Kenshi Yonezu/Hachi - LADY
Natalie.mu, April 5th, 2023 (Original Article)
Making "The Malaise of Unchanging Days" Into Lighthearted Song
Kenshi Yonezu has released his new song LADY for streaming.
LADY was written as a song for Coca Cola Japan's new commercial for Georgia. Notable for its simple and refreshing tone and cheery melody, it's deeply colored by Yonezu's current mode; he described the idea of "while clad in malaise, how sunny and lighthearted can I make it?" being at the forefront of his mind in creating it.
What is the true theme at the heart of this song, represented by the word "malaise"? Yonezu accepted an interview with Natalie.mu to tell us about the background of LADY's creation, thoughts currently going around in his mind, and his future path.
- A Heart Moved by Canned Coffee, A New Viewpoint Born
— My impression of LADY is that it's a spring-like, lighthearted song. I suppose you started writing this song after the offer for a tie-in with a commercial?
That's right. I'm not certain about the timeframe, but I was contacted about the Georgia commercial. Right around then, I was really into coffee, and drinking tons of canned coffee. Before then, I was constantly doing work while downing energy drinks, but coffee took their place. Energy drinks do have this aspect of putting you in the right mood, of drinking them providing the motivation of "alright, let's do this." But coffee, rather than giving you a push from behind, feels like it's snuggling up to you. It happened right while I was thinking how wonderfully nice that was.
— So it was a well-timed offer.
I thought "I just got into coffee lately, so maybe this is some kind of fate." I'm the type to put stock in that sort of coincidence, so I even feel a sort of necessity to it. I had a premonition that if I dedicated myself to it, I might create something that's interesting to me.
— Since starting to drink coffee more, has your mood while composing, or how you feel in everyday life, changed any?
Canned coffee is my favorite kind of coffee. Due to the emergence of convenience store coffee, canned coffee has started to have a slightly antiquated vibe. Personally, I've come to find canned coffee nostalgic. Somehow my heart is moved by the act of pulling a tab to drink from a can. I have no idea how much it's influenced my creative work, but there was a change in that I gained that new viewpoint.
— Who knows, a change like that could have been a surprisingly major one.
As you get older, you gradually stop gaining any new viewpoints. Even if you encounter something new, you start to think: actually, isn't this just a regurgitation of something I've experienced before? Isn't it just a sub-category of something I've already seen - different in form, maybe, but with the same essence? You steadily run out of the feeling that something is truly fresh. And despite that, I had the thought "canned coffee sure is nice." Finding canned coffee now nostalgic, I became a little bit fond of it. In my view, even if it's not something major that can change your life, I feel like I should adore every one of those slight discoveries, and value them greatly.
- While Clad In Malaise, How Sunny and Lighthearted Can I Make It?
— Were there any directions from the client like "make us a song like this," or "include words like this"?
I'd say they just asked me to do what I liked, without any major restrictions. I knew the concept for the commercial, and was given a few references out of my own past songs to put me on the same page with what they were thinking, so I decided to not stray too far from there - and just, make something that wasn't that. Lately I've been doing a whole lot of work seriously confronting the works I'm collaborating with, becoming intimate with their stories, and figuring out how to reconstruct them. Not this time; it was more just what I could write having only some floating keywords. In a way it was like drawing in a single stroke - like I made it without my shoulders getting especially tensed up.
— Regardless of the fact it's a tie-in, what are your feelings as to your current "mode"? Did you want to make this kind of song, or do you feel making a song like this would give you some new foothold?
Lately I've really been making nothing but dark songs. It's a bad habit of mine; when I make a song without thinking about anything, it ends up being set at night. I felt like I was getting quite exhausted of that. And I'm finicky, so my songs steadily get more complicated. I put in key change after key change, complicate parts, pack in more information. KICK BACK (opening theme for the Chainsaw Man anime in November 2022) was an archetypal example of that, and lately that mode has had a strong hold, so this time I considered how far I could go with a single loop. In the end, it does change key, but using just simple piano riffs and a repeating loop, I asked myself: while clad in malaise, how sunny and lighthearted can I make it?
— This song does indeed have that mood of "lighthearted, while clad in malaise." "Simple" is a fitting word for it, but could you break down what this feeling is a little further?
"Malaise" is the closest thing to my current mode. Over such a long time... 11 years making music under my real name, or if you include Vocaloid, a little under 15 years, of course I'm going to end up repeating things. I create songs, I do interviews, I make an announcement, I put together an album when I've collected enough songs, I have concerts. As I go, I end up repeating the same things. At first there were new challenges, and I was surrounded by things I'd never seen before, but even those gradually become standard, and a "convenient distance" solidifies. Though that's a peaceful life, it's not a stimulating one. That sort of "malaise" has been a big thing on my mind lately.
