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[Exclusive Interview] J-Pop Queen Crystal Kay on RENT, Her 25 Year Legacy, Future Music

Photographer Yulia Shur

J-pop queen Crystal Kay recently spoke with KpopWise to celebrate her 25th anniversary in the music industry. Kay, who is set to play Maureen in the upcoming production of RENT beginning this August, reflected on her career, from her first show at age 15 to collaborating with music legends like Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Lionel Richie

Earlier this year, Crystal released her single, “That Girl,” a vibrant Jersey Club dance track produced by the renowned m-flo. This release not only showcases her talent for seamlessly blending contemporary music trends with her signature nostalgic Y2K flair but also highlights her versatility as an artist. With its infectious beats and dynamic production, “That Girl” is a testament to Crystal’s sound can be innovative while calling back to the early 2000s aesthetic that has endeared her to fans.

As an iconic veteran of the industry, she offered advice for aspiring artists and shared her hopes for a more inclusive and equitable music landscape. With new music on the horizon and her groundbreaking role in RENT, Kay’s future looks as bright as ever. Join us as we delve into the world of this iconic artist, exploring her past, present, and exciting future.

Congratulations on reaching this incredible milestone of 25 years in the music industry! 25 years is a significant achievement. How are you planning to celebrate this milestone?

Thank you! I plan to celebrate this by performing on as many stages as I possibly can and doing a 25th Anniversary concert in my hometown.

Looking back, what are some of the key moments or highlights that stand out to you in your career so far? 

One key moment that stands out to me was when I did my first ever show at the age of 15. I remember I still had homework to do but also had promo and rehearsals. I seriously don’t know how I managed to juggle so much at a young age, but I think I loved the challenge of it all. I remember feeling this immense amount of responsibility when I saw the 500 people that bought tickets to come and see me perform. That was a big moment for me. 

Another is working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the legends who produced Janet, my idol! It was crazy because Sony didn’t tell me they had approved the collaboration and they surprised me by telling me I’m going to LA to record with them! It was surreal working with them in the studio and creating the song so many of my foreign fans love, “Kirakuni””. 

Singing with Lionel Ritchie was also a key highlight in my life I will never forget. It’s incredible seeing how he has been in the spotlight and played a major role in the music industry for this long. Shooting the video at his house in LA was so fun! Afterwards he took me to lunch and then to his favorite hair product shop! It was unbelievable! 

The music industry has changed drastically in 25 years. How have you adapted and evolved your sound throughout the years?

I think I have evolved by starting off with R&B and then incorporating J-pop melodies and sounds to mesh the two cultures in me. I think I have always been mindful about wanting my sound to be universal and timeless. I always wanted to have sounds and instruments that were current of the times in the US Top 40s. Throughout the years, there was also the evolution of lyrics and sounds that were more mature since I was growing up real time from a teenager to an adult woman. I think there is still more to discover since my fans are growing older with me and I have yet to become a mother, which probably would make me evolve even more as a singer and a human. 

Photographer Yulia Shur

Looking back at your vast discography, is there a particular song or album that holds a special place in your heart, and why?

My favorite song is still my debut single, “Eternal Memories”. I love everything about the song – from the production, the atmosphere it has and creates, the lyrics which were very mature, to the amazing melody. It is timeless and I love that about it. It captures this unique essence I have of R&B and J-pop. 

You’ve had numerous songs featured in anime. How do you feel about the connection between your music and international anime fans?

I am always in awe of how many foreign people know of me and my music. I initially didn’t understand why people overseas knew of my song “Motherland” because I didn’t realize the English title for “Hagaren” was “Fullmetal Alchemist”. I had no idea what people were talking about until I put two and two together! It makes me so happy that through anime, people that have no idea who I am can become connected, even if they aren’t Japanese or from Japan. Times have really changed and we are no longer really separated.

Readers of KpopWise are curious, are there any K-pop artists that you have noticed lately?

There are so many talented K-pop artists and groups out there and it’s hard to keep up, but I love XG. They are everything. I love their look, songs, stage presence and their moves. I also am learning about IU from my mother who is a fan. She is a great singer and an all-around talented artist! 

Congratulations! It was recently announced that you will star in the RENT musical as Maureen. How do you feel about challenging the musical stage?

Thank you so much! I am so honored because it is such a classic musical that’s been loved by everyone over the years! I am a tad bit nervous but mostly excited since this is my second ever musical experience and my first time acting on stage in English! It’s the first time they are doing a joint cast mostly from the US and just two from Japan so that is also very special. Singing on a musical is so different from singing a pop song because it’s not about how “well” or “pretty” you sing a song. It is so much more important to be able to express and project your voice in a way that even the person way up in the audience can feel the emotions from the words of a song or a dialogue. Everything is much more raw so this is a great challenge to broaden my range of expression, vocally and also physically. 

As a veteran in the music industry, what advice would you give to aspiring singers or musicians who are just starting their careers?

People really feel and gravitate to what excites you, both through your music and performances, so stay true to what you really want to do. But most of all, be open! Stay open to different sounds and collaborations. Exposing yourself to all sorts of music and art will keep you inspired, which will all become your bone and meat in creating the best version of you in the end. 

Are there any positive changes that you would like to see in the music industry?

I think what I would love to see is more and more acceptance of music in different languages in the mainstream charts all over the world. Also, a fair distribution from streaming of livable income for writers and creators. 

What can fans expect from you in the future? Are there any other upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re particularly excited about?

My fans can expect new music from me in the coming months, as well as my performance as “Maureen” on the musical stage of “Rent” this summer. I am brewing ideas of collabs that is going to be so exciting so just be on the lookout!

Keep up with Crystal Kay

Instagram @crystalkayofficial


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