J-pop musician Nishina is the next featured guest on Billboard Japan’s Women In Music interview series highlighting female players in the country’s entertainment industry. The series is one of many projects being conducted as part of the initiative launched last year, honoring female artists, producers and executives who have made significant contributions to the music industry and empowered women through their work.
Nishina began her music career while still in high school and her smooth singing voice has steadily gained popularity through social media and performances in night clubs. The 25-year-old artist is also popular for her lyrics depicting relatable and genuine emotions. Billboard Japan chatted with the rising singer ahead of her Women In Music Vol.1 performance set for Nov. 3 at the historic Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall and asked her about maintaining a healthy mindset and her mission to spread a message of self-love.
You’ll be performing at the upcoming Billboard Japan’s Women In Music Vol. 1 event. How did you feel when you were asked to participate?
I’m so honored to be a part of this project. I’m not thinking of doing anything special and hope I can properly convey who I am to the audience.
The three artists/acts set to perform that day have different styles, so we’re really looking forward to seeing your respective live performances. Were there any women you looked up to growing up?
I didn’t have any particular image of an ideal woman when I was little, and honestly speaking, I remember being embarrassed about becoming more feminine during my adolescent years. I wasn’t put off by it, but I guess I was embarrassed by the changes in my body. It felt strange. But I did admire musicians, regardless of their gender. I liked singing but felt shy standing in front of audiences, so musicians who gave commanding performances onstage looked really cool to me at the time.
It’s amazing that you’re now doing what you used to admire.
I’m so grateful. I’m pretty pleased with who I am right now.
That’s such a good space to be in. There are people who have trouble getting over their hang-ups and accepting who they are.
I know. I mean, I say I’m pleased with myself but of course I have a lot of hang-ups. In Japan, all kinds of ideals in terms of how one “should” look still run rampant, regardless of gender. Like, “the skinnier the better.” I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to want to change to like yourself more, but I’d like people to first accept themselves as who they are now. I’m fortunately in a position where I can deliver a message to people and I want everyone to know they should love themselves properly.
I see, so in a way, the message you want to get out to people is also coming back to you. Do you think there’s a trick to maintaining that state of being pleased with who you are?
For example, the idea that “skinny is more beautiful” is a way of thinking that stems from the culture you grew up in or was imposed on you by others. Different things may be considered beautiful in different countries, and what seems like common sense at first doesn’t mean it’s absolutely correct everywhere. So I think it’s important to change your environment to question that common sense.
Try not to think that the world around you is all there is, you mean. How did you come up with that way of thinking?
I’ve always been a bit of a contrary person, so maybe I have a habit of looking at things from a different angle. For example, even when I’m in a situation where people don’t like me, when someone rejects me, I think, “Why should I be told that by you?” and feel like affirming myself instead. I can’t give you any specific examples, but when one of my complexes is triggered by something, I have a tendency to want to accept myself because of that.
Accepting yourself because others don’t. If you can think like that, the noise around you could sound different. Do you think being a woman has any influence on your music career?
I’d like to say no but I think it does affect me in some ways. I call myself Nishina because I didn’t want to limit my gender. I wanted people to value who I am without letting my gender influence them.
I imagine you probably think differently since you started calling yourself Nishina. How did you develop that awareness to recognize and value your own individuality?
I’m not sure how it happened… I think it means that my mind has matured. There are some things I’ve come to understand as I’ve grown older. Some people have a clear idea of who they are from an early age, while others, like me, gradually deepen their understanding as they gain more experience. These days, I have this strong sense of my inner self being formed.
So you’re still changing in a positive way. At what moments do you update the way you think?
I guess it’s when I feel really down. The first year of my professional music career coincided with the pandemic, so there were periods when I couldn’t perform live or release songs and all I could do was keep producing music. No matter how much I worked, I couldn’t get any feedback and it was so hard. I felt stuck and thought, “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t keep going.” But I shared my feelings with my manager during those times and took some time off from production to slack off and just go have some fun. After doing that and letting myself hit rock bottom, I wanted to sing again. By hanging in there somehow without quitting, I managed to get through the tunnel and began to enjoy singing again. Looking back now, it was a good experience.
I see. I imagine it takes a lot of courage to let yourself fall like that.
Yes, I think I was at my limit at that time. Also, I read a book back in junior high where the question of “What’s the point of my existence?” was answered by something along the lines of “That’s a problem everyone encounters at least once, but it’s no use thinking about.” I was taken aback by that reply because I was asking myself the same thing and was surprised to learn that everyone has similar thoughts. You might not notice something when you’re in the midst of it, but you begin to see it when you set yourself apart from it. Once I realized the importance of changing my perspective and looking at things from a wider angle, my thought process changed a little. There’s more than one way to look at things, and it’s OK to look for an easier way to navigate by looking from above or below or whatever.
Since you admired musicians from a young age, did you ever hesitate taking steps toward your dream of becoming one, or feel ambivalent about your direction? What would you say to people who don’t like themselves or don’t have the courage to take that first step?
I did feel anxious, but had no hesitation. I spent a long time thinking, “I want to be like that,” so I couldn’t let go of the opportunity that came my way.
The thing I’d say to people would be about changing your perspective, like I mentioned just now. Most of the time it won’t kill you whether you choose right or left, and that step you think you can’t take might not be such a big deal. If you take that small step, it may lead to a surprisingly big change. If you don’t like yourself, try to find one thing about yourself that you can like, whether it’s something on the inside or out. Once you find that, think of ways to cherish it and make it shine.
Last question. This project began in response to the fact that men make up the majority of the Billboard Japan charts every year. Could you share your thoughts on this?
Until I was asked to do this interview, I wasn’t aware of this fact at all. I’ve gone through phases of listening only to works with male vocalists. Or maybe it has something to do with the power of women supporting male artists. I don’t think it’s necessarily something to be pessimistic about, though. It’d be a shame if there’s an air of female fans being made to feel out of place among a sea of male fans, but events like Billboard Japan’s Women In Music Vol. 1 are happening and there are many opportunities for people to listen to songs on social media now. I hope there will be more opportunities for everyone to freely encounter the music they like, regardless of gender.
–This interview by Rio Hirai (SOW SWEET PUBLISHING) first appeared on Billboard Japan
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