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Ai Higuchi Talks New Album ‘Miseisenjo,’ Writing Songs that Last a Lifetime: Billboard Japan Women in Music Interview

Mr. Nimbus | 02/13/2024

Billboard Japan spoke with singer-songwriter Ai Higuchi for its Women in Music interview series featuring female players in the Japanese entertainment industry. The WIM initiative in Japan began last year to celebrate artists, producers and executives who have made significant contributions to music and inspired other women through their work. The first 30 interviews in this series were published in Japan as a “Billboard Japan Presents” collection by writer Rio Hirai.

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Higuchi was in high demand last year and brought her music to a wide range of listeners through numerous opening and ending themes for movies and TV, plus songs accompanying commercials. What she values in her songwriting is being true to her honest feelings, and the 34-year-old artist — who dropped her fifth album Miseisenjo (“On the Unfinished Railway Line”) on Jan. 24 — opened up about her stance on what she considers to be her mission in work and the feelings of hesitation she currently faces.

Tell us about your latest album, Miseisenjo.

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It’s a bright album that’s like a collection of singles, with many tracks that were featured as tie-ins. Ever since I released “Akuma no Ko” (“Devil’s Child”) in January 2022 as the ending theme for the Attack on Titan The Final Season Part 2 anime series, the range of people who listen to my music has expanded immensely. I’ve enjoyed opportunities to write music for movies and other projects, and received requests for songs that make moviegoers feel cheerful when they leave the theater. So the album is a collection of songs that let listeners settle into a mellow mindset without making them feel all doom and gloom.

How do you feel about the increase in new listeners?

At first I was really just happy, but I did feel pressure at one point and it was hard for a while. I was brought up as the eldest daughter in between two brothers, so personality-wise, I have this sense of responsibility to balance things out between people and feel a strong urge to do things properly. I worked really hard to live up to expectations from 2022.

I get the impression that you carefully deliver the voices of women as they really are in your songs, even in the ones meant for a wide audience. What are you mindful of in music production?

At the very least, I try to be careful not to use strong language and force my way of thinking on others. Personally, I’m not good at dealing with people who use strong language or express anger. Trying not to make enemies is a weakness of mine, but I think there are many people who feel the same way, so I want to be careful about that.

When I read your lyrics, I can see that you have your share of conflicting thoughts, but you express them with great care. So you consciously avoided using strong language when writing them.

I think you should try to find your own answer when forming an opinion on something. Having someone else’s idea forced on you isn’t a good influence, both for the person hearing the song and for myself as a songwriter. So my stance is to simply present options, and then let each listener make their own choices. I try not to give too many answers.

I also want to avoid imposing ideas about how women “should be” in these interviews. The reason we’ve been collecting many women’s voices is because our intent is to visualize the diversity of opinions. When we ask the same question to 30 people, we receive 30 different answers. And this next question is one I’ve asked everyone throughout the series: Has being a woman affected your current activities?

Well, I’m not sure because I’ve never been a man, but… I’m fortunate in that I’ve never been slighted because I’m a woman. I have a hard-featured face so maybe people don’t bother messing with me. But I have felt that it’s hard to ask men in high places in the industry out to chat about work over dinner or something and thought that if I’d been a man, it might have been easier to get along with such people without giving it so much thought. “Going out to dinner one-on-one with a man” could be taken in a different way, and I sometimes give up on the whole thing because it’s too much of a hassle. So I do feel inconvenienced by the fact that most of the people in upper management are men.

Why do you think there are so few female executives in the Japanese music industry?

I think the reality is that women leave the industry when they become a mom. Even if they return to work, I imagine parenting gets in the way of career advancement. When I look around, a lot of the women in their 50s or so who are successful in their careers are really tough. I think it demonstrates that they had to become tough in order to make it in an environment full of men.

As a female singer, what do you take care to do so you can keep working for a long time?

I try to take care not to write “fast-food” songs. I want to write songs that I can sing for the rest of my life.

When did you start thinking that way?

I’ve always thought that way. I’m very bad at keeping up with trends and find it hard to change my mind quickly. I’ve always made songs by thinking about what my point of view is, and don’t think that will change anytime soon. As a result, I think I’ve created songs that can be listened to years from now.

