There’s no single way to break into the Japanese pop music scene. Many popular J-pop artists actually started their careers on Niconico, a Japanese video distribution service similar to YouTube. Many J-pop artists began by uploading their own covers of Vocaloid songs or produced and sang Vocaloid songs themselves. These singers are called utaite (people who cover previously released songs on video sharing sites) and Vocaloid producers, or “VocalP” in Japanese. Most utaite and Vocaloid producers do not reveal their faces online and utilize aliases to remain anonymous, some even choosing to stay anonymous after their major debut.
Since many of these Vocaloid musicians are breaking into and making it big in the Japanese music industry, we’ve rounded up a few Japanese artists who started with Vocaloid music.
Ayase from Yoasobi
Yoasobi is a band that creates music from novels and consists of the composer Ayase and Ikura on vocals. You may have heard “Racing into the Night” on TikTok where it went viral during the pandemic, despite the song originally being released in 2019.
Ayase was active in a band in high school and learned to play the piano as a child. Unfortunately, in 2018, Ayase had to stop all band activities due to suffering from a severe bleeding stomach ulcer. When Ayase was searching for a way to create music alone while in the hospital, he dipped his toes into Vocaloid music production.
His first song as a Vocaloid producer was “Congenital Assault Girl” in 2018 for which he created the music and lyrics, illustrations and video. In 2019, Ayase posted “Last Resort” which brought him to fame, with 100,000 views.
The staff of Sony Music’s website for novels, monogary.com, took notice of Ayase and approached him with a project. It was to create a unit that would turn novels into music, which was the birth of Yoasobi.
Yoasobi’s recent standalone single “Idol” is the opening theme song for the Japanese anime series Oshi no Ko.
Making her debut at the age of 18, as a high school student, Ado is one of the youngest utaite to make it to the top ten. At the age of 14, Ado found himself entranced by Vocaloids on Niconico. She posted her own Vocaloid cover song, “Your Body Temperature,” never revealing her face or real name.
She made her big breakthrough in October 2020 with her major label debut song “Ussewa,” which has been streamed and viewed more than 400 million times. Last year, on January 26, Ado released her first album Kyogen. She held her first solo live show at Zepp Diver City on April 4.
On August 6, 2022, Ado took on the role of the singing part for the character Uta in the theatrical anime film One Piece Film Red. An album titled Uta no Uta One Piece Film Redwhich included the film’s original soundtracks, was released on August 10. In the Apple Music Global Chart, Ado’s “New Genesis” became the first-ever Japanese song to rank number one worldwide.
Ado in Japanese refers to the ado role in traditional Japanese noh and kyogen plays. There are two main roles — shite is the main lead, while ado is the supporting role. Ado relates to the latter. Through her songs, she wants to support someone, like a supporting character.
Singer-songwriter and multi-creator, Reol started as an utaite singer on Niconico during high school. She lost her father at that time and wanting to escape reality, she found herself online. She sang Vocaloid cover songs while also writing Vocaloid songs under an alias and never revealed her face. Her most notable work on Niconico is “No title,” which was posted in 2014.
“No title” would be the start of Reol (stylized as REOL), a group consisting of Reol herself, Giga, a Vocaloid producer and sound creator and Okiku, an illustrator and video creator. The three created “No title,” with Reol working on the music, lyrics and vocals, Giga on the track and chorus and Okiku on the video and chorus. The song that the Reol group made next was “Give me a break Stop now” where Reol revealed his face for the first time to the public. Reol, the group, debuted in August 2016 and disbanded in October 2017 with their final live show. While they wanted to pursue their own individual creative endeavors, the three remained close and still collaborated from time to time.
Reol started working exclusively as a solo artist in 2018. In November 2019, for the first time in the history of Japanese female solo artists, Reol’s YouTube channel surpassed 1 million subscribers. On November 17, 2021, Reol’s 6th single, “The Sixth Sense,” which was created as the ad song for Dynamite Boat Race, surpassed 100 million cumulative streams.