Maho Korogi/Billboard Japan
Nishina, SCANDAL and Non graced the stage at the historic Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall in Tokyo on Nov. 3 for Billboard Japan’s Women In Music Vol.1 event, entertaining fans under the clear autumn sky with songs and performances bursting with individuality.
This concert was the first with multiple headliners on the bill organized as part of the WIM initiative in Japan, which launched last year to honor artists, producers and executives who have made significant contributions to music and inspired other women through their work, as Billboard has done in the U.S. since 2007.
The Open-Air Concert Hall in Hibiya Park, or “Yaon” as music lovers refer to it, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. November 3rd being a national holiday, a large number of fans of all genders and generations gathered at the event. The spirit of the day’s festivities was expressed in the music being played before the concert began, with songs by Western female artists such as Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!,” and Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” warming up the Yaon crowd.
After the master of ceremonies for the evening, Maki Fukuda and Kanade of the comedy trio 3 Ji no Heroine, announced the start of the event, Nishina kicked off the show. Appearing onstage to warm applause, the rising 25-year-old singer-songwriter and her band broke into noise to perform “Slow Motion.” The leisurely, yet increasingly intense rendition was a fitting opener for her six-song set, gradually warming up the audience with her exuberance.
“This is my first time playing at Yaon so I’ve been looking so forward to this,” Nishina told the crowd before moving on to “Tokyo Marble.” Bubble gun in hand, she blew soap bubbles into the audience while hopping from one end of the stage to the other, clearly enjoying her time on the historic stage to her heart’s content.
During “Kedamono no Friends,” the singer twirled her fake tail around in her hand, loosely dancing and singing as the audience clapped with the beat. There was a moment when she almost tripped and fell because she was moving around so much onstage. Laughing, she exclaimed, “Did you see that? What an amazing recovery!” Making the audience feel at ease through such exchanges, she went on to perform “Sugar Spot” for the first time live. By the time she performed “Heavy Smoke,” dusk had fallen over the outdoor venue and her low, mumbly vocals lingered in the cool autumn air. Nishina closed her set with a heartfelt performance of her poignant ballad “seiran yuei,” making good on her weighty responsibility of opening the first-ever WIM event.
During the stage change, Fukuda and Kanade appeared onstage and explained the purpose of the event. “We’d like everyone to feel the power of women and diverse possibilities through these live performances that are uniquely individual,” they said. “The concept of this project is to act towards eliminating gender inequalities in various industries including music, and make the world a place where people of all genders can be their best selves.” The two comedians went to share that more people are bringing their children backstage these days in their field, and new values are becoming more common.
At this point, Nishina came back onstage to join the two emcees and commented, “It’s now pitch dark, but we started while the sun was still out. I was thinking how beautiful it was and had a really lovely time.” When asked if she is conscious of her gender when writing songs, she replied, “I don’t think too much about it, but I try to respect that ‘you are you’ in terms of taking care of myself and respecting others.”
The next artist on the roster was Non, whose latest album PURSUE was named to reflect the kind of woman she looks up to: someone who pursues what she wants and sees it through to the end. Appearing onstage with her backing band dressed in bright red, the multi-hyphenate artist picked up her trademark red Telecaster guitar and opened with “Beautiful Stars,” her collaborative project with J-pop rock band ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION.
“I’m so excited because I’m sandwiched between two insanely cool acts, Nishina and SCANDAL,” she noted before performing her next song, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” as the crowd sang along. She then told everyone to “take a seat because this next one’s mellow” and as the intro to “Kouya ni tatsu” (“Standing in the Wilderness”) began to play, the crowd stirred and broke out into loud applause. Fans listened enraptured by Non’s arresting performance of this profound ballad.
Before closing her compact but satisfying set with her warm, mid-tempo number “Azayaka na hibi” (“Vivid Days”), she addressed the Yaon crowd again. “It’s my first time performing in an event like this as part of three acts on the bill,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful that we can all enjoy music together. My heart’s so full. I wish you all many wonderful days today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and beyond.”
When invited back onstage by Fukuda and Kanade for a chat after her segment, Non emphasized again how much she had been looking forward to this day. “I was so happy to be able to play with my band today, because I was disappointed when our show here with Reichi ‘Chabo’ Nakaido’s band was cancelled due to a typhoon,” she said.
Closing out the event was SCANDAL, a veteran all-female band of 17 years. The four members were greeted with loud cheers after it was announced that the group had been certified by the Guinness World Records in August as the “longest running rock band with the same musicians (female).” Clad in black, the members opened their set with the band’s uplifting latest single, “Highlight no naka de bokura zutto.”
As searchlights flashed across the venue, the band went on to perform one of its representative numbers, “Shunkan Sentimental,” with the audience spontaneously shouting as soon as the intro began. The four women’s solid performance engulfed the historic venue in a frenzy of excitement.
The veteran band continued to deliver a tight set covering highlights from its illustrious catalog. “I’m having so much fun now that I’m in my thirties and playing in SCANDAL,” said guitarist/vocalist HARUNA to thunderous applause. “I hope you can feel the four of us standing on stage and connecting our sounds together, like light.”
The women performed “Sisters” as a refreshing shout-out to the evening’s theme, then finished their set with their concert anthem “SCANDAL BABY,” gleefully singing in unison. During the second verse, lead guitarist MAMI and bassist TOMOMI huddled close to HARUNA, making eye contact with drummer RINA as they tore through the fan favorite to close out the event on a high note.
During the after-show chat, RINA said, “Now that events like this are taking place, I think we have more opportunities to understand one another. Our hope is that we can all live together while respecting what each of us values. I hope we can enjoy our lives together without giving up anything.” When asked about their thoughts on continuing to perform as a “girl band,” HARUNA replied, “We feel that it’s important for us four members to be considerate of each other and to enjoy the changes as we get older, so we hope to never forget that and enjoy our time together.”
Nishina and Non were also invited to share their impressions of the event, and the former commented, “I had a great time performing side by side with very cool female musicians from different genres,” while the latter shared, “I really enjoyed being here today, listening to Nishina and SCANDAL’s live performances thinking they were so cool and had a good time performing, too!”
The celebration of women will continue as Billboard Japan announced its Women In Music Vol. 2 event set for Feb. 8, 2024, at Tokyo Dome City Hall. The next concert will feature the powerful voices of singer-songwriters Reo Ieiri and Miliyah Kato collaborating with an orchestra.
—This article by Takayuki Okamoto first appeared on Billboard Japan