The drama series such as Hatsukoi, Zarari and Ikiru toka Shinu toka Chichioya toka that you wrote ending themes for depict different types of women, and your independent project called Ufufu Project* also collects many women’s voices. Have you found themes you’d like to write songs about through these projects?

(*Ai Higuchi’s independent project launched at the end of 2019. She has published magazines featuring interviews and essays and also runs a cultural salon.)

I want to shine a light on young people who normally wouldn’t think of themselves as being in the spotlight and turn their thoughts into songs. I’ve always wanted them to know that life can be a song. If the people who live and work in ordinary ways give up, then the things that need to change will never change.

For example, this is something my mother told me, but she quit her job when she had her first child. She said, “I didn’t even question (quitting her job) because that was the norm at the time.” If a person thinks that the thing that happened in their life is insignificant, then nothing will change from there.

I think you’re creating a really nice cycle by writing songs based on what you hear in your interviews which then change the mindset and actions of those who hear them. Is that something you aimed for when you started the Ufufu Project?

Yes. When I turned 30, I made a magazine about the Ufufu Project, and I was dealing with my own loneliness at the time. While more and more of my friends and peers were starting a family, I was on my way to living on my own as a singer-songwriter without getting married or having kids. When I thought about this, I felt myself being shaken by the loneliness inside. No one could show me the way, so I wanted to hear from different people.

Did the loneliness disappear by hearing people’s stories?

Four years have passed since then, and I don’t feel lonely as much anymore. I’ve been fortunate enough to continue my career and have come to realize that I’m the kind of person who’s dependent on work. So as I feel less lonely, I may start dwelling on futility next. [Laughs]

I guess you won’t run out of inspiration for new music then.

Actually, futility can’t be made into song. People gravitate toward things with energy, so if something is too lifeless, I have a feeling they’ll think it doesn’t matter. I’d have to extract vitality from the futility.

Related to what you mentioned earlier, I think there are many people out there who feel exhausted in the face of strong language or who think they don’t deserve to be in the spotlight and have given up. I kind of feel that songs about loneliness or futility would be a lifesaver for such people. Do you feel that you are empowering others by writing songs and singing?

Well, to begin with, I feel like I’m excluding a lot of things when I write a song. For example, when I sing, “I want to walk hand in hand with you,” that excludes people who don’t have arms, right? If the “other person” in a love song by a male protagonist is clearly a woman, then it’s not about homosexual love, and it’s definitely not about someone who doesn’t fall in love in the first place. I’m aware that I write songs for the majority by cutting out a lot of things and it’s scary. So it’s more of a negative thing for me than trying to empower people, but I have to come to terms with that feeling. I write about my own feelings, so I can’t make something that will be understood by everyone.  As long as I’m in the majority, in that I identify as a woman both in body and mind and that I’m heterosexual, I have to cut off minorities to write about my feelings.

When did you start seeing things that way?

Probably the last few years. As more and more movements properly focusing on the rights of minorities started taking place, I also began noticing and thinking about it more. I said at the beginning of this interview that I’m not good at dealing with people who use strong language or express anger, but I also understand that there there must be many things that have changed for the better because of people who can use strong language or express their anger, so I also feel like saying thank you to those people who got angry for the right reasons. But while I’m sometimes encouraged by such expressions when I have the energy, they scare me when I’m not feeling very energetic.

So for you, people who can use clear-cut, strong language are like double-edged swords in that they give you courage but are also sometimes a little hard to accept.

I find myself thinking, “I’m feeling bad about myself because I don’t feel so strongly about such-and-such.” Maybe not so much feel bad about it, but just that I can’t be that way. So I feel like I’m in charge of taking the first step, then maybe walking three steps up the staircase. I want to ask someone else to take it from there to the 100th step or so. In other words, I’ll leave the leadership to someone else and keep up from the back, and be like, “Let’s climb together and one day reach the top, even if we’re slow.”

This interview by Rio Hirai (SOW SWEET PUBLISHING) first appeared on Billboard Japan

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus




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