International

Music Collective xpxp Talks Latest Single 'Dump Your Boyfriend feat. PAU' & Looks Back on Music Trends of 2020

Yousuke Torii/Billboard Japan

Music production outfit xpxp is releasing a new track entitled "Dump Your Boyfriend feat. PAU (Produced by her0ism)," a collaboration with her0ism, one of Japan's leading hit producers. 

xpxp began in 2020 under the leadership of Ryo Ito, a music producer with an extensive oeuvre of hit songs. The June release of "ARI feat. Yui Mugino" caught on big with tuned-in listeners. Now, even bigger waves are about to be made with the new track from her0ism, an L.A.-based producer at the forefront of the global pop music scene. The featured artist is PAU, a female Latin singer-songwriter making music out of L.A. It’s a cutting-edge pop song with a finely-honed beat and strong melodic hook.

Music journalist Tomonori Shiba spoke with Ryo Ito and her0ism on behalf of Billboard Japan about the inception of the xpxp project, writing songs based on the theme “girl crush,” their latest track “Dump Your Boyfriend” and the affect of the coronavirus pandemic on this year’s music trends.

How did xpxp come about?

Ryo Ito: A year ago or so I started thinking that people like me — people working amongst the creatives in the music industry — need to make music themselves. We make tracks and do sound production for artists, but there are other things we also want to do. I think it's gotten easier to do that, and to show off what we come up with. Although there are still few opportunities for creators to share their creations, I don’t think that should hold us back. xpxp is something born from my desire to help open that door for other creators in Japan.

Where did the idea of “girl crush” come from?

her0ism: The theme "girl crush" was fueled by that feeling of a woman liking another woman beyond mere adoration. When you’re trying to make a track with a strong concept, the lyrics ends up weak when you use wishy-washy language. For this track I worked with Mexican singer PAU. She got really invested in it, and even resonated with the lyrics.

"Dump Your Boyfriend" has a really strong hook. Was that something you and PAU decided on? As a message about how women live and about women's empowerment?

her0ism: Precisely. It could also be taken as a song about relationships that go beyond just friendship, but the "dump your boyfriend" phrase is a punchline above all else, and I think it can be interpreted in many ways.

You and PAU made the track together. What was that like?

her0ism: I'd already co-produced several tracks with others. I had made "Wallpaper" with Shahadi Wright Joseph, whom I talked about earlier, and so the process came naturally for me. Even contributing as an artist this time, I just did like I always do and we talked about the topline and the lyrics. All kinds of ideas just came out during that process. There was actually a part of the track where the chords didn't mesh with the way PAU wanted to sing. So she suggested we mute the music at that spot, and it turned out surprisingly great. I think that greatness shines through in the final track, too. She offered more input about the big picture than what I'm used to, and we had really good chemistry throughout the process.

Ryo Ito, what were your impressions of the new track from her0ism?

Ryo Ito: I liked it the moment I heard it, even as just a music fan. I talked with the two of them during the production process, and I'm awed by the depth of their new track. They were also incredibly passionate about the song. I guess my plan worked! (laughs)

her0ism: (laughs)

Ryo Ito: To me, "Girl Crush" is about a complex emotion felt towards someone – an emotion different from ordinary love and beyond just fondness. I think the her0ism and PAU articulate that feeling brilliantly, and the "dump your boyfriend" punchline really works. People are using parts of the song in their TikTok videos and stuff. So I think the track is a good fit for today's world, where everyone streams their music. The theme shows up in the imagery of the girl using the phrase while slapping some guy, and the music video has the girl wearing a shirt with an upturned middle finger. As a personal anecdote, at the beginning I sent some notes to the two of them that said "let's make a track like this," and suggested using "playlist" and "Netflix" as power words in the song. I was thrilled when I heard that PAU had found a way to rhyme those words into the track.

This track is xpxp's second single, after "ARI." The two tracks seem to be in the same vein in terms of style.

Ryo Ito: "Dump Your Boyfriend" has basically the kind of sound I like. I didn't specify any particular sound, but the two tracks are alike in that they naturally came out like something you’d hear on the top charts in the U.S. Very poppy and a lot of fun to make.

Regarding the music charts in the U.S., trends change really quickly. And since the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, it's honestly hard to tell what is trending when you look at the charts now.

her0ism: I completely agree. Still, one track that I feel has been emblematic of 2020 is Justin Bieber's "Lonely." It's a song that sums up my younger years. Billie Eilish's brother Finneas wrote it, and Benny Blanco plays the Rhodes piano. It's a personal song with a really simple message. I don't think it's a trend — people have just started to confront their inner selves. 

What are your thoughts on that, Ryo Ito?

Ryo Ito: Trends were already changing quickly before the coronavirus. The virus just changed the tide of the times, along with people's mindsets. New releases were stopped, and things that people were preparing to release became outdated. That's why I think people are now looking inwards and doing more of what they've always wanted to do. Listeners are in control now, in a way, in that they can create playlists and share them. This is how listeners happen upon new music and then share it, creating trends.

Given what you've said, what sort of future do you see for xpxp?

Ryo Ito: I think it would be interesting if we could operate more like a creator community in the future, rather than individual artists working alone. Creators like us make the music we want to, and listeners responding to it outside of the traditional music-marketing framework, where people who like the music add it to playlists and listen to it. It would be neat to see the traditional relationship between creators and listeners change a bit.

Billboard also released global music charts this year. They’re different from the U.S. charts in that they provide a look at music trends throughout the world.

her0ism: Being in L.A., you meet all kinds of people and see what kinds of trends and beats are going to be hot next. Nowadays, for example, although just about everything has been done with Latin music, Afrobeat is sort of making a comeback. L.A. is just the kind of place where trends are born. Simply put, when Americans get turned on to something new, it usually booms.

What you think about that, Ryo Ito?

Ryo Ito: I found out the other day that, although listener numbers differ among different services, Indonesia is the top country for streaming Ariana Grande’s music via streaming services. When ARI was released this year in June, the most listeners were in Japan. But Indonesia was number two. Looking at it like that shows how people are changing how they listen, and how music is becoming more globalized rather than being centered around the U.S. Market scope is just always going to be narrower in Japan. In the minds of many, "global = American." Nevertheless, people from all different countries are adding songs to playlists and listening to music, and the result of that is artists are being acknowledged in the global market. That's how I see things. It's exciting to think about a girl in a small town in a small country encountering xpxp through a playlist made by a classmate, and then making a TikTok video that uses "Dump Your Boyfriend"!