Hoshimachi Suisei is a VTuber (“Virtual YouTuber”) managed by Japan’s leading VTuber agency, hololive production. Hoshimachi, whose tagline is “it’s your shooting star, your diamond in the rough,” was an independent creator before joining hololive’s new label INoNaKa Music in May 2019. She released her first album Still Still Stellar in September 2021, which launched at No. 1 on Billboard Japan’s download albums chart. In this day and age when VTubers are becoming increasingly recognized and their fields of activity expanding into multiple genres, Hoshimachi has gained a massive following for her distinctive singing voice.
“The fact that a VTuber is becoming recognized as a recording artist is interesting in itself,” she says of her activities. “I’m enjoying the challenge of seeing how far I can go as a VTuber, how widespread we can become and be accepted. I want to open up new avenues not so much as an artist, but as a VTuber who is also an artist.”
Her second album, Specter, released Jan. 25, draws out her potential as a singer even more so than her debut set. Cutting-edge creators such as Tomoya Tabuchi, Tatsuya Kitani, and Nanahoshi Orchestra (aka Takashi Iwami) contributed songs to the album, providing a great variety in sound. Hoshimachi explains that she wanted to add more band-like songs to her catalog because she wanted to perform her second concert with a live band.
At the same time, she says she wanted to express a darker side of herself on this project. “I wanted to sublimate some of the bitterness stemming from what I do that I can’t usually express in my usual livestreams,” she explains. “My first album had a lot of sparkly, ‘idol’-like songs. For the next one, I wanted to sing more numbers along the lines of ‘Her Trail on the Celestial Sphere’ and ‘Ghost.’” The title of her sophomore set is a nod to her self-penned song “Ghost” from her debut project, which she drew inspiration from her innermost negative emotions to write.
The lead track “Michizure” was provided by Ayase, principal songwriter of YOASOBI, the breakout duo that creates music inspired by novels and stories. Hoshimachi shares her reasons for asking the sought-after hitmaker to write the principle number for her second album. “My first album was fortunately well received, so I was wondering who I should ask to write the lead track for the new project that could contend with it,” she says. “I liked Ayase’s music a lot and was talking with my team about how awesome it would be if he were to agree to write a song for me. I’m glad we were able to make it happen.”
Ayase says he had seen Hoshimachi’s videos covering his songs. Regarding VTubers he notes, “They try different things and put out a variety of contents don’t they? They sing, do variety show-like things and live game streaming, too. I think of them as an evolution of TV personalities rather than an offshoot of YouTubers.”
VTubers enjoy immense popularity now, but Hoshimachi looks back on its history and says that it wasn’t always smooth sailing. “When I joined hololive, Kizuna AI was blazing the trail, but it felt like the people who liked VTubers were creating boundaries amongst themselves,” she shares. “We weren’t very big at the time, so I thought that internal conflicts would cause the entire genre to become obsolete. It was a time when we should all be cooperating with each other, and I wanted to expand the concept of VTubers further and make it more interesting.”
Hoshimachi continues to take on various challenges as a virtual artist because of this desire for progress, and she recently demonstrated her motivation in a prominent way. She became the first VTuber to sing on the popular YouTube channel The First Take, which has over 7 million subscribers. The concept of the channel is to record a song live in one take, and fans are treated to their favorite artists’ highly charged performances.
“I was nervous and was like, ‘Whoa, it really is shot in one take!,’” she says with a laugh. “So I really put my heart into that single take. I consulted with various people to find the best way to get people’s attention, but as for the performance itself, I did my best to be my usual self and just sing well. We decided to create the impact by diving into the number with no self-introductions at the beginning.”
In her first The First Take video, Hoshimachi sang “Stellar Stellar,” the lead track from her first album. This video received a great deal of attention and attracted more than 160,000 peak simultaneous viewers. She then dropped a video of her performance of “Michizure,” the aforementioned lead track from her sophomore set.
Looking back at the creative process for the number, Ayase says that Hoshimachi spoke about some hang-ups regarding her career in their conversation that took place before he wrote the song. “When we had our first meeting remotely, I asked her about the problems she faced in her activities as a VTuber,” he shares. “What she told me was similar to the pressures that we (non-virtual) artists feel. The price you pay for fame that comes with facing the public and the worries that derive from that are common to all of us. Of course, ‘Michizure’ is a song about Suisei, but I also mixed in my own personal thoughts as I wrote it.”
Hoshimachi shares the concrete image she had in mind for the lead track. “I intended to fill the second album with themes of pain and conflicting feelings, and asked Ayase to write a track that would lead a set of songs like a ‘hyakkiyako’ (‘monster parade’).” The inspiration for the song comes from her personal feelings, but she adds, “When I write songs, I don’t want to limit the target audience. I want the song to be something that people from all walks of life can relate to when they hear it. I think the lyrics (for ‘Michizure’) turned out like that.”
Ayase says his first impression of Hoshimachi’s singing voice was that it had “both power and clarity.” “It’s rare to find someone with a voice like this. Even if someone has a really good voice, it’s not always possible to explain it as an image. In that respect, Suisei’s voice is strong and clear, and I could picture it as something like a vacuum tube, so it was easy for me to write a song for her.”
“I think people would usually imagine something terrifying when they hear the keyword ‘hyakkiyako,’ but I thought that what she was asking for was a song that would march at the front of that parade of monsters, so I wanted it to be solid,” he continues. “Meanwhile, it should also have a sense of sorrow. I wanted the chorus to have a kind of incongruity, in the sense that it has composure and is majestic, but also has vulnerability at its core.” To achieve this goal, the 28-year-old hitmaker says he was careful “not to put too many words” into “Michizure” compared to the songs he has created before.
Following the release of her second album Specter, Hoshimachi held her second headlining concert entitled Shout in Crisis on Jan. 28. She shared in an interview ahead of the show: “This is my first live performance with a live band, and we’ve been pretty meticulous about the staging. We’ve prepared various tricks to make you feel as if you’d just finished watching a movie when the show is over.” She also announced her third solo concert at the end of the show, which has been archived and is currently available on YouTube. Like a comet, her namesake, it looks like Hoshimachi’s rapid progress is unstoppable.
This interview by Takuto Ueda first appeared on Billboard Japan.