To fully know Jimmy Wong, you have to start in an ugly place. It’s 2011 and Alexandra Wallace is a student at UCLA. One fateful evening, the young student posts a video to YouTube titled “Asians in the Library.” In the clip, Wallace explains: “I’m not the most politically correct person, so don’t take this offensively.” Yeah, you know where this going.
What follows is what the media dubbed a “racist rant” in which Wallace announces to the Asian student body, “if you’re going to come to UCLA, then use American manners.” Oh boy. Needless to say, the Wallace rant video sent the web into a total frenzy. While most camps agreed Wallace was painfully ignorant, the debate shifted to how and if the student should be punished. Many resorted to sending death threats to Wallace while others felt the public humiliation was penance enough for the young woman.
At the height of the controversy, with every blogger, reporter, and cultural studies pundit weighing in — oftentimes with a heavy hand — Wong released “Ching Chong! Asians in the Library Song.” The video, named after a portion of this video in which Wallace mocks Asian languages, saying “ching chong, ling long,” was a pseudo love-song directed at the desperately confused UCLA student.
In the video, Wong, in a smooth jazz-deep baritone says: “Now don’t pretend I didn’t see you watch me talk on my phone yesterday all sexy. Ching chong, wing wong. Baby, it’s all just code. It’s the way I tell the ladies it’s time to get funky.”
As it turns out, the song, which is layered over Wong’s feather-light harmony, is infectiously catchy and an incredibly intelligent way to combat something so racially tone deaf. “I pick up my phone and sing / (ching chong) it means I love you / (ling long) I really want you / (ting tong) I don’t actually know what that means,” Wong sings. The song went on to receive millions of views, eclipsing the original Wallace video and planting Wong directly in the public gaze.
Wong had effectively created, as one observant YouTube commenter put it, “the greatest response video I’ve ever seen.” Without resorting to mud-slinging, Wong became a powerful voice in the heated Wallace debate. “Certainly people are being vitriolic, and the hatred is just out of control, but for me, I saw the comedy in it,” says Wong. “For me, it was sit down, figure out why is this funny to me, and how I can tell this person off without being specifically rude.”
That last comment essentially sums up Wong’s personality. To put it simply, he’s a really nice guy. Here he is as an Asian American, watching a video in which a young woman basically mocks Asian culture as a whole, and Wong is concerned about not being rude.
“The last thing I wanted to do was become a hypocrite. Where someone tossed out hate and in response, you toss hate back,” Wong says. “My general response was, ‘You’re silly and dumb, but it does not mean you deserve to die.’ I saw the song as a way to turn the situation upside down.”
To date, Wong’s response song is his most-popular video on YouTube, which is something the musician views as a blessing and a curse. “Ching Chong! Asians in the Library Song” was literally the second video Wong ever posted on his YouTube channel Jimmy. With that came some complications; Wong, still fresh to the platform, was not prepared for, as he puts it, a wave of popularity.
“When it happened, at the time I was new to that whole scene. So, instead of being on top of that wave with a surfboard, I was more caught up in the middle of it, so when the wave decided to go, I went with it,” Wong explained. Instead, the creator more or less faded from the publics’ adoring attention and resumed life as an actor and musician living in LA.
Since then, Wong has been making name for himself with his main music channel and his cooking channel, Feast of Fiction, which is currently on hiatus. He also plays Ted Wong in “Video Game High School,” a popular web series created by Wong’s older brother Freddie Wong. You may have heard of Freddie, he’s one of YouTube’s VFX pioneers and one of the minds behind media company Rocket Jump.
When I ask Wong how much Freddie helped him break into YouTube, he explains that he learned a lot about YouTube from just watching Freddie and his YouTube-famous friends film. “I didn’t get direct direction, but I learned more from osmosis since I had been around it for so long,” Wong says. But, being a YouTube legend, Freddie did offer some help. Wong explains: “Freddie didn’t help me through association because people are still finding out that we are brothers today. He helped me more through wisdom and general knowledge.”
Freddie’s sage advice seems to have penetrated Wong’s overall YouTube career, the young creator boasts an impressive selection of music on his channel. His style of singing and playing, as he explains, comes from singing a cappella in college.
Wong sings over a set of looped vocals, which evoke the feeling that he is singing with at least three or four other musicians. It’s all Wong, though. The singer will record tracks that — when played over one another — harmonize succinctly. Think of it like a one-man barbershop quartet.
Watching his videos, the way each harmony carries onto the next through some miracle of perfect pitch and laser-precise mixing, it’s beautiful and utterly dumbfounding in its complexity.
If I told Wong that — that his songs are beautiful — I imagine he would laugh it off and thank me. And that’s what makes him so likeable, he’s not going to play it off like his music isn’t great because that would be false modesty. And he’s certainly not going to agree with me because then he’s just being egotistical. No, instead Wong is going to laugh and say “thanks,” because to him, there’s nothing else he could do.