Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2012When Metropolis spoke with then 20-year-old Crystal Kay in 2006, the J-pop starlet listed being married with kids as a goal for the next decade.
“What kind of phase was I in?” she laughs in a new interview six years later at her label Universal Japan’s Aoyama office. “No, not yet on marriage and kids.”
What about her other goal to win a Grammy? “I hope before I hit 30,” she affirms. “I’m 26 now, and the years pass by so fast [but] I’m still aiming for that.”
The daughter of a Korean mom and African-American dad but born and raised in Japan, Kay is in her best position yet to break out of the domestic market. With her new album Vivid, for the first time she’s got proper international distribution.
“Since I left Sony for Universal, my songs are now on iTunes,” she explains. “You can purchase my songs on iTunes in 51 countries.”
At Universal, Kay joins one of Japan’s strongest record companies. The company decided to house her not in its domestic division but in the international section’s Delicious Deli label, where she shares space with acts like Asian-American group Far East Movement and Korean heartthrob Kim Hyun-joong.
“They are more open minded,” Kay says about Universal, which featured her recently in Far East Movement’s single “Where The Wild Things Are.” “Delicious Deli is the only Japanese label within the international section,” she adds, “so it gives me more opportunities to work with international artists. I want to share my music with the rest of the world.”
Judging by the kind of comments her fans are posting on the net, the feeling is mutual. “The other day I tweeted that I wanted to perform overseas, and got all these responses from all over,” she says. “I was like, ‘How do you guys know of me? How can I make it possible?’”
Going head to head with the likes of Rihanna in the international market is a daunting prospect, but Kay is in fighting form. Literally.
“The show for Vivid involved singing and dancing for two hours straight, and boxing seemed like a great way to get fit,” she says. “You’re fighting and using your arms, but at the same time there’s a lot of cardio going on, and dancing and singing on stage is a lot of cardio.”
Vivid marks a return to the up-tempo approach that characterized Kay’s early work. “This was the first album after I joined Universal, so it was a new start,” she observes. “I wanted this album to be really fresh, and I wanted to do a dance album. As I was recording, I was like, wow this is really colorful and every song has its own character. I felt it’s vivid, energetic, fresh… I was looking through the dictionary and wanted to use something that started with a V.”
A product of Kinnick High School on Yokosuka’s US naval base and Sophia University in Tokyo, Kay was taken to meet visiting artists like Diana Ross by her mother, a singer, and her father, a bass player. Last year she had the chance to participate in a Michael Jackson tribute concert with his brothers, but she was never able to meet the Gloved One himself.
“Everybody around me has met Michael, and I’ve met everyone around Michael,” she says with regret. “I interviewed Janet a few years ago… I met the brothers last year at the tribute live. If he was alive I know I would have been getting closer and closer to meeting him one day.”
In the way that Jackson broke the color barrier in the US, becoming one of the first African-Americans to dominate the pop charts, Kay in her own way helped pave the way for interracial artists in Japan like Thelma Aoyama and Jero.
Kay’s busy career doesn’t give her much time to reflect on such issues. But there is one question that occupies her. What would she do if she weren’t singing? “That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a long time,” she muses. “But I can’t think of anything else. I need to sing.”