Meet Japanese four-member girl band CHAI, whose vibrant personalities and their affinity for millennial pink have helped them redefine what it means to be kawaii. The quartet, comprised of twins Mana and Kana, Yuuki, and Yuna, ruffled the hearts of SXSW festivalgoers last year with their wit and charm and returned to the dirty streets of Austin, TX to do it all over again, this time armed with a new album — fittingly titled ‘PINK’ — to continue spreading a message of self-love through quirky punk rock and a badass attitude.
“We’re not perfect but this is our version of cute,” said CHAI as they explained the concept of neo-kawaii at SXSW last month. The group draws a lot of their inspiration from owning their flaws. CHAI wants to prove that you don’t have to abide by what standards dictate — you can find your voice, do things differently, and still be successful. Just one listen to their song “NEO” and you’ll understand just how aware they are of their individuality as musicians. Their music is exhilarating and dives just a bit deeper beneath the surface to focus on what sets them apart. Not to see those things as flaws but as facets of who they are, and they want you to feel the same.
“Instead of dwelling on what we don’t like about ourselves we take those things and turn them into something cute and that we could be proud of.” That’s the basis behind the concept of neo-kawaii — a term they’ve coined to counter society’s version of what it means to be cute. And my god, are they ever.
I met up with the band at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Austin, TX at the peak of SXSW Music, where their energetic presence and big smiles were absolutely overwhelming and enough to cure every ounce of exhaustion in my body. The girls seemed genuinely excited to be back in town, and from what they had experienced that week at SXSW, fans were equally thrilled to have them.
As CHAI took a break from the chaos of the festival, we had a chance to chat a bit about their time at SXSW, as well as open up a bit about what inspired their mission of self-love and redefining “kawaii”.