Over the last few years, singer/songwriter Kenshi Yonezu has rapidly moved up the Japanese pop ladder. His albums, heavily-influenced from arena-ready rockers such as RADWIMPS and Asian Kung-Fu Generation, have performed well on the Oricon charts, while songs such as last month’s “Peace Sign” has gotten a lot of attention online. It’s not like he’s on the up-and-up as he’s probably already there, but Yonezu’s presence in the mainstream is only blossoming.
Yet his origin story is semi-unexpected. Yonezu started his musical career producing songs using Vocaloid, a singing-synthesizer software most closely linked to virtual pop star Hatsune Miku. He created well-regarded songs under the name Hachi, gathering a strong following on Japanese video site Niconico thanks to off-kilter rockers. That project, though, became far less productive once he shifted to putting himself in the spotlight.
Having said that though, he returned late last week with a new song featuring Miku, titled “Suna No Wakusei” or “Sand Planet,” and it has been doing extremely well on YouTube, already surpassing a million views and only getting more attention. Check out the video right here, which finds Hatsune Miku wandering through a post-apocalyptic desert world.
Besides being a visually interesting clip, the song highlights Yonezu’s clever approach to Vocaloid music. He’s not bending the instrument into anything experimental — like many using it, it mostly serves as a stand-in for a human singer — but he makes the music around Hatsune Miku’s digi-delivery interesting and well -atched. “Suna” features a clanging beat accented by electric guitar and weird vocal details, which creates a disorienting backdrop for the very computerized delivery of Miku. Yonezu isn’t hiding the fact Miku’s voice is being digitally generated, and practically lets it skip at various points. Yet, it works well with a song that does the same and features music that feels like it’s peeling off at various points. For all of these wonky bits, “Suna” works as a pop-song too, building up to a big hook with plenty of ear-worm potential.
The song serves as the theme tune to this year’s Magical Mirai event, the biggest Hatsune-Miku-centric concert of the year in Japan. For 2017, it will take place just outside of Tokyo in early September. But should you be unable to make it out, you can always check out Yonezu’s intriguing theme song above.
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