Kenshi Yonezu/Hachi - Bye Now, See You Someday!, April 12th, 2024 (Original Article)

The Tiger With Wings Theme Song Filled With "Go Off" Energy; Putting Hopes and Prayers for 100 Years Hence Into Song

On April 8th, Kenshi Yonezu released his new song "Bye Now, See You Someday!" for streaming.

"Bye Now, See You Someday!" was written as the theme song for Tiger With Wings, an NHK morning TV serial starring Sairi Ito which began airing April 1st. While at once a pop song that's refreshing to listen to, the lyrics also weave in startling expressions such as "With a sudden bleeding in my mouth, I spit at the sky."

Tiger With Wings tells an original story based on real history, about a woman who dove into the world of law to become one of Japan's first female lawyers. How did Yonezu interpret this story, and how did he put it into a song? We spoke with him about the process behind creating it.

— What was your first impression when you were approached about the Tiger With Wings theme song?

I was like, "is it okay for it to be me?" When I make music, I'm someone who uses the word "night" like it's nothing, so I've thought of myself as someone not very suited to the morning. So I felt grateful, but also felt like "should it really be me?"

— To make a song that would be played on TV in the morning, and listened to by people of all ages and genders, what sorts of concepts did you start from?

I'm not especially familiar with morning dramas myself, so I started all the way back from "what are morning dramas like, anyhow?" I had to listen to what sorts of songs other musicians tasked with making a theme song in the past had made, and learn what sorts of stories and what sort of energy the ones considered to be all-time greats had. My conclusion was that yes, it had to be something you could listen to every single morning. So I started from the belief I should make something that would, for better or worse, just smoothly flow by.

— What was it like trying to get an initial handle on the song?

While I had the idea that they probably wanted a refreshing ballad you could listen to in the morning, at the same time, I had this thought of "is Tiger With Wings really that kind of story?", and that perhaps it shouldn't have an easygoing tempo. There's a sense of the protagonist Tomoko advancing forward rapidly and energetically, so I remember thinking it had to have a good-feeling, four-on-the-floor-type tempo.

— I think many morning drama songs are ballads with either soft, gentle tunes or heartrending melodies. Meanwhile, there are also exceedingly cheerful songs, but this song isn't really either. What sort of temperature felt like it meshed best with the show?

In making this song, I was thinking that it was essential to "go off." You know, like "fly off the handle," or "get mad" - I'm talking about the kind of "going off" that represents powerful, indignant energy.

— Meaning?

Tiger With Wings is a story with a feminist tone all over it, so there's no avoiding getting a perspective on the ways in which women have been involved in society. So I needed to first consider how I should be involving myself with this. In the first place, I had doubts about me, a man, having been asked to do this, so I had a meeting with the general producer. I asked, "I'm a man, so why is it that I'm singing the theme song for a story about women elevating their social status?", and they replied "In your own way, I want you to depict an expanding world from a bird's-eye view." They wanted someone to make a universal song with an a overhead perspective, one step removed from the women of this story, and apparently they had talks that concluded in "maybe Kenshi Yonezu would be good for that." While at the time I thought "ah, I see," once I considered how to actually apply this story to a song, I felt it was impossible to make it objectively. If I think about what shape it would take were I to do it objectively, I think it would become sort of like "I'm giving a hearty yell for your hard work." It would be forced to use phrasings like "you're working hard, you're wonderful, I'm rooting for you." And I thought that would be incredibly irresponsible.

— I see.

The fact I'm a man meant I had to consider the topic of women's social elevation all the more carefully - like, I didn't want my gesturing to result in anything detrimental. And so I realized that if I took the "a hearty yell for you" approach that came to mind as a way to achieve that, it would actually just be putting women on a pedestal as sacred. Given my own nature, I got the feeling it might come off as treating them like muses of some kind. But that's ultimately no more than an "inversion." Idolization and self-deprecation are basically the same at their root. As such, at least for me, being objective was practically impossible. Personally, I concluded I had to make the song subjectively. I do think it's its own kind of violence to equate myself with those of a different nature, but being made to choose one, I had to pick subjectivity. Preparing myself to just buckle down and do it, this is where the song ended up.

