It can be hard to find your place in the world, especially nowadays. Thankfully, music has always been there to give a home and a place to those who can’t find it. It can be an amazing tool to find answers and comfort. Songs like ‘1998‘ by the Japanese singer-songwriter MIREI are the perfect example of this.
MIREI is no stranger to touch on very important topics in her music. Making her debut in 2020 in the music scene in English, she has for sure left a mark with her messages, her voice, and her art overall. With ‘1998,’ she not only brings back many memories from her early years, but she also questions where she belongs, having been born in between generations. And that’s something most of us can definitely relate to.
In our interview with this incredible artist, we had the chance to ask her all about the making of ‘1998,’ her inspirations, and her relationship to music. Make sure to check it out!
First of all, let’s rewind a bit and meet the 10-year-old Mirei. What is the one thing you’d tell her today?
Hi, The Honey Pop! Thanks for having me! When I was 10, I was already super interested in dance and music, so I’ll just tell her, “Be yourself and keep it up.” But I’d also tell her, “practice some instruments too, cause you’ll be struggling to play F and Bm on guitar later.”
How did it feel about moving from Japan to New York when you were young? Did you experience any major differences or culture shock between the two places?
To be honest, I was way too excited and didn’t feel any fear or anxiety. I wasn’t fitting into the Japanese student and youth culture anyway, so I was actually looking forward to the change of scenery a lot. In New York, first, I was surprised at how my middle school had such loose rules. In Japan, you can’t even drink water during the lessons, but in New York, we were allowed to eat anything, including instant ramen. That was a happy shock for me! Haha! Also, that’s the first time I was seen as a minority somewhere. In Japan, I was a part of a big majority in society, but when I got to New York, all nationalities and races were mixed. I learned and experienced what the distinctions, discriminations, and differences were between them. After being around so many different kinds of people, it feels different to live back in Tokyo again.
Can you describe how you’ve felt throughout your musical career so far? How long has this journey been in the works?
It was rough but exciting! I’ve been singing professionally since I was just 15, and I started by touring the shopping malls for free. I’ve experienced revolutionary technology changes through the music industry, such as YouTube, socials like Facebook and Instagram, and subscription streaming services. How we develop our career by using these tools has changed too, such as checking the views on YouTube and posting on social media to connect directly with fans. I really think my career grew because of YouTube, so I’m really thankful for it. I’m also so glad I can release music in Japanese and English now, to tell different stories and explore various concepts through each language! Releasing music in English and building my English-language project is gonna be another rough journey to take outside of Japan, but I’m super happy about it.
In an industry where young women are held to such a high standard, have you encountered imposter syndrome? If so, how did you deal with it, or how are you dealing with it still?
This is my first time hearing the phrase “imposter syndrome,” so I just looked it up. I think I got rid of this syndrome during the pandemic without knowing it! I’ve been chasing my dream since I was so young. I was in a strict, competitive environment since I was 10, and here I still am. To be honest, for a long time, I struggled with being perfect and the absolute best, but it’s a completely impossible thing to do. My tour, my releases, and basically everything were postponed during the pandemic, and I felt like I had nothing. Taking a pause from all these things made me look back at why I started loving music and doing it in the first place. I’m doing this to make connections and create change. It made me realize I wanted to be more honest in my work than ever before, to tell stories of my real experiences with less of a filter. I had a lot of time to process this, and it showed me that it’s not about being perfect, it’s about just being myself. That made me comfortable with expressing myself openly, and that’s when I finally started to accept myself for who I am. Finding fans on social media has helped me see that people will welcome who I am as well.
Your songs often have important messages or context in current affairs. Is that ever daunting to you, or do you feel it’s a necessary part of your work?
I definitely think it’s necessary. I write my songs when I have certain emotions and thoughts that I couldn’t express so easily at first. Music is powerful. Music has been my friend, leader, and family to me, and I wanna be the same for someone like me who needs help finding the words.
‘Lonely in Tokyo’ is an extremely brave and important release as well as its music video. Was it always your idea to use your platform and talent to sing about this type of topic? What gave you the final push of courage to release this song?
Have you ever experienced something so shocking that you just became speechless, and afterward you were filled with lingering anger at night? That was the same energy for me about what was happening in the entertainment industry in Japan. I was so shocked and helpless when I first witnessed the things that happened behind the scenes. I was worried about speaking out like others, especially when your career is controlled. Most women can’t speak out because we don’t wanna sacrifice what we have. But that’s why I decided to fight against them with the one thing they couldn’t take from me, which is my voice. There are many reasons that pushed me to make the song, but the biggest thing that inspired me was the #metoo and Times Up movements. I’ve seen these protests going on not only in the real world but on the Internet. In Japan, there’s some women who spoke out like Shiori Ito. She gave me so much courage, and I even made a song on my album based on her real story.
‘1998’ does in a way drift away from your usual more pop sound, what inspired you to go into this particular direction when it comes to sound?
So I’ve always worked with the same collaborators for my English music – my friends DJ Shiftee and Zak Leever. I think overcoming my imposter syndrome (like you asked above) is what changed my direction in sound and in my lyrics. I started writing about more personal stories and ‘1998’ is a great introduction to me, the year I was born.
‘1998’ has a truly unique concept that we haven’t seen much in music until now. What inspired you to take this issue and write a song about it? In what ways would you say that it differs from your early releases? How would you describe the most significant aspects of your musical landscape that went into making ‘1998?’
