Photo Credit: 217..NINA (@photoby217)
By Alissa Arunarsirakul // February 26, 2020
Although MIREI is from Japan, she’s just as in tune with American issues like the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements. Her 90s-influenced R&B and future pop are definitely a hidden gem that’s sure to take her career incredibly far. To start off the thrilling new decade, MIREI has unveiled her English-language debut album, Take Me Away.
On Take Me Away, MIREI reflected,
“I was so moved by the whole experience of making these songs. Sometimes it actually hurt to write them, but I think that’s a good thing. A lot of the times, what we feel isn’t happy or perfect, but talking about it is what connects us. I hope that hearing these songs helps other people feel more connected too.”
To celebrate the release of her English-language debut album, we recently chatted with the rising Japanese popstar about cultural movements, go-to karaoke songs, and course, Take Me Away.
HH: You’re notably vocal about mental health and patriarchal oppression. Why is it so important for you and other artists to share your opinions on cultural movements?
MIREI: Music is the best, most powerful way to speak your mind, and to a wealth of people around the world. By using the power of music, I can express what I’m thinking, stand up for what others are thinking and feeling in ways just words can’t do.
When I was younger, music was just a way to dance and boost my mood. However, as I grew up and matured, I knew I could use this power for more. Lady Gaga released “Born This Way” around the same time I shifted from just dance to singing. I didn’t speak English back then, but there was a subtitle in Japanese and I just felt so inspired, impressed, courageous even. That’s when I really felt the impact of what music could do. That’s why I’m singing about my experience and opinions now when I didn’t feel like I could before. I know every song on my album is a chance to share the reality of my world.
HH: There’s something so special about your combination of R&B, pop, and electronic music. Which artists inspire your unique sound?
MIREI: I’ve listened to so many kinds of music, seriously. I can love any song beyond the genre if it hits the right strings. Growing up, I used to listen to 90s and 00s R&B like Usher or Lauryn Hill. I remember being in the car with my family and we’d always sing along, just like we used to do at karaoke (which I also grew up doing a lot of). At that time, I idolized Britney Spears, and eventually I grew to admire Rihanna too. I don’t know how many times I rewatched the “Toxic” music video; I even recorded it on tape off of MTV! Electronic music was with me much before that; I think I gained an interest in it from playing “Dance Dance Revolution.” Do you know “Butterfly” by Smile.dk? That was my favorite when I was three. As I got older, I started listening to Japanese and Korean pop music too like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and BIGBANG. Sorry, I have so many inspirations and I couldn’t choose just one! I guess overall, I would say my favorite artist of all time is Rihanna. Her song “Let Me” is the very first song I danced to an English song and she’s the reason why I started to learn English, to be honest. I just wanted to talk to her and sing with her so badly!
HH: Take Me Away is your English language debut. What made you want to branch off from your Japanese language music?
MIREI: An international release was my dream since I was young and that’s the reason why I studied abroad. But after I came back, I got a label opportunity in Japan so I decided to concentrate on it. Six years has passed since I started my career here. But after turning 21, I started to reflect on everything – I’ve experienced and witnessed so many bittersweet moments as a young girl in Tokyo. I couldn’t just stay here and be quiet and “kawaii” so I started pushing for change. I saw/read about the #MeToo movements in real life and on Twitter and how it is changing the American entertainment industry. I knew I couldn’t change the situation here by myself so I’m asking for everybody’s help with this international album. I write my songs in English because it’s the international language of the world and the Japanese are all too scared of taking responsibility, they’d rather be silent about these problems. With the Olympics coming to Tokyo this year, there’s no better time!
HH: Something you’ve said about Take Me Away is that you want to write songs that let people know about both the light and dark side to Tokyo. How have you shown that contrast in the album?
MIREI: All the photos and videos were shot in Tokyo… they look super cool, right? The views and visuals are what I’m proud of in Tokyo. The bright side is all the lights on these streets (where both my music videos were shot!), but they’re there to distract you from the dark. I want you to pay attention to what I’m actually singing and the scenes between the skyline scenes. “Lonely In Tokyo” may be an upbeat pop song, but listen to the words and the story behind it. “Not A Number” too.
HH: All of your songs tell such a vivid story, but do you have a particular favorite on Take Me Away?
MIREI: “Lazy Boy!” Of course I love every song from my album, but “Lazy Boy” is the combination of my story and the stories I’ve heard from my friends about the lazy boys in their lives. It’s a fun one and that beat is so smooth, like the 90s R&B I love so much. Writing this song was kind of like a memorial service for that relationship and all the bad ones I’ve put behind me. Rest in peace to my memories, haha.
HH: What was it like working with Zak Leever and DJ Shiftee on the album?
MIREI: It was so inspirational but relaxing at the same time. I’m so thankful to those two because they definitely brought out the range in my creativity through sound, lyrics, and singing.
Obviously, I couldn’t make this album without them or the real talk sessions I had with them. We’d just sit in Zak’s house in Brooklyn and chat for hours. He’d play a beat and I’d look at my notes from my book on things I’ve reflected on, felt, or observed in life. Topics can range from relationships or to societal issues I want to call attention to; there’s no filler. It helped working with people I was comfortable with, could be open with, something I hadn’t felt back in Japan.
HH: When your parents would take you to karaoke as a child, what were your go-to karaoke songs?
MIREI: The first song I remember singing in English was “Overprotected” by Britney Spears. Looking back, it’s kinda funny because I was singing about being overprotected to my parents and they’d clap without understanding what I’m actually saying. Great memories… haha.
HH: What are your three hidden hits?
MIREI: BTS – “Euphoria”
This is the solo song by Jungkook. It’s probably the song I listen the most out of all their releases. The beat is light and dreamy, and as he sings I feel like it takes me to another place, a happy place. The visual always makes me smile too. I don’t know, it’s kinda rare to express this much happiness and euphoria through a song, but this one hits.
Drake – “Marvin’s Room”
When I feel lonely I just sit down and turn off the lights in my room listening to this. I don’t know why, but this song got me hooked since I was in middle school and it still does. Sometimes I just want to vibe to this dark mood.
The Chainsmokers – “Don’t Say” ft. Emily Warren
I love Emily’s vocal expressions! The highs and lows! It starts with a very deep, low, cold hearted voice and then she whispers “Don’t say you’re human…” And after that, she escalates, belting her feelings out. That’s what happens in toxic relationships, right?