Creative people – such as musicians, actors, and artists – influence Japanese popular culture and have the potential to shape fashion trends. For that reason, we occasionally report on up-and-coming artists who catch the public’s attention. The attention of many music fans was caught when an aggressive J-pop video hit the web in June, quickly racking up over half a million views on YouTube. The wow-that-wasn’t-your-average-cute-JPop video for the song “Taratika” turned out to be the debut single by a striking Japanese singer named Hyna.
“Taratika” may be the song that made heads spin, but it wasn’t our first encounter with Hyna. Kira – one of the main TokyoFashion.com photographers – often shoots bands around Tokyo. While he was photographing other musicians at Morph (a popular live venue in Roppongi), we had a chance to see several of Hyna’s pre-Taratika shows. Some of those shows involve little more than Hyna sitting at a piano/keyboard singing her lungs out. Other shows involved a large cast of Japanese dancers in full costume and makeup with aggressive backing music.
The contrasting styles of her live shows and her ability to switch seamlessly between aggressive dance music and piano-based J-pop had already caught our interest. Then the “Taratika” video hit the web. Suddenly, every J-pop blog was talking about Hyna!
Having met her several times at shows in Tokyo, we knew that despite the ultra-assertive dance styles in her video, Hyna is super nice. Since we didn’t know too much about her history or the story behind “Taratika”, we decided to set up a chat with her to find out more about the woman behind the music. Luckily, even with her busy schedule following the release of the single – as well as work on future projects – Hyna found time to answer our questions. Please enjoy our exclusive Hyna interview. All of the photos in this article were taken at one of Hyna’s live performances in July of 2011.
Enough introduction, here’s Hyna….
TF: It says in your profile that you studied music from a young age. Could you tell me a little bit about your musical background?
Hyna: I began to learn classical piano at the age of four. When I was nine, I wrote my first song for a song writing competition organized by YAMAHA. That was the first chance I had to sing in front of an audience, and to experience the joy of being able to stir people’s emotions with my own song.
Since then, I have followed my dream of becoming a singer and bringing my songs to the world. When I was seventeen, I couldn’t wait any longer and went to New York to study music. There, I studied dance and foreign languages, as well as undertaking voice training, and received a lot of encouragement. If I hadn’t had that, I don’t think I’d be who I am today.
Since I was in junior high school I’ve done a lot of auditions. At an audition for a record company at the age of 17, my original song, “My Dream,” was selected, and after graduating from high school, I entered university and went to Tokyo where I really began to devote myself to my musical activities. Because I’d grown up always listening to Western music, from very early on I had a clear idea about the kind of music and style I wanted to produce, but in Japan I had times where I struggled with how to achieve this. I spent a while going around various music offices and record companies, but finally, I came across somewhere where I could do things my own way, where I could finally spread my wings!!!! That’s how I felt.
TF: You received an offer from a major label early on, but you chose to go with an indie label. I imagine that was a hard choice. What made you do so? Are you satisfied with your decision?
Hyna: My main reason was that I wanted to stick to my own style of music. I didn’t want to sing songs chosen for me by someone else. We only live once so I wanted to do what I believed in.
I’m satisfied with my decision, and no matter how it turns out, I’d still choose it.
TF: A lot of your early songs were piano pieces, but Hyna’s new single seems a lot more aggressive than a lot of these earlier songs. Is this because your own style is evolving, or has Hyna’s style also been changing along with your piano pieces?
Hyna: You could say that it has evolved, but actually, soon after I left Tokyo I was making dance music. I’m often asked “What’s your genre?”, but because I sing both dance tunes with heavy beats and piano-only ballads, it’s kind of hard to answer. So why try to categorize it?
I dance hard. I sing ballads with all my heart. It’s all Hyna, nothing else. So when I’m asked “What’s your genre?” I always answer “Hyna”. (Smile)
TF: What bands or musicians have most influenced your music?
Hyna: I’ve been influenced by many musicians, it’s so hard to say. I’ll keep it simple.
I’ve always listened to music ever since elementary school. But the musicians who have directly influenced “Hyna” are: Beyonce, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga – The big three.
