Harry Styles is the latest international artist to perform on “THE FIRST TAKE,” a YouTube channel that presents single-take performances by musical artists. He performed a special version of “Boyfriends,” a song from his new album, Harry’s House.
On THE FIRST TAKE, Harry performed the gentle, intimate song the same way he did when he debuted the tune at Coachella: in a four-person arrangement with two acoustic guitars and a chorus. The highlight, without a doubt, is the a cappella section late in the song. Harry pours his heart into the song, eyes closed, and the expression on his face as he ends the song with “arigato gozaimasu” is one that lingers in one’s memory even after the video ends.
THE FIRST TAKE channel has over 6.3 million subscribers and has become one of Japan’s most influential music media outlets. It’s already being watched by viewers around the world, but many people have just discovered the channel thanks to the performance by global pop star Harry Styles. Let’s look at what makes THE FIRST TAKE so special, and how it has become what it is today.
THE FIRST TAKE was created in November 2019. The concept is simple: artists sing into a lone microphone in a white studio. The performance is taken in a single take. There are no retakes, even if the artist makes a mistake or an accident occurs. THE FIRST TAKE preserves a moment in time, in which artists give their all to their music under the pressure of the single take.
One of the core concepts of the channel is its simple presentation, stripping away every extraneous element. Performances are recorded in high resolution and with superb audio quality. This helps directly convey the qualities of the music itself. Many artists on the channel perform unique arrangements of their songs. The channel also has a unified design approach that it applies to everything from its logo to its thumbnail images, and stands out through its distinctive use of white as a key color. Thanks to the channel’s consistent appeal, its videos have been viewed 2.1 billion times in the roughly two and a half years since its launch.
Artists don’t sing while facing the camera; instead, the camera shows them in semi-profile, close up, with a clear view of the movements of their mouths. The camera doesn’t just capture songs and performances, but also the little comments artists make, the way they catch their breath, their glances and lines of sight. The room is silent, so sounds like footsteps, swallowing, or fabric sliding against fabric when artists move makes the viewer feel like they’re right there in the room with the artists. That’s one of the things that gives THE FIRST TAKE its unique feel, distinct from live performance or a recording, and it’s what truly draws you into THE FIRST TAKE’s videos.
New artists appear on the channel every week. There are already 257 videos from over 100 artists. Ultimately, THE FIRST TAKE is something totally new, neither a music video nor a TV music program, which is why it’s enjoying growing support as a new music platform that fits the modern age of streaming.
Let’s look at some of the videos that have made particularly large splashes.
First is LiSA’s “Homura.” This song, released in October 2020, was written as the theme song of the smash hit anime movie Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train. LiSA sang the fiery ballad over a dramatic piano arrangement. Viewers were moved by the power of her voice and the emotion visible in her face as she sang.
LiSA’s first appeared on THE FIRST TAKE in November 2019, just after the channel was launched. She performed “Gurenge,” which stole the limelight as the opening theme song for the anime TV show Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. Her frank comments and striking performance created quite a buzz, boosting the popularity of the channel itself.
YOASOBI’s performance of their debut song, “Yoru ni Kakeru,” also drew a lot of attention.
“Yoru ni Kakeru” took the number one place in the 2020 Billboard JAPAN “HOT 100 of the Year 2020” song chart, and since then YOASOBI has released countless hit songs, becoming a fixture of the 2020-s J-POP scene. However, their May 2020 performance on THE FIRST TAKE was just six months after their debut. The performance was one of the channel’s THE HOME TAKE-style videos, recorded in artists’ homes or private studios due to the restrictions placed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact this performance made was a major factor propelling YOASOBI’s future success.
One example of a hit song that sprang from THE FIRST TAKE is DISH//(Takumi Kitamura)’s “Neko,” which means cat in Japanese.
The song was originally released in 2017, coupled with the single “Bokutachi ga Yarimashita,” so it was well known by a select few. However, in March 2020, when Takumi Kitamura performed the song on THE FIRST TAKE, singing over a pre-recorded acoustic arrangement by DISH//, his relaxed and smooth voice drew widespread praise, especially on social media. This version was later released as “Neko ～THE FIRST TAKE ver.～,” becoming THE FIRST TAKE’s first video to break 100 million views in February 2021.
Little Glee Monster’s “Dear My Friend feat. Pentatonix” has also enjoyed support across national lines. The song is a collaboration between women’s vocal group Little Glee Monster and the world-famous a cappella group Pentatonix. The two groups became close when Pentatonix visited Japan in 2014. This video, which was released in January 2021, was recorded in two single-takes: Little Glee Monster performing in Tokyo and Pentatonix performing in Los Angeles. The two were then combined to create a single video. This creates new potential for THE FIRST TAKE as a way to work with far-away collaborators and share music.
In October, the Stray Kids’ “Mixtape : OH” drew attention as the first THE FIRST TAKE performance in Korean. The eight-person boy band Stray Kids stood in a line, each singer with his own microphone. Each member drew on their vocal strengths, creating a mix of emotional singing voices and deft rapping. Stray Kids’ performance has opened the way for various boy bands to appear on THE FIRST TAKE, showing their abilities in a genuine and unpretentious way, expanding their fan base.
THE FIRST TAKE’s lineup has primarily focused on artists in Japan, but Harry Styles’s performance may produce new opportunities for top artists from around the world to appear on the channel. All eyes are on THE FIRST TAKE, which is rapidly becoming a place where listeners can encounter music in a whole new way.
–This article by Tomonori Shiba first appeared on Billboard Japan.