Their music was a lively mix of pop, dance, and disco-punk. A kinetic mesh of punchy beats, fuzzy funk, and sparkling hooks, with chirpy, anime character-like vocals spreading messages of female empowerment, self-love and self-confidence. The Japanese four-piece have adopted a self-dubbed mentality of NEO-kawaii, in protest against the suffocating idea of kawaii - or "cute" - that women in their culture feel constant pressure to conform to.
CHAI are a whirlwind of a band. The Japanese quartet of identical twins MANA and KANA, YUNA and YUUKI deal in the kind of joyful abandon that seems to be pretty absent in music these days. Known for their raucous live shows that feature the group in matching outfits, partaking in choreographed dance moves and showing off their enviable musicianship, CHAI have become a breath of fresh air in the world of indie music.
When the pandemic hit, CHAI decided to start crafting a new set of songs, something perhaps a bit subtler and more introspective than their previous output.
The Japanese quartet CHAI excavate joy from every crevice of life: a ping pong match, a box of donuts, the moles on your face--nothing is spared from their ecstatic gaze. Their first two releases, 2019's PUNK and 2017's PINK, radiated positivity and playfulness, while also challenging the pressure they felt as young Japanese women to be seen as cute all the time. At their live performances, they wore avante-garde matching outfits and performed effusive, blocky choreography, and their songs channeled the same energy: loud affirmations and saccharine hooks that erupted from hectic arrangements and kinetic riffs.
After a handful of runs through the United States, invariably a little American culture has started to work its way into CHAI's repertoire. Not only that, Mana, Kana, Yuuki, and Yuna have picked up some friends along the way. CHAI made an appearance on the latest Gorillaz album and cut a single with their Spanish solidarity sisters, Hinds. On their third album, WINK--following the similarly titled PINK and PUNK--Chicago rapper Ric Wilson jumps on board for a track ("Maybe Chocolate Chips") and other outside contributions come from producers Mndsgn and YMCK.
With their first release on Sub Pop, CHAI enter the arena with their third studio album, 'WINK'. Tapping into minimalistic tendencies and utilising the time the past year has offered them, this album has captured what it is to be free, even if the world around you enters into turmoil. As Yuuki explained, "A person who winks is a person who is free." And with the societal limitations that CHAI have emerged from, a call towards freedom seems appropriate.