— You concluded that in addition to the lightness of a song you could listen to in the morning, a strong "indignant" energy was also necessary.

That's right. When I got thinking about what strength even is, I was like "you gotta lose your temper." I felt this song should carry the idea that "no matter what you do, there's a need for indignation." Looking back at the lives of the people who blazed trails as the first female lawyers, standing at the forefront to secure all these different trails for others, I thought there must have been an unparalleled energy there. Those absolutely aren't people who just sit politely, trying not to hurt anyone's feelings, waiting like an honor student for their opportunity to come. Rather, it's people who say "Like I care!" and have the power to demonstrate to people "this is how I want to be" that are able to carve out paths like that. And one of those great energies comes from indignation. That's an energy I thought should reside in this song.

— The line from the chorus in particular, "With a sudden bleeding in my mouth, I spit at the sky," feels like an expression of strength. Especially accounting for the guttural way you sing that part, I think it's an important focal point of the song that stays in listeners' ears. What do you have to say about this line?

There's a lot going on there as well, but first of all, I felt that the lead, Sairi Ito-san, has a great voice. It's a voice with some great gain to it, so to speak - a unique voice you can't forget once you hear it. I really liked it, so I simple-mindedly considered that I wanted to imbue that "gain-y" feel into this song. And at the same time, it took that form to express the "indignation" I mentioned earlier.

— I see. Are there any aspects of the protagonist Tomoko Inotsume that you sympathized with, or parts of the show's story that left an impression?

This actually had a direct influence on the song's lyrics, even, but there's a scene with Tomoko and her mother where she's told "I'm only thinking of you." Her mother tries to persuade her, saying "I just think it'd be easier for you to live this way," but this puts Tomoko on the verge of tears, and with a sour face, she replies "I'm sure that'd be easier to you, and maybe that's the right answer when you're living in this society, but to me, it's only hell." Effectively saying "I have my own way of living, and I want to see it through." I thought that was a really good scene, and I deeply sympathized with it. It felt like a fundamental part of this story, and had a major impact on me.

— The line "It's beyond that which people declare hell, in fact, where I see the spring" was no doubt inspired by exactly that.

Right. I think all people have "hells" that only they can understand. That's a thing I think about daily myself, so I feel it's an aspect that really connected me to Tomoko.

— The chorus has some lyrics about the distant future, both "Will anyone remember, 100 years from now?" and "I want to meet you 100 years from now." What was the idea you had in mind for this?

I have an admiration for the incredibly distant future. It could be 100 years or even 1000 - just incredibly far ahead. I'll obviously be dead by then, and no one will remember me; I often ponder a future that's completely lost any resemblance to the world we live in now. Doing that actually brings me great relief. After all those years of things carrying on and being passed on into the future, there will be people living in that world like it's just normal. That fact feels like a sort of salvation to me. The further out things go, the more my self, the individual Kenshi Yonezu, will be diluted, and there will probably be no one left who remembers me. Yet even so, I want to believe there are definitely things that will be passed on. That's also why, making music, I keep saying "I want to become an anonymous author." I have no clue who made the guardrails on the road or the bus stops, but I know for certain that they're there because someone made them. Our present society exists because people wished "I want to be like this" and "I want it to be like this." Even once my body and personality no longer exist in a physical form, I deeply want there to be something that still remains. I want to remain in some form in that distant future after I'm gone. It's possible I may just be akin to tiny scattered particles that you can't even perceive, but maybe that's exactly why it puts me at ease, that I can feel hope in it. It's sort of like that.

— I think the idea you just explained is fundamentally tied to "Bye Now, See You Someday!" and Tiger With Wings. In our present world, there are female lawyers and judges as a matter of course, and they're as active as anyone in the world of law. But in order to get there, there had to be a "first person." The story of Tiger With Wings shines a light on the life of one of those people; many people wouldn't know what those "first people" were like until seeing it depicted in a story like this. You could say people who changed the structure of society served a similar role for the world as an anonymous musician. In that sense, the "100 years from now" in the song could be interpreted as either 100 years from your present, or else "now," 100 years from the time in which Yoshiko Mibuchi-san, the person Tomoko was based on, lived. Historically speaking, it's a line you can read multi-layered meaning from.

