Greetings, ARAMA! JAPAN readers! The Featured Artist space is back again for August with one rising star in the Japanese music scene: DAOKO. Most of you surely know her as every year she is closer to the mainstream media, but her whole career before getting to this point is full of hidden gems worth listening to. If you are already a fan of this young prodigy, you will find here an interesting, in-depth look at her career; while if you are not, you are just about to discover it!
Ready for this? Let’s go!
WHO IS DAOKO?
DAOKO is a rapper born in the bustling heart of Japan, Tokyo, the 4th of March of 1997. Her first incursion into the music world was in 2012 (at the age of 15) thanks to Nico Nico Douga, the Japanese platform for video sharing. Under the nickname of “daoko” (she would maintain the “all lower case” letter treatment for most part of her career), she covered and rearranged Hatsune Miku’s famous “Tawagoto Speaker”, composed by Nekobolo (who also goes by the name of sasanomaly now), who later also covered his own song with his own voice. This song (titled “Tawagoto Speaker – Rap Ver.”) showcased her ability to rap and to compose up to a decent level, and gained quite a lot of popularity on this platform.
Soon, LOW HIGH WHO?, an indie label focused in hip-hop, would put its eyes on her and offer her a three year contract, something she couldn’t refuse. The members of LOW HIGH WHO? frequently made appearances on each other’s albums and recorded full albums together under the label name, and Fukashigi/wonderboy, one of LOW HIGH WHO? better known artists, was working on his second album, “Sayonara,”. DAOKO, who had just joined the label, was appointed to sing the backing vocals for its Track 8, “Sekai Seifuku Yamete”, which released on 7 July 2012, marking her first appearance in a physical CD. This “sharing of vocals” and guest appearances frequently occurred while she was in LOW HIGH WHO?, both having DAOKO guest artists in her albums and she appearing in others. A couple of weeks later she released her first CD, “Shokishoujou”, a six-track Limited Edition EP which is nowadays almost impossible to obtain. The nature of this format made this CD more a “collector item” than the “stepping stone” of her career.
Finally, on 5 December, her debut album “HYPER GIRL -Mukougawa no Onna no Ko-” was released through LOW HIGH WHO?. This album, completely written by her at the age of 15, is full loneliness, love, isolation, pregnancy (and abortion), hope, death, future, bullying and many more themes tackled with a greater sense of maturity you would expect a teenager having. This album was the full stop of her 2012, a year in which she went from being an ordinary school girl to a school girl indie star. She began to receive the surname of “the 15 year old JK rapper” (“JK” stands for “Josei Kosei”, school girl), and received the attention of several artists. She was already living the dream of having a secret second life, balancing between school life and her music, as “Daoko” wasn’t (and still isn’t) her real name and her face wasn’t shown at all in her music (mainly because the school she assisted to had banned all its students from all kind of entertainment activities). Nevertheless, she still aimed higher.
2013 was an even better year for DAOKO: she released her first EP “UTUTU EP”, collaborated with indie producer ESNO in the single “Yuugure Paralellism”, appeared on indie artist ★STAR GUiTAR’s third album “Planetary Folklore” Track 2 “Mind Surf”, sang two songs in COASARU’s fourth album “HENSHIN” and many others collaborations, though the highlights of 2013 were others. One of them was the release of her second full album “GRAVITY” on 11 December, which, aside from being a step up in her sound quality and rap skills, drifted to a slightly darker and more electronic sound, though there was still place for poppier songs. In this album DAOKO also brought two of the most recognizable faces of the LOW HIGH WHO? label, GOMESS and Jinmenusagi. The other highlight was undoubtly the collaboration with m-flo in the song “IRONY”, theme song for the film “Takanotsume GO: Utsukushiki Elleair Shoushuu Plus” which would later appear on m-flo’s 2014 album “FUTURE IS WOW”. ☆Taku (from m-flo) expressed his interest in working with DAOKO, and they released the song as a single on 11 September.
A collab with m-flo just one year after her appearance into the music scene sounded like an achieved goal, an impossible made true, but it only made her become more and more popular. 2014 looked like a quiet year for the young prodigy (she even stated in a interview that she felt “down” during 2014), but things started to stir up when “ME!ME!ME!” was released on 21 November. If by any chance of fate you don’t know what’s ME!ME!ME!, it’s a short anime film directed by Hibiki Yoshizaki which featured almost 6 minutes of music produced by TeddyLoid and written and sung by DAOKO, published through Japan Anima(tor)’s Exhibition, a project which consisted in publishing shorts on a weekly basis to promote and advertise new animators worldwide. ME!ME!ME!, which was the third short published by this project, achieved much more recognition than the promotors of the project ever expected. ME!ME!ME! soon became a viral sensation all around the world, with uncountable reaction videos uploaded to YouTube (as the short is quite graphic in many senses) and many theories about the meaning behind of it.
While such a boom wasn’t ideal for DAOKO (firstly, even though the music of ME!ME!ME! was appreciated overseas she didn’t catch on there; and secondly she may have to endure the fact that some people will label her as “the girl who sang ME!ME!ME!” no matter what she does in her future), it definitely made her a name in Japan and ensured her a future contract with a major label. Aside from the ME!ME!ME! boom, she also released with producer koducer as “koducer x daoko” another EP, “Kireigoto EP”, on 24 December. This mellow release featured the softest version of DAOKO, a CD in which her hums and whispers are the basis of every track and her rap takes its sweetest form. This is also her only release available on Spotify, so giving it a listen is just a couple of clicks away!
