As Kenshi Yonezu Continues His Onslaught, "I'm Still Belittled Just For Originating From NicoNico"
Kenshi Yonezu made big waves last year with his movie theme song collaboration with DAOKO, "Fireworks," the MV for which has broken 100 million views. His own album BOOTLEG was also a major hit, selling over 300,000 copies. Yonezu, who got his start on NicoNico Douga, has been involved with commercials, movies, anime theme songs and more, but his new song Lemon is his first theme song for a TV drama (TBS's Friday series "Unnatural"). The advance release of the song, as of the week of 3/19, has placed first in Oricon's Weekly Digital Singles Ranking for four weeks in a row, with over 500,000 downloads. Though Yonezu initially received most of his support from web-users and young people, perhaps he's beginning to envelop all generations. We asked Yonezu his current mentality as he tries to stand on a new stage.
Q. Yonezu-san, you originated on NicoNico Douga. Recently, there have been many active artists who came from video sites in this way.
A. I'm very glad for it. But I do feel like I'm still belittled just for originating from NicoNico. I think it'd be nice if that view could be steadily done away with.
Q. There are also a lot of internet alumni appearing on music TV shows.
A. I didn't get into music out of a desire to stand on a stage, so while I'm grateful the things I make are spreading to many places, I have an understanding of what I'm suited for and what I'm not. But it's not great to only do the things I'm suited for, so I hope to make beautiful things even when I think it's a pain. I do have that feeling of wanting to try it, so it'd be nice to sing on TV someday.
Q. Your Twitter and YouTube follower counts have both broken 1 million as well.
A. Since passing a million, I've steadily put more distance between me and the internet, and sort of come to think like "Hmm, I guess this might be enough." I might get the desire to come back again, but I'm unable to keep up with the culture of sharing everything. Maybe I think that because I'm the one being shared.
Q. Meanwhile, you've found increased support from more generations than just young people. In Oricon's "2017 Breakout Artist Ranking," voted in by users from their teens to their 50s, you ranked first in all generations.
A. I basically have "making universal things" as an axis, and because I'm Japanese, I want to make music that's J-pop. I'm unraveling the mass of popular songs my predecessors built up. For instance, listening to "Hotaru no Hikari" makes you feel lonely. You don't really know why, but it feels nostalgic and hits you in the heart. I do my work by absorbing things that are rooted in history into myself, and thinking how I can best reconstruct them to reflect them in my music. So when I hear that I'm accepted by older people as well, I'm a bit relieved, and can feel like this approach wasn't a mistake.
Q. Your new song Lemon (single releasing March 14th) is your first TV drama theme song.
A. My previous commissions have been for anime and movies, things I have some familiarity with myself, but I've never watched many dramas. That's why it's a little embarrassing and strange-feeling to hear my singing during a TV drama. Still, not to sing my own praises, but I think it fits with the story very well. It gets played during great scenes, so I feel the love from the drama's staff. I'm happy to know about and be part of such a beautiful production.
Q. What feelings did the lyrics come from?
A. The producer gave me an order for "a song that's like gently embracing someone hurt." The show itself deals with human death, and death is something significant to my music creation as well, so there was that connection. All humans die. I think that you need to work backwards from that fact to get something powerful. This isn't only restricted to music; in the Pyeongchang Olympics, say, the competitors earned medals after putting in extraordinary effort. Their lives as competitors are extremely short. But because the "death" of their competitive life is in the not-too-distant future, they devote immeasurable passion to it. I feel that to create beautiful moments or works, you need to have a philosophy on death, or your creations won't have a leg to stand on.
Q. Did creation go smoothly?
A. Normally, my way of creation is like free diving: I dive down really really deep and pick up what's at the bottom. But it's a rather time-consuming process. I made this song while on my nationwide tour, so for a while, I'd be diving deep for a few days after getting back from a show, then heading out for a show again, over and over. I had to force myself to switch gears when it was time to go on stage, so I got utterly exhausted. While working with that schedule, around the time I was starting to make the first chorus with my guitar, my grandfather passed away. For a relative to die while I was making a song about death... It got me thinking about a lot of things. I believed myself to have a good grasp of death, but I came to wonder if I was right about that. I agonized over it a lot, so it took even longer to finish than usual.
Q. So it wrecked your concentration?
A. This may sound rude, but to be honest, far from it. But because death physically lept out at me while I was treating it as something vague, there were things I was forced to think about. Listening to the finished product objectively, I feel like I'm only saying "I'm sad that you died," and I don't know if I filled that order from the producer, but... Ultimately, the drama staff was pleased by it, so I think it's fine.