That's true. To the woman who served as the basis for this story, we're indeed "someone"s from 100 years in the future. And in our own 100-years-hence, there will surely be people we've yet to see the like of, that haven't even been born yet. We're here now because people have kept praying and wishing ceaselessly, one after another. That's a really precious thing.

— With regard to the elevation of women's social status brought up earlier, as well, I feel that in the background of this song, there's an awareness that some things aren't just "because it's set in the Showa era," but have yet to change even in today's social structures.

That's right. Compared to back then, I'm sure it's an easier world to live in, but when you talk to enough people, you can feel that there are still many difficulties that lie ahead. It's sort of like you can follow the viewpoint from back then and bring it with you to the present day. Ultimately, I'm a pop musician, so I want to deeply value the present moment. I think that's the only place I can set off from.

— Beyond just this song, looking back on your previous works, I get the impression you don't often use expressions that explicitly indicate masculinity or femininity. For instance, you often use "ano ko" ["that kid"] in a way that lets you imagine someone male or female. What cognizance and feelings do you have about gender and sexuality in your artistic expression?

I think of people as a consecutive series of states. A person's nature and their awareness of it aren't a permanently fixed, self-evident fact, I don't think. Really, I think it's only natural for it to sway to and fro. I may be living like this today, but there's no guarantee I'll be the same tomorrow. I can understand that sort of feeling really well. Of course, at the same time I think there are things that are beyond your power to change, but fundamentally, you're just a series of states, and in the same way cells replace themselves over and over through apoptosis, you're always dying and being born on repeat.

— I see.

That's why when I look back on my history, sometimes I think to myself "I sure was totally different from who I am now." I may be a part of the same sequence as my past self, but how I'm living now, what I'm thinking... complex factors like what the environment around me is like are always steadily remaking me. To make music amid that process is kind of a "prayer," I think. I'm someone who periodically makes, and has kept making, music as a "prayer" in that way. It's changing topics a bit, but there's that trend of talking about musicians like "gods," right? I really hate that. It's the other way around.

— So you mean to say it's musicians who are praying to God.

Maybe to someone who doesn't make music, the way music can heal a person makes it seem like they're some kind of god who can wield magic. However, the reality is the opposite. It's not that a god created music out of nothing; in the beginning, there was music that was like a god, and we're mere disciples who worship it. But back to the original topic: in praying like that, making music, performing, I feel each time like I'm being liberated from my past self. Something opens in that moment, and so I feel another new self beginning. That's why I don't have too much faith in "consistency."

— I see.

I change the first-person pronouns based on the song, too; sometimes I sing "watashi," sometimes it's "boku," sometimes it's "ore." That's the kind of person I am, so I imagine others have that sort of aspect to them as well. I might have a relationship with a person who I'm speaking to right in front of me, with us confirming our respective ideas of who we are, but by tomorrow they might have become somebody totally different. When that happens, I want to avoid trying to control them as much as possible. I associate with people keeping an awareness that they're their own person. That's very important to me. I don't want to restrict them by going "Right, you're this kind of person." Even if the you in front of me becomes someone else, I don't really mind - but right now, my life is fun because you're here. I think it just repeats like that in a cycle. People aren't playthings you can control, after all; being able to live while recognizing the things beyond your control is incredbily important. Myself, at least, I want to interact with people in that way, and I want my music, a manifestation of my prayers, to take that sort of form.

— Understood. Finally, let me ask something. What sort of year is 2024 shaping up to be for you?

I don't know if it'll last the whole year, but right now I'm enjoying making preparations. I think most things in this world are preparation. Even when a result comes about, beneath the surface, there are preparations tied onto that result. The world is made full by a long chain of such preparations. It's an incredibly obvious statement, but I think what's important for me right now is how I can enjoy that. I'm hoping I can achieve a life where I enjoy the preparation.

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