Photo Courtesy of J Storm
J-Pop Legends ARASHI Talk New Single "Whenever You Call," Working With Bruno Mars And The Exploding Asian Entertainment Industry
ARASHI's Jun Matsumoto tells GRAMMY.com about the group's expansion into the U.S. and Western markets and the "mini-reinventions" that have evolved the band for more than 20 years
In their native homeland of Japan, ARASHI are chart-topping, stadium-headlining, genre-defining pop stars. Counting more than 50 No. 1 singles on the Japanese charts and millions upon millions of albums sold worldwide, the J-pop legends are one of the country's biggest and best-selling artists of all time. After conquering the Land of the Rising Sun time and time again, the group is now setting it sights on the West.
In August, ARASHI released "IN THE SUMMER," the band's debut single with U.S. audiences and the first track they are actively working in the American market in their two-decade-long career together. The track, produced by superproducer Rami (Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Britney Spears), follows another significant first for the group: In late 2019, ARASHI launched their first-ever official YouTube channel and social media accounts—a full 20 years after they first formed in 1999.
So why now?
"The decision to enter the U.S. market was really a byproduct of just the overall evolution of … the group getting involved in digital," original ARASHI member Jun Matsumoto tells GRAMMY.com via a video call from Tokyo. "As you may or may not know, physical CDs still sell extremely well in Japan … But the thing is, we have seen that things are starting to change, and it's part of how we want to make sure that even in the future, when even Japanese people are no longer listening to CDs as much, we want to make sure that our legacy [as ARASHI] stays with our fans, and people are able to enjoy our music years in the future when nobody listens to CDs. That seems to be more and more—the idea of leaving a digital legacy behind."
"IN THE SUMMER" is part of a series of strategic moves and releases that sees ARASHI expanding their musical footprint across international borders.
Next up: The group's latest single, "Whenever You Call," released earlier this month, is ARASHI's full-on blitz into Western markets. Produced by Bruno Mars, the song is also the band's first single sung entirely in English.
A soaring pop ballad about the cosmic power of love and connection, "Whenever You Call," which comes ahead of the group's forthcoming hiatus at the end of this year, has taken a new meaning in the COVID-19 era, Matsumoto says.
"While this was certainly not planned originally, I actually am really touched by the fact that ... not only is it a song for us and the story of us going on hiatus, saying that we'll still be with our fans," Matsumoto says, "but [it] also really speaks to what is happening right now—the fact that people aren't able to get together, people aren't able to meet, family is not able to come together for important celebrations, etcetera, due to what COVID is doing to everybody.
"So the song actually really speaks well to people who are stuck in those situations that, no matter what, there is a way to transcend those barriers, transcend physical distance, transcend racial divides and all of the things that are troubling people around the world. The spirit of togetherness and the spirit of being willing to actually come together is something that is universal. I'm very happy that the song can actually help communicate that message to people—not just in Japan, but around the world."
GRAMMY.com spoke with ARASHI's Jun Matsumoto about the group's expansion into the U.S. and Western markets, the exploding Asian entertainment scene around the world and the "mini-reinventions" that have evolved the band for more than 20 years.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. An interpreter translated all answers from Jun Matsumoto.
Your recent song, "IN THE SUMMER," marked your debut with U.S. audiences. How has the reaction been so far? Are your Japanese fans and U.S. fans reacting similarly or differently to the track?
The Japanese fans and the American fans have both had really positive reactions so far, at least from what we've noticed. We've been able to see these sorts of things [by reading] as many of the comments on our YouTube channel and our Instagram pages as we can, both the ones that are posted in Japanese and in English. One of the things that's really inspiring, actually, is that in these divisive times, people can all come together to just enjoy music and enjoy fun performances and that sort of thing. And it's really inspiring that these sorts of entertainment contents can bring people together in this way. It's really struck us that despite our differences, all people are really the same, and that's something that's really inspiring in this day and age.
I love that. So speaking about online comments, you launched the band's official social media channels for the first time ever last year—20 years into your career as a group. Why now? Do you feel like you missed out on the conversation by not "being online" all those years?
I don't feel that we've lost really anything. Cultural differences being what they are, we were able to do a lot in the span of time [when] we didn't really have any participation in social media, and not just us, but a lot of the other people who were represented by [Japanese talent agency Johnny & Associates]. So there was so much that we were able to do in the sense of actual physical connections with people and actually bringing a value to things that are not digital, to the point that there wasn't really any sense of loss by not having [social media]. Now that we are on this, it's a sense of just being able to do so much more than what we were able to do before, but in the sense of just our overall growth and evolution as a group.
"IN THE SUMMER" is the first time you're actively working a single in the U.S. during your 20-year career. Why did you decide to enter the U.S. market now?
