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CHAI On Redefining "Cute," Subverting Uniformity & Tasting American Ramen

CHAI

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CHAI On Redefining "Cute," Subverting Uniformity & Tasting American Ramen

The Japanese quartet go deep on their debut album, 'PUNK,' playing their first Pitchfork Fest and why they want to "be looked at as more than just a band"

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2019 - 01:01 am

CHAI are determined to stand out. Hailing from Japan, a country whose culture praises uniformity, CHAI are making rock-influenced dance music for people who want to move to their own beat. But they're breaking more than one stereotype: Yuuki (bass), Kana (guitar), Mana (vocals) and Yuna (drums) are on a mission to change the ideals placed on women's bodies, specifically with the term "cute," or in Japanese, "kawaii." 

So CHAI came up with the term "Neo Kawaii," which means that all girls are pretty from the moment they are born. "There is not a single girl that is not kawaii," CHAI  state on their website. "You don't need to have big eyes or have skinny legs to be kawaii! Not everyone needs to follow the stereotypical  image of kawaii."

The message was heard loud and clear across the lawn at Union Park at their Pitchfork Fest set on Saturday. In matching outfits and ponies, CHAI energetically and enthusiastically took Chicagoans through songs from their punchy debut album, PUNK, which recalls dancefloor staples like Basement Jaxx, Gorillaz, CSS, and Tom Tom Club. The 10-track album, which is more inspired by the spirit of punk than the genre itself, showcases confident lyrics that proclaim with certainty: "I don’t know about the world, but I know me... What a cute girl I am!"

The Recording Academy spoke with the charming quartet about playing overseas, pushing back against the Japanese interpretation of "cute," covering ABBA's "Dancing Queen" and more. 

How's your time at Pitchfork Fest going?

Yuna: We were super exited. We're so happy to be here.

Yuuki: We're having a great time. It's actually our dream.

Kana: I also feel like this is our dream so we're super exited to be here and we're blessed.

Yuna: It's actually not just our dream to play America, but [to play] Pitchfork itself. We actually were written about in Pitchfork, which is amazing for us too. Also we just want to do everything, we wanna go to every country, we want to win a GRAMMY, we want so many things.

Yuuki: Yeah, we are super excited to be able to do anything in America. I think being able to tour in the States is our number one thing.

How is it singing exclusively in Japanese to an English-speaking audience? 

Kana: We don't even think about that at all.

Yuuki: Yeah, to be honest with you, we never thought about that at all. We don't think about whether the lyrics gonna be understood or not. For us it's more soul, music is universal, and I don't think you necessarily need a language for people to understand where you are coming from. We just love going out for the fact that the music, the sound is what gets the people and relates with people.

How did you all meet?

Mana: We were all friends, form the beginning. Myself, my twin sister Kana and Yuna, we went to the same high school. We were in the same music club together, so that's where we actually started jamming and doing the music thing. Yuuki we met later on in college.

I want to talk about your album, PUNK. What was the inspiration behind it?

Yuuki: This album PUNK, it wasn't based on the genre. It's actually based on the feelings, the mentality of being, the spirituality of being punk. Living in your truth, not letting anybody dictate how you wanna live your life. We were influenced by a lot of music, a lot of musicians: Superorganism, Justice and ERD. A lot of the musical inspirations have actually played a part in our songs in that PUNK album.

A lot of your music touches on body image and reclaiming the word "cute." What inspired you to make this album about that?

Yuuki: For us you know, doing not only this album but also our first album pretty much our theme is "Neo-Kawaii," which translates to "New Cute." I think in Japan at least, the word "cute" is a big compliment. It's sexy, beautiful, all those type of words are all intertwined with the word "cute." I notice in the States sometimes they might refer to people as cute when they are little or when they are shorter or like, "Oh you know you all, you so cute" like a little kid. But in Japan cute is actually considered more like a beautiful word. For us, because we didn't fit into those standards of cute in Japan, we decided to create this word, "Neo-Kawaii," which is the "New Cute" to represent everybody that doesn't fit into those standards that are set by society right now. For us, we wanted to create this word so that we can compliment one another for those who don't feel like they fit into the traditional 'Kawaii' or cute definition.

Is there anything you want U.S. audiences to know about you as a band?

Kana: We want you to see freedom when you see us.

Yuuki: We want you to see something you have never seen before.

Yuna: Something you never heard before.

Mana: Something you've never seen before. For us, we don't wanna just be just a band. We wanna be looked at as more than just a band.

Would you call your music empowering?

