Today, CHAI — the adored Japanese four-piece composed of identical twins MANA (vocals/keys) and KANA (guitar), drummer YUNA, and bassist/lyricist YUUKI — present their new single/video, “NEO KAWAII, K?,” from their forthcoming self-titled album out September 22nd on Sub Pop. Since the band’s inception in 2011, CHAI has espoused a philosophy they call Neo Kawaii, in reference to the Japanese word for cute, a label typically bestowed upon women who maintain societally prescribed beauty standards. As young women, CHAI felt that any deviation from what culture considered kawaii was discouraged, and so Neo Kawaii emerged as a rallying cry against those oppressive standards. “Neo Kawaii is about reclaiming self-esteem,” MANA says. On the ESG-inspired single “NEO KAWAII, K?” MANA sings: “This is just my body, not a trendy body/ Gonna be loved, baby!/ Just as I am.”
Of “NEO KAWAII, K?,” Mana continues: “Everyone is NEO KAWAII! This is CHAI’s answer, this is a fact in this world! We can finally say what it really means to us♡ Everyone’s a bit weird. Everyone’s different. Everyone’s awkward, almost to a point that it’s hard to relate. But that’s what’s interesting! That’s what makes it beautiful. To everyone who’s pushed around by these notions, we want to tell you this! We, and all of our lives, are NEO KAWAII! NEO KAWAII is not just plain KAWAII (cute)- it’s cool, it’s strong, it’s kind, it’s warm! Don’t get it mixed up♡ Hey! NEO KAWAII people!
NEO KAWAII needs no preparation. We just want to say that you’re NEO KAWAII too, K? ♡?”
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.
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. Realizing that message applied to people outside of fans in Japan (who screamed in delight when MANA shouted “NEO KAWAII!” into the mic) made CHAI consider what other facets of their upbringing might resonate with audiences outside of their home country. 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; but for CHAI, city pop was just the music of childhood.
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♡”
This fall, CHAI will bring their acclaimed live set stateside for a North American tour, beginning September 23rd at Flipside Festival and stretching through Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington, DC and more. Full dates, including UK and EU shows, are listed below and tickets are on sale now.
CHAI 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!
Wed. Nov. 1 – Berlin, DE @ Pitchfork Music Festival Berlin
Fri. Nov. 3 – Paris, FR @ Badaboum
Sun. Nov. 5 –Amsterdam, NL @ Tolhuistuin (Paradiso Noord)
Mon. Nov. 6 – Brussels, BE @ Botanique Orangerie
Wed. Nov. 8 – Southampton, UK @ Heartbreakers
Thu. Nov. 9 – Brighton, UK @ Patterns
Fri. Nov. 10 – London, UK @ Pitchfork Music Festival
Sun. Nov. 12 – Manchester, UK @ Yes (Pink Room)
Tue. Nov 14 – Glasgow, UK @ Broadcast
Wed. Nov. 15 – Leeds, UK @ Headrow House
Thu. Nov. 16 – Bristol, UK @ Rough Trade