INTO1 SANTA’s new song “I’m from…” was released digitally on Nov. 25, 2022. SANTA made his debut in 2020 as a member of WARPs UP, a boy band made of Japanese and Chinese members. In 2021, he joined INTO1, a limited-time-only boy band, through his involvement in the Chinese TV show CHUANG 2021.
Since then, he has been active in the Chinese entertainment scene. SANTA began polishing his dance skills from an early age, and he has won countless dance contests. These include “STREET DANCE KEMP EUROPE,” one of the world’s top dance battle contests, for which he became the youngest winner ever.
In “I’m from…,” whose lyrics he wrote himself, he opens his heart, sharing his feelings about how far he has come by chasing his dreams. He spoke to us at length about his new song, what he’s been doing in China, his family and colleagues, and his future plans.
Congratulations on the release of your new song, “I’m from…” What are your feelings on the release of the single?
Thank you! The theme of “I’m from…” is how I used to live and what I’ve learned from it. The song’s title, “I’m from…,” refers to where I came from. I am where I am today thanks to the support of my family, my friends, my colleagues, and all kinds of people. I poured that gratitude into this song, and when creating it, whether it was writing the lyrics, creating the track, or filming the video, every step was something that I could never have done alone, so I felt that same sense of gratitude through the process of making the song. I really am just filled with this tremendous sense of thankfulness to everyone.
Did you start feeling this sense of gratitude to those around you during the course of your own artistic activities?
I think the impression I make on other people now is “that’s the guy who came here to China from overseas.” I was also a dance world champion, so I think people have that surface level-view of me, like “that’s the dance world champion.” But it’s precisely because of those successes that I realized “I want to work hard to bring joy to the people around me.” This song is about that desire, so I wrote the lyrics along with a lyricist and included memories I have of my friends and family.
In the lyrics, you also express your thanks to each of your parents.
I feel like I’ve been blessed with family and friends, and that’s how I’ve gotten to where I am today. At first, my dream was to be the best dancer in Japan. After I took that title, I wanted to become the best in the world. I won a dance contest in the Czech Republic when I was 17, taking the title of world’s best, but I actually wasn’t all that happy. At the time, what I kept thinking was just “I want to hurry back to Japan and tell my family.” I wanted to see them break out in tears of joy when I told them. I wanted to tell my friends and hear them bragging about me. That was when I realized why I’d been working so hard to succeed. The thing that led me to coming to China and trying to become even bigger is the same — if I make it big, it’ll make my family and friends happy and they’ll look forward to what I do next. That, in a way, is what drives me.
I see. So that’s why you have the one line in Japanese, “arigato.”
Right. That expresses my gratitude in the native language of the people who’ve supported me. My family has been behind me since I was born, and my friends have supported me since I met them, so this “arigato” expresses my thanks to them.
Did it take a long time to write the lyrics? Do you have any stories about the writing of the song?
As far as writing the lyrics, I’m always jotting down my feelings of gratitude. With this song, I wanted to sing about my whole life, so picking which individual events to use in the lyrics was difficult. Translating Japanese directly into Chinese would also sound a little strange, so I had to think about how to phrase things.
One line that makes a particular impression was “It’s not easy to chase your dreams.” As you touched on, it must have been really hard to overcome the language barrier and work overseas. How did you manage to do that?
Chinese has been incredibly hard for me. I really struggled, and I’m still learning. [Laughs] However, I never thought of that in a negative way. I think most people who’ve studied a foreign language will know what I’m talking about, but the more you come to understand what people are saying, the more you come to like them, and the more you come to understand their country. So, for me, it wasn’t an unpleasant struggle. In the line “It’s not easy to chase your dreams,” what I was talking about was how only a handful of people can achieve their dreams — and this also applies to when I was a dancer — so achieving your dreams is no easy matter. You have to work hard, and even then there’s only a slim chance that your hard work will be rewarded. However, I like the time I spend trying to achieve those difficult dreams, which I think is why I can keep going.
You began polishing your skills as a dancer since you were a young boy. Have you always taken on difficult challenges?
Yeah, I can’t stand to lose. [Laughs] For example, when I appear on TV sometimes they’ll introduce me as “the world’s number one dancer!” But the reality is that “the world’s number one dancer” also means “the dancer that’s lost the most times in the world.” That’s how often I’ve lost. I’ve won contests less often than I’ve lost them.
What kinds of things did you struggle with?
When I was a dancer, the hardest thing was making ends meet. Victories in street dance contests don’t come with millions of yen in prize money. So that was hard. It was like, I’d produce results, but I wouldn’t have any money. [Laughs]
People often talk about your brilliant successes, but you’ve also experienced setbacks along the way.
What led you to decide not to remain a dancer but to do what you’re doing today?
