[INTERVIEW] Mina Okabe talks songwriting and first performance in Asia

Singer-songwriter Mina Okabe [UNIVERSAL MUSIC KOREA]

For singer-songwriter Mina Okabe, the breakout indie-pop sensation who headlined Seoul Jazz Festival this year, writing songs and creating music is a deeply personal process that in and of itself speaks to her as a person.

Okabe started out as a teenager writing songs by herself and uploading them on platforms such as SoundCloud and Facebook – before being discovered by an A&R company and making a breakthrough in the indie scene with "Every Second." Okabe debuted in 2020 with the single “I’m Done,” since which she has been recognized for her dream-like and genuine songs, best heard in her studio album “Better Days” in 2021.

Her songs first went viral on Spotify and YouTube, and with the end of the pandemic restrictions in Korea, she came to perform for the first time here at the Seoul Jazz Festival on Friday.

Singer-songwriter Mina Okabe performs during Seoul Jazz Festival held at Olympic Park in southern Seoul on Friday. [PRIVATE CURVE]

"Coming to Korea and performing at the Seoul Jazz Festival was such an amazing experience," said Okabe. "I have dreamed of playing concerts abroad forever, and this was my first show in Asia – the people were very sweet and responsive and I was very happy. The crowds were clapping along and some even held up signs. It was a very different reaction from what I am used to in places like Copenhagen, where the crowds are generally more held back."

Visiting Korea for the Seoul Jazz Festival, which marks her first performance in Asia, Okabe sat down with the Korea JoongAng Daily for an exclusive interview on her songwriting, what it was like performing at the festival and her views on finding the confidence to perform and create music. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.

Singer-songwriter Mina Okabe [UNIVERSAL MUSIC KOREA]

Q. Songs of yours, especially “Every Second,” have gone viral in Korea and can easily be heard in hip cafes and other venues in Seoul. Did you ever expect your music to be able to reach so many people?

A. The fact that my songs are that popular in Korea is such a surprise to me. It’s not something I expected at all, but something that I did hope for. In general, when I make music, I make songs that I love and feel true to me and express how I feel and my emotions, so I’m glad this has been able to reach so many people.

I get into my own little bubble when I write lyrics. In my life I am not so good at talking about my feelings or things that are super personal to me, and when I write lyrics I find that I can be 100 percent honest with myself. So it is very personal. I also feel that the things I am writing about are getting broader. So it’s fun for me to see how I grow in different ways when I write lyrics.

You have a multicultural background, with your mother being Japanese and your father being Danish, and have lived in many different places around the world. As a third culture kid (TCK,) do you feel that TCK experience has influenced your songwriting?

Definitely. I think my sound is influenced by the places I have lived and the fact that I grew up in a number of different countries has affected the way I listen to and make music. What is popular varies in different places, and it is always interesting to find out what people are listening to around the world. While we were living in London, my father would listen to a lot of Oasis and he introduced me to Amy Winehouse, and while we were in the Philippines a lot of pop music was popular there, so I grew up with that.

I naturally listen to lots of different kinds of music and I love discovering new songs and new types of music. Recently I went to a Blackpink concert, which was so exciting. I thought it was very impressive how those concerts are produced and the way the audience interacts with the performers. It was different from any other concert I’ve seen before. Everything was so thought through and synchronized.

Singer-songwriter Mina Okabe performs during Seoul Jazz Festival held at Olympic Park in southern Seoul on Friday. [PRIVATE CURVE]

Your music is often described as “dream indie-pop” in Korea. How have you settled on this style of music – gentle, ambient, easy-to-listen-to and melancholy – and what other genres of music would you like to try in the future?

I think my style of music came naturally to me because I have always loved acoustic, organic sounds. Also, when I first started making music I composed them on the guitar. So I guess it was a natural transition from that to have the kind of sound that I have. I also just like listening to that kind of music, and I think it reflects who I am as a person.

You've said before that when you first started posting songs very early in your career you had to find the confidence to share your work with a larger audience. Do you feel that confidence comes naturally to you now or are you finding new ways to keep it?

When I first started making music I kept it to myself and I was so scared to show anyone else. I only told a few friends and my parents and sister. But my father told me that if this – making music – is what I want to do, I need to put it out there. So I posted it to places and the response I got from people was so sweet. When you are younger, you compare yourself to a lot of other people. Now, the older I’m getting, I gain more confidence and I am able to tell myself it’s okay to just be myself. So I do feel like I have more confidence now.