Currently, as part of the boom that has swept the Japanese idol world, it seems a large number of creators have found ways to become involved. Here, where music, work, performances, artists, as well as fans have become connected in a multitude of areas, we can see the high quality work coming out of a number of different fields. Additionally, with so many people embracing these fields, there’s also the fact that they also have the benefit of witnessing the latest, cutting-edge culture as part of experimentation. So here we’d like to highlight some of the creators that have contributed to the idol business.

So for our first volume, we’ll be looking at lyricist Ameko Kodama. Since high school she worked on the lyrics for the character Copink* from Shizuoka Asahi TV’s COPINK!SS!., and currently she’s in charge of writing lyrics for Hello!Project (Hello!Pro)-related tracks from ANGERM and Country Girls, as well as Yumemiru Adolescence. In this series we’ll be interviewing each creator, and today Ameko Kodama was kind enough to talk about her backstory on becoming a lyricist, how she writes lyrics, and so on.

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– First of all, I’m curious about what made you want to become a lyricist.


During my second and third years of high school I sent in a novel I had written for a publishing company’s literary prize, and while I was caught up in the middle of that, an old acquaintance of mine who was the producer for COPINK!SS! sent me a “How’ve you been?” kind of e-mail. When I told him what I’d been up to, he asked me if I’d be interested in writing a song for the Kopink* character of the show. Then as I became more involved with writing pieces for Copink*, I received multiple offers from different people, and here I am today.


– Wow, I had no idea that kind of thing could happen like that. So you decided to capitalize on the chance.

Actually, I didn’t have any intention of doing it like that at the time. I went about it more passively… As far as Hello!Project’s music goes, every now and then when I would be walking near Tower Records in Shibuya, the radio director with me would be like, “I heard Kazumi Namba is doing his ‘Idol 36 Bou’ corner, so let’s go and see,” and and when we went there Maokoto Hashimoto from Upfront was there, and was like, “You’re a lyricist? Let’s work together, then!”


– Was that because Tsunku♂ was ill at the time?

It was before that. Upfront was working with Hello!Pro and LoVendoЯ, along with Bitter & Sweet; actually it was right after their debut, so he was like, “Why don’t you go over and see about working on the music production with them?” so that happened and then… But for about a year they didn’t really use any of my stuff, or it was a irregular process where Mr. NOBE would fix what I had submitted and have Bitter & Sweet sing it. But the first work that was completely passed on directly from me was ANGERME’s “Otome no Gyakushu”.

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– So there was a little competition thing?

I’m not really sure about that, but… Just when I was thinking I couldn’t put out anything decent, they used “Otome no Gyakushu”. I’ve talked about it in other interviews, but I working hard writing another song, and didn’t really put much effort into “Otome no Gyakushu”. People might interpret that as me being lazy about my work, but I didn’t put much thought into it, so when it got picked I was like, “That’s the one you went with?!” (laugh) It happens quite a lot like that.


– It might be bad if that got out.

It would be. Country Girls’ “Itooshikute Gomen ne” was planned to be the Country Girl’s indie debut single, and luckily I was able to take it easy. However, I wrote both of the A-side lyrics, and they barely fit the schedule… It was like, “Ah! I forgot about the project. Please forgive me!” (laugh) I wrote both quickly in the span of about one or two days, I think. I just went with my intuition so… (laugh) Well, we’ll just say it was one day. (laugh)

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– So you wrote both in one day. (laugh) How do you write your lyrics?

I write them by hand, on paper. Usually I write while I’m cooking.


– Really?! So say, you have a knife in your right hand and a pen in your left?

Oh, well while I’m cutting I’ll be completely tuned in to the demo track, listening for the composition and the melody.

– Yet you don’t cut yourself?

(holds out a finger with a bandage on it) I do. (laugh) So I cook boiled or stewed dishes a lot. First I listen to the demo while I do all the prep, and after I’ve memorized the composition, it’ll be time to do the actual cooking and that’s when I start writing. I’ll write anything with a firm sentence structure like a novel or things that need a lot of concentration at my desk, but with lyrics if you sit there thinking about it too long it doesn’t work. So I write without concentrating too hard.


– When you write lyrics, do you just write what first pop into your mind?

That depends on the song. At first I would come up with a title and then go from there, but now when I do that it throws me off, and it feels like I’m trying too hard, so I decided to stop doing that. If I come up with one immediately on the first listen I’ll jot it down, or if something pops into my head during the chorus, A melody, or B melody, so it really depends.

– So now you mainly write by listening to the song first?

That’s right. Occasionally I’ll experiment by writing the lyrics first, but in general the melody comes first, and then I’ll match the lyrics up with it.

– So the melody shapes the words?

For me, I’d say it usually does more often than not. If I hear a vowel-like sound I’ll go with that, or place a lot of focus on if it sounds good or not when sung.


