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Headline

The Voice of Tokyo for over 50 Years

JAPAN’S NO.1 ENGLISH LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE

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Zombie-Chang: Don’t Call Me Maybe

Tokyo Weekender speaks to Meirin Wang, aka Zombie-Chang, about her new album and toilet paper

By Kim Kahan

Meirin Wang, aka Zombie-Chang (stylized as ZOMBIE-CHANG), has modeled for the likes of Chanel and collaborated with Diesel, so the sheer volume of toilet-related chat comes as a surprise. In contrast to the feminine image that has prevailed in celebrity culture across Japan, Meirin is refreshingly unabashed, happy to address vulgarities and talk realistically about various subjects from mental health to salarymen.

Toilet Paper and Social Activism

Zombie-Chang is a ball of energy and we’re not only talking about her live shows and music videos. During our video chat, she constantly moves around, finding the Wi-Fi connection, getting water and adjusting her position. In her first English interview post-Covid, we speak about her song, “Stay Home” which was released at the height of Japan’s first state of emergency. 

She tells us that it was in response to her bafflement at people’s panic buying of toilet paper (the chorus repeats “Where’s my toilet paper?”). She couldn’t understand why people were so upset about not having toilet paper when there are so many other options. “It’s not the end of the world — you could even use the shower,” she says. 

The description for the song betrays her aim: “It is a very difficult situation not only in Japan but also all over the world, but I hope everyone will listen to this song, stay home, dance and move around,” she tells us. 

Zombie-Chang wrote and recorded the song in only one day and director Ryuichi Ono (whom she speaks of highly), made the video for the song within three days.

“When I decide I want to make something, I act quickly,” she says. The song received praise, particularly for its topical theme. It was ultimately included on her 2020 album Take Me Away From Tokyo.

Zombie Chang album cover stress de stress zombie chang sitting on a toilet

Don’t ‘Call Me Maybe’

Zombie-Chang’s latest album, Stress de Stress which was released in May 2022, sees Meirin sitting on a toilet. It also includes exclusive toilet paper with lyrics from the album, but notably not the “Stay Home” song itself. When asked about this, she says that people have been telling her they don’t need the toilet paper anymore. “Wow, times do change don’t they,” she adds laughing.

The image of her sitting on the toilet, she says, came from the idea that her work is basically her excrement. “And the toilet is a place to rest when stressed.”

Originally, she tells me, the theme for Stress de Stress was karoshi (meaning death from overwork) but as it was deemed “too heavy” she opened the theme up to stress in general. Many of the songs address mental health, including the song “Phone” which repeats the line “don’t call me” and features frantic ringing and answer-phone messages. When asked about this, Meirin conjures up an unlikely influence: Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe.”

“When I heard the song, I thought that no, I don’t want you to call me,” she says. Averse to phone calls, she talks about how in this age of social media, phone calls can seem relentless. 

Many Millennials agree, with some surveys (pre-Covid) showing that 75 percent prefer texting rather than calling. Another search for “phone anxiety” brings up over a million results and further journalistic studies highlight the misconstrued awkwardness that may come with receiving or making phone calls.

“I really dislike phone calls,” emphasizes Meirin. “That’s why I made the song.”

From ‘Switch’ to ‘Toxic’

Zombie-Chang’s video for “Switch,” directed by Hideo Hotta, sees her seduce a salaryman at a club, before bringing him back to her place where she ties him up in order to play Nintendo Switch. 

“I’d wanted to make a video like that for ages,” she says. “The guy is delusional and wants to pull, but actually she just wants to play a game. The aim is different. Even though she is acting sexy.” 

In a world where victim blaming is rife and women are shamed for the clothes they wear, this video hits the mark, especially as the main character is a powerful woman able to single-handedly tie up the leering salaryman in the video. Zombie-Chang tells us that part of her wanted to embody Britney Spears on “Toxic,” too, with men dancing around her, rather than the other way round, as she often witnesses in videos by rappers. 

She also tells us that she made the song itself on the Nintendo Switch, using synthesizer software from the console. While Meirin only needed software to make “Switch,” she does spend a lot of money on instruments and synthesizers, more than on clothes. That said, she is a big fan of Spanish designers such as Paloma Wool and Paula Canovas del Vas, with whom she has a good relationship. 

Zombie Chang laughing looking at camera

Even though she parked the karoshi theme of the album in favor of stress, there is still a distinct office worker theme that is displayed. Her video (released yesterday) for “T’inquiete Pas,” the poppiest song on Stress de Stress with French pop band Agar Agar, features Zombie-Chang as an office lady, going through a surreal daily routine which gradually shifts. 

She wakes, gets ready, observes a stranger trying her bottom door (a metaphor for unease over whether she locked it), passes an old lady swinging a blue baseball bat, works, returns, takes some glittery Nitan pills and then goes to bed, until the routine becomes distorted. She finishes the pills and ends up locked out of her house, glasses astray. Yet the unravelling of this daily schedule closes with a “don’t worry” from Zombie-Chang. Despite it’s somewhat dystopian vibe, as is often the case with her videos, the future is bright.

With the borders finally reopened and international travel now a possibility, Zombie-Chang is excited about the prospect of playing in France, though it is yet to be confirmed.

“I’m currently planning to go around [Europe] at that time too,” says. If the plan works out, I’m sure she can charm the Europeans with her toilet chat, as well.

Check out Zombie-Chang’s video for “T’inquiète Pas” below: