Today, CHAI announce their dazzling new, self-titled album out September 22nd on Sub Pop / Sony Music, announce a Fall US tour in support of the new record, and present the album’s lead single, “PARA PARA.” Unlike their acclaimed 2021 album WINK, this self-titled collection of songs finds CHAI returning to their roots, drawing inspiration from their Japanese cultural heritage and the music that raised them. “Everything reflected in the lyrics expresses our experience as Japanese women,” vocalist/keyboardist MANA says, explaining why they chose to self-title this album. CHAI’s ethos is one of inclusion, and the previously shared “We The Female!” — recorded live off the floor to honor the band’s riotous performances — is “energetic and bright” (Stereogum), beckoning all listeners into the mission.
On “PARA PARA,” CHAI memorialize the bafflingly popular two-step dance trend that overtook Japan in the 1990s. “There’s not a deep meaning to that song, it’s really just about the dance,” says Mana. “As long as you can feel the two-step, any dance is possible! Let your body just move to your dancing heart ♡ When your body moves to the beat of your heart, you’ll realize that the world is smaller than you think, and all your problems are easier than they seem. ‘Cause two-step and music is the best way to communicate in this world ♡ Let it START! CHAI’s two-step dance music ☆☆”
The accompanying “PARA PARA”video, directed by Jennifer Juniper Stadford, premieres tonight at 9pm ET and honors the past, present, and future of art-rock and J-pop. Drawing influence from Yellow Magic Orchestra, Talking Heads and Devo, the “PARA PARA” video creates a new, fresh world where CHAI’s neo-kawaii movement takes center stage and inspires a strong future for everyone.
CHAI cast a spell on the world in 2017 when they released their debut album, PINK, a collection of songs that introduced listeners to their singular brand of playful pop. The jubilant and enthusiastically feminist follow-up, PUNK, raked in accolades from the music press and fellow artists alike. That led to WINK, which CHAI made via remote Zoom sessions, a limitation that became a strength since it allowed the quartet — twin sisters MANA (lead vocals and keys) and KANA (guitar), YUNA (drums), and YUUKI (bassist-lyricist) — to collaborate with artists abroad. On WINK, CHAI looked beyond their immediate surroundings, and the confines of home, to create a work that found catharsis in their international community.
Each CHAI album borrows aesthetic inspiration from specific musical movements, and on CHAI, the quartet wanted to make direct comparisons to city pop, a Tokyo-born sound popularized in the ‘70s and ‘80s. City pop was a Japanese take on Western lounge music, borrowing from jazz, boogie, funk, and yacht rock to create a sound that straddled two cultures. Only recently has city pop become a pop culture phenomenon in the U.S. — thanks in part to TikTok and YouTube exhuming songs by artists like Tatsuro Yamashita — but for CHAI, city pop was just the music of childhood.
A nostalgic look backward was, in part, circumstantial. When pandemic restrictions were lifted, CHAI returned to the road, bringing their exuberant live show to new cities, where the experience of performing for enormous crowds in cities like Santiago, Buenos Aires, and São Paulo made them realize they had truly unlocked a global audience. Realizing that their messages applied to people outside of Japan made CHAI consider what other facets of their upbringing might resonate with audiences outside of their home country.
CHAI — unlike previous albums — was written on the road, with the band finding time to record in the days between shows at Stones Throw Studio in LA, Ometusco Sound Machine in Mexico City, and Grand Street in New York. Working in studios with vast collections of gear allowed them to experiment with aesthetics as-yet-unheard on a CHAI album. “It was actually a chill and relaxed process, because we were playing shows every day and were really in the music,” MANA says.
In writing sessions, the members of CHAI listed words immediately associated with Japan, resulting in songs with titles like “MATCHA” and “KARAOKE.” Some terms are less immediate, but no less authentic to the country’s cultural heritage. They tapped previous collaborator Ryu Takahashi to produce, who shared their love of city pop and eurobeat, as well as the melodies of J-pop artists like Maria Takeuchi, which also contributed to the CHAI moodboard. “They wanted to dig into their Japanese identity, not in a traditional sense, but in this filtered Western way,” Takahashi says.
CHAI highlight “GAME” might be the perfect distillation of CHAI’s ethic, though, as it urges listeners to keep moving through this life with joy and passion. Per MANA: “It’s not about winning or losing as competition, but about what you need to do, personally, to feel you’ve won.”
Of the album, Mana says: “This is CHAI! With our self-titled album CHAI, CHAI declare that we live proudly as Japanese women♡ We hope this album gives everyone a little more confidence in living how they want to live. That is our ideal. If this album becomes that existence for anyone, that is the right answer in our eyes⭐ Listen, feel We give you our evolution, inside and out! Now come onnn, NEO-KAWAII BABIES. If you can’t catch up with us, you’ll never feel the NEO KAWAII♡”
CHAI US TOUR DATES
Sat. Sept. 23 - Boise, ID @ Flipside Festival
Sun. Sept. 24 - Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
Mon. Sept. 25 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
Wed. Sept. 27 - San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
Fri. Sept. 29 - Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom
Mon. Oct. 2 - Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
Wed. Oct. 4 - Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
Fri. Oct. 6 - Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw
Sun. Oct. 8 - Boston, MA @ Crystal Ballroom
Tue. Oct. 10 - Washington, DC @ Union Stage
Wed. Oct. 11 - Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
Fri. Oct. 13 - Mexico City, MEX @ Indie Rocks!
2. From 1992
2. PARA PARA
5. We The Female!
6. Neo Kawaii,K?
7. I Can’t Organize
9. Like, I Need