Passport to the Unexplored

Emi Meyer forges new paths in jazz pop.

January 7, 2011

Emi Meyer (Photo by Aaron K. Yoshino)


ON THE CUSP of June in Tokyo’s chic Daikanyama neighborhood, a crowd of the city’s urban elite, including a sprinkling of salarymen and a woman with an Afro, begin to sway to the jazzy sounds reverberating off the mustard-colored walls. Twenty-four-year-old Emi Meyer has just started her sold-out show. “I saw my reflection and I knew it was me. I imitate art, and it imitates me,” Meyer sings, in English, clear and with patient rhythm. Absent are the kawaiis and the gasps of Japanese-girl caricature; this concert could be anywhere in the world.

Meyer’s sound is unique in the Japanese music circuit, a bilingual cross between Norah Jones and Japanese alternative singer-songwriter UA, and her musical efforts have already received a warm welcome in Japan. Her self-released debut album, Curious Creature, was, for example, incorporated into several Japanese film soundtracks. One single off the album was nominated single of the week on iTunes Japan, which led to Meyer being crowned as iTunes Japan’s Best New Jazz Artist of 2009.

Meyer’s sophomore album, Passport, is her first written entirely in Japanese, but because of her bicultural identity and American upbringing, the lyrics challenge her listeners with topics not often heard in modern Japanese music. “Kimi ni Tsutaetai,” or “What I Want to Tell You,” reflects on the crossroads that recent college graduates face. “I was at a point in my life with a lot of decisions to make,” says Meyer, 24, about the period after graduating from Pomona College. “The song reflects the importance of finding a choice that feels right and appreciating that.”

Initially, major Japanese record labels questioned the lyrics. “Usually the reaction was, ‘That’s a very interesting song, but why don’t you talk about love?’ ” Meyer says. She moved her talents to an independent label, Plankton, where she feels she can freely and happily express herself.

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