As much as the Japanese entertainment industry has changed in recent times, a few paths to a career breakthrough remain unchanged. Like, if you land a song as the opening or ending theme song for a popular anime, you have a pretty good shot of jumping up the pop music hierarchy. The only real difference, though, is that in the social media age, the way a number tied to a show can mutate has expanded exponentially.
Just take rap-pop duo chelmico. The pair of Rachel and Mamiko started out in 2015, but it wasn’t until this January that they enjoyed a true jump forward. Their song “Easy Breezy” became the opening song for the anime Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Coupled with trippy animation, the intro segment morphed into a meme that spread well beyond anime Twitter. In almost every user-created piece of content, chelmico’s number played over it.
In Japan, chelmico’s work for Eizouken! has opened up all kinds of new opportunities for a group that was already trending upward. This Friday, they’ll play the weekly show Music Station, an achievement that shows they’ve created a song that people who don’t really follow music closely might be aware of. Outside of their home country, chelmico are getting lots of listens, though that doesn’t mean people are going beyond “Easy Breezy” (or the opening animation, for that matter).
Those that do dig deeper, however, will find a pair of performers carrying on the pop-meets-hip-hop playfulness of RIP SLYME or HALCALI for a new generation of listeners. “Easy Breezy” might be their big break, but chelmico’s career up to this point boasts plenty of highlights worth digging into.
One of the defining points of chelmico is the closeness Rachel and Mamiko have with one another. As they told me a few years back for a magazine feature, the pair originally met through a mutual friend, who connected them. They met in a Tokyo McDonald’s and became friends. Even after chelmico solidified themselves in the music industry, the pair still hang out and do the sort of things you’d expect from school classmates, like go to Disneyland together.
Their musical project came together quickly, after Rachel was invited to perform at a show. Rather than go it alone, she invited Mamiko to join her and rap. With help from a friend who put together a crude beat for them to perform over, chelmico began. They soon evolved into something more than a rush job. Their first truly polished song was “Labyrinth ‘97,” a strut anchored by some sax blurts emerging at the same time city pop started enjoying some newfound love…but not sounding anything like that just-dusted-off sound.
The defining element, though, was their tag-team approach to rapping. The two flew in and out of the song, delivering rhymes before coming together for a pop-friendly hook. It was this ability to bounce off of one another seamlessly — all building towards a shout-along-chorus — that made early numbers released via Trekkie Trax or Lute all the more memorable. They put out a handful of mini albums hinting at their potential, while also performing on bills alongside other Japanese rappers or British pop oddballs such as Kero Kero Bonito.
They Got The Power — Move To unBORDE
Few sensations are stranger than recognizing a musical group playing in the background of a popular show, yet that’s something that happened around chelmico’s signing with major label unBORDE. The song “OK, Cheers!” appeared in the middle of an episode of Terrace House: Opening New Doors, and it took a bit to truly comprehend what had happened.
It makes sense though. The duo joined up with unBORDE in 2018, giving them access to all kinds of new channels they wouldn’t have had in the previous years. It was a natural fit — unBORDE is home to RIP SLYME, the pioneering hip-pop group that both members of chelmico grew up listening to, and who they channeled in their genre-blending mix of music. This all comes across on Power, chelmico’s major-label debut album, and a set that strikes a solid balance between their greater pop ambitions and more playful jaunts (“Banana”). It’s a flawed full-length, but offered plenty of glances towards where they would go…including their eventual breakthrough, which “Player” predicts thanks to its guitar-centric backdrop and general madcap pace.
Reeling It In — Fishing And “Easy Breezy”
Rachel and Mamiko found just the right balance on 2019’s Fishing, their finest full-length release to date. One of last year’s best J-pop releases, Fishing finds chelmico figuring out how to get experimental (“Exit”), raukous (“12:37”), joyous (“Switch,” another off-kilter rush predicting where they’d go at the start of this year) and so much more. The charm remained intact, even on numbers shouting out tea brands, but now it was joined by a wider range of emotions. “Balloon” finds them going introspective over a barely-there beat, while “Navy Love” goes full melancholy over a strolling pace built for reflection. Those quieter instances only make bursts like “Summer day” all the brighter.
If Fishing put chelmico’s range on full display, “Easy Breezy” condenses it down to just over three minutes of madness. This single comes closer early career Beck than RIP SLYME, mixing up rock sounds bordering on cacophonous while chelmico bounce between rap-id fire verses and sung hooks. Bird squawks sneak in, and the whole thing seems close to overloading, but always holds it together. There’s a lot happening on “Easy Breezy,” but that’s something chelmico have always been able to juggle just right. Now, more people in Japan and online are experiencing it themselves.