J-Pop Star Vickeblanka Explains the Joke Behind His New Single & More: Interview
One of Japan's breakout artists of 2018, singer-songwriter Vickeblanka is quickly becoming a streaming favorite with his outstanding pop musicality and versatile songwriting.
After making his major-label debut in 2016, his second single, "Masshiro," from last year -- a poignant, self-reflecting winter ballad that struck a chord with viewers of a hit TV series where it was featured -- hit the Billboard Japan streaming chart for 17 consecutive weeks.
Vickeblanka will be releasing his highly anticipated new single, a playful power-pop number called "Ca Va?" on June 12. Billboard Japan caught up with the rising star and spoke with him about his upcoming release, musical roots, future plans and more.
The title of your upcoming new single is French for "How's it going?" Could you tell us how it came about?
You know what, I just wanted to be able to say, "Ca va?" It was a song that I'd been working on little by little whenever I had time, and I happened to visit Paris solo on vacation around the time I began writing it. I noticed that French people say, "Ca va?" constantly, like whenever they start talking on the phone. In Japanese, the word that sounds similar, "saba," means mackerel. I found it hilarious, and began writing the song thinking it might be interesting to say "Ca va?" as part of the lyrics.
The sudden shift after the intro was really cool.
That was absurd, wasn't it? I love songs that play around like that. I was aware of the expectation for me to come up with a song that would naturally draw in people who enjoyed "Masshiro" and encourage them to like my music more, but it turned out like this.
I thought it went against expectations in a good way.
Really? I figured that if I was going to end up disappointing people, I might as well go all out instead of doing a half-assed job.
"Lucky Ending," the other song in the CD single, was written exclusively for the new animated series Fruits Basket. When you're writing songs to be featured in other media, how differently do you approach it compared to when you write for yourself?
When I'm writing songs linked with other works, it feels like I'm doing the opposite of everything I just said. I take full responsibility for the stuff I write for myself, but when I'm commissioned to write something for a certain production, I focus on making sure the song is compatible with the message and perspective of that work.
There are no personal messages in the songs that I've written as tie-ins for other productions so far. I ask what it wants to convey, and if I'm impressed by that message, I write lyrics and music that attempts to further express what the work wants to get across. It's all for that piece of work.
Was there anything you particularly focused on for "Lucky Ending"?
I thought that the song's mellow, waltzy rhythm matched the worldview of the story. I was a huge fan of the manga Fruits Basket growing up. My younger sister had been reading it, it's like the Bible to me! A true classic!
So, you knew about the original work before this?
I love it so much. I've read it so many times and cried so many times!
It's amazing you landed a tie-in for the new anime adaptation, then. Yet there's still no part of you in the song you wrote for it?
You know what? It was hard. "Lucky Ending" is actually an exception in that sense. In some ways, the worldview of the story and my own feelings overlapped, so I ended up changing and adding words to the lyrics at the end of the song. In the end, I was able to infuse my own feelings into those last lines, which also matched the ultimate message of the anime. So, the song is kind of a personal miracle. It's really important and close to my heart.
Has your ego ever gotten in the way when writing songs for other works in the past?
No. To begin with, every piece of work has its own beauty, don't you think? Things that people create together definitely have certain amazing qualities. So I pick up on those and write for them. On the other hand, my feelings are the only thing that go into the songs I start writing for myself. I'll be responsible for them. It's an either-or kind of thing.
Fans are drawn to your genre-defying style. How do you consume music as a listener?
How did you listen to music before streaming became a thing?
I started off by listening to all the CDs that my parents owned. My father listened to groups like Alice ('70s J-pop/folk trio) and Tulip ('70s J-pop/folk band), while my mother listened to stuff like The Knack, Carpenters, Bay City Rollers, and ABBA. So, we had such CDs lying around the house, and since they both liked music, we had a pretty good player. I used to play in front of the speakers, listening closely to the music coming out of them.
I think I recognize the influences from those artists in your music.
My parents' tastes are at the core of my influences. They weren't very "underground," and weren't the types to dig deeply into one genre, so maybe that was a good thing for me.
Aside from the release of your new single, you have solo-headlining concerts and event performances lined up for this summer. Do you have any future goals you'd like to tell us about?
I tend to not set goals very much, but I do want to be responsible for the things I feel like creating at each particular time. I'm hoping I'll be able to keep doing that for the next 10 years. After then, things are all up in the air, but personally, I like doing things that I've never done before, so I'd like to work somewhere overseas. I'd like to go to Taiwan or Shanghai. It'd be best if I could perform live there. I can't be satisfied anymore working only in Japan, so I'd love to head overseas.