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Kenshi Yonezu Talks 'Lemon' Topping Billboard Japan's 2018 Year-End Chart: Interview

Kenshi Yonezu
Courtesy of Billboard Japan

Kenshi Yonezu

J-pop singer-songwriter Kenshi Yonezu's "Lemon" is the No. 1 song of the year on the Japan Hot 100, as Billboard's sister organization Billboard Japan announced its 2018 year-end charts last week.

The 27-year-old artist's eighth single debuted at No. 2 on the tally after dropping in digital form in February preceding its CD release. It went on to become one of this year's longest-running hits, staying in the top 10 for over nine months until the last week of the chart year (ending Nov. 25) by being continuously mentioned in tweets and consumed through audio and video streaming, downloads, and in physical form.

Billboard Japan asked the multi-talented hitmaker to look back on his milestone year and share some thoughts on the impact that the mainstream success of "Lemon" had on his career.

Congratulations on "Lemon" becoming Billboard Japan's No. 1 song of 2018.

Kenshi Yonezu: I never expected "Lemon" to become so widely accepted. I wrote this song just a year ago, but it feels like the distant past now. As the songwriter, I feel honored that it's left my hand to reach faraway places that I couldn't even imagine, but there's also the sense that it has nothing to do with me.

You've spoken in past interviews that you try to create songs that have universality. What are the things you focus on when you're writing songs in order to come up with something universal?

This is in everyday life and not about writing songs per se, but I try to listen to what people say and to not underestimate things that are on the opposing side.

"Lemon" became a long-running hit that stayed in the top 10 for over nine months after its digital release in February. Did its popularity affect your songwriting or musical career in any way?

I think "Lemon" gave me another level of independence. Because it shined so brightly, I was able to notice options that I couldn't see before and try things that I was unable to do even though I wanted to.

Looking back, what stands out the most from 2018?

My memory is so bad, I have trouble remembering what I had for dinner last night. So there aren't too many things I can recall, but I'd say it was a year I met many different people. I was able to meet people that I'd looked up to or was inspired by since childhood. This was also thanks to "Lemon" reaching a wide audience.

"Lemon" became a hit by reaching many people through various methods of consumption, such as downloads and YouTube. Now that it's possible to easily listen to music by digital means, how do you view CDs?

I wonder how much longer I'll be able to release music on CDs. I remember listening to music on cassettes, MDs, and Mini CDs when I was in junior high. Right now, I want to make CDs that come in packages that feel good when I pick them up, so that I can eventually feel emotional about making something like that when CDs become items that trigger nostalgia.

How was your year, now that 2018 is ending?

A lot of things in the environment around me changed greatly this year. But my personal lifestyle and state of mind haven't changed all that much, so sometimes the gap takes me by so much surprise that I come close to tearing my Achilles tendon. 

What are your top three songs from this year?

Some songs I personally like, off the top of my head, are Snail Mail's "Heat Wave," Sen Morimoto's "Cannonball," and XXXTentacion's "Moonlight."

What do you see yourself doing in 2019?

I don't have any specific major goals, but I'd like to stay sharp and enjoy myself while making music.

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