Girl Band: CHAI
J pop gets a bad rep for being generic and embracing the overdone kawaii trend. Four-piece dance pop group CHAI from Nagoya, Japan, challenges this notion. Chai makes redefining the word “kawaii” a mission in their musical career, coining the term “neo-kawaii” to promote inclusiveness and to eliminate what the public generalizes as “cute”.
They self-describe themselves as a NEO ( New Exciting Onna [girl] ) band, which is exactly what their song “N.E.O” exemplifies: “Is not it strange how boring? / Is not it the same face all the same? / Too beautiful and clean / Where is the personality?” The lyrics line right up with the band’s philosophy of eradicating the toxic marketing of kawaii in Asia’s pop culture.
Mana, the lead singer and keyboardist, sings a mix of Japanese and English with a playful voice. Her twin sister Kana plays guitar, while Yuuki is on drums and Yuuna is on bass. The four mix traditional j-pop with punk and dream pop elements. Chai became a band in 2012 when the four became friends and formed a tight-knit group in college, eventually discovering their desire to make music together. Yuuki had never even touched an instrument prior to the start of the band and took up bass just to be a part of the project. Chai initially started playing at small venues in Tokyo and participated as finalists in a battle-of-the-bands style competition, where they started gaining more publicity. This was the point where the four developed a shared distaste for the Nagoya music scene and decided that their earlier songs followed the banal formula of mainstream j-pop. Chai desired to develop their unique sound and style into what we now see in their 2015 EP, Hottaraka Series, and in their most recent project, Pink.
Chai has stated that they have always wanted to pursue music internationally and to spread their creativity and positivity around the world- which they are now starting to do. The band gained nationwide exposure in the U.S after they performed at the 2016 SXSW festival. Chai is currently touring in the U.S and will tour in the U.K to open for indie-pop band Superorganism in October.