Just when you think you've gotten Chanmina figured out, she surprises you again. The Japanese-Korean musician has a classical music background, but more often that not she confidently spits bars in three different languages. She tells stories with the emotional complexity of someone who's lived many lives, yet she's only 21-years-old.
Chanmina, née Mina Otomonai, bursts through the confines of labels. Limiting her to one thing would only show a facet of her prismatic nature. And even though people try to define her — Rap! J-pop! Hip-hop! — the artist subverts expectations and maintains that she contains multitudes of depth and layers. And in doing so, has cemented herself as one of the boldest female acts on the scene.
Chanmina got her break during a televised rap battle show, and was signed by a label in 2016. She came out guns blazing with her debut single "Fxxker," and gained a following thereafter thanks to her dynamic vocal styles and larger-than-life persona. In 2018, she released her first single with Warner Music Japan, "Doctor," about the pitfalls of social media, and along with its vibrant visual, caught the attention of music listeners around the world and significantly grew her global fanbase. Last August, she dropped her second full-length, Never Grow Up, and this year released two EPs: note-book-Me.- and note-book-u.-, led by moody single "Voice Memo No. 5."
The singer talked with EARMILK about her new music, the importance of authenticity and honesty in both her work and the work she hopes she sees come out of the next generation.
EARMILK: What did you want to communicate with these new EPs?
Chanmina: The reason why I named this EP note-book-Me.- and note-book-u.- was because every time I write lyrics, I write them down in my actual notebook, and I wanted to finally let everyone in. And while I was writing the lyrics, I realized that there are two characters within myself. That's why I divided it into two pieces — to show the different sides of me. The lead single from Me. was "Voice Memo No. 5." The lead single from u. was "Picky." The former was a really pop, Chanmina-ish sound, and "Picky" was really hard rap track. So that's something that makes me really unique — I have these sides within me.
EM: The song "King" really stood out to me. Why did you name it that and what does it mean to you?
Chanmina: Before, I used the word "princess" many times. I got a lot of comments on social media that were like, "Oh, you're a queen. You're the next queen" — but I didn't want to be just be queen. I wanted to kind of surpass gender and be the best regardless of that. I wanted to be crowned king. The song just feels so badass to me.
EM: You have a very distinctive aesthetic and specific musical style. Has that always been the case since you were a young, or is this something that you've developed as you've grown more as an artist?
Chanmina: I've had this vision — style and image — even since I was little. And as I grew up, I received more skills and resources to express it. So that continues to make it easier for me. But there is still so much that I want to express but I haven't really yet. So I'm actually looking forward to it: to show everybody what I've been dreaming.
EM: Do you have any women that you looked up to in the industry that you wanted to emulate? And if you did, who were they? Or if not, why not?
Chanmina: I actually grew up listening to Avril Lavigne a lot. What I liked about her is that she never really compromises her aesthetic. She keeps her style, no matter what age she gets to, and it looks like she never — in a good way — grew up. I really respect her so much, but it doesn't mean that I necessarily want to be just like her. I have a classical musical background, so I grew up listening to Tchaikovsky, as well as the latest rap and trap music. My input has been all these different styles, but my output is not necessarily what I listened to. I can sing, rap, and dance. Those skills, mixed with the nutritional value of the good music I've listened to, have influenced how I express myself as an artist. The way I think about it is that my music is really connected and linked to each of my emotions. And as each person has different kinds of emotions, I have different kinds of music styles that I can put out, too.
EM: Have women reached out to you saying that you're inspiring them with your work?
Chanmina: I've had young female artists come to me saying, "I feel the same way. I see why you sing or rap." But what I want to tell that younger generation is: Don't do what I do. Do something new so that not only Japan, but the music industry has more variety.
EM: You really wanted to come out and make a statement, with your first track, "Fxxker," which takes a lot of courage. So why did you decide to introduce yourself to the world in this way? Were you at all nervous?
Chanmina: The reason why I chose that track was that I was actually not afraid of anything at that moment, and I didn't want to hide anything and wanted to go for what I believe, and I believed that the song really embodied myself at that exact moment.
EM: What is something that you've learned about yourself as you've started to find more success in what you do, and started to write more?
Chanmina: I have realized that being more honest delivers more.
EM: You have a long, fruitful career ahead of you. What is it that you want to be known for?
Chanmina: I want to be someone who is a key person in changing the Japanese music industry. I want people to look back and say, "Ah yes, Chanmina. She's someone who changed music drastically."