— I do feel you've intentionally challenged new things that you haven't done before lately, though.
Well, even "doing something new" becomes its own routine. I've been like a clown lately, becoming a rakugo storyteller, getting run over by a car, trying all sorts of things, but I'm also like, "has that "I'm doing something new" also become part of my routine?" When I look at my own career objectively like that, I'm filled with malaise wondering "what is stimulation, even?"
— However, when you dig down into that malaise, I feel you usually end up at nihilism. Yet LADY is cheerful, sunny, and lighthearted. That's an important aspect of the song, and I wonder if it was something you were very much conscious of. What would you say?
If I were to describe this song as a time, it would be around 10 in the morning. 10 in the morning is when sleeping people are still asleep and awake people are starting to get to work, so it feels like a time where malaise and refreshedness are both present. I'm a nocturnal person, so I'm always going to bed in the morning and waking up in the evening, but there are occasions that I wrap around and get back into a more typical life rhythm. I wake up around 7 AM, work for a while, look at the clock, and it's still only 10 AM. And I'm like, this sense of bliss is amazing. I've never worked at a company, but back when I went to school, around 10 in the morning I was always thinking "I wanna go hooome." So I think it's a good timeframe to represent that malaise of mine. I thought it'd be good to establish a time where there's refreshedness but also malaise, and bring out a feeling of vague wandering.
- A Battle With "Things That Are Plainly Obvious"
— The lyrics contain descriptions that sound like the daily lives of two partners; how did you develop this idea?
It takes the form of a love song, but I didn't especially write it intending on a love song. That would be because of the malaise in my daily life I mentioned earlier, of course. It's like, how do you confront things that have become plainly obvious to you? Of course I know it's inconceivable to understand another person 100%, but it can feel to you like it's all become obvious. It feels like a sparks-flying battle against that.
— So I suppose the central motif is "keeping up an unchanging lifestyle every day, like going to school/work, or doing chores around the house?"
As long as it represented "living day to day," anything would do. However, music as a format is quite subjective compared to other things, and I'm singing it with my human voice, so like it or not, emotion is near at hand. For reasons such as that, I felt the form of "love" would be the most effective.
— If you do perceive it as a love song, then it feels like it's in contrast with Pale Blue, released in June 2021. I'd say that song depicts a love that makes you forget yourself, while LADY has the premise of ordinary days continuing on.
It's like "a second loop of love," sort of. It was the director for the music video, Tomokazu Yamada-san, who said "a second loop of love" to me - I think it's a good phrase. Suppose you had a childhood friend of the opposite sex, and had built up a relationship with them for decades as a good friend; if you then have sex with them, you surely wouldn't be able to keep it together. I haven't experienced that myself, but I'm sure it'd be embarrassing, and feel extremely incongruent. Yet just because that happened, I don't think it would change your daily life from then on that much. Though who really knows what would happen; it might be the impetus for your relationship to become a total mess. But I feel like it isn't that huge of an issue. There's something ephemeral there, that brings the way you two had been before into stark relief. Your embarrassment, your feelings you can't bear to sit with, appear large right in front of you. I felt like that could be kind of a good thing. I thought it could be nice to show an aspiration or desire for something like that.
- I Want to Have a Larger Personal Space
— When announcing the song, you gave the comment "I made a song from the feeling of thinking it'd be nice to indulge a little from the flatness of daily life." What is that "feeling of wanting to indulge" to you?
Hmm, I wonder. I think I've lived life diligently, you know. I meet the quotas given to me, and show decent results. I have tasks, and even if I cut it close every time, I always make sure to submit them by the time they're due. I feel I've always lived diligently like that. And, the more I live that way, the more I think living diligently is best. I live purely and earnestly toward my objectives. However, there are times I feel exhausted by that diligence. Although I'm saying nothing but negative things.
— I see.
In recent years, I think I've been gradually losing personal space. The presence of social media has grown larger and larger in society. For instance, if you're in a position like mine and you walk around town, people will take photos of you, upload them to social media, and make it something public. Being private is becoming extremely difficult. Being private means having your own isolated personal space, and generally, you shouldn't have to share moral values or meaningfulness with the outside world. For example, no one will mind whatever I do in my own head, but once that turns into actions or words, it becomes something public. That's an extreme way of putting it, but I want to have a larger, more humble form of personal space. I can sense that feeling growing year by year. I'm thinking that might be what I mean by "indulging."
— If you listen to the song keeping what you said in mind, it certainly adds significance. It's a bright and casual song, but I feel there's "deviation" concealed within. The line "I feel like I could abscond any moment" evokes that, for instance. I think personal space also means a place where deviation is allowed. However, in our current era, not just so-called celebrities, but all people have fewer places that allow for deviation. What are your thoughts on the subject of "deviation"?