The following year was decisive for her career. Her contract with LOW HIGH WHO? was coming to an end and she chose to leave the label, but before going, DAOKO released on 4 February her third album, “Dimension”, in which she collaborated again with the most known faces of the label. This album reinforced even more her newfound electronic sound while leaving time to slower songs and a sad, hopeless overarching theme influenced by her experiences lived in 2014 talking about God, creation, reincarnation, life and death using a psychedellic and urban imagery. This was her first release to break into the Oricon charts, topping on number 207.
Just a little less than two month after this release and with just one month of production time, on 25 March, she had already released her major label debut album titled “DAOKO” through TOY’S FACTORY, label of acts such as BUMP OF CHICKEN, SEKAI NO OWARI and Mr.Children. In this album she explored a more melodic take, slowing down the pace of her raps and an overall positive tone, though there is still some darkness in this album, especially on its outstanding Track 10 “JK”. This album improved her last Oricon mark up to the number 50, and was her first album to be sold in more than one edition, having a Limited Edition Double CD release. This second CD titled “INDIES BEST” featured twelve of her best hits before hitting the major label. It is worthy of notice that it was along this release when she chose to switch her artist name from “daoko” to “DAOKO”. She just graduated from school, had a major label debut, was two years away from her coming of age… she was certainly going big, though there was another big change coming up for 2015.
On 4 October she announced her first major label double A-side single and latest release for the time being “ShibuyaK / Samishii Kamisama” and published the MV for the first of them: there were no more weird angles, no more items blocking her gaze, no more shots of just her eye. She revealed at last her whole face (being even the cover of the single!) as a new way to express what is “DAOKO” and communicate with fans. The single, which also served as the theme song for “GIRL”, the second installment of the “ME!ME!ME!” short, was released on 21 October achieving number 23 on the Oricon charts. This release leaned to more pop sound, something which not all fans enjoyed, though its B-side, “Yumemiteta no atashi” was a strong, sorrowful ballad that ensured that DAOKO wouldn’t become just pop, even though her upcoming single seems to announce it.
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT HER?
One of the things that make DAOKO a special singer is the maturity of her songs. Her touching lyrics ponder existence, future, adulthood, hate, the dark side of school life, society and much more, from her point of view. And her voice is a plus that adds even more flavour to this moving poetry, capable of expressing a wide range of emotions with her tone alone, from anxiousness and melancholy to happiness and hope being it rapping or whispering. Another positive point DAOKO has is how varied is her music. While she raps most of the time, there is almost no “typical rap song” in her discography; every song adds something new to the formula. Lastly, and while it may be just a personal bias, her way to describe city life and the Shibuya Ward took over my heart since the very beginning.
WHERE DO I START?
DAOKO’s discography is rather short, so there are not many different starts. That plus the fact that her INDIES BEST album is expensive as hell makes listening to her albums one by one the best solution, but as the overarching theme and mood of her albums evolved as she grew, you can start from the part that fits your tastes best!
It’s no secret that “ME!ME!ME!” is responsible for the rising in popularity of DAOKO, and it’s quite understandable: ME!ME!ME! showcases almost every aspect of DAOKO’s music, from upbeat, cute and pop rhythms to danceable and fast EDM parts, having also rough rap segments. If you’re about to rewatch it or to discover it just now, just as a reminder, the clip features a quite heavy NSFW imagery!
From her first releases
If you are a fan of exploring the evolution of the artists just as explained on her bio, from the very beginning, this is your start. “HYPER GIRL -Mukougawa no Onna no Ko-” is an album that uses the child-like (not childish) sound it showcases to convey a wide range of emotions to the listener, both sad and happy. “UTUTU EP” was also an amazing release and its short but powerful Track 1 “UTUTU” got the chance of having a beautiful MV, but there are other two tracks worthy of recognition: “Hebi no Shinzou” is an emotional song with a really polished tense build-up towards the end and “guchiguchi” (a cover of Jinmenusagi’s own “guchiguchi”) has one of the most catchy and addictive rhythms of her whole discography.
From her later releases
If you are looking for a bit more matured sound and get to the roots later, “GRAVITY” and “Dimension” are your CDs! Dimension makes use of loads of electronic sounds to reinforce its psychedellic vibes, so don’t forget to give it a shot if you are an electronic fan. GRAVITY, on the other hand, is much more varied, so sharing just a couple of songs wouldn’t convey the whole theme of the album: from heavy, dangerous, electronic beats to sinuous, sexy and mysterious rhythms to happy poppy tunes… GRAVITY has them all.
From her latest releases
If you want to know what this girl has been up to lately, you should listen to her latest two CDs: “DAOKO” and “ShibuyaK / Samishii Kamisama”. While both releases drifted towards a more commercial sound, the DAOKO sound is still there. The single had a mostly upbeat vibe to it (leaving aside the aforementioned “Yumemiteta no atashi”), while the album leaned towards a more melodic, almost symphonical, sound.
CHECK OUT THEIR UPCOMING RELEASES:
2016 is being a quiet year for DAOKO when we compare it to her (four) previous years in the music scene, resembling somewhat to her 2014 in terms of releases: almost no new material, just a couple of songs scrambled along these first seven months. However, she has already announced her second triple A-side single titled “Moshimo Bokura ga GAME no Shuyakude / DAISUKI with TeddyLoid / BANG!” coming next 14 September! It will feature these three A-sides plus “FASHION” as a B-side, and instrumental version of each one of them for a total of eight tracks!