J-pop Superduo Yoasobi Surprised By Massive Popularity Here, Wants To Perform In Singapore Again

By all accounts, 2023 was the year for J-pop sensation Yoasobi, who held their first concert in Singapore recently. The superduo worked on songs for popular anime series Oshi no Ko (“Idol”) and Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End (“The Brave”), commemorated the first-year anniversary of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet with “Biri-Biri”, conducted their first Asia Tour, and performed the finale for the 74th Kohaku Uta Gassen – an annual New Year’s Eve television special produced by Japanese public broadcaster NHK, and regarded as a big highlight in a performer’s career – alongside invited K-pop idols, and many others. 

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But their biggest milestone for the year was perhaps “Idol”, the viral mega hit that became the first song in Japan to exceed 500 million streams in 28 weeks, and the highest charted Japanese act on the Billboard Global 200, coming in at number seven. It’s no surprise that the head-bopper, which was also the encore piece for the sold-out Singapore show, saw attendees pumping their fists, jumping, and swaying their bodies to the music, as well as mouthing the lyrics, to cap an already amazing evening on a much bigger audience high. 

Yet somehow, this fervent response was far from what Yoasobi, comprising producer Ayase and singer-songwriter Ikura, had expected. In a media conference held for local media on 12 January, composer Ayase shared how he couldn’t be sure that there were even fans in Singapore. 

“I receive many messages from fans on social media, asking us to come to Singapore,” said the 29-year-old. “I was sceptical. Do we really have fans here?”

As it turned out, the 5,500-strong crowd at Resorts World Sentosa proved otherwise, with fans starting to queue for entry early in the morning, even though doors only opened at 6.30pm. Some even spent hours in the snaking merchandise lines, yet everyone maintained their high energy levels throughout the near 1.5-hour performance, as attendees paid little to no heed to the middling sound system, simply happy to bask in the atmosphere. 

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Image credit: Poto-Pot

“We had no idea how exactly our fans in Singapore were going to react; what kind of people they are, and if they were going to be hyped,” added vocalist Ikura, who goes by Ikuta Lilas for her solo activities. “But as we went out onto the stage, they actually welcomed us, and they were so passionate and enthusiastic about our music, so we’re really happy about that.” 

She continued, “They actually sang our songs from the very beginning up till the end… I was so moved, and there were many moments where I almost teared up.” 

Perhaps the most telling instance was when the crowd belted out the lyrics of “Gunjo” (or “Blue”, as it’s known by the English title) as one, despite the language barrier. Bathed in the warm glow of blue lights, this physical audience presence serves as a reminder of Yoasobi’s far-reaching reputation – something they were able to fully grasp only recently. 

While the duo was already on their steady, upward climb to international fame with their debut hit “Yoru ni Kakeru (Racing into the Night)”, the isolation brought on by the pandemic made it difficult for them to track their reach outside of Japan. It wasn’t until the global pandemic eased up that allowed both Ikura and Ayase to be cognizant of their outsized popularity, with the turnouts for their live concerts laying out a visual – and very real – understanding of their influence. Seeing is believing, after all.

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Image credit: Poto-Pot

“We made our debut towards the end of 2019, and that happened to be the heavy pandemic period,” recalled the former. “And people stayed home at that time, so we couldn’t actually feel that we were getting famous or popular, because we didn’t really get to meet people outside, and our activities were mainly online as well. Back then, we didn’t really feel that change in our life.”

“It was only afterwards when we could perform live once again, and saw our music ranking in the charts of different countries, that we realised the change has happened,” the 24-year-old continued. 

The sky’s the limit, however, and the superduo has only just gotten started. Despite their meteoric rise to fame, Yoasobi has no plans to step on the brakes and call for a breather. Rather, they are looking to reach new heights and shoot for the moon. 

“I feel that we’re progressing forward as an artist, but I don’t want to call this the end of our success, like the ultimate success, because once I start feeling this way, it means I’ve already reached the goal,” explained Ayase. “People are starting to understand that we’re moving forward for sure, but we have not reached the goal by any means.”

Half the battle is won with the easy charm they ooze. In the ever-growing J-pop landscape, which is now enjoying a resurgence due to the rising popularity of anime soundtracks, the pair have carved out a reputation for being creatively unique and a core element of their craft, unlike other contemporaries, involves turning novels into music and stylish animation. 

Image credit: Poto-Pot

“Yoru ni Kakeru”, for instance, takes after Maya Hoshino’s short story titled Thanatos no Yuwaku (An Invitation from Thanatos), depicting a man who’s fascinated by a personification of death as he tries to stop his girlfriend from suicide by jumping from height. Meanwhile, “Harujion (Halzion)” is based on professional novelist Hashizume Shunki’s short story, Soredemo, Happy End, which follows a protagonist who spends days of disappointment after parting with her lover, finding hope while re-questioning her dreams and the meaning of life, and eventually regains her motivation to move into the future. 

It’s a demanding process that requires building everything from ground-up, but Ayase enjoys the rigour of it all. “I like creating music from scratch; the way that we create our music is different in the sense that the source material already exists,” shared the producer. “Firstly, I must take in or absorb the story from the world of the novel, interpret it in my own way, and let Ikura-san listen to it.”

According to him, his professional partner will then extend her imagination to include thoughts like, “What is the character of the song feeling? What kind of emotion is this character going through right now?,” and record the vocals. 

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Image credit: Poto-Pot

“We have to meander around [the interpretations] to find our answer, to find out what’s correct, but at the same time, there’s no correct answer,” he continued. 

Indeed, it’s this beautiful contradiction that forms the core of their musical identity. Most of Yoasobi’s discography features a layered touch, where cheerful, bright-sounding tunes are juxtaposed with dark undertones and bleak lyrics. 

“I think our forte is that we can actually take on or challenge different genres of music, where we’re free in the sense that we’re not just constrained to one type of music. Both of us are very different in texture, but one thing we have in common is playfulness – we’re very, very playful in how we approach music,” mused Ayase. 

And it’s a presentation that has obviously found favour with their listeners, including the Singapore crowd. Thanking them for their show of support during the concert, Ikura said, “I thank you all very much for the lots of love that you’ve been giving us – it was because of your love that made our concert in Singapore possible.”

“The more voices we have, the happier we’ll be, so please invite back to Singapore again,” the singer-songwriter added, highlighting that the unit would love to return for more shows. Ayase agreed, sharing that he was “very happy to be able to see the faces of our fans”.

 “We want to come back and perhaps be able to perform at a bigger venue, so we’ll be able to meet our fans here next time,” finished the producer.