People are a consecutive series of "states," right? They have both diligent moments and undiligent moments. They're more chaotic than not, and things at opposite extremes exist together in them. If you seek to find consistency there, you'll steadily get away from the true nature of humans. I feel like trying to strongarm people to fit a moral standard can, on the contrary, turn into a denial of their humanity. I believe everyone should give some thought to how close they want to be to that sort of thing.
— In LADY, the "I feel like I could abscond any moment" line in particular had me taken aback. Where exactly did this phrase come from?
Hmm, who knows. Lately, I've really gotten so tired of managing my social media accounts. Though perhaps that relates to the things I said earlier, in the sense of exposing things to the public eye. Ethical evaluation, appropriateness for the situation - it all gets judged by the public. That feels extremely constraining. Though I'm a person who arose from the internet to begin with, so ten years ago I super enjoyed that kind of community, and played in it like a sand pit in the park. Well, lots of things can change after 10 years. That sort of "sand pit" is gone from my internet. So yes, it came from feelings like that.
- Proceeding Down a Singular Path; That's Just Perfect For Me
— Let me ask about the making of the melody and sound as well. The arrangement revolves around piano phrases; where did the idea for this come from?
I've been playing nothing but piano lately. I once made songs by playing guitar and singing along, but starting from a sequenced track is more common for me lately. When I start with the track, making a single loop is best, and feels good physiologically. When you create by playing and singing, putting weight on the words and vocals, you get a three-part framework of chords, melody, and words, and those assemble into a story. But when you create by sequencing, it puts weight on the single loop. Rather than changing key, going over here and over there, like you're building a labyrinth filled with wonder, instead you're basically just proceeding down a singular path. I felt like that was just perfect for me.
— The choice to go with simple chord progressions had a big impact.
I watched Top Gun: Maverick the other day. It was super entertaining, but honestly my only impression was "it was entertaining." Simply physiologically amusing. That purity can be captivating in its own way, so I felt I wanted to go simple.
— Was there anything you struggled with while making the song?
I didn't want to struggle. I really just wanted to draw it in one stroke. But as I went along, my sort of perverse nature came out, and I felt myself veering to the left and right again. So maybe I struggled with how ordinary I could make it sound. I didn't want to create anything too dynamic, so maybe I struggled with how to keep things in check, in order to represent this sort of malaise.
— Did you give it the name LADY at the end?
That's right. I was making it without having established a title at all, and as I was singing, the word "lady" came up. Words like "lady" and "honey" and "baby" might be in the topmost level of my mind, I think. It came from those physiological sensations of mine, so at the end I titled it all like "hmm, maybe LADY."
— You also drew the cover illustration. What concept did you have for it?
I wonder. I also just drew it in a blink, really. Thinking it'd be good to have a liberated feel. A bare foot, with the toes spread out like wings. It's that kind of thing.
— A bare foot serving as a symbol of liberation, simplicity, and feeling good.
In my daily life, the thing I want to liberate most are my feet. I really hate the feeling of pressure from socks, and just want to get them off. I'd like to live barefoot as much as possible.
- How to Live in "Unknown Territory"
— Lastly, let me ask. You turned 32 in March, and are also starting your "Daydream" national tour in April. What sort of year do you think it will be for your career?
Though I can't see the full picture yet, I feel like it could become a kind of turning point. I personally have some very deep feelings about turning 32. A close friend of mine died at age 31, so in the sense of becoming older than that, it feels like unknown territory for me. How to live in light of that, and what sort of life to live - I feel there may be something imposed on me there. I don't know how long this flat malaise might persist, but it would be good if some new viewpoints can continue to arise from there one by one. It's all very vague, but that's the sort of feeling I have now.
— Let me ask one more thing, something I don't often ask in a regular interview. Unrelated to music, is there something you've wanted to do that you haven't done before? Like skydiving, for instance, or anything else. Going on a vacation somewhere you've never been, say.
To this day, I continue to want to draw manga. I want to make something where I'm not the leading role. I've been making music all the time lately, but I'm also allocating lots of time to ideas that are totally unrelated. I often think regarding minor things around me, "why is this the way it is?", or "what sort of system makes this up?" With people, too, I enjoy thinking "how has this person lived, and what kind of life led them to now?", or "what thought process resulted in their words?" In terms of subjectivity or objectivity, I feel like I live extremely objectively. I want to reconstruct that. When I sing, I'm inevitably seen as the leading role. And that perspective causes interference. I think I want to do something that isn't like that. And if I were to say what popped into my mind as what that could be, then it's drawing manga. I feel like it could be fun if I was able to make something where the author isn't the lead part.