Breaking Boundaries with MISSBISH Minami of CREAM

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Kobe, Minami is the singer-songwriter who’s making her mark in Tokyo and throwing the craziest parties in town. She’s the vocalist and other half of new wave J-pop music duo CREAM, and she doesn’t play by the rules. Fusing together pop, R&B, EDM & hip-hop to create her killer sound, Minami is a rising star who’s got a unique personal style and an insane Instagram feed, @minami_cream (did we mention the cutest pup ever?). Check out the interview below to learn about her creative process, her confident approach to self-expression, and her journey with CREAM.

How did you first get into music?
Being a school girl in [Kobe], Japan, karaoke is a very big part of leisure. My friends and I would go out to karaoke everyday after school. I remember singing a lot of songs by m-flo and looking at the credits and telling my friends, “One day, you're gonna see my name lined up next to theirs.” I don't know if my friends were just being supportive or if they really believed in me, but when I moved out here to Tokyo, I bumped into Verbal at a fashion party. I had my fan girl moment, asked for a picture, then squeezed out the courage to tell him that I was gonna work with him one day. A few months after, he gave me a life-changing opportunity as a songwriter on his production team and the rest is history.

How has living in Tokyo influenced your style and sound?
Being born in Hong Kong, growing up in an international school in Japan, and having family all over the world has made me who I am today. I would say that my sound and style are influenced by many cultures. When you live in Tokyo, you will be shocked by how un-shocked you are with some of the outfits people wear out here. If anything, Tokyo has influenced me to have no judgement - that style and sound are all about the freedom of self-expression.

You worked with Staxx T in 2008 before being discovered by Verbal (m-flo). Then you joined Staxx T to form CREAM in 2010. Was there a key moment in your journey when you realized that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
Music has always been a part of my life growing up. When I was in middle school, I decided that music was what I wanted to do when I entered high school. While everyone was preparing for SAT’s and college applications, all I was thinking about was moving to Tokyo and making my dreams come true. There was not really a key moment in my life, but the more I was told I couldn’t, the more I wanted it.

CREAM is often said to be the leaders of the “new j-pop” sound. How does this emerging genre of music compare to mainstream pop/hip-hop in the U.S?
“New j-pop” is a term we came up with to differentiate us from the rest of the “j-pop” scene. “New j-pop” to me is creating a sound that works internationally as well as domestically. I find Japan to be a very different market from the rest of the world when it comes to music trends. Trends don’t cross over here as fluidly as people don’t like drastic change; and when a musical trend sticks, it sticks for years and there is no space in the mass market for experimenting or doing something new. “New j-pop” to me is a movement - a movement where creators create based on whats trending in the world NOW.

Who are your biggest musical influences?
Always a hard question to answer. Mariah Carey, Spice Girls, Ashanti, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Fergie, m-flo - the list goes on and on. Every song that I’ve ever jammed to has influenced me.

What’s your creative process like when writing new music?
It’s always different. Sometimes I’ll go into the studio with a pianist after being played by a guy for the 10th time and I’ll pour my heart out in a song, or I’ll receive a dope track from Staxx that I’m vibing to and I’ll write to that. But lately, I’ve realised my favourite way to write is to go into the studio with Staxx and talk for a few hours about what's been going on in our personal lives and what music we've been listening to lately. Then we’ll start building the song from the ground up together. My favourite songs are the ones that we have created this way.

We are obsessed with your on-point makeup and bold style (especially when you rocked the half-black-half-blonde hair). How important is the way you dress in expressing who you are?
Thanks! VERY IMPORTANT. I love being different, I always have. I come from a country that is conservative as a whole and I love to break those boundaries and shock people. I love incorporating unisex clothing. When I was in elementary school, I detested anything pink and anything that only girls could wear. I hate categories, I hate rules. I wear what I want, when I want. Sometimes I’ll show up in a skin tight dress; other days, I’ll look like I stole my boyfriends clothes. It's all about my mood.

“... all I was thinking about was moving to Tokyo and making my dreams come true. There was not really a key moment in my life, but the more I was told I couldn’t, the more I wanted it.”

What’s your favorite thing about being in the industry?
The free tables and the VIP TREATMENT. Haha. Just kidding.
My fans. I love knowing that I am never alone. If I ever need to talk to someone, they are one tweet away. No matter where I go, even if it's a place that I’ve never been before, they make me feel so welcome and it's like I’ve got friends everywhere I go.

Between the recording sessions, shows, and nightclub appearances, how do you balance everything while maintaining a healthy lifestyle?
The struggle is real. I’m not gonna even front. Fitness is part of my brand, so it is crucial for me to stay fit. It's so hard with all the temptation: the Japanese food and the endless bottles of champagne. I’ve learned a lot of self-control and obviously, sometimes I slip but I get back up and try again.

What’s the most memorable piece of advice you’ve received?
“Why does this new idea not exist right now? Either someone's already tried it and failed, or there is a reason it does not exist. Now go find the answer.” - Swimmy Minami (Entrepreneur, Cousin)

Looking ahead, are there any plans you’re particularly excited about?
I'm opening for Kid Ink next month. It's his first tour in Japan and I’m a huge fan, so I'm excited about this.

What are three hidden gems in Tokyo?
1) coté mer, my favorite designer here in japan, not really so hidden since he’s kicking a$$, his creations are too good to be true.

2) GENPUKAN in Roppongi for the best Japanese BBQ, Love ×100 their tiramisu shaved ice.

3) TOSHIAN for the best Japanese Soba Noddles and their Egg rolls are to die for.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH = Women from all walks of life who have these qualities in common; CREATIVITY, INDEPENDENCE, STRENGTH and LOVE A CHALLENGE.

Check out Minami Minami's newest video "One Last Kiss" below.

Photos by: Yamashita Yuma of Inspiration Cult Mag