Japan’s rising singer-songwriter

14 September, 2010 by

Simply type Y-u-i word into any search engine and I’ll bet my horses that you’ll find countless websites dedicated to the singer YUI. This is the immense popularity she’s found since her debut into the Japanese music scene 5 years ago. After being exposed to her music a couple years ago, I was convinced that YUI stands as one of the upcoming waves, to push forward the Japanese music industry.

YUI's only indie release, "It's happy line".

YUI is a is a Japanese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. While there are many singers who could do the same things she does, YUI stands out as the one I see with the most personality.

During her first performance in a TV program, YUI sat down on the stage solo with her only accompaniment, her trusty acoustic guitar and sang the debut song “feel my soul” to thousands of viewers. She did it with such passion that it attracted my attention. So much that I would make it a point to attend her live concert if I ever had the chance, to feel her vibe.

Although portrayed as an multi-instrumentalist, YUI spends most of the time playing either an acoustic guitar or an electrical guitar while maintaining the vocals of her songs. Occasionally, she sheds that image by playing other instruments that she is semi-proficient in, like the piano in one of her singles and the drums during one concert.

From top left, debut single "feel my soul", 2nd single "Tomorrow's way", 3rd single "LIFE", 4th single "TOKYO".

First album "FROM ME TO YOU".

PV of "LIFE". Here you see YUI singing and playing the acoustic guitar.

I wouldn’t claim to have followed YUI’s music since her debut but rather since an accidental introduction by my friends when they were broadcasting her “BLEACH” tie in song “Life”. Truth be told, my interest in Japanese music was at all time low at that time but her refreshing vocals and melodies relighted the flames in me. I was converted.

YUI has been portrayed as nothing short of amazing. From such a young age during her initial music career years, she had already been producing some very beautiful songs, which in terms of talent rival even Utada Hikaru. By understanding her music and lyrics, you could say that many of her songs have this poetic feeling to them. Due to her youthful vibe and the passion she sings in, it is no surprise that most of her fans are young teenagers close to her age.

From top left, 5th single "Good-bye days", 6th single "I remember you", 7th single "Rolling Star", 8th single "CHE.R.RY".

Second album "CAN'T BUY MY LOVE".

PV of "Good-bye days" tie-in for the movie Midnight Sun.

Since her childhood, YUI has always been close to music. Be it from her mother’s car stereo or the radio, she would remember the tunes and sing along. Under her mother’s influence, YUI began a journal to express her everyday feelings and poetry. By the time she was in high school, she was writing songs. Since then, the idea of going through the path of music was always at the back her mind.

Things came to a turning point, when YUI encountered a live street performance by the band, Bianco Nero. Amazed by their performance, YUI expressed her desire to pursue a musical career of her own. Under recommendation, YUI soon dropped out of high school to study the guitar and songwriting at a private music school in her hometown of Fukuoka. Aspiring to become a professional, she took to street, performing at Fukuoka’s Tenjin Station. These street performances helped YUI overcome her initial shyness.

These experiences during her early years has easily became the foundation of her beautiful poetic lyrics, passion and desire to overcome difficulties in pursuing her dreams.

From top left, 9th single "My generation/ Understand", 10th single LOVE & TRUTH, 11th single "Namidairo", 12th single "SUMMER SONG".

Third album "I LOVED YESTERDAY".

PV of "Laugh away". One of my favourite songs.

Her big break came when she took part in an audition hosted by Sony Music Japan. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she strummed her guitar and sang 3 songs for the judges (she opposed the rule that a participant could only sing two songs). The judges and attendees alike claimed that the performance “created a tremendous aura from her heavenly voice and captured the hearts of the whole audience”. Unsurprisingly, all the judges evaluated her with the highest score. Soon a fierce scramble emerged among record labels who wanted a piece of her.

To some, it’s probably a little hard to believe how her voice could captivate people to such an extent. Here’s another interesting piece of trivia. YUI initially planned the release of her debut song “feel my soul” on an indie label as a tribute to her hometown. But the song caught the ears of Fuji TV producer Mr Yamaguchi, who happened to see the demo clip. He claimed YUI’s voice haunted him so much that he went out of his way to visit the recording studio personally. He even made his channel’s prime time drama an extraordinary tie-in with YUI’s debut track. Quite amazing no?

Since then it has been sort of an expressway in the path of music for YUI.

B-side album, "MY SHORT STORIES".

"I"ll be" is the "Play You" promotion song for the SONY walkman.

Although she drew considerable attention and sales on her initial few singles and first album, YUI saw greater success after starring as the female lead of the full-length Japanese feature film Midnight Sun (or Taiyou no uta, タイヨウのうた). YUI’s fifth single “Good-bye Days” was also written specifically for the film. Needless to say the single hit jackpot, selling more than 200,000 copies and snagging a good #3 on the Oricon charts. By the time her 2nd album was released, most of her single and album sales easily found their way to #1 position.

Since her rise in popularity, YUI has been actively promoting her music. Be it the occasional appearance in music variety shows (surprisingly she does not appear on TV often), radio broadcasts (she also has her own radio segment each week called YUI LOCKS) or gracing the covers of music magazines. Her tours? Mostly sold-out concerts acclaimed by her fans, where she sings in her trademark coss-legged solo performance style which many fans were attracted to in the first place.

From top left, 13th single "again", 14th single "It's all too much/ Never say die", 15th single "GLORIA", 16th single "to Mother".

Fourth album "HOLIDAYS IN THE SUN".

PV of "to Mother". Her first performance by piano.

Since her return after a 5 month hiatus in 2009, YUI has again been actively composing and promoting her music (much to the delight of her fans). I wouldn’t call it a surprise but despite her hiatus her popularity never did go down. Fans even responded in roaring anticipation of her first comeback single “again”, making it the the highest opening week sales for a female act in that year.

Even now, YUI’s music still stands strong against the tides of declining music sales in Japan. With the release of her 4th album taking the first spot on the charts again, I believe that she has already won most other singers who are struggling to stay afloat in the fierce music industry.

Enjoy your time with YUI's music.

Right from the start, YUI was destined for a great music career. Let’s just hope that in time to come she will outperform again to bring out the best music she can offer to her fans.

While I’d love to include some of YUI’s music videos into the article, SONY’s stand on prohibiting their broadcast is quite the challenge. A pity, but I guess there’s no help to it.

Click here to search CDJapan for YUI and other related items.

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Addicted to film, Yan shoots with a black Nikon Fm3a. For special occasions, Yan shoots with a Mamiya Sekor TLR.