YOASOBI’s long-running hit song “Yoru Ni Kakeru” capped off 2020 at No. 1 on Billboard Japan’s year-end Japan Hot 100 of the Year chart, tallying the weeks from Nov. 25, 2019 to Nov. 22, 2020.
The breakout male-female duo’s unique concept is to produce music inspired by stories submitted to an online creative writing site. The chart-topper is their debut song released in December 2019, and is based on an original short story by Mayo Hoshino entitled “Thanatos no Yuuwaku” (“Seduction of Thanatos”). After first taking off on TikTok, “Yoru Ni Kakeru” (“Running Into the Night”) went on to dominate streaming and video views from around March.
Billboard Japan spoke to YOASOBI’s songwriter and producer Ayase and singer Ikura, who shared their thoughts on their debut song ruling the year-end chart, the past year they describe as “turbulent,” and their outlook on the coming year.
“Yoru Ni Kakeru” is the No. 1 song on Billboard Japan’s 2020 Hot 100 of the Year chart. How do you feel about this accomplishment?
Ayase: I’m thrilled. Of course I wrote the song hoping that it would reach many people, but I never imagined so many would end up listening to it. It went far beyond my expectations.
Ikura: The year-end charts are the culmination of the past year, so it’s gratifying to be able to actually see just how many people heard “Yoru Ni Kakeru.” When it first entered the top of the charts, I kind of expected it to be a momentary surge, so it was surprising to watch it stay there for such a long time.
Notably, the song consistently showed strength in streaming, and topped the ranking for the metric 15 times during the tallying period. Any personal observations in that regard?
Ikura: I suppose that’s the result of many people listening to the song repeatedly, but to me it felt like there was a time lag in how the song reached certain sets of listeners. People of all ages and genders would come up to me and say things like, “My so-and-so-aged daughter listens to it,” and “My grandma listens to it.” So my impression was that the song sort of traveled from person to person in a long- lasting way. It makes me really happy to know that “Yoru Ni Kakeru” has become a tune that people want to recommend to others.
Were you aware of the charts before now?
Ayase: I only began checking them out regularly after we launched YOASOBI and decided to put out a song. But it’s not like the song started out at the top of the charts…
Ikura: Yeah, it was charting in the double-digit areas.
Ayase: And we were pretty pleased about that, too, but then it began to gradually climb, and tracking its position was how I got into the habit of checking out the charts. So I wasn’t always very interested in it, and used to think it didn’t pertain to me yet.
Ikura: I wasn’t too interested in it before, either. I usually listened to the songs that friends recommended to me, then went to see those artists perform live when I became a fan.
What are your personal top songs of 2020?
Ayase: Well for starters, I do have to say, “Yoru Ni Kakeru.” [Laughs] Another big one would be BTS’s “Dynamite.” It hasn’t been too long since it was released, but I listened to it so much this year. What else… I streamed Bring Me the Horizon’s “Parasite Eve” a fair amount, but the music video was awesome and I watched it repeatedly on YouTube.
Ikura: Mine is Demi Lovato’s “Warrior.” There were many times I almost lost sight of myself this year because things kept changing so much, and I listened to this song whenever I needed encouragement. It wasn’t released this year, but the lyrics are powerful and they really kept me going. I mean, I was truly a warrior this year! [Laughs] It felt like I was fighting day after day, so a lot seemed to overlap with the song.
Ikura mentioned this a bit just now, but could you share what 2020 was like for you?
Ayase: New things kept cropping up before my eyes in succession this year, so it felt like I was facing and handling each one as they came along. Of course it felt overwhelming at times, but I was able to grow considerably because of it. I think I can take what I learned this year to do some amazing stuff in 2021.
Ikura: I also did my best to handle things as they came along. It was a really turbulent year for me. I’m the type of person who wants to be singing 24/7, so I felt lucky to be able to do what I love through different kinds of work.
YOASOBI started off as a group that produces music based on stories, but you branched out from there and worked on music for movies and commercials as well. Have you gained anything from that experience?
Ayase: If anything, I gained a conviction that our basic format of setting stories to music is applicable to a variety of other things. Music can be joined with everything, and I sensed a kind of immense potential there.
You’ll be releasing your first physical project on Jan. 6 — an EP called The Book. The CD comes in a kind of binder and you clearly put a lot of thought into the packaging.
Ayase: Someone on our team suggested it and I thought it was genius. It’s so overwhelmingly faster to use routes like streaming and YouTube to deliver music to the world, but even as we achieved a certain measure of success in that regard, we still kind of looked forward to also putting out a CD in a year or so’s time. I’m excited that it has taken shape in such a beautiful way. I think there’s a particular kind of joy in purchasing music as an object in these times when streaming is the gateway to discovering it.
Ikura: Not to toot our own horns or anything, but I think that this package will make people want to buy it, and it’s an idea that fits our brand perfectly.
What kind of year would you like 2021 to be?
Ayase: I’m sure there are many people out there who experienced grief in 2020 because of the times, and I think YOASOBI has this image of having emerged under such circumstances. Music can’t be separated from the times, so some people might look back on YOASOBI’s beginnings a few years from now and be reminded of the pandemic. But I’m pretty confident that we did the right things during that period, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to advance even further in 2021 to shake off that unhappy image people might have of us. We don’t intend to stop here. Next year will be even more crucial for us.
Ikura: There were many things we couldn’t do this year even though we wanted to. But to put a positive spin on it, it was a time to lay the groundwork, so what we do from now on will be even more important. In 2021, I’d like to keep refining what I gained this year as I’m sure I’ll face many new challenges. I hope to continue playing with music, in keeping with the meaning of our group’s name [the literal translation of “Yoasobi” is “night play,” and the term means to have a night out on the town].