New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Q&A: Miki Berenyi on ‘Fingers Crossed’ and the new chapter of her life

WSN sat down with Berenyi to talk about her memoir, the impact of music as she ages and what it was like navigating the ’80s alternative music scene as a biracial woman.
Miki Berenyi is an English singer-songwriter whose memoir “Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me from Success” was released in North America on April 9, 2024. (Courtesy of Abbey Raymonde)

Best known as the frontwoman of the band Lush, Miki Berenyi was an icon of the shoegaze scene back in the ’80s and ’90s. Her red hair is instantly recognizable to any veteran fan of the alternative music genre. Born to Hungarian and Japanese parents, Berenyi details her complicated upbringing as well as the tumultuous journey she underwent while navigating the British music industry in her memoir, “Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me from Success.”

Despite her now-black locks, Berenyi hasn’t aged a day since Lush disbanded over a quarter of a century ago. She retains a youthful charm with her tongue-in-cheek humor — the only marked distinction of her age is the wisdom she’s gained from going through the ups and downs of stardom.

Following the American release of her memoir, WSN spoke with Berenyi about the challenges she faced while writing, her changed relationship with music and being half Japanese in a white-dominated music genre.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: It’s been around two years since the initial publication of ‘Fingers Crossed.’ Now that it was just released in the United States, how do you feel about the memoir after seeing how it’s been received? 

Berenyi: I feel a lot better about it. It’s not that I felt bad about it before, but I didn’t know what kind of can of worms I might be opening. I’ve got in trouble before with my big mouth and saying things that I probably shouldn’t. This memoir basically gave me the space to fill a whole book of that, so I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, which bit are people going to freak out at me for?’

In actuality, that hasn’t really happened. I wasn’t sure about a lot of the things that I said in the book, you know, as a woman and such. Nowadays, women have more of a voice in the industry, where they can kind of argue their case a bit more without everyone going crazy at them. 

WSN: I read that the opportunity to write a memoir just sort of presented itself to you. Did you always want to write it?

Berenyi: The genesis of it was my new band, Piroshka. I wasn’t on social media before, so had to go on social media and build up a following. You can’t do anything these days if you haven’t got a bloody following. I was putting up the old photographs from Lush and just reminiscing, and then I kept getting people like, oh, you should write a memoir. And I was like, okay, well, there’s a big difference between writing a book and just putting some fucking tweets together. It was already one of these things that people were suggesting, but I just dismissed it.

Peter Selby from Nine Eight Books was setting up that publishing arm of the company specifically about music, so he approached me and asked if I’d want to write a memoir. Initially, I said, ‘No, I think that’s a ridiculous idea.’ Like, who the fuck cares? We weren’t even that big. But he was quite persistent. There’s a couple of other things too — I lost the magazine job I had because the company folded, and then the COVID-19 lockdown happened. So I thought, well, I might as well give it a go. 

WSN: Did you come across any challenges writing the memoir? What do you think was the hardest part of the process?

Berenyi: The problem that I found is that it’s easy to develop memories into a more palatable version when you’re chatting about them with friends, and that can get quite far from the truth. There’s nothing like reading a teenage diary to refresh your memory about what you might have really felt about stuff at the time. 

For people who are involved in those anecdotes, I was afraid that writing about them would be quite hurtful, so there was that to dance around as well. Not to mention that 40 years have gone by and some of these people will have children. I didn’t want to drag anyone’s name through the mud, but at the same time, I wanted to be true to the story. There were also things like self harm, and other stuff that was hard to talk about, without completely trashing my parents. It’s shit being a parent half the time, you’re gonna just kind of make a ton of mistakes. I just didn’t want the memoir to be a ‘poor me, pity me!’ kind of book.

WSN: While you were looking back at all that and revisiting those memories, did you notice anything about your relationship with music? Do you think that’s shifted or evolved over the years in any way?

