Breaking Boundaries with Japan’s Multicultural Superstar Crystal Kay
Crystal Kay has used her musical upbringing and multiracial background to her advantage, creating a unique and uplifting sound that’s all her own. Growing up in Japan as a half black, half Korean woman proved to be tough for the singer, but she hasn’t let that slow her down. She’s committed to creating positive music for everyone to enjoy, no matter where they are in the world. She has released platinum, chart-topping records, and has sold millions of copies worldwide. In our interview with her, we learn about the inspiration, drive, and "screw the haters" mindset that has led her to become the successful artist that she is today. Check it out below!
Your mom was a professional singer and your father played music as a hobby, how did growing up around musician parents influence you?
They are the reason why I'm a singer today. They would be playing records around the house and take me to so many shows as a child. I was constantly around music. I loved to sing and dance, and it would be showtime whenever there was a BBQ or a family get-together. My dad is a bass player and my favorite instrument/sound is the bass. My first ever song I hummed at 2 was the bassline of Sheila E's "Hold Me."
Who has been your biggest inspiration in the music industry and why?
Michael and Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Beyonce,
because they were all innovators in their own way. Their music and artistry changed the world. Their power to influence and bring people together through music is so inspiring, and I want to be able to do the same.
When you’re creating music and hit a creative block, what do you do to overcome it?
I go outside and take a breather, or start on a new song and go back to that one later with a fresh mind. I've even taken the crew out for a beer and then went back into the studio. It worked!
“If you believe that you have talent and have the power to influence the industry, hone your craft and just keep going at it!"
In comparison to Western cultures, it’s less common to see multiracial people in the public eye in Asia. Has it been difficult working in the Asian market as a multiracial person? How do you get past people trying to bring you down?
I think it's difficult trying to figure out a formula for multiracial people or the category we fit in. Labels don't really know what to do with us. There's never been a black and Korean R&B singer, so I think it's always been a bit difficult for me. I grew up a bit confused being the only black and Korean kid in my community, and I think I carried that identity complex internally until recently. I just try to remember that not everyone is going to like what you do and that's ok. I just focus on the positives; fans that love me, and the support system that I have.
An additional answer that further explains it: I was in New York for two years trying to pursue music, and being the melting pot that it is, so many people have a strong sense of self, a strong sense of identity, and are really good at "pitching." Being born and raised in a consensus-based society like Japan where those qualities aren't really welcome, I really lacked that. Doing a show in the Lower East Side and getting so much positive feedback really gave me a boost of confidence, and a stronger sense of embracing myself and giving myself more credit.
How would you describe the style of your music?
Feel good, borderless J-pop and R&B.
What are your favorite topics to write songs about?
I love to write about real life events, whether it's love or heartbreak. I feel like the realer it is, the closer I can be connected to my fans. At the end of the day, off the stage, I'm a normal human being - a lover, a girl, just like them. Cheerful and positive messages are great too, because Japanese people love uplifting lyrics to help them get through the day. It's a blessing to know that my songs have helped someone get through whatever it is they needed to get through!
You’ve also done acting and radio hosting, how did those interests come about?
I've always been interested in acting, so when I got offers from producers, I gladly took the opportunity. I would love to do more if there are more roles for me out there! Radio hosting was a suggestion from my label. I really enjoyed it as it was a great way to casually become friends with foreign artists, as I would interview them while they were here for promo or a tour.
Any advice for people looking to start a career in the music industry?
If you believe that you have talent and have the power to influence the industry, hone your craft and just keep going at it! Round up people who believe in you, and just grow your supporters and fans who believe in you!
What’s next for your music?
I want to do a lot of shows. I want to travel to the cities I've never performed in Japan as well as outside of Japan. I want to be performing at the Budokan or Yokohama Arena for my 20th anniversary, which is in 3 years!
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
I would love to work with Michael Jackson, but that's impossible now. I would also love to work with Calvin Harris because I love his musicality, plus he has a lot of funk elements that I think I could work really well with.
What are three hidden gems in Japan?
1. Kapital - a denim shop in Ebisu. Amazing original selections.
2. Sidewalk Stand - good coffee and bomb sammies.
3. Jizake shunsui - amazing Wafu restaurant in Higashiazabu.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Confident, sexy, classy, and a hardworking boss ass BISH!
Photos by: Yamashita Yuma