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The Japanese band CHAI cast a spell on the world in 2017 with their debut album, PINK, a collection of songs that introduced their singular brand of playful pop. The enthusiastically feminist follow-up, PUNK, raked in accolades from the music press and fellow artists. That led to WINK, which CHAI made via remote Zoom sessions, a limitation that became a strength by allowing MANA (lead vocals and keys), KANA (guitar), YUNA (drums), and YUUKI (bassist-lyricist) to collaborate with artists abroad to create a work that found catharsis in their international community.
Unlike WINK, the band’s new self-titled album finds CHAI returning to their roots, drawing inspiration from their Japanese heritage and the music that raised them. “Everything reflected in the lyrics expresses our experience as Japanese women,” MANA says. CHAI’s ethos is one of inclusion, and lead single “We The Female!” – recorded live to honor the band’s riotous performances – beckons listeners into the mission. “We are human and were born as female, but we have both female and male aspects in each of our souls, each with our own sense of balance,” CHAI said in an accompanying statement. “We can’t just label ourselves into clear-cut, simple categories anymore! I’m not anyone else but just ‘me,’ and you are no one else but just ‘you.’ This song celebrates that with a roar!”
During their post-pandemic touring, performing for enormous crowds in cities like Santiago, Buenos Aires, and São Paulo made CHAI realize they had unlocked a global audience. CHAI wrote the new record on the road, finding time to record in the days between shows at Stones Throw Studio in LA, Ometusco Sound Machine in Mexico City, and Grand Street in New York. As they realized their liberatory, empowering message applied to people outside of Japan, CHAI considered what facets of their upbringing might resonate with audiences outside of their home country.
On CHAI, the band draws directly from city pop, a Tokyo-born sound popularized in the ‘70s and ‘80s. City pop was a Japanese take on Western lounge music, borrowing from jazz, boogie, funk, and yacht rock to create a sound that straddled two cultures. While city pop has recently found a US audience via TikTok and YouTube, CHAI grew up on the genre. For production, they tapped previous collaborator Ryu Takahashi, who shared their love of city pop, eurobeat, and the melodies of J-pop artists like Maria Takeuchi. “They wanted to dig into their Japanese identity, not in a traditional sense, but in this filtered Western way,” Takahashi says. Working well-equipped studios allowed them to experiment with aesthetics as-yet-unheard on a CHAI album. For example, at Stones Throw Studio, CHAI recorded “GAME” with the sole intention of writing something listeners will recognize as new wave, riding on a house synth line and minimalist production that recalls the eurobeat influences most recently associated with Robyn’s Honey. “GAME” might be the perfect distillation of CHAI’s ethic, as it urges listeners to keep moving through this life with joy and passion. Per MANA: “It’s not about winning or losing as competition, but about what you need to do, personally, to feel you’ve won.”
We The Female!
NEO KAWAII, K?
I Can't Organizeeee
LIKE, I NEED