Another very interesting person I was lucky enough to meet and interview – thanks to the lovely people at NHK World – was J-pop (Japanese pop) singer-songwriter, TV host, and Japanese voice of Disney’s Frozen film, May J. Let’s get straight on to the interview, shall we?
First question is nice and easy – can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Since the age of three, I’ve wanted to become a singer and was taking singing and opera lessons. When I was eighteen I had my major record debut, that was nine years ago, and since then have performed everything from R&B to J-Pop to rock. Last year, I had the chance to sing the Japanese cover of ‘Let it go’ from Disney’s Frozen. I was really happy to be able to sing Disney songs because I grew up listening to a lot of those songs it was just a dream come true.
What’s your favourite Disney film?
That would be Aladdin because my mum’s from Iran and I’m part-Persian, so Princess Jasmine was my idol when I was a little girl.
Where did you learn to speak English?
My mum speaks three different languages – Japanese, English and Farsi – so I grew up learning them. I was born and grew up in Japan, and went to an international school where I built on my English.
Where in Japan did you grow up?
Well, I was born in Tokyo but moved to Yokohama soon after that and have been there all my life. There’s a lot of foreigners living there and it’s really close to Tokyo, so I’ve had a lot of chances to use my English. It’s also a lovely city to just chill out – it has a lot of beaches and festivals. So I love Yokohama!
How did the opportunity to sing ‘Let it go’ come about?
There wasn’t really an audition – Disney’s people in America approached me, which was a really big surprise. At first I didn’t even know what the film was going to be like as it hadn’t come out in America yet, but I obviously said ‘yes’ straight away. I don’t do the voice for Elsa in the film – just the song.
Is the Japanese translation of ‘Let it go’ anything like the English one?
No, they’re completely different. There’s no ‘let it go’ in the Japanese lyrics but the line is similar to that. An interpreter watches the motions of the character’s mouth while they’re speaking then pick the same sounds so the translation matches up with the film.
Was it difficult to learn the song?
We didn’t have the video to watch when we were recording, but my version of the song is actually played right at the end of the movie when the credits roll. It’s a more upbeat version of the song!
Do you identify with Elsa at all?
Yeah, she’s a little scared to show her real feelings in the film because people might think about her differently. I can relate to that a little.
Which countries have you been on tour to?
This is my second time in London and I’ve also been to France, Denmark, Germany, America, Jakarta, Indonesia, Oman, Iran, Dubai, Russia… Dubai was my favourite country to visit because everything there is gorgeous – the desert, shopping malls, buildings. I met some fans at a university event there which was really fun.
Would you like to do a gig in England?
A lot of Japanese artists have toured around London, so maybe I’ll have a chance to do that!
Tell us about your TV show, J Melo.
I’ve been hosting the show for eight years and it’s the only music programme that’s filmed in English in Japan and broadcast worldwide. Japanese music is really diverse so there’s lots of different artists from different genres to interview, so we do our best to showcase them all. The show gets a lot of emails, photos and videos, especially from London, which we show on the programme, and we also do a lot of fan meetings. We always have guests on the show – it could be a singer or a guitarist – and all kinds of music.
Who is your favourite Japanese artist?
That’s hard! I love Utada Hikaru, Dreams Come True – those female singers or ‘divas’.
What about your favourite English artists?
I grew up listening to Christina Aguileia, who did one of the songs in Disney’s Mulan. Shakira was also another one of my favourites.
What do you think of London?
I love the people – they’re all so friendly – and the fashion’s really cool. I actually really like Topshop, which used to be in Japan but not any more, so I had a look in there yesterday!
Do you play any instruments?
Yes, I love playing the piano.
If you could sing any other Disney song, what would it be?
It would definitely be ‘A whole new world’ from Aladdin, but I’d need a duet partner for that.
Have you ever done any seiyuu (voice acting) work?
Not yet but I’ve done a few songs for anime series, such as Gundam, and video games.
What advice do you have for people who want to go into singing or acting?
It’s a really hard job. I did a lot of vocal training but it’s not just about that – you also need to have a lot of experiences and be able to express yourself. Also, never give up because the dream ends there. If you can dream then you can do it!
Thanks very much to May J. for her time and NHK World for introducing us! You can find out more about the J Melo show over on the NHK World website.