Arts & EntertainmentFeaturesMusicThe Music Issue

Bittersweet Superstar

Melancholiaah! brings an edgy twist to Japanese-inspired performance art.

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Melancholiaah! (photos by The Melancholiaah! Project)

Houston’s 21-year-old Melancholiaah! is an idol. Seriously. In Japanese pop culture, an idol (or aidoru) is a young performer whose image is marketed through acting, modeling, and variety shows. In 2004, Melancholiaah! started going to U.S. idol events at Japanese pop-culture conventions in the (yes, animée conventions host singing competitions for idols) where she perfected her performance art and storytelling. She likens the idol events to the American beauty-pageant circuit. In 2008, one of her videos went viral in Japan.

“I’d always been into Japanese culture, J-pop music, and animée,” she says. “But I wondered if they’d really like seeing just a white girl singing in Japanese onstage.”

Apparently, they did like it. But the viral video had some unlikely effects, like many things on the internet. It attracted sexual comments and made her feel objectified.

“Idols shouldn’t be sexualized,” says the blonde, self-identifying lesbian. The experience left her with negative feelings, which led to her interest in menhera, a dark and nonconformist style of Japanese art and fashion that encourages mental-health awareness. Some of Melancholiaah!’s music, while upbeat musically in the J-pop style, has lyrics that are also dark. Hence, her stage name.

“I think it’s important to be out about mental-health issues, and singing about it is one way of getting the message out,” she says. The artist recently released a single from her upcoming album, let’s meet at the end of the world, that you can check out on YouTube. Prior to the EP’s October 20 debut, Melancholiaah! is looking to perform more in local venues.

Melancholiaah! is actually very upbeat and almost bubbly in person, despite the dark subject matter of her music. She says she’s very happy enjoying time with her partner of five months, as well as making her music. Among her likes, she lists Donald Duck, flowers, photos of the sky, and spicy food.

Asked about her favorite spicy dish, she beams about the miso ramen at Airis Poke & Ramen. “It’s a neighborhood spot near me,” she says. “And I just love the dish. I have ulcers,” she explains, “so I really shouldn’t eat it. But it’s so spicy and so good.” (It’s made of pork broth, seasoned egg, fish cake, bamboo shoots, sweet corn, green onion, dried seaweed, and spicy miso.) “Whenever I’m feeling down, it’s my go-to dish!”

Learn more about Melancholiaah! at melancholiaah.club.

This article appears in the August 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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