For Ena Mori’s career, there are no mistakes. She meticulously plans everything out — from the music she makes to the visuals she wants to attain.
However, it wasn’t always like this. “When I started making music, it was for me to discover who I am as an artist,” she shares to Billboard Philippines. “I wasn’t quite sure of what I was doing when I first started. It was just me figuring [everything] out.”
Her critically-acclaimed debut album, DON’T BLAME THE WILD ONE! is the result of that gradual discovery to find her sound. She wields her experiences of growing up in Japan and moving to the Philippines for college to create music that is somehow both intimate and larger-than-life at the same time. Armed with a voice that switches from a belt to a whisper, she takes these personal issues and transforms them into heartfelt melodies on top of upbeat drums and boppy electronic instruments.
“When I see people connecting with my album, it makes me feel less lonely,” she shared in an Instagram video celebrating the anniversary of DON’T BLAME THE WILD ONE! She infuses her music with unapologetic honesty, talking about her insecurities, the pitfalls of falling in love, dealing with anxiety, and everything in between. It’s this candor that has propelled her to being named as NME’s Best Asian Album of 2022 and a performance in the first all-Asian showcase at SXSW 2023 in Austin, Texas.
Many local publications such as CNN Philippines Life and Rappler have called her brand of pop as “revolutionary,” and that she’s charting a new path for how the genre can sound. However, for Mori, the heart of her music is the same authenticity that makes Filipino pop, Filipino.
She’s a part of the long-standing culture of Filipinos being expressive and innovative in all types of art. “What I like about [Filipino pop] now is that there are more artists who have different tastes and different inspirations. There’s a lot of mini-scenes for everything, [and] I think that’s a good thing compared to having this one prototype of pop music.”
As she muses over what she needs to do moving forward, she talks about how at the end of the day, she doesn’t have to write songs in order to write songs. It’s the principle of quality over quantity, and even if she reveals more parts of herself to the audience the more she makes music, that mission to stay authentic is always important to her.
The beauty of having authenticity as her north star is that it pushes Mori to continue innovating her craft. More than just a challenge, she views it as an opportunity to be creative with how she tells the story of her life. In a sense, that’s the nature of Ena Mori as an artist — to not just push the boundaries of pop music, but to push her own boundaries as a person. The result? An ever-evolving tapestry of honesty, love, and above all, herself.
A version of this story appeared in Billboard Philippines’ pop issue, dated Oct. 15, 2023.