When you divide the work into lyrics and composition, there’s a chance that both will go in their own direction, or clash or be all over the place, so…. I match the lyrics up with the melody, or if there’s already an arrangement, I’ll envision that arrangement as I write.


– The steps that go into creating a song can really be all over the place.

With Hello!Project it really is, and many times things are decided on the spot. No doubt the Japanese mind is different with each encounter, like the proverb “Treasure every meeting, for it will never recur”. (laugh)

– But even then, I get the feeling that they’re made keeping each of the worlds created by ANGERME and Country Girls’ in mind…

Oh, well it might come as a surprise but I feel that’s decided by the music. I don’t feel like Hello!Pro really goes with a single concept in mind, but that a lot of the times the concept is shaped by the music..? So because of that, they don’t really ever tell me to “fit things into a certain concept”. For example with Country Girls’ “Itooshikute Gomen ne…”, at first there weren’t that Uta-chan’s part in the beginning, but in the middle of the production they decided to put some in, came up with some, and that became the hook. Thinking back on it, it was like it then became their “thing”. There isn’t really any, “This is the concept! So write something that goes with it!”


– Is that so. Did you have a lot of freedom when you were working on music for Copink*?

That was quite the opposite, and I was very often told to write a certain way.

– Really?! When you look at the finished work, it seems like it was the opposite.

Copink* may look like it was done however I wanted, but it was really detailed. The producer was a rather passionate person, so I would try to meet that. However with the “COP!NKISS! Melodies 3 ~momento~” that came out the other day, he didn’t say much. All of a sudden he said he would leave it to me. (laugh)

– So there was a certain amount of trust there.

It feels like it’s just finally gotten to that point! (laugh) There must have been some kind of trust! However, I couldn’t help but think about how odd it was.


– I thought it was interesting before when you were talking about how try not to force your way with things.

It’s because I don’t really have much of a personality. (laugh) I like to stick to a pattern. Even now that hasn’t changed any. I don’t think you can do unconventional things without sticking to a certain pattern.

Way back when I did traditional Japanese dance. There’s one move called the “three necks” where you have to turn your neck three times. These three neck turns alone take three years to master. I have things like that which I think are fundamental.


Today there’s the false notion that not being able to do fundamental things are part of your “personality” or “diversity”… It’s not meant to put people in a cage, it’s just that I think it’s better if you have a certain foundation. Although, not to the extent that you’re not dependent on it. In the end, even if there’s a fundamental way of doing something, people who push against that will push against it. (laugh)

– Was there a moment that made you really think of yourself as a professional lyricist?

I remember it very clearly; it was when I signed a copyright contract. Right when I affixed my name seal. (laugh) (Note: In Japan people sign things with a name seal or name stamp instead with their signature.) Even when I was writing lyrics before, I hadn’t thought of it as a paid job while I was doing it, but then when the copyright agreement came, it made me think, “I’m getting paid to do this!” which lit a fire under me and I was like, “I have to really make up my mind!”

– I see. How did you feel when you heard the first song you’d written for?

The first time I was not really like “Oh!”, not really all that moved. I was just glad that I hadn’t messed up. Actually, I don’t really listen to the songs I’ve written. It’ll just make me think about spots I’d like to improve. So even when I receive the CD, I’d rather listen to the songs that weren’t written by me. (laugh)

When you’re writing you can keep writing forever, so right after you finish it’s like, “I did it! Woah, wow, amazing! I’m gonna go to sleep now!” If not you’ll be correcting what you’ve written forever. So I immediately send it to whoever is in charge and if they OK it I just leave it at that. I’ll keep working forever on things without a deadline, so at first I always say, “Please give me a deadline.” If I really go at it I’ll keep at it until I wear myself down, so I try not to think about it too much.


More like, the things you finish quickly are the things that become the most well received. Often when you listen to artists talk about their best-selling work, they usually say things like, “I wrote it in about an hour.” I feel like I can really relate to that. Even though Country Girls’ “Koi Dorobo” was something that I’d written in about three hours because it was a rush job, it’s a wonder that that after it’s gotten so many compliments. It makes me happy, but I don’t really have any cool liner notes to talk about.

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– Do you ever imagine the person singing your songs when you’re writing lyrics?

I do. I do, but I don’t necessarily feel like it’s better to. When it comes to splitting parts, it’s a strange feeling when I imagine that a certain girl will be singing this phrase and then it turns out that she actually will.

Also, when talking about singing, I’ll often make heavy use of the “n” sound. There’s an “n~” at the end of the phrase “renai dake nigate kamoku” (“love is the only subject I’m bad at”) in Country Girls’ “Wakatteiru no ni Gomen ne”, but you usually don’t write “n” to stretch the sound of something. But I like it because it gives feeling like “Hmm!” there, so when there’s space I’ll use them.

