Achieving a dream career requires determination and drive, and when we look towards success it's easy to forget that our histories are much more than just old distractions and challenges. Mixed race singing superstar May J. however has certainly not forgotten her roots. Her musical upbringing and multi-cultural heritage proudly serve as key influences in her career today; inspiring her unique direction, musical style and positive outlook on life.
May J.'s music style is as unique and as it is eclectic. Her repertoire includes classic ballads, many of which are Japanese translations of English language classics, and fresh tunes with flairs of modern J-pop, classic J-pop, and RnB. "I don't really have one genre. I don't like to categorise my music".
As inspirations for her work, May J. credits both Eastern and Western musical influences. "I listen to a lot of Disney. My favourite Disney song is "A Whole New World" from Aladdin." May J. also takes inspiration from many of the great divas such as Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey, as well as stars from her home turf like Hikaru Utada and Misia. Perhaps her most well known song internationally is her Japanese rendition of the Disney Frozen song 'Let It Go'. After its tremendous success, May J.'s fan base has widened considerably. "Now at live shows, I see fans of all ages. I see kids as young as three with their mums, grandmas and grandpas!" May J. is indeed very at home on stage. She says that her proudest moments are when she is performing, "when I feel my audiences connecting with my music".
May J.'s passion to make music also stems back to her upbringing. Growing up in a musical family and taking up the piano at age 3, May J. made it her life goal to be a musician. She got her big break at the tender age of 14 after a successful audition with Sony, but it wasn't plain sailing after that. May J. had to leave her Japanese school and join an American international school so she could simultaneously study and work on her music career. Balancing her budding career with homework was often hard. "I write my own songs, and I'd often have deadlines for music and homework at same time! It totally paid off though, and I'm glad that I never gave up."
May J.'s drive, ambition and determination to make it in the music industry may have started young, but given the chance she maintains that she would have began her career even sooner. "Growing up I took opera and voice lessons every week. I wished that I could make my own music and release it [When I was younger] but it took a little bit of time because of my Japanese school".
Growing up in homogenous Japan, May J. says she had no problem fitting in. "I was never bullied, and I enjoyed being mixed race. My friends wanted to learn languages from me! I grew up in a multi lingual household and would speak Japanese, English and a little bit of Farsi". For those who experience prejudice for their race, May J. said, "Being mixed [race] is special. That's who you are. Don't feel like you're different, [but] remember that you don't have to be like everyone else. Believe in yourself."
Growing up in a multi-cultural as well as multi-lingual household has benefitted May J.in ways she never expected. In addition to her well established music career, May J. is also the presenter of NHK WORLD TV's J-MELO, the only Japanese music show to broadcast in the English language. "I never thought that I'd be a TV host. It's not my main thing. I appeared on J-MELO in 2008, and the producer thought that I would suit the show." May J. loves both her careers as a musician and a presenter. "I find presenting very helpful for myself as a singer. I get to meet different musicians and artists that I wouldn't have the chance to". When asked if she found two demanding careers hard to balance, she said "I don't feel like I'm balancing jobs [because] the jobs are very related."
It's clear that May J.'s career in on the up, with her latest EP due to be released on the 5th August. "There are four songs in it. The main song is called sparkle, and it is going to be the theme song for the Nintendo 3DS game Disney Magic Castle My Happy Life 2." May J. wrote the song in both Japanese and English, and hopes to someday release the English version outside of Japan. May J. also has further dreams and goals, "I'd love to come back to London, eventually I'd love to do a world tour."
May J.is a pleasure to speak with. She is obviously hard working, comfortable in her own skin, and embraces her multi-cultural background and past experiences to inspire her music in the present and empower her life. A key message she wishes to share with her listeners is one that she clearly practices as well as preaches. "Never give up and keep doing what you believe. Believe in yourself and anything can happen." As Walt Disney said, all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.
May J.presents J-MELO - the world's only Japanese music show - on NHK WORLD TV every Sunday at 16:10 BST.