Asia Pacific Arts

Home Music Music Features

Japanese Icons – Yoasobi

Japanese duo Yoasobi are creating a new generation of J-pop fans in online platforms typically overlooked by the Japanese music industry.

In collaboration with Monsutā, Japanese Icons brings you the biggest stories from the birthplace of Monsutā’s lineup of drinks, Japan.  Featuring two beers and a new range of alcoholic chūhais in flavours of lemon, pineapple and mango, the giant-sized taste of Monsutā’s drinks is made in a country of giant-sized stories. From music to film, sports to gaming, this series celebrates Japanese icons inspired by the Monsutā legacy.

With iconic performances at major American festivals in recent years from 88rising and Blackpink’s groundbreaking Coachella sets to New Jeans’ set at Lollapalooza this year, Asian pop is well and truly having a moment in the hearts and minds of international audiences. While J-pop has typically taken a back seat to K-pop in international markets, instead focussing on a large domestic market, Japanese duo Yoasobi are creating a new generation of J-pop fans in online platforms typically overlooked by the Japanese music industry. With online communities at the heart of their formation, concept and rapid success, Yoasobi is forging paths for a new era of Japanese musicians and stories alike. 

Before their breakout success as Yoasobi, both members were already prominent figures in their respective online music communities. Producer and lyricist Ayase had been a known entity in the world of Vocalaoid – an online community built around the Vocaloid singing voice synthesizer software. His first track “Sentensei Assault Girl” was produced on Vocaloid software that he used to keep himself entertained during an extended stay in hospital. Around the same time, vocalist Ikura was active as a solo artist—releasing two EPs in 2018—and as a member of the YouTube cover group Plusonica. 

In 2019, Yohei Yashiro, a Sony Music Producer familiar with Ayase through the Vocaloid community, contacted him to collaborate on a music project. The goal was to create songs inspired by written works posted on the creative writing social media platform Ayase, having discovered Ikura through an Instagram video, reached out to her, and together they formed Yoasobi. The name Yoasobi, meaning nightlife, was chosen to differentiate their collaborative work from their respective “daytime” careers as individuals. 

Based on the core concept of “turning novels into music,” the duo’s first piece was “Yoru ni Kakeru” (Racing Into the Night),  taken from the short story Thanatos no Yūwaku, written by Mayo Hoshino. Initially released in December 2019, it wasn’t until the early days of the pandemic that the track really started to take off. With music subscription services providing much-needed entertainment to locked-down audiences, the track eventually became the first ever to top the Billboard Japan Hot 100 chart without CD sales and the first in Japanese history to surpass 1 billion streams. Significant for a country that still largely favours physical media over streaming services. Pairing narratively-driven lyrics, sweeping piano lines, bass-laden grooves and immaculately delivered vocals with an anime-style music video, Yoasobi found their niche and created one of the defining tracks of 2020. 

Beyond the pandemic, Yoasobi’s literary bent and Ayase’s self-confessed status as an otaku have seen them cement their popularity in the international anime community. In particular, 2023’s “Aidoru” (Idol), which serves as the theme song for the popular anime series, Oshi no Ko, found a home amongst anime fans and pop fans alike to become one of the biggest J Pop hits of 2023. Reaching the highest peak by a Japanese artist on the Billboard Global 200 at number 7, the track also broke records for the fastest song to reach 500 million streams in Japan and the fastest J-pop video to reach 100 million streams on YouTube. Based on an earlier demo inspired by the anime series, the track sees Ayase experiment with trap beats and more tempo changes than you can shake a stick at to create a track that could be viewed as a somewhat meta-commentary on the duo’s new-found celebrity. 

Coming off the back of their first Western Hemisphere performance at 88rising’s Head in the Clouds festival in LA in August and the release of their third EP, Book 3, in October, Yoasobi looks set to continue to carry the torch for J-pop internationally but they’re not without their contemporaries. With Vocaloid music now gaining more popularity outside of relatively niche online communities, earlier Vocaloid artists like Kenshi Yonezu, Yorushika and Zutomayo are enjoying renewed popularity and younger artists like Ado are seeing rapid breakout success internationally. In turning novels into music, the duo are writing their own story in the J-pop history books and we’re excited for the next chapter. Monsutā will be back with another Japanese Icon in a couple of weeks. Until then, crack open a can of Monsutā and race into the night with Yoasobi.

Monsutā products are available at BWS, Dan Murphy’s and Jimmy Brings.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine