Mina Okabe is looking forward to the summer. “Lately, the sun is starting to come out in Denmark — it has been very rainy and cloudy — and it just lifts my mood so much to see the sun. It’s still a bit cold, but I keep talking to my friends about how I just can’t wait to be outside all day in just shorts and a T-shirt. I’m so excited,” she shares over a Zoom call in early April. Beyond the prospect of easy-to-wear looks and gentler weather, the Danish-Japanese singer has plenty of other reasons to look forward to the season. Performing in Asia for the first time is one of them. 

At the time she joins EnVi for this interview, Mina is also fresh off the release of her EP, Spinning Around. Unlike the subject inspiring the record’s lead single — someone who’s not opening up and is hard to read — she has no qualms about talking us through her songwriting process, what inspires her music, and what she’s into lately. Ahead, singer-songwriter prodigy, Mina Okabe, talks to us. 

Spinning Around

People might recognize the name Mina Okabe from the ubiquitous, viral anthem “Every Second,” a song that continues to make the rounds on the internet despite having peaked in 2021 as the ultimate audio pick for social media content. Often covered and remixed — one of the latest celebrities to offer a rendition of the track was K-pop idol Ryujin — “Every Second” has found a place in the realm of major internet hits. 

Mina, however, is not pressured to follow up on the success of her first album and its lead track. As she puts it, the popularity of “Every Second” hasn’t changed her expectations about her new and future releases. “One of my favorite things about songwriting is that I use it as a way to express myself and come up with any frustrations that I have, thoughts that I have, and things I’m overwhelmed about. Anything that it’s hard for me to talk about, I like making songs about because it is a way to express myself […] When I release music, I release music that I’m excited about. So I try not to let the worry if someone else wouldn’t like it or how well the song will do, stop me from releasing a song that I like.” 

And surely, Mina is excited about Spinning Around. Consisting of six self-penned songs, her latest EP is a compilation of tracks that lyrically explore the stages of a relationship and musically dive into motley sounds. Ranging from the bossa nova infused “Talk To Me” to the indie rock “Bare Minimum,” the record is a selection of Mina’s favorite songs written over the past year. “I feel like the reason I’m so excited about [Spinning Around] is that it shows very different sides of me, my songwriting and my music taste. There are some slower songs, there are more acoustic [songs] and then there are more confident songs. There are some songs with bigger productions and smaller productions. I feel like there’s a lot of variation in the EP and I just wanted to show different sides of myself,” she tells EnVi

Songwriting Genius

Among the most confident songs in the mini album, “Talk To Me” stands out with its playful production and self-assured, straightforward lyrics. Written in collaboration with Mads Koch and Nick Madsen, the track tackles the frustration of liking someone who struggles to open up. “Talk To Me” also borrows elements from different genres, including bossa nova. Mina explains that this eclectic merge happened spontaneously. “The lyrics kind of just came up naturally because somehow — and it’s hard to explain — the guitar and the beat of “Talk To Me” just inspired confident lyrics. And [actually] we started working on it a while ago. But I always knew that I wanted to release it, so I brought it up again when I found out I wanted to release an EP. I finished [the song] for it,” she shares with excitement lacing her voice. 

Despite her serene demeanor — or perhaps because of it — it’s impossible to miss out on the enthusiasm taking over Mina when she discusses her songwriting. As she remarks, she works on music on a nearly daily basis and the process is always different. When she started writing songs in her teenage years, Mina came up with lyrics and melodies on her own, only equipped with her guitar and memo voice app. “In the beginning, I would always write just by myself in my room, […] then, I’d sing the lyrics, and naturally, words would come up that reflected what I was feeling and things I was thinking about. Then, I would build off from there,” she reminisces. 

Now, after signing with a label, Mina works alongside a team. Though granted, she still pens some songs on her own. The method, however, varies from track to track. “When I met my record label and my team there, they started setting me up in sessions so I could meet up with producers that would help me take my songs to another level. I like mixing it up now, so sometimes I would go into the studio with nothing [planned] and just get inspired on the day and at that time. Then sometimes, I’d bring a song that I worked on at home and I would say ‘I want exactly this, I don’t want to change it at all. I just want it to be the song I wrote with my guitar in my room.’ I started off just by myself but now I also love being inspired by other people and learning from their processes and the way they make music.”

Music-Loving and Multicultural

Mina’s first serious forays into songwriting happened during her teenage years, but long before she started honing her craft, she already knew she wanted to carve a path in the industry. Growing up in a music-oriented household allowed her to reaffirm this interest. “My dream has always been to become a singer and be able to play and release music. I’ve always been in my school choirs and school musicals. My parents always had a keyboard at home so I’ve always had music around me and it has always been a huge part of my life,” she notes. 

Similarly, Mina’s multicultural background exposed her to a vast variety of music. Raised between London, New York, and Manila — by a Japanese mom and a Danish dad — Mina has shaped her music through a melting pot of influences. The singer admits that perhaps, the most evident way her upbringing currently informs her music is the language she embraces in her lyrics. “I write in English because I grew up in English-speaking countries, so it’s just the easiest way for me to express myself. That’s kind of the most obvious way I think I have been influenced by the places I’ve lived.”

