The Japanese electro-pop world can be said to be Yasutaka Nakata’s oyster.
A “digital native” of Kanazawa, Japan, Yasutaka Nakata’s music has served as the backdrop for many of your J-Pop faves, from SMAP to Perfume to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. He’s been at this for over 20 years – longer if you count his pre-debut with CAPSULE at the age of 18.
CAPSULE was just the start of what would become a fruitful and varied career for Nakata. A chance meeting with PERFUME led to a collaboration that changed the GAME for them. Later, Yasutaka lent his songwriting and composing talents to yet another burgeoning star, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. He’s also worked with MEG, M-Flo, and Leah Dizon.
His bouncy, reliably catchy sound has breached cultural and musical barriers, inspiring notable DJs and producers such as Madeon, Porter Robinson, Sophie, and others. His contributions can be found in pretty much any direction you randomly throw a dart in – music, movie soundtracks, and theme songs (for five Crayon Shin-chan movies and even Star Trek: Into Darkness!), music festivals, anime, and even bullet train jingles.
Whether in a boss collab or flying solo, he continues to shine in the electronica scene, with 10 number-one albums under his belt to show for it.
A Digital Native to Music
Music and Yasutaka Nakata have been inseparable from birth.
Born in 1980, his childhood has been spent engrossed in music, making his own as soon as he could get his hands on an instrument. This fascination escalated from classical piano to the use of synthesizers, to the point of putting on live shows as early as his teens.
He’s been noted as one of the first at that time to use computers exclusively to play music and put on shows, hence the title of his first solo album, “Digital Native,” a term used to describe those raised in an era where use of computers and the internet was common – like most millennials, depending on which age range bracket you prefer.
CAPSULE Packs a Lot of Talent In Small Package
It was a happy accident that led to the formation of CAPSULE, the music project that would officially launch Yasutaka Nakata’s career into the troposphere. Yasutaka Nakata was introduced to Toshiko Koshijima through mutual friends at a teen music festival where he was performing.
He noticed her proclivity for karaoke, and since she wasn’t in a band or otherwise performing on her own, he invited her to try singing the songs he wrote. It was a match made in heaven, and they made their live debut in May 1998 at the MUSIC QUEST Grand Showcase.
In just 3 years, they made their official studio album debut, High Collar Girl. Their lead single, Sakura, shows a more J-pop and 90’s inspired sound, but the basic roots that would become Yasutaka Nakata’s signature style are present nonetheless.
It almost sounds like an unpolished version of one of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s songs.
The band’s sound evolved as Yasutaka Nakata leaned more into the electronic sound, resulting in an interesting experimental mix and exploration of genres anchored by a solid four-on-the-floor beat, at least guaranteeing danceability. Yasutaka Nakata himself said that CAPSULE allowed him to have more freedom, in contrast with the more thematic-based group Perfume.
They started hitting their chart stride with the FLASH BACK album, released in 2007, which debuted at #20 on the Oricon charts and gave us the lush, slick-sounding “I’m Feeling You,” which sounds like it was just made for the clubs.
Their follow up, “MORE! MORE! MORE!,” released in 2008 is their most successful album to date, charting at #6 on the Oricon charts, selling over 60,000 copies, and giving us the absolute banger “JUMPER,” along with the title track “more more more,” and two media tie-ins. Love or Lies and Stay with You were both used as themes for the manga-turned-drama-adaptation Liar Game.
Wave Runner, released in 2015, is their latest creation and their 5th highest selling album of all time. Their lead single “Hero” is very much a dubstep/future bass-inspired dance hit, and a testament to CAPSULE’s evolution.
A Perfume-Filled CAPSULE Is Released
If CAPSULE launched Yasutaka Nakata into the troposphere, PERFUME yeeted it into the stratosphere.
Shortly after CAPSULE’s debut, he teamed up with Emi Kinoko to work on a project while enrolled at the Tokyo School of Music. The projects were hosted on his personal website, and the management team for Perfume happened to see it, and the rest is history.
