At this year’s Dr. Martens music showcase for South By Southwest (SXSW), a line wrapped around the block of a music venue in downtown Austin. Inside, a passionate voice could be heard singing, rapping, and, at times, screaming in Japanese.
Even though most of the American audience can’t understand the lyrics by 28-year-old Japanese singer and poetry rapper Haru Nemuri, they can certainly feel the liveliness, emotions, and hardcore punk, J-pop, rap, and experimental musical notes.
Nemuri has made waves in the U.S. art, rock, and punk music scenes, recently wrapping up a North American tour. She was named as one of the “best acts of SXSW 2021” by the New York Times. She also made waves at SXSW in 2022, performing with artists like Pussy Riot and attracting large, frenetic crowds.
But backstage at SXSW 2023, Nemuri told Passionfruit she doesn’t want to just hype people up and draw in a huge crowd—she wants her audience to be enraptured by the details, meaning, and expression of emotions in her music. And throughout her three SXSW concerts this year, she took care to pause and explain the intent behind her work in English.
“Recently, I thought I should tell them the message in my music more seriously because I’m singing in Japanese,” Nemuri said. “So I can’t tell them message through my music.”
Scrolling through Nemuri’s English-language website, the site is full of long, deeply personal storytelling about each of her songs. It reads as, at times, a personal diary entry, at others like a passionate manifesto.
“Most people in this world have smartphones that are more functional than conventional computers, and spend more time watching TikTok than movies. In today’s world, where speedy consumption and supply of expression have become mainstream, we can say there’re no longer hurdles upon ‘creating to express.’”
“The trouble is that for even those who tried to express themselves, keeping a distance from the game dominated by capitalist and consumerist populism,” she continued. “It’s difficult to completely deviate from the majority markets.”
In her interview with Passionfruit, Nemuri explained how she has a distaste for musicians who see social media as a model for business. Although she is active on Twitter and Instagram, she said if she wasn’t a musician by trade, she probably wouldn’t be on social media. Laughing, Nemuri said she only has a TikTok account to follow her favorite idol, Masaki Satō.
But accessibility to music is at the heart of her approach to her online presence, believing that while social media can be evil “in a way,” it’s an opportunity for people to access her music when they don’t have money to go to a concert or see her in person.
And sometimes, social media might be the only way for someone to broaden their worldview.
“When I was young my mother and father didn’t allow me to go to the venue,” Nemuri said. “My mother and my father are very conservative.”
Nemuri said her family wouldn’t let her use social media for much of her early life. When she was 16 years old, she started taking classes at a nearby university, leading her parents to allow her to have a smartphone and unlock her access to platforms like Twitter.
Nemuri said she wasn’t sure if it was social media or college that opened her world—but suddenly everything exploded.
Soon, Nemuri developed her larger-than-life punk musical persona in the bustling Tokyo indie music scene. Music reviewers and content creators, like the infamous music reviewer Anthony Fantano, helped introduce her music to a new audience in the U.S. and abroad.
Nemuri filmed artistic vlogs throughout her March 2023 North American tour, sharing behind-the-scenes clips, concert footage, interviews with fans, and personal interviews. “I don’t want to come back to Japan,” Nemuri said in tears at her final tour stop.
Now, years into her busy, globe-trotting life as a musician, Nemuri resides away from Tokyo in the countryside where she can shed her public musician persona. She’ll be returning there post-SXSW, and she said she likely won’t be posting much of her life to social media because “she’s always at home.”
Though we may not see any TikTok day-in-the-life videos from Nemuri, she will be continuing to make and share music.
And, based on her online history, we may expect to see her continued detailed musings on music, feminism, capitalism—and the occasional stray cat.