AX 2023: Singer Songwriter MIREI Talks About the Power of Anime as a Musical Inspiration and Way of Life

At Anime Expo, singer songwriter MIREI held her first big overseas performance at AX Summer Fest alongside artists like Cö Shu Nie and Mili. The bilingual pop and R&B singer made her Japanese debut in 2013 and international debut in 2020, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. While MIREI was disappointed that her tour and many other promotional activities were cancelled due to the pandemic, she unexpectedly gained a lot of time that allowed her to try something new for her: anime. 

“I started watching Naruto, and it was one of the most precious things I’ve ever done,” said MIREI. “That changed my life.” Afterwards, she began watching other series including Evangelion, Demon Slayer, and Jujutsu Kaisen. On how anime has impacted her life, Mirei shared, “It’s like a bible to me.” She went on to explain, “Naruto and Demon Slayer taught me how to stay positive. They are like the biggest shows that kept me positive during the pandemic. And Evangelion taught me that it’s OK to be weak and to share that weakness with others. I think anime can light the way out of something really tough.”

There are two particular anime songs that have inspired MIREI: Hikaru Utada’s “Sakura Nagashi” and YOASOBI’s “Idol.” MIREI noted that while “Sakura Nagashi” is the theme song for Evangelion: Q, Utada infused a lot of emotion from personal and real-life events. “That song was made after her mother passed away. It also happened around 3/11, the Great East Japan Earthquake,” she said. “She dedicated it to all the people who passed away, and yet it fit beautifully into the movie. If I could compose something for an anime, I really want to make it something special, like how she wrote this song.”

As for what anime she wishes she could compose for, MIREI immediately picked Oshi no Ko. Aside from describing YOASOBI’s “Idol” as “iconic,” the singer songwriter reflected on how both she and the series strive to show “the real and backstage of the Japanese industry.” Likewise, MIREI has her own song “Lonely in Tokyo,” an English song which reflects on loss of identity in the Japanese idol industry. As MIREI herself isn’t an idol, she pointed out that it’s a song about her friend’s story. “Luckily, I’m not harassed much by powerful people in the industry. But, I have many friends around me who are not allowed to say anything like in Oshi no Ko,” she said. “As a singer songwriter, I thought I am the only one who can help them by making a song and revealing it in an artistic way.” In MIREI’s own song “Idol,” she shares her own personal story about being a public figure and dealing with unrealistic expectations put on her that have impacted her physically and mentally. She explained that there are people who feel like they have the right to say anything they want about public figures because celebrities have to pay the “price of fame” or “有名税,” translated literally into English as “popularity tax,” and she felt like it was a topic not discussed often enough.

As a bilingual musician, MIREI has found herself creating certain kinds of music in one language or another. MIREI is what she goes by for her English releases, while she is known as Mirei Touyama for her Japanese releases. She noted that her international debut Take Me Away excluded Asia because it “deals with too many serious topics.” But after releasing the Japanese version of “Lonely in Tokyo,” MIREI felt like her two identities were beginning to meld into one. “I want to write more songs about being confident and women’s rights. Mental health issues are serious in Japan, and I want to talk about it in Japanese. Japanese or English songs, I’m just going to be me. That’s the next vision that I’m seeing for my music now.”

Mai Nguyen

Editor-in-Chief at Asia Pacific Arts.
Feel free to send me a note on Twitter to @hellomailee.

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