The decision to enter the U.S. market was really a byproduct of just the overall evolution of what I mentioned before about the group getting involved in digital. As you may or may not know, physical CDs still sell extremely well in Japan. And it's part of the overall culture that not only us, but a lot of Japanese artists have to really deliver something of perceived value to their fans, kind of like delivering presents; the idea of something physical, having value, having something special and really making sure that it has lots of fun elements and really special features and that sort of thing, to really make sure that there's a sense of enjoyment in the product as well as the experience of listening to the music.
But the thing is, we have seen that things are starting to change, and it's part of how we want to make sure that even in the future, when even Japanese people are no longer listening to CDs as much, we want to make sure that our legacy [as ARASHI] stays with our fans, and people are able to enjoy our music years in the future when nobody listens to CDs. That seems to be more and more—the idea of leaving a digital legacy behind. Not only was that the impetus of opening our digital channels, which obviously then opened up the idea of how other countries and other markets around the world are consuming music, and the value that digital has in order to enjoy good music around the world, including but not limited to the United States.
In 2019, we were actually permitted to attend the GRAMMY Awards ceremony. What was really, really striking to us was the fact that there were artists who were winning GRAMMY awards and who had never actually sold a CD before, that the GRAMMYs were being evaluated now based on streams and that people were really enjoying in massive, massive numbers the music of people who were putting digital first. That really spoke to us in a way that in order to really make sure that our music is heard and enjoyed and that people who want to listen to us, but maybe don't have the resources for CDs or aren't in markets where CDs are as common can still actually partake and enjoy ARASHI's music.
I want to give thanks and a shout-out to the GRAMMYs for having awoken that sort of awareness in us and really held us towards all that's happened and all that we've been able to do this year.
Why did you choose "IN THE SUMMER" as your debut U.S. single? What is it about this track that you thought would speak to U.S. audiences and international audiences at large?
The idea of our debut U.S. single probably should be counted a little bit earlier than ["IN THE SUMMER."] Last year, corresponding to the [launch] of our digital channels, we released a song that did really, really well called "Turning Up." And since then, we've actually remixed a lot of our classic songs with the help of major mix artists and other American stars in order to give our songs that have been such hits in Japan a little bit more of a Western flavor, all of which have been posted to our YouTube channel.
But for "IN THE SUMMER" specifically, this was actually a mixed blessing in a sense. Because even before we opened our digital channels, we had been to Los Angeles and actually met [producer] Rami and really liked what he was able to do for other super-popular U.S. artists; we wanted to be able to work with him in order to help bridge the cultural gap, so to speak, between [us] having grown up in J-pop and then wanting to maybe appeal to a broader global audience.
Rami was very enthusiastic with the idea, and so we collaborated on this. Then of course, due to everything that has happened in this year, it's been really nice to have a little bit of a fun, lighthearted summer song in order to help people take their minds off of everything else that is going on in 2020 …
Based on all the experience we've had, not only with "Turning Up" as well as the other Reborn series remixes for our other songs, we've been able to actually continue that evolution of being able to feel out what works for more Western audiences and from a Western tastes perspective; that's something that's been really fun to work on.
What does the group want to gain or learn from entering the U.S. market so actively?
Originally, the ultimate goal would be [for us] to actually try to see the United States and maybe do a concert there or something like that, just to be able to take our music on the road. We've had such a vibrant and long and successful career here in Japan, and having the awareness, especially having opened the social channels, just to the level of our popularity outside of the islands of Japan—we were really looking forward to the opportunity to actually see those fans and actually share our music directly with them in the way that we would having a concert here.
Unfortunately, 2020 being what it is, that hasn't really been able to happen. But nonetheless, we have had a lot of fun still working with major U.S. musicians, such as Rami with "IN THE SUMMER" [and] Bruno Mars with "Whenever You Call," and being able to actually collaborate with such global personalities to be able to cross the borders, per se, still, even though we can't actually be there physically [and] be able to help spread our music and still be able to enable our fans to have something of our music in this year, especially with everything else going on.
Speaking of your new track, "Whenever You Call," when and where did the group record the song?
We were able to record [the song] last month. Originally, the plan was to actually go to Los Angeles and record at Bruno's studio directly with him. But unfortunately, due to COVID-19, those plans fell through. But instead, despite the fact that we still managed to record the song here in Japan at our own studios, we were able to share the song with him and get his support and advice and direction through the various recordings that we did. He was very kind to be able to give some of the advice and support and fine-tune the song based on his deep and thorough knowledge of what we were able to bring to the song and the vision that he had that we would be able to bring to the song that was the inspiration of why he wrote the song in the first place.
What is "Whenever You Call" about? What does the song mean to the group?
When I first heard it, I was actually a little surprised. Based on my own personal fandom of Bruno … my image of what Bruno was all about [and] what Bruno would be able to bring to the table—when we actually heard the first song as a medium ballad sort of style, I was actually quite surprised. But the more that I heard it, the more that I felt this actually spoke to Bruno's skill to be able to really capture ARASHI's image, and also what this particular year means to not only us but also our fans, especially given that at the end of this year, we're going to be going on hiatus.