Berenyi: It’s difficult for music to feature as largely in my life as it did when I was younger. Once you do have kids, and all the crap that comes with older age, it’s just impossible to have that space available to make it so important in your life. As much as I love music, a lot of the music that resonates is the stuff that I listened to when I was in my teens and my 20s. For me to sit and go through like loads of bands and find genres that I know absolutely fucking nothing about, I just haven’t got the fucking time. 

Music still has that impact on me — it’s an emotional experience, and I love that about music. But I think the hunger for discovering new stuff and being really knowledgeable about it, that’s kind of gone. In terms of playing music, at 57, I’m not under any kind of illusion that, oh, if we’re touring and if we released enough albums, we might be headlining wherever the fuck you know — I mean, it’s not going to happen, right? Right now, I can just play music because I want to. I don’t need to think about what could come after, or where it’s leading, or anything like that, which is part of the drive when you’re first in a band. I’m not saying that the only reason people play music when they’re young is because they just want to become famous or something shallow. It’s a bit of it, though, you have to believe it’s going to take you somewhere.

WSN: As someone who’s also half Japanese, can you speak a little bit about your relationship with your Japanese identity? When I grew up listening to a lot of shoegaze and ’80s alternative music, it was super apparent to me that it was an incredibly white-dominated scene, so it was cool to see someone like you being a big figure in it.

Berenyi: First of all, I come from a generation where British people on the whole didn’t really understand the difference between Chinese, Japanese and Korean or anything. I was constantly being told I was Chinese, and I wasn’t even offended by it. I actually remember being quite flattered when, say Siouxsie and the Banshees released their song ‘Hong Kong Garden.’ It’s not about Japan, sure, but I actually quite liked it because it felt like a tiny bit of recognition by a band I really looked up to. 

Looking at it all now, it might look a bit off actually. There was a song by The Vapors called ‘Turning Japanese.’ I’m not totally sure what it’s about, but it’s meant to be about wanking, I think. But I didn’t really mind because I just thought, ‘Oh, we got recognition!’ Obviously, people have a much more rounded kind of understanding and respect for different cultures now. 

On a personal level, I used to go back to Japan all the time and visit my grandparents. I quite liked the rigid structure of their schools — it’s a lot of drilling, but that was quite appealing to me, actually. But at the same time, when I was an adolescent back in the ’70s and ’80s, I did find it incredibly rule bound and also quite sexist. As much as I love my uncle, the one time he got really annoyed was when I was sitting with my aunt. I was a student, and I was talking to her about feminism and explaining what it is. My uncle came up to us and was like, ‘Okay, that’s enough. The conversation ends now.’ 

When we used to go on tour in Japan, there was a sort of weirdness of going to visit Japan with Western people. Back then, they’d just be making observations, but you can’t help but take it slightly personally. When they’re saying, ‘Oh, God these Japanese fans are really weird, they’re wearing their school uniforms, and they seem really infantile,’ or whatever. A bit of me would feel really protective of that, but at the same time you understand that from where they’re coming from, it seems totally alien. I guess ultimately my feeling was always, I really love going to visit Japan and it’s a great place, but I could never have lived there, particularly as a woman. I felt lucky that I lived somewhere where, you know, it’s never perfect, but fuck me, it’s better than that.

WSN: If you were still writing your memoir, what would the current chapter of your life be titled?

Berenyi: Decay. Decay and liberation. There is something about being this age that’s quite shit, because you just think, ‘Oh, my God, things were so much easier when I was younger.’ But at the same time, I look back at being younger, and I think how beset I was being so scared and worried about being judged, whereas now, there just isn’t the time to care about that. Otherwise, you don’t get anything done. If I sat around worrying about that fucking book for too long, it just would never have got written.

Contact Stephanie Wong at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Stephanie Wong
Stephanie Wong, Arts Editor
Stephanie Wong is a junior double-majoring in Media, Culture and Communication and Journalism, with a minor in English Literature. In her spare time, she loves watching bad movies and curating esoteric Spotify playlists. You can find her at @_stephaniewong_ on Instagram, @normalstephanie on Spotify, and unfortunately, on Letterboxd as @emima.

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