can’t Breathe.” This year, she was back with “Fight for You.” And then there was the newcomer, Rodrigo, with “Drivers License.”

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Three Asian American Filipinos of mixed race competing against each other in a top Grammys category?

I don’t think that’s ever been done in the history of the Grammys.

Besides seeing all the Filipino representation, my favorite moment was when H.E.R. and Lenny Kravitz jammed on “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” featuring H.E.R. dueling Kravitz on guitar.

If you think H.E.R. is simply a rapper, watch her rock out on guitar with Kravitz and you’ll see what a dynamic musician she is.

To see H.E.R., Mars, and Rodrigo competing at the highest level was special on a Sunday night when I didn’t expect much. Not after last week’s celebrity slap.

This was a strong signal that the Asian American story continues to evolve and expand with a new generation of mixed race Filipinos finding their way to be a major part of American culture.

We’re definitely in people’s ears. But in their hearts? Considering the animosity AAPIs have felt, it’s encouraging to see music has the chance to change the tone of the past two years.

The Grammys reminded me that music has the power like nothing else to bring us together.

NOTE: I’ll talk about these items and more, including Ukraine, and even more on The Slap, on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” the microtalk show of the AAPI, at 2p Pacific on Facebook, on my YouTube Channel, and on Twitter. Catch the recordings on

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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