YOASOBI, the musical unit that produces music inspired by novels, shows no signs of stopping. Their song “Idol” — written as the opening theme song of the TV anime【OSHI NO KO】— has taken top positions in five year-end Billboard Japan charts since it began streaming in April. Their next single, “The Brave,” is the opening theme of the popular TV anime Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End and continues to hold a high position in the charts. This year, they also completed a Japanese arena tour and performed overseas, in Los Angeles, in August. As one of the most iconic artists of the J-pop scene, they’ve demonstrated tremendous presence the whole year long.
On Nov. 18, YOASOBI released its newest single, “Biri-Biri.” The song was inspired by Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, which celebrated its one-year anniversary on the same day. Composer Ayase has always been a big fan of Pokémon, and the song has little touches that will bring a smile to any fan of the game. “Biri-Biri” is already generating tremendous buzz.
Billboard Japan invited Ayano Takeda, who wrote the novel the song is based on, After the Rain With You, to talk with YOASOBI about their shared love of Pokémon and the making of “Biri-Biri.” After their discussion, there was a “Trade of Pokémon” ceremony and a special commemorative photo shoot. Famitsu.com is also running an article with a greater focus on Pokémon.
Ayase, you’ve played almost every game in the Pokémon series, but how about you, Ayano?
Ayano: I was biggest into Pokémon when I was in elementary school, so I was playing Pokémon Gold and Silver and Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. I have a brother who is six years younger than me, so we’d play together.
How about you, ikura?
ikura: The first one I’ve really properly played is Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet. When I was a little kid, though, I did watch family members play Pokémon Red and Green. I also played a lot of Pokémon Ranger on the Nintendo DS.
Which are your favorite Pokémon?
Ayano: My favorite is Vaporeon. When I was playing Pokémon Silver, my friend’s older brother gave me a level 96 Vaporeon, so was able to just lay waste to everything before me. Ever since then, it’s been my favorite Pokémon.
ikura: For me, it’s Eevee. But if I were to become a Pokémon, I’d want to be Charizard.
Ayase: For me, Mew. It’s cute, and I like its almost mythical nature.
Ayano, what was your first impression when you heard “Biri-Biri?”
Ayano: My first impression that it was like a cool, cute Pokémon. The first time I heard it, I was moved to tears. I saw how all these different people worked together to turn a novel into a song. Also, I’d researched a lot about Nemona in order to write the novel, so there was a strong emotional connection. When I saw the music video, I was like, “yes, that expression right there!”
There’s a lot of great Pokémon music, like game soundtracks and anime theme songs. Did you get any inspiration from them?
Ayase: There are background music videos and playlists on the official Pokémon YouTube channel, and last year, by chance, I was listening to them a lot. When they approached me about writing the song, I decided that I wanted to draw on some motifs. What I did wasn’t exactly sampling, but instead kind of creating new arrangements. This was the first time we’d tried that kind of homage-style approach, so I wanted to give it a shot.
The intro is really an homage to battle music.
Ayase: I was playing Pokémon Violet, so I had this futuristic, mechanical image. I realized I wanted to make a kind of electric [in Japanese, “biri-biri” is used to describe the feeling of electrical shock], techno-like feel, and I realized that battle music would be a good fit for that.
Past Pokémon titles are sprinkled through the lyrics. There, as well, there’s this sense of playful homage.
Ayase: At first, I wasn’t planning on putting the names of other works in the lyrics, but the phrases came to mind because how the parts of the song fit in together. I thought I worked in some of the titles in really subtle ways, and they’d be hard to find, but looking at social media and YouTube comments, people found them all really quickly. You really get a sense of how much love people have for Pokémon.
I think this song has also shown a new side of YOASOBI. Were there any artists or songs that inspired you with respect to the vocals?
ikura: For the high-pitched parts, instead of straining, I tried to let go and loosen up when I sang. During the chorus, there’s a bit of a cushion zone before launching into a light dance part, and I think that technique for loosening up is going to become part of my repertoire.
What part of the song is your favorite, Ayano?
Ayano: I like the “ABC and to XYZ” part. It feels really good.
Ayase: When it comes to really feeling good, that’s the part of the song I’m most proud of, too.
ikura: Singing that part is really fun.
Recently, you performed at events Hong Kong and Taipei, where you performed “Biri-Biri” live for the first time.
Ayase: Performing “Biri-Biri” is great. The live elements really work well.
ikura: The song has a totally different tone than our other songs, so it completely changes up the mood. Plus, it’s a blast to sing. It makes me feel like dancing, and even though we just released the song, audiences are already singing along.
You’ve also released an English version of “Biri-Biri.” What differences should people keep an eye out for between the English and Japanese version?
ikura: This is also true for all of the past English versions of our songs, but the way the lyrics roll off the tongue, and how they fit in with the music, feels great. But, personally, even among all those songs, I think “Biri-Biri” matches the best. I’ve felt that way since we were recording. The speed and stylishness of English meshes really well into the song.
Ayase: In Hong Kong, “Biri-Biri” climbed high in the charts immediately after its streaming release. Also, and this is a bit of a tangent, but Taiwan opened their first Pokémon Center, and we were able to go there before it opened.
ikura: We had the opportunity because of this collaboration, or, I guess, because of this connection we’ve established.
In closing, do you have any last words for our readers?
Ayano: I feel very proud to have been able to be a part of a big IP like Pokémon. I hope anyone who’s never tried Pokémon before tries it out, and that people enjoy both the novel and our song.
YOASOBI: From the other works in the series to the recent Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, Ayano Takeda’s novel, and “Biri-Biri,” Pokémon has truly created a world of its own, so we hope that everyone savors everything it has to offer.
Pokémon image: ©2023 Pokémon. ©1995-2023 Nintendo/Creatures Inc. /GAME FREAK inc. TM, ®, and character names are trademarks of Nintendo.
This interview by Takuto Ueda first appeared on Billboard Japan.