CHAI and Turning Bubblegum Pop into Punk

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CHAI and Turning Bubblegum Pop into Punk

Shannon Durazo

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Punk music scholars often describe the genre as more of a feeling or attitude then a music style, yet purists often have strict guidelines for what can be defined as “punk” and “not punk.” The band CHAI, technically speaking, is far outside these guidelines with their synth-driven pop ballads and choreographed dances. But, their firm feminist attitudes and disruptive lyricism, coupled with unbeatable energy make them one of the most intriguing “punk” acts of today. Hailing from Nagoya, Japan, CHAI’s music is a sugar rush of synth, glitter and disco nuances, a staple of the bubblegum pop genre. However, their lyricism packs a powerful punch in favor of disrupting the Japanese “cuteness culture” as a whole. CHAI’s newest record, PUNK, released through Burger Records, is an outrageously optimistic album that praises community and female friendship just as much as it slams industrial capitalism and unreasonable beauty standards.

On leading single “Fashionista”, with a jackhammering bass and buzzing vocals, CHAI takes a stab at the beauty industry with lines “Too much makeup/just lips and eyebrows all set/ glossy yellow skin/have nothing more than this.” The track echoes the group’s breakout 2017 track N.E.O’s anti body-shaming chant “Small eyes/flat nose/no shape/ fat legs!” While the drums, hooks, and synth of CHAI suggest disco-pop, the gritty basslines and distorted guitar on tracks like “Choose Go!” are punk through and through. In an age where rock disruption is often expressed in the form of somber indie tunes, CHAI takes the matter into their own hands by bringing something completely unique. No one sounds quite like CHAI, and that is something truly special.

Where political and anti-capitalistic rhetoric are a large point of intrigue for the Japanese group, their other strength is a utilization of the absurd. Where typical punk groups reject structure in favor of simply being loud, fast, and spontaneous, CHAI embrace the bubblegum tradition of performing cheery choreographed dances with their instruments, and pink matching outfits for every member. Not only this but they occasionally pay tribute to pop idols of the past, sometimes throwing in Japanese covers of classics like ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”. Another admirable quality of CHAI is their relentless energy. Known for performing streaks of seven to eight shows in just three days, CHAI truly shine in their hard work, and their go-get-em cheerleader attitudes are on full display at every show. Whether this is innate or mocking, CHAI’s infectious energy and permanent smiles are sure to plaster one onto any listener’s face.

In an age where music genres borrow and blend in with each other much more than ever, it was only a matter of time before a Japanese disco-pop group decided to take a stab at punk rock. While punk traditionalists may scoff at the glittery musical foundation of CHAI, the most important aspect of punk culture is social disruption. CHAI pulls off disruption by infiltrating and challenging the most manufactured pop genre. They may be a bit out there in their own space-disco stratosphere, but CHAI truly harness the spirit of both pop and punk at its core.