IKEMEN (ē´k´mɛn): Japanese Slang
"REALLY, REALLY, RIDICULOUSLY GOOD LOOKING PEOPLE"
NAME: Crystal Kay
ORIGIN: Yokohama, Japan
OCCUPATION: Performer and musician
Emilia: When did you move here [New York City]?
Crystal: I moved here about a year ago but I go back and forth to Japan whenever I have shows and events.
Emilia: What are the differences between America and Japan’s music industries?
Crystal: In Japan, everything is very pop, like bubble gum pop. It’s cute, young, and accessible, people feel like they can be just like the idols. In the U.S. it’s much more direct and edgy and has a wider range of genres.
Emilia: What do you aim to express through your music? Will that change now that you’re in NY?
Crystal: I think it’s going to evolve a lot. When I make music I imagine people all over the world feeling good and jamming to it regardless of their background. As a half African-American and half Korean artist who grew up in Japan, I want to express that music is universal and it has no borders.
In Japan, I did J-pop and R&B which is more bubblegum pop but I don’t think that sound will crossover to the U.S so this is a chance for me to evolve and create a new Crystal Kay sound. I’ve coined my sound “Yokohama Ratchet Pop”:
Yokohama - my hometown, the cooler Japan, the “Brooklyn of Tokyo”. I want the world to know where I’m from and that Japan is not all about “Harajuku Girls” and that there are badass “Yokohama Girls”.
Ratchet - I use heavy hitting hip-hop influenced beats under my pop melodies and I think that gives it a bit more edge to my sound. I think it’s fun going ratchet sometimes just to let your self free, and live in the moment.
Pop - pop is universal.
Emilia: In terms of your New York debut, was there a difference between your expectations and the reality of it?
Crystal: As a kid, I thought the process was simple; Record companies find talent and they make them into a superstar. But in recent years everyone’s been doing it on their own and it’s all about directly connecting with the audience, the people. Social media is enabling that. So I’m like “what’s the formula or the key to become successful?” Coming here, I’m essentially starting over trying to get noticed. So it’s a lot different from what I expected when I was younger. It’s tough but where’s the fun if everything were easy!
Emilia: The two [Japanese and American] music cultures are quite different, so you’re really starting over.
Crystal: I love it. It’s scary, but I’m evolving and figuring out my new, Crystal Kay sound. It’s exciting – I want people to know where I’m from and that I have something fresh to offer.
Emilia: On a more personal level, why come to New York out of all the places in America?
Crystal: There’s so much artistic influence here. Everybody’s hustling, and it’s a city of dreams – I know it’s cliché́, but it’s true. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I wanted to challenge myself and what better place to figure out who you are as an artist while getting so much stimulation?
Emilia: What’s your favorite thing about being a musician?
Crystal: My favorite thing about being a musician is how much I can influence people. It’s pretty crazy. I never know until people come up to me after my show and say things like, “When I was sick I would listen to your music and I got through it,” “My friend’s in the hospital and he always listens to your music,” or, “This is my boyfriend’s favorite song; we listened to it at our wedding.” I didn’t know how much my music has influenced other people’s lives, and it’s nice to be part of people’s lives in that way. Being a musician is something I love to do, so knowing that other people appreciate it makes it my favorite part. Especially when performing – that’s when I can feel their energy and see them enjoy my music. It’s really cool.
Emilia: When was your first performance?
Crystal: My first performance was when I was 15. I was freaking out, I was so nervous – but I still get nervous and stage fright. However, when I realized all those people bought tickets to see me, I told myself I had to take this seriously and the responsibility kicked in.
Emilia: Do you think your fans have an influence on you, just as you have an influence on them?
Crystal: Definitely! They give me power and the strength to keep going. When I’m feeling down I would go into my stash of fan letters I keep in my drawer, read them, and then remind myself that they are the reason I’m doing this. I mean, I’ve cried a couple of times from the letters, so they definitely influence me in a positive way. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.
Emilia: What are you listening to right now?
Crystal: I’m in love with Chvrches – their EP is really good. It’s nice electro-pop. I saw them live and I love them even more now! I also really like HAIM and Empire of the Sun.
Emilia: Does what you listen to influence what you’re creating?
Crystal: Yes, I do get influenced from time to time if I’m really digging specific sounds. I think that happens to a lot of artists. I think we like to incorporate the sound we like, ultimately influencing our music
Emilia: Who are your influences from Japan and America?
Crystal: I grew up listening to and idolizing Michael and Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, TLC and Mariah Carey. I also really admire Madonna and Beyoncé. From Japan, I really liked music from the 90’s. I love Utada Hikaru, Dreams Come True, and when Amuro was really dance. I love The Komuro Era.
Emilia: How do you feel the music video industry differs from Japan to the United States?
Crystal: It’s very different. The camera work, lighting, and themes are all very different. In Japan it’s very colorful, bright, and cute – there’s always cute, and I think that’s the main difference.
Emilia: You started your career when you were 13, what’s the story behind that?
Crystal: My first job was when I was four, and I sang commercial jingles. My mother’s good friend worked in TV production and advertising, so whenever they needed a kid’s voice they’d use me. I started doing a lot of commercial songs, and at one point people started calling, asking who was singing. Then we turned the 30-second jingle into a full song, and that became my debut single.
Emilia: Since moving to New York do you feel as though your lifestyle has changed?
Crystal: I definitely feel a lot freer. I don’t have a set schedule like I do in Japan; if I’m not in the studio, I’ll run in the park, work out, or go see Broadway shows and concerts. I have a lot more time to hone my craft as well as figure myself out as a brand new artist and as a person. I also don’t get noticed here as I would in Japan so that’s pretty cool.
Emilia: That’s good though. Isn’t it?
Crystal: Yeah, but sometimes it worries me because I love being busy. I’m left asking myself, “What am I supposed to do?” and it takes a while to get used to the city. It’s been a year and I finally feel like I know how to get around.
Emilia: For the instances that life did get crazy, what are your go-to methods for relieving stress?
Crystal: Having dinner with close friends ... venting over good food and wine, or going for a run in the park or even upstate hiking to get some fresh air. It’s really beautiful outside the city.
Emilia: How would you classify your style?
Crystal: I guess I’m pretty simple and minimalist. Sometimes I’ll be grungy and street; or chic and fitted; or colorful and summery. In the summer I like to show more skin and play with colors, but in the winter and fall I go really dark. But I would say simple and street with a boyish touch.
Emilia: Do you have a favorite designer or style icon?
Crystal: That’s hard to answer just because I like to mix and match a lot of stuff. I really like Gwen Stefani because she has her own inner glow that really stands out. She looks good in whatever she wears – I love people that own their style without trying too hard.
Emilia: How do your performance outfits differ from your just day-to-day outfits?
Crystal: When I perform, I love to have fun with crazy sequins and body suits – things that react to lighting and are just captivating. I like to show legs and shape so I’d wear knee high boots with a body suit, a two-piece, or a nice shoulder-pad piece. I’m more chill in real life though haha.
Emilia: Do you have a favorite fashion trend?
Crystal: I really like the sporty look; it makes you look fresh and active
Emilia: Do you have any life tips to give to our readers as well as your fans?
Crystal: Live with no regrets because you only have this moment once. The last thing you want to say is, “I should’ve done that.” That’s the worst kind of regret. Do your best in whatever it is you’re going for – it’s always better to have tried it than not.
WRITTEN BY: EMILIA LIU
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: CHAMA