When I was first working on ‘1998,’ I was super into watching compilation music videos and concerts from the ‘90s and 2000s, as well as looking back at things from my childhood. At the same time, I was obsessed with scrolling on TikTok. When I see things from the ‘90s and 2000s I feel like I’m still a child, but on TikTok, the people who were born in the late 90s are treated like uncles and aunties. Being born in 1998, I could relate to the newer trends and get into the newer technologies, but I also have so much love for things from back in the day. I felt like I was stuck between two worlds, and I wanted to share this weird feeling, so I made it into a song. My first full album Take Me Away focused on specific issues in Japan, places, and environments. After I released it and started talking with my fans around the world more through social media, I started feeling confident to express myself and go a little deeper into my own stories – who I am, what I think, and how I wanna be. ‘1998’ is very personal since it was inspired by my childhood, but it also has an electronic and jazzy vibe that anyone can enjoy otherwise.
In your new song ‘1998’, you mention various things you grew up with such as Tamagotchis and Super Mario, which one of those things would you say you miss the most? Is there something else from your childhood you wish you would’ve included in the lyrics of the song?
That’s a tough question! I would say I miss the days of sitting on the couch and laughing at sitcoms. My mother was a huge fan of American dramas like Ally Mcbeal, Beverly Hills, and I was super into Friends when I was a child. My mom recorded a bunch of TV shows onto VHS and labeled each episode by herself. I recently started watching the drama Modern Family, and it gave me similar vibes of the old sitcoms of the ‘90s. There are tons of memos from when I wrote ‘1998’ on my PC, and I didn’t include things like rollerblades, candy pop, and Game Boy. It was just so fun to write those lyrics, and there’s really no end to the memories!
A lot of THP readers sit in that awkward gap between Gen Y and Gen Z that you do as someone born in 1998 is part of as well. What message would you give to fans struggling to figure out that part of their identity? And if it came to it, what name would you give to this generation that doesn’t fit the Gen Y or Gen Z label?
People love to divide us and label us because it’s easier to do. But what’s most important is that you recognize and take ownership of what you know and feel about yourself. The ideas online are just hints, but the answer is in you. Especially us late ’90s babies – we’re in the middle of a revolutionary time. We should be proud of that, and personally, I wanna keep myself evolutional.
If I were to name our generation I’d call us “Gen-?” or Generation questionable since we’re always creating, asking questions, and communicating in new ways.
Your music videos are varied when it comes to aesthetics or themes, which one would you say was your favorite? Which one was the most fun to film?
I can’t decide which is my favorite ‘cause they’re all my lovely babies. I thinking I had the most while shooting ‘Feel Like Making Love.’ We filmed that video in the super cold, it was freezing early in the morning, and I was freaking out, to be honest. But when the sun rose up under the ocean, I became speechless. It was one of the best moments I’ve ever had.
You’ve gained so many new fans since the release of Take Me Away, who haven’t been able to see you live whilst gigs were shut down. Is touring something you want to do in the future?
Definitely! I can’t wait to see my fans in person. Since I have fans all over the world I can’t decide which city I should go to first though. I’ll go and meet you all as soon as possible.
We know you are a dancer as well; so how does it influence your music-making? Do you draw inspiration from other art forms, such as poetry, books, TV, or movies, for your music?
Dance is an awesome form of art. It’s a universal language, and it visualizes the sounds. Sometimes I write my songs imagining not only the world of the song but the choreography, like my song ‘In The Night Time.’ I often read books in Japanese and it gave me so much inspiration as well as dramas and movies. Recently I binge-watched the drama Euphoria, and the way they express their fear, confusion, and weakness was amazing. I also watch anime and imagine what kind of song I would write for their theme song.
Are there any songs by a different artist that you felt personally connected to & wish you had written? Are there any songs that you adore and would like to play covers of?
‘Brutal’ by Olivia Rodrigo was exactly how I felt when I was seventeen – I’m shocked how everyone at this age relates to the song. I didn’t spend my teenage days so-called golden, I was restricted so much but often got jealous of older people, and I hated it but couldn’t share that! That’s why I still never say “enjoy your teenage days” to anyone, instead of that, I always say, “Don’t expect so much in your teenage years, you’re still young and reckless in your twenties.” Haha! I’d cover ‘Suki Suki Daisuki’ by Jun Togawa. It’s an ‘80s Japanese pop song, and it was originally my mom’s favorite. I didn’t think most people my age knew the song, so I’m surprised that this song blew up again on TikTok! I love how she writes and sings this song.
In preparation for this interview, we learned that you used to sing at karaoke as a child. Do you have a favorite memory of karaoke with your parents or what life was like before you started making music? What was your favorite karaoke song? What’s your go-to song now?
Yes, I used to go karaoke with my parents almost once a week when I was a child. I don’t know if you know this but in some karaoke machines there’s a scoreboard and Ranking Battle which ranks people all over the world. I used to do it with the username “Chihwahwa,” and I was often ranked at the top all over Japan when I was young. Even before making music as a career, I adored music and have plenty of home videos where I’m singing J-pop idol’s songs. I’m so young, like age three, and I even don’t remember it! Music was that close to my life since the very beginning so I’m glad I’m still loving it even though the relationship between us is changing.
I always love to sing some Rihanna or Beyonce, songs like ‘Take a Bow’ or ‘If I Were a Boy.’ My go-to song now is probably Ariana Grande and Zedd’s ‘Break Free.’ Everybody in Japan knows the song, and the machine even has the official music video as the background, so my friends and I always get hyped up when I do this song.
One thing’s for sure, we can’t wait to see what Mirei comes up with next, and we’re sure it’ll be amazing! What did you think of ‘1998’? What is your favorite music video from MIREI? What do you expect to hear from her next? Be sure to let us know by tweeting us at @thehoneypop or visiting us on Facebook and Instagram.