Yuuri‘s single “Dryflower,” released in October 2020, is the No. 1 song on Billboard Japan‘s year-end Japan Hot 100 tally. The track topped the mid-year chart and maintained momentum throughout the second half of the year, hovering in the top 10 since the chart dated Nov. 25, 2020.
The 27-year-old singer-songwriter has consistently released singles this year, from “Infinity,” featured as the ending theme of the anime series SK8 the Infinity, to “Betelgeuse,” written as the theme for the Japanese drama series Super Rich. Billboard Japan spoke to Yuuri about his progress in 2021, a year of great strides for the rising hitmaker.
Your song “Dryflower” is the 2021 Billboard Japan Hot 100 of the Year, following its reign over the mid-year tally. Could you share how you feel about this accomplishment?
I never imagined it would be No. 1 for the whole year, so I’m genuinely surprised. It’s a really important song for me, so I’m very happy that it’s reached so many people.
You’ve been releasing new songs consistently this year, from “Infinity” to “Betelgeuse.” Did the success of “Dryflower” inspire or influence your songwriting?
I wasn’t influenced in any specific way, but I do think that I’ve got more than just “Dryflower” up my sleeve. The other songs are also good in my opinion, so I considered how I could make them reach a wider audience.
Honestly though, when I write songs, I start off by being conscious of writing something that “reaches more people,” but end up just filling the song with the feelings I want to convey when I actually begin the songwriting process.
“Dryflower” was released in October 2020 and has remained in the upper ranks of the charts for over a year. What do you think is the reason why this song has been loved for such a long time?
Hard one! [Laughs] In my mind, it’s got a melody that isn’t too challenging and anyone can sing it, so that might be one of the reasons. Also, when I record songs, I think of the people who will listen to them, so I guess that might have something to do with it, too. It’s difficult to put into words.
What you just said about it having a “singable” melody, is this something that you always keep in mind when writing songs in general?
Yes. I think that the songs I write should be the ones I like the most. It goes without saying that I write and sing songs to deliver them to others, but I try to put out music that I personally really like, so that I don’t end up thinking stuff like, “I should have done this” or “that might have been better” and regretting it.
Looking back, what kind of year was 2021 to you?
I think the biggest thing is that I can now perform live with an audience. Up until now, I couldn’t really see the faces of the people who were listening to my music. When I was rehearsing at the venue on the day of my headlining concert, I felt so apprehensive, wondering if the place would really fill up with people who’d come to hear me sing. But when the show started and I went on stage, so many people were there and they listened to my songs sincerely. I gained a lot of confidence thanks to that experience. I saw that my songs were actually reaching people. 2021 was a year that helped me realize that.
It’s true that “Dryflower” didn’t become a full-fledged hit until after the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning artists couldn’t perform live in front of audiences for some time. While song charts visualize the popularity of a track through figures, they don’t actually show you the people who are listening to it. So you found it hard to believe.
Exactly. So when I finally got to do a concert [before a live audience], I was like, “Oh, you all really exist!” and felt really glad. [laughs] I’m happy that people stream my songs and I keep doing what I do because I genuinely love music, but it really hit home what a great thing it is to perform live, and I’d like to have more opportunities to deliver my music directly to fans.
Does knowing that your music is reaching listeners motivate you?
When “Dryflower” first became known to a wide audience, I really wanted people to get to know me as well as the song. But thinking about it now, having cooled off a bit a year after its release, I see that it’s a fortunate thing to be able to connect with people who don’t know me through the song. So now I just want more people to hear it.
Your latest single, “Betelgeuse,” was written as the theme for the Japanese drama series Super Rich. It’s your first tie-in with a TV series. How did you feel when you were tapped to write it?
I never imagined I’d sing a theme for a drama series, so I was honestly surprised. I’m pretty sure a lot of people got to know me through “Dryflower,” but it wasn’t like I was famous enough to attract lots of people to my shows before. I really wanted to tell everyone in my family right away, but had to keep it a secret until the information was released. [Laughs]
How did the songwriting go?
The content of the drama was explained to me beforehand, and I also read the script. I wanted to write a song that would commit to the world of the drama, one that would make people say that my music improved it. I think I succeeded in doing that. I wrote “Dryflower” and “Kakurenbo” (“Hide-and-seek”) by depicting a story from scratch, and “Peter Pan” was a song I wrote about my frustrations, but “Betelgeuse” was written specifically for the drama and it was refreshing to experience a completely different way of songwriting.
How was the response to it?
Usually the response to a song reaches me after it’s been out for a while, so it’s always a relief to find out people know about it. But this time, I was really surprised because the song sort of shot up the charts, probably because I sang it on [the popular YouTube channel] The First Take before it was released.
If you were to choose the song that resonated with you the most in 2021, what would it be? In the mid-year interview, you said “Runaway” by Bon Jovi.
My parents got me into Bon Jovi when I was a kid and that was how I took interest in doing music. Even now, when I’m feeling down or met with a setback, Bon Jovi’s music makes me want to keep going. I chose “Runaway” in the earlier interview, but I think I listened to “Livin’ on a Prayer” the most this year.
I’ve been posting live performance videos on social media and YouTube, and make it a point to listen to new songs while I’m at it. Recently, I’ve been listening to [J-pop singer] Uru’s “Love Song” all the time. It’s a song that gives me a tender feeling and I often listen to it at night. My own songs make me feel out of breath when I sing them, like I’ve given everything I have, but when I listen to mellow songs like this on my way home, I can chill out and sleep better.
Lastly, tell us what you have in store for next year and any future goals or ambitions you might have.
Yuuri: I was able to work at my own pace this year, not only in terms of releasing songs but also doing shows and uploading stuff on YouTube. I’ll be releasing my first album called Ichi (“One”) in 2022 and look forward to everyone hearing it. I hope to continue delivering my songs to people at my own pace like I did this year.
Oh, and I want to write and sing songs that have a calming effect, too! [laughs]. I think I still have lots of room to grow, so I’d like to write music that reaches more people and keep singing lots of songs.