CHAI are dismantling Kawaii culture and punk sensibilities

CHAI can’t and won’t be pigeon-holed into a genre.

A boundary-breaking band from Japan consisting of sisters Kana and Mana with friends Yuna and Yuuki, the four-piece have released two albums so far. Their 2017 debut PINK was recently followed up earlier this year by PUNK. This new album takes a no-holds-barred approach to subverting and disassembling the notions of Kawaii-ness in Japan and what it really means to be a “punk band.” It purposefully dodges genre conventions, with no two songs sounding the same

The name of your debut album was PINKand this new album is called PUNK. Is there something “punk” about the colour pink?

MANA: Pink is our band’s theme colour because it’s a colour that can often be associated with adolescence and yet we wear it as a way to show that it’s not just a “cutesy” colour for the youth but also a strong, cool colour! It relays a woman’s strength!

YUUKI: We decided on the title, PUNK, for this album because we kept reading different articles and reviews from overseas media calling us a ‘punk band’.  At first we thought, “Punk? The genre?”, but after reading thoroughly we realised that it wasn’t the genre, but our mindset, our resistance to the norm, that was being labelled as ‘punk’.  From there we thought, “Wow, everything we’ve been doing up until this point of rejecting society’s beauty standards, living how we want to live, creating music the way we want to” was punk all along.

What was the main reason you decided to call your new album PUNK?

YUUKI: As mentioned earlier, it was the realisation that we had been living our lives as ‘punk’ all along. Compared with PINK, we had gained a lot of confidence in ourselves as musicians and experienced more by getting the opportunity to open for Superorganism last year as well as tour the US on our own. It’s the combination of those experiences, those feelings we felt after, and the coming to realisation of the meaning of ‘punk’ that made us decide to call this album, PUNK.  It doesn’t mean ‘punk’ the genre, but the mindset of punk!

What advice would you give people to be punk like CHAI?

MANA: Live the way you want to live!

YUNA: Wear what you want, eat what you want, and do whatever you want!

KANA: Being true to yourself and your feelings.  I think the best thing we’ve ever done collectively is be ourselves.  Whether its our looks, our visuals, our lyrics, and even our sound, we stuck to what we want to do and continue to do so!

How does the band feel now that the album is released and has been accepted so positively?

MANAPUNK turned out to be a work that we are really confident about.

YUNA: We want more and more people to listen to it!

KANA: With the help of our labels and even social media, we’ve been able to get our music heard in so many different places but we hope that it spreads even more.

YUUKI: I’m really happy that PUNK has been well-received.  It’s an album that we really created with a lot of confidence so having it be received even better than we had expected means the world to us!  We hope to be able to take this album and travel to different countries and perform it there live.

Can you explain more on the concept of NEOkawaii?

YUUKI: ‘NEOkawaii’ is a word we created to relay the message that everyone is cute! With our experience, growing up in Japan, ‘kawaii’ or cute can be the highest of the compliments but also the lowest of the insults.  Reason being that if you don’t fit into what is considered the standards of ‘kawaii’, you are automatically labelled unattractive. In reality, it shouldn’t be like that.  Everyone is ‘kawaii’ from birth! That’s how it should be.

MANA: We grew up with a lot of insecurities because none of us fit into those standards.  We spent so much of our lives trying to adjust and adhere to those standards that one day we thought to ourselves, “What are we doing?! Who gets to dictate what is attractive and what is not?” ‘NEOkawaii’ which means “new cute” is for everyone! There are no standards! We felt that using this word, especially through the universal language of music, would be the best way to get the message out.

What are the problems with current kawaii culture that you hope to talk about or fix with CHAI?

YUUKI: There’s set standards associated with the word kawaii.  Standards such as having to be skinny, having larger eyes, a pointier nose, fairer skin tones, long legs, standards that just don’t apply to us!

MANA: As a band, we hope to change those standards by showing people, “Hey! look as us, the imperfect ones yet the happy ones, doing what we love!” I think if a lot of people who’ve felt the same as us and even those who haven’t see us perform yet, see how positive we are about our negative experiences, it will help change a lot people’s view on what ‘kawaii’ is.

YUUKI: The world is so big! There are so many different people out here with different facial features, hair textures, skin tones, and that’s what should be considered ‘kawaii.’

Two of your band members, Kana and Mana, are twin sisters. Is touring with your twin sibling difficult sometimes?

MANA: We’ve been together since the womb, literally, so it’s never really difficult!

We’ve gone to the same schools, ate at the same dinner table, hung out with same friends, are whole life so being able to make music together and work together is actually fun. I’m happy we’ve been given this opportunity!

KANA: Although we have the same face, we have totally different personalities which I think balances the band out.  We both grew up with the dream of becoming Artists so to be able to not just live out that dream but together is awesome!

YUNA: Even though MANA and KANA are identical, I’ve never looked at them as if they were the same person. They’re really totally different! Of course siblings bicker a little at one another at times but overall we’re like a family!

MANA: The great thing about working with your sibling is being able to tell each other things that you can’t tell your friends. Also, when it comes to our music, we can be honest with what we want to do and not want to do.

Your song ‘Fashionista’ aims to criticise modern fashion trends. What’s a modern fashion trend that CHAI thinks is outdated? How can we change how toxic the beauty industry can be?

YUUKI: Fashionista is a song about how wearing what you want to wear, even if it’s not in trend, is what truly makes you a ‘fashionista’.  I wouldn’t say any particular modern trend is outdated but more so the idea that everyone HAS to wear what’s considered ‘in’ is outdated. For example, in Japan, when a celebrity or influencer wears this one brand, EVERYONE wears that one brand. There’s no originality! All 4 of us love thrift shopping and do so in every country or town we perform in!

MANA: Being able to create your own identity by choosing the clothes that you want to wear and that aren’t particularly considered ‘in’ is what makes you a fashionista. In thrift stores, you find things that are super old that others don’t have or things that they are only one of!

KANA: We hope that with our music, our existence, that the beauty industry can change! Like “Hey, we’re not wearing what’s considered ‘in’ – we don’t fit into those standards, but look! We’re still doing what we love happily”.

‘THIS IS CHAI’ sounds like a song I’d dance to in a nightclub. What inspires the dancier side of CHAI?

MANA: Our inspiration for our dancier side comes from Basement Jaxx!

KANA: JUSTICE too! and even Bruno Mars!  We never get too particular about our sound as a band and that’s why there’s so many different elements to us.  We create our music based on music we like and there’s SO many different types of music we like!

MANA: Even before we formed CHAI, we’ve always loved music that you can dance to.  We love to dance, as you all can see- haha!

YUUKI: Dancing brings positivity! It’s a way for a person to express themselves by the sounds they hear and the feeling they feel. As CHAI, we strive to do that ourselves and for other people.

Listen to PUNK by CHAI.

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