Yama Explores Music Despite Fear of Public Performances; Masked Singer Talks about New Album

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yama poses for a photo.

Yama has attracted attention for their songs that have featured in such popular anime as “Spy x Family” and “Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury.” Although Yama’s career as a singer seems to be doing well, they have a complex about appearing in front of people. Wearing a mask in public is a symbol of their inner conflict.

Following the recent release of the album “awake & build,” Yama shared their thoughts on singing and their own identity.

Yama began to be active as an “utaite” singer in 2018, posting their covers of songs and uploading them to YouTube. Yama’s first original song, “Haru o Tsugeru” (Heralding spring), was created by Vocaloid producer Kujira and released in April 2020. It became a huge hit, quickly making the singer well known. They made their major label debut in October that year. Yama also became a hot topic when Vaundy and Enon Kawatani created songs for Yama to perform.

Yama has a boyish and clear singing style. They tend to match their singing voice to the content of the song and say this process is like constructing a movie script. This approach gives the listener the feeling that Yama is playing a different character in each song.

They have been good at singing since childhood, but have always hated appearing in front of people. At singing competitions and public events, Yama would have difficulty breathing and continuing to stand. “When I went to the hospital, I was told each time that ‘there is nothing wrong with you’ and that ‘the cause is unknown.’ I knew I wasn’t the right person to sing in public,” Yama said.

“But I wanted to know how my singing would be judged and what kind of response I would get in a situation where no one knew me. On the internet, I don’t have to worry about showing my face, so I started [to post videos of song covers] out of a kind of desire for recognition,” Yama added.

It was also through the internet that Yama began communicating with Kujira, who composed “Haru o Tsugeru.” Singing this song changed Yama’s life.

“Haru o Tsugeru” music video has more than 140 million views on YouTube.

“First, Kujira asked me to be a guest vocalist, and I accepted. It was for Kujira’s song ‘Nemuru Machi’ (Sleeping town). That is how we began communicating with one another,” Yama said.

After exchanging messages online for some time, Yama said to Kujira: “I want to release an original song. Will you write it for me?” That song was “Haru o Tsugeru.”

A music video for the song became a huge hit on YouTube and other media, but Yama had mixed feelings. “I was extremely happy. I was also surprised as I didn’t expect the reaction. I felt like, ‘Oh no, I’m not ready yet.’ I hadn’t yet decided whether I would show my face or whether I would perform concerts, so I felt pressured.”

Initial discomfort

Yama sings at Navi-us in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, on Nov. 23, 2023.

Although it was the opposite of the normal order, it was only after “Haru o Tsugeru” became a huge hit that Yama began to seriously think about how to enter the music world.

“At that time, it was impossible to perform concerts in front of an audience because of the coronavirus pandemic, so we decided to hold an online concert. When I told the staff that I could not perform in front of people, we decided that I would hide my face when I performed in public.”

Hiding the face with a curtain or backlight is technically very difficult. After considering various ideas, the decision was made to wear a mask.

After meeting several mask makers, Yama chose Kaiho, a special makeup effects artist who had worked on music videos for King Gnu and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. When Yama asked Kaiho about making a full-face mask, Kaiho suggested there be an opening around the mouth. “Otherwise, your voice would be muffled and it would be hard to sing in the summer,” Yama said.

Remembering the first time when they sang with a mask, Yama said: “I felt nothing but discomfort, because it was a foreign object. I really felt uneasy.”

“But when I wore a mask, I could close my eyes. It also helped me when I felt weak,” Yama added.

Thanks in part to wearing a mask, Yama successfully held their first concert in front of an audience. Now, the mask is “a part of me,” Yama says.

Yama used to say: “My appearance and personal things are obstacles for listeners to listen to music with a pure heart.” But it seems this way of thinking has gradually changed.

“I have come to feel that my fans don’t expect me to be perfect,” Yama said. “I now think that if I express myself honestly, including about my struggles in life, my sensitivities and my weak points, they will sympathize with me. I think these personal issues are impurities, but I wonder if it’s actually something my listeners are familiar with and can relate to.”

New album chops

The cover of Yama’s new album, “awake & build”

The album “awake & build,” released by Sony Music Labels Inc. in January, is Yama’s third. Yama called the album the final chapter of the “moratorium trilogy,” with awakening as an artist being its theme.

“I’ve been performing in front of people while wearing a mask to hide my weaknesses. Now, through live concert performances and various other things, I feel like I have finally been grounded. I think I can express a wide range of things while maintaining my own identity.”

The album includes well-known songs, such as “Shikisai” (Color), the ending theme for the second season of “Spy x Family,” and “slash,” the opening theme for the second season of “Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury.” The album also features many songs where the music, lyrics, or both were composed by Yama, clearly showing their ability as a singer-songwriter.

In particular, “Hidamari” (Sunny spot) represents “everything about myself,” says Yama.

Yama sings the song with an acoustic guitar as the only accompaniment. Unusually for Yama, who typically sings coolly with a fixed view on each song’s world, the voice in this song is filled with emotion and sounds very human. The song is about Yama’s grandfather, who watched over Yama as they grew up.

“I felt for the first time the impulse to give shape to my thoughts, and wrote the song in just two days or so,” Yama said. “I usually like to be careful about every detail without cutting corners, but this song was an exception. I felt that even the fluctuations were meaningful.”

Yama is in the middle of a nationwide tour promoting “awake & build,” which includes a concert at Line Cube Shibuya (Shibuya Public Hall) in Tokyo on May 15.