When I was pushing myself to get results, it was like playing a sport. My mindset was simple: “I lost. What a disappointment. Next time, I’m going to win.” But when I won (the dance contest) and went beyond, then, like I said earlier, I realized why it was that I was working so hard. Now that I know my objective, it feels like I can try all kinds of things. It’s like I’ve kept moving forward led by the spirit of “I want to make it bigger, and if an opportunity presents itself, I want to take advantage of it.” In the past, I just aimed for whatever goals were dangling in front of me, but now my goals are those deep in my heart, and I want to do my best to achieve them. The reason I put the “…” at the end of “I’m from…” is that I’m not just trying to point to some “location,” like saying that my nationality is Japanese, or that I started out as a dancer, but instead at something deeper. That’s the idea that I’m trying to convey through that space.
On Twitter, you’ve released some illustrations that express the “I’m from…” concept. Did you make them yourself?
Yes, those are mine. They were really hard to make. [Laughs]
It seemed like the contents of the illustrations reflected the message of the song. How did you make them?
First I thought of the story, and then I just started drawing off the top of my head, using a black pen. Then I zoomed in and drew the next element of the story. Then at the end I went in and added color and details.
Have you always been gifted at illustration?
In high school, I was in the Design Information Section, so I studied things like Illustrator. At the time, my future plan was to make a living as a dancer. I figured that when I became a dancer I’d hold my own events or announce that I was offering lessons, so I could save some money if I knew how to do that myself. [Laughs] That’s when I started studying illustration.
Is it important to you to properly express your ideas to others?
Yes. This time around, I told my life’s story in the form of a song, but in general I like communicating not through words, but through dance, or art, or some other medium.
Dancing and art are other ways of expressing yourself. So, along those lines, what does music mean to you?
Well, for example, in the (dance) freestyle battles I’m taking part in now, the DJ plays whatever song they want, and the dancer has to improvise to the music. So if the song isn’t conductive to what I’d originally wanted to express, I need to match the music. However, in situations like the “I’m from…” song, where I can make the music that I want, I’m able to express things even more granularly — I can express things that I couldn’t express through dance. It’s like I have another method to express things directly.
“I’m from…” is an edgy track with a chorus melody that stays with you. Have you always been a fan of this type of music?
No, not really. [Laughs] I listen to all kinds of genres of music. I really like old ballads, I like music by bands, I like foreign hip-hop… That’s why I plan to write songs in other different styles in the future, too.
What inspires you, whether in music or in your life?
I find travelling overseas really stimulating, but, actually, what inspires me the most is my father. He used to be an entertainer himself.
Oh, is that so?
Yes. So when I was little, he often took me with him to the radio station where he had a radio program. I saw a lot there, and I saw a different side of my father than the one who just lounged around at home. [Laughs] So my first stimulus was seeing him at work and thinking, “This job is cool.” He was a comedian, so the approach I took was very different, but I aspired to go out in front of people and communicate through self-expression. Also, ever since I was little, I’ve always been eager to win, so I wanted to surpass my father. So starting from there, I’d gradually build up new experiences and try to take on new challenges, and that’s what got me here.
I see. So, what kinds of things do you appreciate about living in China?
I’d have to say China’s language and culture. I started studying Chinese after arriving in China, and at the start it was hard. I didn’t understand anything. But as I came to understand more, I found myself able to understand conversations between people on the street. Or, for example, when I first came, if I got in a taxi and the driver started talking to me I would have no idea what he was saying, but after a while I came to understand that they were saying “It’s hot today” or “A new cafe opened near here recently.” I learned more and more about the culture and people’s lives, and it became really enjoyable. This is something that I really appreciate about living overseas, and it’s a lot of fun.
That’s something you can’t really experience unless you really get out there and do things. I’m sure there will be some teenagers who read this interview and think “I want to work overseas like INTO1 SANTA.” Do you want to inspire people like that?
Yes, I do. There are probably readers who want to work overseas, and, since I started out as a street dancer, there are dancers who came after me, and child dancers — people who knew me back when I was a child dancer. They’ve also seen me during all those times when I wasn’t sweeping the battles, and I’m sure now when they see me they are like, “it looks like he’s really having fun, now.” I hope that this can spur them on, showing them that “it’s okay to chase your dreams.”
You’ve also released a music video called “I’m from… (Live Show Video).” What’s that video like?
I have very strong preferences about everything I create, so I thought about what kind of content the video should have, how it should be filmed, and what kind of dancers I should dance with. There are a lot of props in the background that are tied to things in my own life. I think viewers will enjoy it even more if they look not only at my performance but also the other elements of the video.
What are your future career dreams and goals?
I really want to give back to the people that have supported me, so I want to keep giving back to them for as long as I can. I also want to share what I’ve learned with others in the hope that I can provide someone, even if only one person, with the inspiration and encouragement they might need in their life.
Do you have any final message for our readers?
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your support. My new song, “I’m from…,” is an expression of my gratitude, and I hope you find it an uplifting song that provides positivity in your life, so I’d love it if you could listen to over and over again. Thank you!
—This interview by Takayuki Okamoto first appeared on Billboard Japan