Image courtesy of Universal Music

While she reveals that exploring new languages with her music might not happen sometime soon, Mina doesn’t rule out the possibility of introducing Danish or Japanese into her songs in the future. “There is an artist called UMI, who is half-Japanese and half-American. I think [her music] is very cool because she has some songs where she’s incorporated Japanese words and I think that’s super inspiring,” Mina shares. “One day I would really like to try [it]. Right now, it feels out of my comfort zone to sing in another language other than English because I’m not used to it. I’m not used to hearing my voice in those languages. But one day I would love to do that because I grew up speaking Japanese and Danish with my parents. That’s a big part of who I am.”

Performing in Asia

At the time of the interview, however, Mina has more pressing goals in sight. One of them is acing her first-ever performances in Asia. “I’ve actually only played in Scandinavia so far. I played one showcase in Berlin and Germany, but other than that I’ve just played in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. I haven’t really tried [performing abroad] as much and it has always been a huge dream of mine to play in other countries and travel with music,” Mina shares. 

Surprised to hear that people in Asian countries even dedicate blog entries to her songs, Mina looks forward to the experience without fully realizing how popular her music is on the continent. But if her Instagram posts are anything to go by, Mina probably got a hint a month later, during her visit to South Korea — where she performed at the 2023 Seoul Jazz Festival and received a 4x platinum certification for her album Better Days.  

For an artist who treasures every opportunity to perform in front of an audience, any chance to play in foreign lands is exciting. As she puts it, her dream performance is anywhere that she can go. Nevertheless, Mina anticipates the day she can finally perform in Tokyo, where part of her family lives. “I’ve always dreamed of playing a show in Tokyo because I’m half Japanese and it’s one of the places where I feel at home. Also because Denmark and Japan are two places where I have family and I’ve played shows in Denmark and I think it’d be so amazing to play a show in Tokyo.” 

This is not the only time Mina voices her adoration for the Japanese metropolis. When asked about her favorite cities, Mina can’t help but gush about it. “I love Copenhagen and Tokyo […] because I’m from Denmark and Japan. Another reason is because of my families. So half of my family lives in Denmark and the other lives in Japan, in Tokyo. Whenever I go back to you Tokyo, I almost wanna cry because I’m so excited to be there and I remember when I was young. I have so many memories. I live in Copenhagen now and it’s just an amazing city to live in. I love being here, being with the bike everywhere, and having most of my friends here,” Mina says.

Support Circle

Speaking of friendships, throughout the interview, Mina candidly reiterates the importance of counting on a support system. “I love my friends so much because they’re so sweet and they’ve been supportive from the beginning,” she says. Having kicked off her career as a teenager who uploaded her music on SoundCloud, Mina often felt anxious at the prospect of sharing her aspirations with the world. “I’ve always known that I wanted to be a singer full-time. But I was kind of scared to admit it when I was younger because I knew everyone’s reactions would be like ‘Oh, it’s hard to get into it.’ I knew that was the typical response and yes, it’s hard to get into, but I was scared to hear that from other people. So I kept this to myself and I posted songs on SoundCloud — just me and my guitar — and I didn’t tell anyone because I was scared of their reactions.”

However, when the time came to publicly acknowledge her musical pursuits and share her work with those she knew, the responses were nothing but encouraging. Mina recounts the experience with a smile. “When I was in my last year of high school, I posted a link to my SoundCloud on Facebook and it was the scariest thing ever. I was shaking so much when I did it. When my friends found out, they were so supportive and listened to all the songs. From then on, they’ve always been so sweet about every new release and when I have a show they’ll always be there or try to be there, at least. When I released my EP they all surprised me with a cake, and they always listen to my songs and I’m just so thankful for my friends.” 

Image courtesy of Cathrine Brix

Mina’s strong bond with her friend circle is also evident when the singer shares what she’s been up to lately. Laughing, she acknowledges, “I’ve been spending so much time writing music and I don’t know, hanging out with my friends. I guess also I’ve been traveling and doing music for the first time. I traveled to London to write music [and supported a friend’s band in Norway]. I’m spending a lot of time with music and my friends. That’s what I’m into lately.”

The Future

Before closing the interview, Mina shares her plans for the future — from what she’ll be wearing in summer to her professional endeavors. For one thing, as we step into a new season, Mina confesses she is anticipating warmer weather. What will her go-to look be? “I always want to be comfortable, that’s a big priority for me. I don’t know what I’m going to wear yet. Actually, I honestly feel like I’m just going to be wearing shorts, tank tops, and a button-up shirt over, all summer. I just think it’s comfortable and easy,” she says.

For another, she reveals that she’s always working toward a sophomore record and looking forward to performing in front of new audiences. “I guess I just want to release more music and definitely release a second album,” Mina tells EnVi. “I hope to be able to play even more concerts in Denmark and abroad. As I said before, I’m playing in Korea. It’s just huge, it’s crazy to me, a real dream so I just hope to play more and release more music. Play[ing] more shows is the dream, and hopefully people will want to keep listening to my music and keep doing what I’m doing.”   

Interested in more exclusive content? Check out what went on at the Head In The Clouds Festival in New York here.