I have been quite influenced and impressed by the quality of Beyonce’s performances, how Britney presents her tunes and MVs [music videos], and by Lady Gaga’s strong impact.
TF: What bands or singers have you been listening to recently?
Britney, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Hyna. (smile)
TF: Who produced the single “TARATIKA”?
Hyna: I did. Basically, I produce all my songs myself. I write the songs and my producer Makoto Shimoyama arranges them. His arrangements sound so good. I think he’ll be known around the world one day. I hope I can always continue to create music with him.
TF: The video for “TARATIKA” looks quite wild. Please tell me about the concept for this video. How was the recording?
Hyna: This video was my very first time creating a storyboard and directing. The concept for this video was “the powerful woman”. I portrayed a strong woman. A strong woman, a confident woman is brilliant isn’t she? That’s my ideal. I’m always striving to be like that.
As there are a lot of changes of clothes, make-up and hairstyle during recording, normally it takes several days, but this time we finished in a day and a half – which was pretty tough. But, I had my dream. I’d made an MV exactly as I wanted it to be made.
During the recording, I was so excited because my dream was finally coming true. The hardest part was the main dance scene. This time I had several pieces of handmade clothing for my costume. This corset was also handmade, and being a corset, it squeezed very tightly while I repeated the dance dozens of times – which, honestly speaking, was quite hard. (laugh) I’ve been told that I look a bit crazy and scary while I’m dancing. I really did almost go crazy! (laugh)
After that, there’s a bedroom scene. Since it was my first ever bedroom scene in an MV, when I remember it now I have to laugh. What I remember best is the nipple-licking scene. Dozens of people seriously watching a scene with nipple licking is quite funny, isn’t it? (laugh)
TF: After the music video for your debut single “TARATIKA” was released on YouTube, it received 500,000 views and hundreds of comments. Were you surprised to see how fast your popularity had grown?
Hyna: I was very surprised!!!!!
TF: You received a lot of comments about your video from Japan and overseas, both on your blog and on other sites as well. Were you surprised to learn that you’d become so popular overseas as well as in Japan?
Hyna: I felt very happy and surprised. I’ve wanted to do a show overseas for quite a while, and it’s great to know that people are paying attention to me no matter what their opinion is.
TF: Some lyrics are in English. Your website has an English section. Do you speak English? Do you have many English speaking friends?
Hyna: I like to speak English. I can cope with everyday conversation, and because I’ve got lots of foreign friends, I speak English quite often.
TF: Do you speak any other languages?
Hyna: I don’t.
TF: You’re very active in communicating with your overseas fans on Twitter and Facebook. Are there any specific countries you would like to tour?
Hyna: I want to go around the world on a world tour.
TF: As this is a fashion web site, we’d like to ask a little bit about fashion. Lady Gaga has Nicola Formichetti. Do you as Hyna have a stylist, or do you choose your own outfits? Who designs the costumes for Hyna’s live shows and music videos?
Hyna: I don’t have any stylists at the moment. I and my producer Shimoyama choose the outfits. We both decided on things for the live shows and the video.
TF: Do you have any styles as you use as a basis for your own style (people whose fashion sense you admire)?
Hyna: Lady Gaga has influenced me.
TF: What plans do you have for Hyna’s future? Are you making any other singles at the moment? How about a full album? Or a tour?
Hyna: I’ve got lots of plans. I am thinking about the next single and album. I don’t have any plans for the next tour yet, but I do want to do one. The only thing I can say is that the next one will be even more awesome. (laugh)
TF: Although many Japanese artists have tried, historically it’s been difficult for J-pop artists to reach the top of Western music charts (USA and Europe). Do you have a plan to overcome this and become world-famous)?
Hyna: Of course I have! (laugh) But I also know that I have to improve in order to achieve this.
TF: Do you have anything you wish to say Hyna fans around the world?
Hyna: Thank you for listening to my music and for your interest in me!
This is going to be the start of a new era for Hyna, come with me!
Don’t miss Hyna in the near future!
If you want to find out more about Hyna – her music, her upcoming shows, and future releases – check out the following sites:
All photos by Kira. Video & album cover art by HYNA.