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– So you also imagine someone singing when you write.

That’s right. It might be hard to sing, but that hard-to-sing face is better, like that. Starting out the chorus with “ha” is a little cruel, because it’ll make you have to take more breaths. So I usually don’t write it in, but sometimes I’ll do it on purpose, like when it’s better that they sing painfully. If you were to write one “ha” after another, idols would cry all the way through the recording. (laugh)

– It seems like you’ll continue writing lyrics.

I haven’t even been writing for ten years, so I don’t like the idea of suddenly entering a completely different field. (laugh) I don’t think of my job as “work” or “labor”, but would say it’s more like the German word “beruf”. I think I’ll finally feel like I’ve at least had my fill after ten years…


– That’s really old-fashioned. Or rather, spoken like a true craftsperson.

I tend to go with the flow. (laugh) “Sure, why not? Sure, okay,” like that. If I don’t think it’s any good after ten years, then I should quit.

For me, I tend to move on to other things. The only things I’ve ever kept up for more than three years is traditional Japanese dance and this job.


– You’re kind of like a cloud floating in the sky, then. (laugh)

That’s right, I just go with the flow! You could say it’s like “ukiyo” (“floating”)… Japanese really has a lot of wonderful phrases, doesn’t it! 憂世で浮世 (transient and floating), it’s a gloomy and floating world! This world is a floating world, so you should just go along with it. (laugh)

People say things like “I’m heartbroken” or “I’ve lost my way”, but I don’t really get expressions like that at all. I mean, from the very beginning this world has just drifted on and on. Humans are like a ball, so they should just go with the flow, with their form as the only thing left unchanged.


– So basically if they have a foundation. So when it comes to your work, your lyrics for Hello!Pro songs are more orthodox than the ones for Copink*.

Usually a part of it is getting sharper as you work. The image for Copink* was a strong one, so it wasn’t any orthodox lyrical work with it. They would tell me to make it “Copink*-ish”, “girlish”, or “Ameko-ish”, but it would always lead to a dead end at “-ish”. So something like ANGERME’s “Tomo yo” is something I couldn’t have ever imaged in my wildest dreams. I wrote it feeling really alive, with that kind of joy.


– Kanon Fukuda from ANGERME also became a lyricist.

When I say this some people might just take it as, “Aren’t you just apprehensive that another person has joined your line of work?”, and it’s not like that (laugh), but with a great singing voice like hers I think she should stick to singing. Like I kept thinking, you should just write and sing what you write, so it’s kind of a waste! (laugh) With a voice like that you should just let it out. The way she sang the “arigato deatte kureta koto” (“I’m so thankful that we met”) part of “Tomo yo” completely surpassed my expectations. I was very moved. I’m not a singer, so I don’t really have any reason to say anything during recording. So when it came out I went “Wow!” and it was really exciting. That’s probably been my most enjoyable moment as a lyricist.


I like it being surprised at how clever other people can be. There’s a song by ANGERME called “Marionette 37℃”, but it took my forever to decide on the title, and I was at a loss at what to do. I wanted it to have the word “marionette”, but there are a lot of songs with that title so I was really stuck, and close to when the arrangement of the complete package was finishing up, I was listening to it and the “37℃” part came to me. Hitting on ideas from things casually thrown out from composers and arrangers, there’s a lot of interaction between us like that.


– It sounds like it’s split as a team.

That’s right. I think there’s strength in dividing labor. There’s strength in writing both the song and lyrics yourself, but there’s also strength in using your combined strength to do things together. The two are completely different. So I think there is a distinct touch depending on how work is divided.


It’s fun because I don’t know what’s in store. These days, doesn’t it seem like we get upset as soon as something doesn’t go our way? Getting peeved when something you Google doesn’t immediately show up, or when unexpectedly the train doesn’t arrive on time. Getting worked up over a tweet you sent out that wasn’t received the way you’d intended. In modern times like these, you have to be misunderstood at least once or twice. It might sound old-fashioned, but things are interesting because you can’t bend others exactly to your will. Work is the same way, so even though it’s regrettable when things don’t go your way, it’s also a good feeling.

Related Links
Ameko Kodama Official Site : http://kodama-ameko.com/
Ameko Kodama Official Twitter : https://twitter.com/kodamameko
Pinkiss official site : http://www.satv.co.jp/0300program/0095pinkss/
See Pinkiss related videos with English subtitle on Tokyo Girls’ Update : http://tokyogirlsupdate.com/?s=pinkiss

Photos by Mime Soga
Translated by Jamie Koide

Author
Toshiro Arai
Toshiro Arai

A producer of website "TOKYO IDOL NET", which "photography" and "idol" is its concept. He also writes for Tokyo Idol Project, and so on.

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