Perfume is the prolific j-pop trio made up of a-chan, KASHIYUKA and NOCCHi, three women who met in grade school in Hiroshima and then proceeded to move to Tokyo and dominate the j-pop scene with Yasutaka Nakata’s influence.
For years they’ve absolutely slayed the charts, sold-out tours worldwide, and continue to gain fans with their futuristic visual appeal to match the sound Yasutaka Nakata produces.
Perfume debuted in 2003, but the real “game” changer was their GAME album. It shot straight to the top of the Oricon charts and went double platinum in Japan.
GAME released several high-charting singles, including “Fan Service (Sweet),” “Chocolate Disco,” and “Polyrhythm,” which put them on the radar and was used in a lot of tie-ins, including a recycle campaign for the NHK.
In terms of international appeal, Polyrhythm also featured as one of the theme songs for Pixar’s Cars 2. Like with CAPSULE, Yasutaka Nakata writes most, if not all of their songs.
They’ve received multiple accolades and awards, with several of their singles going gold, and many of their albums going platinum (GAME is the only album to have been awarded Double Platinum to date).
The sound is a little more radio-friendly, but it maintains that mix of electronic and techno with infectious, almost compulsive grooves.
Much like with CAPSULE, their music videos and performances focus heavily on immersive and abstract visuals, often glitching in and out of some kind of reality, accompanied by synchronized choreography and iconic costumes.
As if continually being on top wasn’t enough, Perfume made history in 2019 by being the first JPOP group to perform at Coachella, which featured a sampling of the visuals and choreography from the final leg of their FUTURE POP World Tour.
The group later called the audience’s enthusiasm “incredible.” After being so successful and hitting this milestone, they can only go up from here!
Kawaii Queen Kyary Brings Forth New Era
Much like with Perfume, a chance encounter with Yasutaka Nakata helped propel Kyary Pamyu Pamyu into the spotlight. Her interest in fashion led to her attending an event for perfume, and they’re overlapping interests in the fashion industry gave birth to yet another electro pop sensation.
As with all of his projects, he writes most of her material, but the collision of kawaii and the strange and wonderful is very much her own creation, as she has said that she likes making scary things ‘cute.’ She’s found success as a fashion icon as well as a singer, releasing her own lines of cosmetic products.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s first single, PON PON PON, dropped in 2011 and was a veritable display of her desired aesthetic – bright and colorful Harajuku-esque visuals and fashion meet exaggerated cuteness to the point of being a little bit disturbing, just the way she likes it. It went viral, as most catchy YN songs do.
Her videos are definitely visual overload, though in a very interesting, if somewhat trippy way, combined with cute choreography.
Her second album, Nanda Collection (2013), was the first to debut at number one on the Oricon charts, something Yasutaka Nakata hadn’t experienced since Perfume’s third album JPN (2011). Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is set to follow Perfume’s footsteps in performing at Coachella later this year in October.
Digital Native, Crazy Crazy, and Future Efforts
Yasutaka Nakata released his first solo studio album, “Digital Native,” in 2018, though it wasn’t an entirely solo effort. Collaboration stayed the name of the game, with appearances from Kenshi Yonezu, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and Charli XCX.
The second single off the album, Crazy Crazy, features Charli XCX and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and is sung in English.
The music video continues the trend of engaging visuals, this time using the face as the canvas. Featuring a singer at a mic, a drummer, and a pianist, the faces and bodies have clearly been switched, and abstract shapes and symbols accompany stylized lyrics of the chorus superimposed on the heads.
Yasutaka Nakata stays busy, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has put out a new song, Kamaitachi, as of April 24, 2020, featuring her with a shaved head and playing a Buddhist Monk, available for streaming on YouTube.
Like most music acts in Japan, Perfume has canceled their 2020 tour due to current events, but they’ll probably continue to see success – Yasutaka Nakata has said he writes every song as if it’s the group’s first single each time, and that attitude almost guarantees fresh takes from both groups with each release.