Yuuki: We're not really conscious about it when we're making the songs, as far as whether they are empowering or not. It's actually more so our personal experiences in Japan that we just write about, that just so happens to empower people. One of which is, because in Japan, everybody tends to be very uniform, everybody tends to do the same thing, dress the same way, and if you are that one person, the outsider, who does something a little bit different, you're automatically turned down or slapped down or told, "Hey, what are you doing, you're not supposed to be doing that," and we did not really like that. So for us it was more like, okay, what do we do to empower people who kinda feel like us who kinda feel like outsiders in this society where everyone is the same? I guess that's what translated into empowerment, naturally.

I loved your cover of ABBA's "Dancing Queen." What made you want to cover ABBA?

Yuna: We all love ABBA. That's particularly because it's like a very motherly type of vibe that ABBA gives, and we like that whole motherly type of vibe. We wanted to give that to everybody on the stage and make people feel wholesome, and we chose ABBA to cover for our last tour.

Is there a song on the album that you feel particularly close to?

Mana: For all of us, we really love the song "Curly Adventure." It was the first time that we worked with an outside engineer, not a Japanese engineer. We worked with an American engineer for that one, and also the sound was very different for us. That was the only one that was different. I think that's what we really like, that song particularly, it was totally different for us, as something very new for CHAI, something very fresh. 

What's been your greatest tool as artists?

Yuna: Food is number one. We love to eat, you know? Anything food-related. Particularly meat. Any type of meat is great with me.

What's your favorite part of American culture?

Yuuki: The friendliness. Everyone is super friendly. They talk to people they don't know. They embrace one another, they hug each other. People just naturally hold the door for one another. Just really simple things like that. It's totally different.

Kana: For me too, it's the same thing. I feel that people are just super loving and we just feel the love. America is totally different that way, people say goodnight to each other on the elevator.

You mentioned food... What do you think of Japanese food in the States? You can be honest.

Yuuki: I think ramen is the best thing here.

Mana: Yeah, ramen I think is really good here but everything else I don't know.

Kana: Yeah, I don't know of anything else besides ramen.

Yuna: California rolls and also salmon and avocado rolls are really good here. But everything else? Hmm. That's a question mark. 

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

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"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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Listen: Tame Impala Release New Track "Patience"

Kevin Parker of Tame Impala

Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage

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Listen: Tame Impala Release New Track "Patience"

It's been four years since we've heard new music from Tame Impala, but their new release has come just in time for festival season

GRAMMYs/Mar 23, 2019 - 12:08 am

Tame Impala have released a new single appropriately called "Patience." The GRAMMY-nominated music project by Australian singer and musician Kevin Parker had not released any new tracks since 2015's Currents.

The long-awaited latest release embodies the exact feeling of having to wait for something: "Has it really been that long? / Did I count the days wrong? ... I've been waiting here / Waiting for the day to come," Parker's soft voice sings on the track featuring an equally soft piano. 

Parker, who has come to fame for the psychedelic, dreamy pop sound he shares as Tame Impala, teased the single on Instagram last night. "New track. 1 hour. Speakers/headphones people," the post said. 

He and his touring band will be headlining Coachella and Lollapalooza this year and starting a U.S. tour after the Indio, Calif. dates. He said that he would like to release a new album by mid-2019. 

"I'd be really disappointed if we didn't have something out by then." Parker told Matt Wilkinson on Beats 1. "I love playing the songs live, I love playing Currents songs I love playing Lonerism songs and everything but I think I'm ready to play some other songs live."

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Lila Downs Announces New Album Paying Tribute To The Chile Pepper, Releases Tour Info

Lila Downs 

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Lila Downs Announces New Album Paying Tribute To The Chile Pepper, Releases Tour Info

The announcement was made with the release of the first single, a cover of the Peruvian cumbia classic "Cariñito"

GRAMMYs/Apr 11, 2019 - 04:42 am

GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter Lila Downs, known for her eclectic mixture sounds from Mexico and beyond, has announced that her latest album, Al Chile, will pay tribute to the chile pepper and will drop May 3. The news came with the release of the first single, "Cariñito."

Al Chile, produced by the GRAMMY-nominated DJ and producer Camilo Lara (Mexican Institute of Sound) and mixed by Mario Caldato Jr., who has worked with the Beastie Boys and Jack Johnson, is not a joke; it sincerely shows love for the fruit. 

"Yes, the music is a tribute to the fruit that causes us so much craving and suffering, but that we really love!" Downs said in a statement. "We fry the chile, add beats from the city, then saxophones, trumpets and drums from the Mexican coast to keep the dance going. The village and the city are united by the same beat. With a mezcal in hand, we dream of a place with a palm tree where one falls in love and reflects."

The first single is Down's take on a Peruvian cumbia classic. The singer also released dates for the album's supporting tour that will take her to Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall, New York City, Seattle and other cities across the U.S.

For more information on the tour, visit Downs' website

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