How Kenshi Yonezu Rose From Online Prodigy to Hitmaker in Japan

Jiro KonamiĀ 
Kenshi Yonezu

by agehasprings Open Lab

Kenshi Yonezu's latest single, "Peace Sign," reached No. 1 on the <a href="http://www.billboard.com/charts/japan-hot-100">Billboard Japan Hot 100 chart</a> chart a month ago, and is currently holding strong at No. 15. The music video released prior to the single gained over 1 million views in just 24 hours, and the song also reached No. 1 on iTunes less than four hours after its release.

Yonezu first gained popularity under the name Hachi as a Vocaloid producer on the Japanese online video-sharing site Nico Nico Douga. He released his first album independently in 2012 using his real name and made his major label debut in 2014 with Yankee.

To his fans, he has always been known as an incredibly talented artist who not only is a singer and musician but who also writes, arranges, programs and mixes his own songs as well as illustrates the breathtaking artwork on his releases and many of his music videos.

"Peace Sign" is the opening theme of the popular TV animation series My Hero Academia, and the song's recent breakthrough success indicates that his music is reaching a wider mainstream audience. Three of his previous singles -- "Orion," "Loser" and "Eine Kleine" -- charted in the Japan Hot 100 two weeks after "Peace Sign" hit No. 1, which suggests that a new set of fans previously unfamiliar with his work is going through his back catalog.

The indexes for the three songs that returned to the Japan Hot 100 show a sharp increase in Twitter mentions and look-ups. Video views also show above-average figures, which indicate that his fans both old and a new are mostly young, in their teens and early 20s.

The online music scene in Japan, known only to a small set of aficionados when Yonezu was getting started, is also gaining a wider audience. For example, 150,000 people attended this year's Niconico Chokaigi, the annual event that originated from Nico Nico Douga, and Nana Music, a new social music platform for young people in their teens to share their works using their smartphones, has reached 4 million users.

Yonezu's rising popularity in J-pop's mainstream coincides with the evolution of an obscure online culture that is being handed down to the next generation of users while also expanding into "real life" as pop culture. And even after establishing his position as a mainstream hitmaker, he hasn't forgotten his roots: He recently released a new track called "Suna No Wakusei feat. Miku Hatsune" under his old moniker Hachi, which hit No. 1 in Twitter mentions in the latest charts.

True to his roots while embracing mainstream popularity, Kenshi Yonezu is a unique and promising figure in the current J-pop scene.