Leo Ieiri is proud to be pop

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Leo Ieiri poses during an interview. On her first Budokan concert in April, she said, “I’ll be nervous, but I won’t freak out.” She described it as an opportunity that developed naturally because of her hard work.

By Yusuke Tsuruta / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterShe was initially known as an artist “who screams her pain” but now she regards herself as pop. Leo Ieiri’s latest album, “5th Anniversary Best” (Victor), reveals the drastic metamorphosis the singer has undergone in the last five years, since her debut at the age of 17.

The best-of album includes all the singles she has released — from her debut song “Sabrina” to “Sorezore no Ashita e (To the future of each),” which was released online last November. The compilation also includes several of her songs that have been used as theme songs on TV dramas.

“I’ve put all my energy into every one of them,” recalled Ieiri. “There’s not a single song I regret producing. I enjoyed every bit.”

Ieiri chose to list the songs in reverse chronological order.

“I don’t think the second song ‘Shine’ would have been released if it hadn’t been for ‘Sabrina,’” said Ieiri. “My songs have always shared a connection from one to the next, so there’s no reason I would remove that element.”

“I’m going down again tonight with that empty feeling in my hand,” sang Ieiri in a voice with nervous energy on “Sabrina,” accompanied by the sound of distorted guitars.

Now her songs have changed.

Her earlier releases lift the mood of listeners with lines such as, “I’m no longer alone. And that makes me stronger,” on “Sorezore no Ashita e” — a song that could be considered the perfect pop song.

Ieiri was still in senior high school when she debuted. She admits her approach to making music has changed over the years as she matured.

“I used to sing how hard it was to live, and how life hurt — everything was about me,” said Ieiri.

“But when I heard my fans thank me for representing them [with my lyrics], I realized that a song only three minutes long could enable people to communicate their feelings.”

“I thought that was great. And I realized how vain it was just to write music for myself.”

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  • The cover of Leo Ieiri’s “5th Anniversary Best”

She now often lets others do the composing, even though she started as a singer-songwriter. “There’s no point in sticking to the idea of completing a piece all by yourself. After all, it’s the intense world of music where a flawless song with good lyrics, melody and singing is a must,” she explained. Though her area of focus has changed, that doesn’t mean she’s completely stopped composing, she added.

The young girl who used to sing about her pain now rigorously expresses all of her emotions.

“I want to stay pop,” she said emphatically.

She’s no longer afraid to be perceived as a mainstream Japanese pop music artist.

“I don’t think it’s possible to continue doing something only you want to do and still be widely supported,” said Ieiri. “I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing like ‘the times are catching up with me’ either.”

“You have to make songs that people want to hear if you want lots of people to listen to your music,” she continued. “And I’m fine with that. I’m fine being in the mainstream,” she continued, sounding beyond her years.

“I’ve failed when I tried to turn down opportunities,” explained Ieiri. “It ends up being a tragedy when I do things the hard way, or leave things unattended. I think I’ll find my way if I keep on trying, diligently, on a daily basis.”

When I told her that she sounded like a philosophy teacher, she shot back with a smile saying, “No way, definitely not!” There was the youthful demeanor of a typical 22-year-old.

Ieiri’s “5th Anniversary Live at Nippon Budokan,” her first concert in the venue, is scheduled for April 30. For more information, visit:

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