Release Date: Mar 15, 2019
Record label: Burger Records
Kawaii has taken on a whole life of its own, permeating through all facets of Japanese popular culture: manga, clothing, toys, candy. All of it is influenced by and propagates the idea of kawaii. It's ubiquitous, inescapable, suffocating. It's everywhere. And while it's the driving force behind the ….
CHAI make music for us all. While this might seem to imply a worrying lack of personality to the uninitiated, you'll know better simply by looking at their artwork. The Japanese, all female, foursome (two pairs: twin sisters, and best friends) make punk so charming even those that run at the mention of The Clash won't be able to resist, delve into pop so energetically that the strictest purist will be powerless to stop from cracking a grin: they're rockers so in your face with their glee that you'll want to invite them inside.
Consider the following lyrics, as translated from Japanese: "Pink butt cheeks are my charm/Twinkle, jewels, pearls, princess, twilight!" Now throw some glitter into the mix: Distort those vocals ever so slightly, jam in multiple competing synth lines, and add a jolt of four-on-the-floor drums just for the hell of it. You now have "I'm Me," a sugar-rush of bubblegum pop from Chai, the four-piece disco-punk band who aspire to destabilize the way beauty and cuteness function in Japan even as they embrace stylized camp and matching outfits. The Nagoya-based band's second album, PUNK, is terrifically over the top.
Fed up with their home country's internalised standards of beauty and the societal need to be accepted based on their 'cuteness', Japanese four-piece CHAI have done the most un-cute thing ever, and released 'PUNK', a collection of upbeat garage-pop tracks tinged with '80s melodies and lyrics about their unwillingness to conform. Fuelled by a need to address patriarchal standards expected of women, they've have issued a 10-track manifesto that is an inclusive call-to-arms championing individuality, uniqueness and self-confidence. Though CHAI have embraced all things kawaii and seem to be aware of just one colour - pink - don't be fooled by their upbeat energy and infectious pop.
The Japanese quartet CHAI made a big splash with their giddy, genre-splicing debut album Pink, and while their follow-up Punk lacks the element of surprise that made Pink so exciting, it's still joyous and thrilling pop music. CHAI reigned in some of the anything-goes approach of Pink here, casting aside some of the rap-rock influences and adding some production sheen to the mixes. That said, this is still exuberant music made by women who aren't willing to stay in their lane.
CHAI love Devo, and if you understand that, a lot of things about the eccentric J-pop band start to make sense. Their workman-like matching outfits and stiffly synchronized dance moves are an obvious homage, but on a deeper level, the two bands share a similar project: spreading subversive ideas through catchy, sloganeering pop music. While Devo preached the dystopian gospel of "devolution" in their acerbic piss-take of American consumerism, CHAI are more invested in cheerleading the kind of revolution that comes from within.
Empowerment has become a dead-eyed concept, more commonly employed to sell women the things that sustain their insecurities in the first place rather than imbuing them with any sense of fortitude. On their second album, Japanese four-piece Chai reclaim the idea and rebuke the industries that appropriated it under the guise of selling hair products and kawaii (cute) beauty standards. They bring to mind the Go-Go's playing in a vast games arcade: their weapons are aggressive optimism, brawny low-end, harebrained energy and inviting gang vocals that invite anyone who feels the same way to become a "family member" or join them on a "curly adventure", to list two of the endearing English phrases that leap from their predominantly Japanese lyrics.