At Japan Expo 2018, we had the opportunity to interview MIREI (當山みれい), a young 19 year-old Japanese singer-songwriter who was part of the 2018 J-Music tremplins.
Zero Yen (ZY): Hello MIREI, could you introduce yourself to our readers please?
MIREI: My name is MIREI, I am 19 years old. I am a singer-songwriter based in Tokyo, Japan.
ZY: I read that you first stepped on a stage at an open mic night in New York City in 2011. Can you tell us how you felt facing an audience on that first night ?
MIREI: It was at a venue called The Vilage Underground. American audiences, especially in New York City, express their feelings really openly. They got really excited and it was so fun for me. This is when I decided to move to NYC to study abroad for a year.
ZY: Hey, I’ve been to The Village Underground! (laughs) It’s really small!
MIREI: Yeah, it’s really small but it was so good.
ZY: Then you decided to study in the US for a while. Were you able to work on your music while being there?
MIREI: Yes, I was working on my vocal training, I was part of a gospel choir as well. I was also studying mathematics. I was really good at algebra! (laughs)
ZY: Oh I’m terrible at math! (laughs)
MIREI: I’m terrible in Japan but I was good at it in NYC! (laughs)
ZY: How did you feel about this immersion in a foreign country?
MIREI: It really was a culture shock! For example, in Japan, group work is usually preferred but in America, it’s usually personal work that’s more common. When we did group work in the US, it didn’t go like in Japan. Their way is interesting, everyone has their own opinions and they’re not afraid to express them. I got a lot of (good) influence and confidence when I was in America.
ZY: Yeah, people in Japan are more quiet or reserved usually.
MIREI: If I’m being honest, in Japan, they have their own opinion too but they only express it with their close friends.
ZY: Your first single in the US (Tattoo) was released in 2013. It was your first single ever, right? Can you tell us about this experience?
MIREI: Yes, it was my first single. I was studying abroad in New York and the person I was working with at the time asked me if I wanted to try and sing my original songs. I had several demos but I chose Tattoo because I loved the way it sounded. And also because it had a good theme! I was influenced by electronic music and this song was very good.
ZY: Actually, I listened to one of your CDs in Japan. When I saw you at Japan Expo, I thought « oh I know this girl! » (laughs)
MIREI: Ohhhh, really?! Which one?
ZY: I think it was This Way at Tower Records.
MIREI: Thank you very much!
ZY: When listening to your songs, there’s an obvious R&B influence, kind of old school. Indeed, some of your first tracks like Fallin’ Out remind me of Utada Hikaru’s songs from the late 1990’s. Can you tell us what are your inspirations (or favorite artists)?
MIREI: My inspiration comes from all over the world, not especially from Japan. My idol when I was really young was Britney Spears. I went through the Christina Aguilera era too. But also Beyoncé and Lady GaGa. The person I loved the most was Rihanna. I loved her performances but I had no idea what she was singing about! (laughs)
ZY: (laughs) Because it’s in English?
MIREI: Yeah! Then I learned English and was very surprised with her lyrics!
ZY: Yeah, she has interesting lyrics!
MIREI: She does!
ZY: Apparently, when you were younger, is it true you didn’t listen to any J-Pop music but only western stuff? Was there a reason for that?
MIREI: Maybe because I loved the sound? Of course, I grew up listening to Utada Hikaru. I also loved 80’s bands’ music from Japan like Rebecca (レベッカ).
ZY: From the 80’s, I only know the song Linda Linda from The Blue Hearts, I think?
MIREI: Oh I love them too! I love bands in general when it comes to my Japanese influences. Do you know Kato Miliyah (加藤ミリヤ)?
ZY: Yes, she’s very R&B.
MIREI: She’s my senpai at my Japanese agency. I also grew up listening to her. This is probably why I decided to work with this agency.
ZY: I really enjoyed your performance on stage. Was it your first show in France?
MIREI: Yes! I was so nervous!
ZY: You looked fine by the way! (laughs) What did you think of the audience here?
MIREI: (laughs) Thank you! I was hiding my nervousness. It was so fun, I feel like the audience here was similar to Tokyo: they listened to me very seriously. But when I said « clap your hands » or « put your hands up », they would follow me! I also made a video that I posted on my social media.
ZY: Do you have a routine before going on stage?
MIREI: I often listen to instrumentals, like TV tracks. I also put some Japanese cough drops in some hot water and let them melt.
ZY: Do you have a tour coming up soon in Japan or worldwide?
MIREI: I have several concerts in Tokyo. I’m going to New York after Japan Expo in Paris. Then I will go back to Japan where I have a festival at the beach called Otodama Sea Studio. I will sing with several artists there, it will be very good! You can check all my upcoming concerts on the website Bands in Town.
ZY: Would you like to work with foreign artists ? Which ones ?
MIREI: YES! Timbaland, I love him! I also like Justin Timberlake, I know his songs are produced by Timbaland. Rihanna, if I could but she’s too sexy for me (laughs). I want to meet her but maybe not sing with her (laughs).
ZY: Let’s talk about France for a bit. Did you have enough time to do some sightseeing?
MIREI: I went to the Champs-Élysées, the Eiffel Tower. The Arc de triomphe too, it was so big! It was bigger than I imagined! Have you been to New York?
ZY: Yes, many times.
MIREI: Do you know the arch at Washington Square Park?
ZY: Yeah, I love this park!
MIREI: I thought the Arc de triomphe would be that big but it was 10 times bigger! It’s like SkyTree in Tokyo, it’s way bigger than you think. Your neck will hurt if you look up to them from underneath (laughs)!
ZY: Which monument did you like the most?
MIREI: I loved the Arc de triomphe!
ZY: We’re a media based in the south-east of France, near Marseille. Have you ever been there?
MIREI: No, not yet.
ZY: What’s coming up for you in the following months?
MIREI: I’m preparing to release my new album in August in Japan. I sang 2 songs in English at Japan Expo and I’m also preparing an album in English for America. It will be worldwide so look forward to it!
ZY: So are we going to get in Europe as well?
MIREI: Yes, worldwide!
ZY: Do you have a message for the French audience? Good luck and see you soon in Japan hopefully!
MIREI: I had so much fun at Japan Expo, thank you for coming! If you’re interested in me, please check my Instagram and Twitter! Thank you so much.
MIREI (當山みれい) online
Thank you to MIREI for being such a nice and spontaneous person. Thanks to her management and Japan Expo for making this interview possible.
Bonus : highlights from MIREI’s showcase at Japan Expo (July 7th 2018)