The idea [within the song] really spoke to me, that this song is really a perfect way to close out the year. The theme ... [that] despite the distance and no matter what may seem, we and our fans are always going to be connected, that we as a group will always be connected. I have a lot of admiration for what Bruno was able to foresee in terms of what the song would actually become and how it would be a perfect fit for what ARASHI was doing in this year.
The song itself really shows how much Bruno is aware. Not only did Bruno, before writing the song, know that we were going on hiatus, but also he clearly had seen a lot of our performances, had listened to a lot of our music, and was able to tailor his own skills ... to what would be good for ARASHI and what would be really enjoyed by our fans. I definitely can't thank Bruno enough for everything that he did in putting the song together and really lending his own skills to one of our last songs for 2020.
While this was certainly not planned originally, I actually am really touched by the fact that ... not only is it a song for us and the story of us going on hiatus, saying that we'll still be with our fans, but [it] also really speaks to what is happening right now—the fact that people aren't able to get together, people aren't able to meet, family is not able to come together for important celebrations, etcetera, due to what COVID is doing to everybody.
So the song actually really speaks well to people who are stuck in those situations that, no matter what, there is a way to transcend those barriers, transcend physical distance, transcend racial divides and all of the things that are troubling people around the world. The spirit of togetherness and the spirit of being willing to actually come together is something that is universal. I'm very happy that the song can actually help communicate that message to people—not just in Japan, but around the world.
With films like Parasite and groups like BTS catching major attention and support in the U.S. and across the world, K-pop and Korean music and pop culture have become true global cultural phenomena. In your experience, has this growth in K-pop increased or impacted the popularity of J-pop? Are you seeing new fans discovering your music and J-pop music and culture through their exploration of K-pop?
I don't really feel that there's necessarily a level of influence that K-pop is having on J-pop, per se. I mean, obviously I listen to K-pop and have been really impressed by certain groups' level of skills, both [in] music and dance. But the thing is, more so than what specifically is happening now, I've really been almost inspired by being part of the legacy that has led to all of that. Being represented by Johnny & Associates—[founder and talent manager] Johnny [Kitagawa] has been producing boy bands that have danced and sang for over 50 years.
It's actually more touching that the legacy of everything that Johnny built up within the Asian entertainment scene is now taking off in other spaces as well. Not just Korea, but also around the world, people are all able to enjoy the kinds of things that, really, Johnny set in motion. It makes me very proud to have been part of that legacy and to see it continuing beyond. [There's] not really any sort of influence or rivalry between [J-pop and K-pop], but rather being connected to the overall whole that I can feel and see personally having been raised in this organization.
Last year, ARASHI celebrated its 20-year anniversary together as a band. How have you kept your interest in music alive throughout the years? What keeps you coming back, either as a group or an individual artist, year after year throughout the decades?
We've been doing this for now going on over 20 years. Despite the fact that it might seem [like] a routine by now, and doing "the same thing every year," one of the things that has really kept us going and really helped our adaption and evolution throughout this time has been the idea of just always trying to give our audience and our fans something new. Every year, we go through a mini-reinvention of sorts in order to ensure that not only are we staying fresh and relevant, but we're reacting to what new fans want and what the changing tastes of our fans are going to really adapt to.
Entering into the 21st year [as a group], what we just want to be able to do is really make some kind of music that can really transcend barriers of all types, whether it be reaching outside from Japan to the world, or from traditional to digital, or those sorts of transcendental elements to being able to actually create something new and really be able to touch people in new and exciting ways despite having done this for so long. It's really something that has taken the forefront focus of recent years, especially this year.
In an interview with The World, your bandmate Sho Sakurai spoke about the group's evolution from a "boy band" to a "man band" throughout the decades. Do you evaluate and adapt the ARASHI sound as the group and its individual members get older? How does age impact your music — what you sing about, what you write about, what you want your music to sound like?
For me, as I've gotten older and as the years start to pass by, what I've really been able to do is just get more out of my own experience and enjoyment of music. The melodies and the phrases that are used in various songs start to actually mean more just based on all of the experiences that I've had in my life and being able to put together different experiences that I've had in order to get more out of the experience of listening to music.
This really speaks to just what we as a group really want to be able to do ... what we've seen our music mean to so many legions of Japanese fans. We want to be able to pass that experience on to a new audience, a new generation of people, and really leave our mark behind in terms of everything that has meant so much to us, everything that has meant so much to our fans, and being able to allow for other people to be able to enjoy that as well; [that] has been really at the forefront of what we want to do with whatever comes next.
GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw
On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.
In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.
Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year
Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration
Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the
The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at
"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community."
Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list.
At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in
After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.
In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.
Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized.
For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: The Recording Academy
Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.
By Alexa Zaske
This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.
The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.
Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."
Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.
Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed.
Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.
My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.
For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.
(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)
Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam
Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs
Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards
As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.
Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.
"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."