SPY x FAMILY CODE: White, an animated film featuring the beloved characters of the popular manga and anime series, has quickly become a box office smash in Japan after hitting theaters Dec. 22. Japanese hitmaker Gen Hoshino wrote the ending theme for this movie, as he did for the TV series, and this new song “Why” is the title track of his latest single.
The 42-year-old artist’s new project also features “Life” — the theme song for this year’s World Athletics Championships and the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China — as the other title track, and includes “Odd Couple” a song written for the popular Japanese comedy duo Audrey for their event at Tokyo Dome, and the instrumental track “Beyond the Sequence” featured in a TV commercial that he appears in. The J-pop superstar sat down with Billboard Japan and looked back on his headspace in 2023 while breaking down the production process of the tracks on this new single.
“Why” is the ending theme song for SPY x FAMILY CODE: White. How did you feel when you were tapped to write this song?
Gen Hoshino: First, I thought it was interesting that the ending theme would be revealed on the day of the movie’s release. I wrote “Comedy” (the ending theme for SPY x FAMILY Season 1) with the sound of 2000s hip-hop in mind, so when I was asked to do the theme for the movie, I wanted to make sure that the feel of the music was connected at the base. For “Why,” I went further back and combined the R&B/hip-hop beats of the early ’90s with the R&B medium ballads of the late ’80s as the track’s soundscape.
R&B and hip-hop from the late ’80s to early ’90s comprise your musical roots, don’t they?
They’re the music of my youth, to be exact. Oh, but I guess the late ’80s could be considered part of my roots. A lot of the songs featured as anime themes that I listened to growing up were heavily influenced by Western music, and I wanted to do something like that now. Take “Romantic Ageruyo” from Dragon Ball as an example. The opener is energetic and easy for kids to understand, but out of nowhere the ending theme is a grownup love song that suddenly throws you off. But that wistfulness stays with you and when you grow up, you get what the lyrics are saying. That sort of thing.
I grew up on jazz and R&B music of the same era because my parents liked to listen to them, so they’re stuck in my mind as the same kind of music. A lot of hip-hop tracks from the ‘90s sample R&B from the ’80s, and I wanted to make a song with that kind of connection in mind. That was how “Why” first came about.
The lyrics to “Why” lay out the premise that “people eventually disappear,” and ask the question of “why we still try to create more memories.” Could you elaborate on this theme?
The soundscape is a throwback to the ‘80s and ‘90s, and in the lyrics I decided to depict what happens after “Comedy” which was sonically inspired by the 2000s. Since the movie is about a trip, I actually went on a trip myself. I went to Kanazawa alone, and felt like I gained many things from the time I spent at the D.T. Suzuki Museum, and the time I spent walking around the city.
I was feeling pretty depressed this year. I didn’t feel any hope or have positive feelings at all. When I think about it, I think it might have been kind of a backlash, a reaction to the three years of the pandemic and how I’d worked so hard during that time.
Restrictions stemming from the pandemic have been lifted this year, so maybe the mental fatigue of the past three years set in.
I was in a state of “nothingness,” and no matter what I wrote, it didn’t feel right. After my trip to Kanazawa, I decided to write a song without thinking about the tie-in, and the first thing that came to me was the A-melo (first verse) of “Why.” That really felt right, and from that point on, my current situation — my own troubles and trials, the things I wanted to overcome — linked to the movie. People die eventually, and if you think about it on the level of thousands or tens of thousands of years, human society will surely collapse. When you consider it that way, it doesn’t matter what anyone leaves behind or what they do, it’s all meaningless. But why was I so moved by the sunset I saw in Kanazawa? Why did I find the ripples of water at the D.T. Suzuki Museum interesting? Why do people take pictures to preserve their memories when they travel? These thoughts led to the characters of SPY x FAMILY, three people and a dog, who each have their own traumas, being together as a family.
“Life” feels like it has the power to uplift the listener’s mind and body, and I also felt a connection with “Why.”
I didn’t intend to connect them at all, actually. [Laughs] I thought the lyrics to “Why” would be more light-hearted, but a lot of thoughts went in as I was writing it. I wasn’t originally planning to release these two songs as a single, so they just happened to connect when I completed them.
Music-wise, I heard you had gospel in mind. The song contains the fundamental power of human performance and singing, like the raw sounds of the drums and saxophone.
Sounds with physicality come across in a direct way. That, and I also really like music programming and editing. Up until my early thirties, I was more interested in physicality and used to think that it’s better to have people (performing the music), even with mistakes and errors. I started being drawn to programming and synthesizers later on. There’s definitely an energy that comes out of programmed music. For the drums, Shun Ishiwaka played what I’d programmed. There’s something moving about a human performance that tries to imitate and outdo machines. It’s a mixture of human and machine-like qualities.
The footage from your “so sad so happy” Curated by Gen Hoshino at SUMMER SONIC BEACH STAGE from this year’s SUMMER SONIC music festival will be streamed on the Amazon Music Japan channel on Twitch. Jacob Collier, Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest), Camilo and UMI performed at the event. Looking back now, what are you thought on this project?
The first half of this year, I spent all of my days at home doing stuff like write songs, then suddenly I was outside and it was crazy hot. [Laughs] I managed to get through it, and it’s a great memory of this summer. I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to do whatever I wanted on one of the stages at SUMMER SONIC. I’d met everyone before except for Camilo. I invited my friends, so the day’s performances were linked in that sense, and it must have looked different from a typical festival. And they all gave great performances, so that was really moving.
–This interview by Tomoyuki Mori first appeared on Billboard Japan