“According to my parents, I started to sing before I started to talk,” says New York-based Japanese pop singer/songwriter Emergency Tiara. “The only time my parents heard my voice was when I was singing.”
“I always loved Twiggy and Audrey Hepburn,” says Tiara, who was called “the little princess” by her friends. She picked up her stage name after spotting the jeweled headband at a friend’s house upon which her friend quipped, “Here’s your emergency tiara.”
The name stuck to the point that she prefers it to her given name, which she doesn’t want to be revealed here. Good thing she doesn’t mind revealing other aspects of her life and career.
Emergency Tiara has been in New York for six years and in the States for almost a decade. Her first experience in the US was in Boston as a student at Berklee College. She left Japan ostensibly to study music, but she also did it as a favor to her mother.
“When she was at my age back then, she wanted to live abroad, but her mother – my grandmother – didn’t let her,” says Tiara. “So she wanted to make her dream come true through me. Luckily my mom was willing to support whatever I tried to pursue in America.”
Pursuing the dream of a musical career was a no-brainer, given that she was surrounded by music as a child. Although amateurs, her mother played piano, her father guitar, and her younger brother drums. She and her brother also wrote skits and performed for the family at home.
“We’re Japanese, so of course we went to karaoke for birthdays and celebrations,” she says.
At Berklee she found like-minded souls who dreamed of making a living as musicians, so she felt comfortable despite the unfamiliar surroundings and lack of good Japanese food. After writing and singing songs in Japanese, Tiara was determined to make music for American audiences.
“But also it was a challenge because I didn’t speak English back then. When I moved here, I spoke zero English,” she says in fluent English. “I’m a nerd, so I wanted to be the best student. I was going to a language school for my first year in Boston, and I was trying not to hang out with many Japanese. I was hanging out with people from Latin America or Europe so I wouldn’t use Japanese and try to use English.”
After school she became a background singer for one of her Berklee teachers and made the move to New York. She continued to work as a background singer for the first couple of years she was in the city.
While attending a vocal camp in LA, Tiara was one of a group of people chosen to perform in front of the judges. “It was just amazing, and the teachers are people who are actively working in the music industry” she says. “It’s like American Idol. Many music industry people came to see the final night . . . and I met this producer who is based in LA. We started to work together with me not as a backup singer, but as a lead.”
She worked with the producer for two-and-a-half years, parting ways after his philosophy – “He wanted me to be a sexy Asian artist” – clashed with hers – “You don’t have to be what everyone is hoping you to be.”
What Tiara hopes to be is exactly what she projects: An ultra-stylish pop star who has understated sex appeal and who writes and sings bouncy, happy songs in English.
“I think that there are plenty of sad songs in the world, and people love sad songs and cry to them,” Tiara says. “But I think it’s nice to have these simply bright, happy songs. That’s more like my personality anyway. It’s just easier for me to write happy songs. I have tried [to write sad songs], but writing is also very soothing for me. I’m always happier when I’m writing a song, so the sad song becomes happier in the end, and it doesn’t make sense!”
Her penchant for fashion is evident on her Tumblr blog, where she not only documents her activities, but also lists the brands of clothing and accessories. Truth be told, she actually doesn’t like social media, claiming she’s not a “tech person” but a “book nerd” who still writes her schedule in a paper calendar. But she realizes the importance of making connections through her Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, remarking, “It’s amazing to see people’s happy responses.”
An Emergency Tiara brand of clothing and jewelry is in the works, but her music is still in the forefront. The music video for her single “Downtown Boy” came out last October, making an exclusive world premiere on Glam.com. She is looking forward to the April 8 release of her new EP, Until the Stroke of Midnight, and her new single, “Around,” can be heard on SoundCloud.
Her music breaks the mold of the typical J-pop artist, as she began her career in New York, rather than in Japan. Lately she has been entertaining notions of performing in her native country.
“I’m actually starting to work on a translation of my music, which is really interesting. I’m translating English into Japanese,” she says, noting the irony. During this process, she’s discovered that her music is more a reflection of American culture than Japanese culture. “I have a song called ‘Poison,’ and I did a direct translation, just to see. And I sound so mean!”
She continues to find her niche in New York, facing head-on the challenges of her chosen genre.
“I think it’s a little tougher for poppy pop artists to book [gigs] in New York because it’s a very artsy, jazzy music scene,” Tiara says. “People love indie music; people love jazz music. My music might be more suitable for LA. But New York has such a diverse population that likes everything. Once I started to perform regularly, it got easier, and I feel there is a place for my poppy music.”
Find her anywhere she performs, and she will sing happy songs for you. After all, she’s been doing that since before she could talk.