This year has been an important one for up and coming singer NOA. Fresh off the success of his role in the TBS drama “Kimi no Hana ni Naru” as a member of the drama’s boyband 8LOOM in 2022, he released his debut album “NO.A” in February of this year. The album was a success, debuting at #2 on both Oricon and Billboard Japan, making NOA a young talent to watch.
He recently spoke to us here at Nante Japan over Zoom for an English-language interview. In our time spent together, NOA told us about his time as a trainee at the Korean talent agency YG Entertainment, how ONE OK ROCK inspired him to make a career in Japan, what 2023 means to him, and what 2024 has in store! Check it out below!
You started your entertainment career as a trainee at the Korean agency YG Entertainment. What was that experience like? Did you face any difficulties being the company’s first Japanese trainee?
I had a hard time with language. There were a few staff who could speak Japanese, but most couldn’t. I wanted to have conversations like we are having now, but I couldn’t. I had to bring my translation aides with me. I wanted to get close to my trainee friends, but we couldn’t communicate freely due to the language barrier. It was really hard.
Besides that, at YG, we started the day at around 11 AM and went to around 10 PM. Lessons started at 11, with about five or six lessons a day. We also had monthly tests covering group singing, solo singing, and group dancing.
Lessons continued on until 10, so we practiced on our own until around 12 AM to prepare for the tests. That was my daily routine. Sunday was break day.
The trainee lifestyle was kind of hard, thinking back now. I had a lot of friends who were going for the same dream. We overcame things together. Yeah, it was a precious time, looking back on it.
Who were the other trainees while you were there?
The group TREASURE. A few of the members are my friends. Another one of my friends at YG, became a composer, Millennium. We worked on my debut song “LIGHTS UP” and one of my other songs, “TAXI.” Some of my other friends went on to other companies and debuted. We all worked hard.
While in Korea, you learned English. What made you want to learn English?
Since I was young, I’ve always listened to pop and R&B and also watched movies and TV shows in English. That’s why I mainly wanted to learn English. Also, I’ve gone to the United States a lot since I was young. I wanted to be able to communicate while there. English is a language that people use all around the world, so I thought it was important to learn it.
After leaving Korea, you moved back to Japan. What made you want to try working in the Japanese industry?
At first, my dream was to become an artist in Korea, as a group. Around my fifth or sixth year as a trainee, I had the idea of becoming a solo artist in Korea. But since I’m Japanese, I thought it would be better to do this in Japan as a Japanese artist. I went to a ONE OK ROCK concert in Seoul, and they gave me a lot of inspiration to do this. I didn’t know much about the Japanese entertainment industry at the time, so I was really surprised that they were doing songs in English, and having concerts around the world. They became a role model to me, and made me realize this was possible.
You released your debut album “NO.A” this year. What did that feel like?
I hope that the album serves as my profile, to introduce people who haven’t heard of me to me. I put all my energy and abilities into the album. I challenged many genres in it, from pop to R&B to slow-tempo music.
What is your favorite song on the album?
That’s really hard… I would say “Purple Sky.”
Why did you choose that song?
Because I wrote it for my fans. I was working on that song during the coronavirus pandemic. It was a hard time because me and my fans couldn’t sing together. When that song came out, I hoped to sing that song with my fans at my concert. That dream came true. It makes the song really memorable to me.
It’s so funny that you say that part about being able to sing with fans, because I’ve interviewed a number of artists in the past few years and they have mentioned that as well.
You worked with tofubeats on the song “TAXI.” What was that like?
I was a big fan of his before I met him. I met him at the crosswalk before crossing the street. I saw him and thought, “Is this tofubeats?” I wasn’t sure, and I had never talked to anyone like that before, so I debated whether I should talk to him or not. But then I realized that this may be my only chance to talk to him. I said to him, “Ohh, I’m a really big fan of yours, and I hope that we can collaborate some day.” This was all before I debuted in Japan. That was our first meeting. After that, I got closer to him.
I wrote “TAXI” while I was a trainee in Korea. It was originally in Korean, and then I changed it to Japanese. There was also a rap part, and I was looking for a rapper to do it. I thought that tofubeats would be the best guy for it, and he agreed to do it.
Recently, you were just a surprise guest at his 10th anniversary live event. What was that experience like?
It was really, really fun. We released “TAXI” in 2020, but we couldn’t perform it together because of coronavirus back then. He joined me as a special guest at my concert in September, which was our first time performing. I couldn’t imagine doing that song together on the stage, so that was a great moment. I was very happy I was able to sing it again with him at his 10th anniversary live. The fans really loved the performance!
Last year, you made your acting debut in the drama “Kimi no Hana ni Naru.” What made you want to try your hand at acting?
I really wanted to do acting because it’s another way of expressing myself. I was looking for an opportunity like this, and this drama I think was the best option. It’s based on a group, 8LOOM, so I get to show myself as an artist. Also, our characters were based on us, the real people. It was really fun. It was my first time acting, but the seven of us got really close to each other, so we helped each other.
Like you just said, you were a member of the drama’s boy’s group, 8LOOM. What was that like? How does the experience of being in a group compare to being a soloist?
There are a few differences between being in a group and being a soloist. Whenever I do interviews or TV shows, I do it alone, because I’m a solo artist. But when I was in the group, we all went together, and helped each other all the time. That was different.
On the stage, when I’m a solo artist, I have dancers, and they’re my team. We all work together, but I sing everything by myself. When I was in 8LOOM, I had parts, I wasn’t doing everything by myself. The first time I did a solo concert after 8LOOM, it was really hard to sing everything by myself. Besides that, being able to experience being in a group was really fun.
Could we see a 8LOOM reunion in the future?
I’m not really sure. If all the members wanted to do it, maybe. But we wouldn’t do it unless all the members wanted to. We still love being in the group, and we love the songs. Whenever we meet, we talk about the memories of being in 8LOOM. I hope the fans remember our time together and our songs.
I had to get that question in because a friend wanted to know!
Yeah, I know a lot of fans want us to get back together!
Seeing as how you’ve worked in both the Japanese and Korean music industries, how would you say they are similar and different?
From my experience, they are different in that the trainee system is well developed in Korea. The training rooms, the training lessons. I don’t really see that kind of stuff in Japan. That’s the biggest difference. The music styles are also different, the song making process is different. In Korea, that is a lot more collaboration with foreign artists, like from the US, on things like composing. I don’t really see that in Japan, so that’s different.
I can’t really think of how the Japanese and Korean music industries are that similar. The similarities don’t come to mind immediately.
Recently, there has been more exchange of pop culture between Japan and Korea, which is similar to your career trajectory. What do you think of this cultural exchange?
I think that’s a great thing. I lived in Korea, so I know that Korean people love Japanese movies and music. I hope that these days will continue. There are different points of view in terms of entertainment from Japan and Korea, so I hope that this mixing will continue. I think things are still separate, but I hope that they can make more things together. I hope I can be part of that.
As a Japanese person trained in Korea, now working in Japan, you’re kind of like a bridge between the two.
Yeah! I think I’m more similar to Korea, because the songs that I make are more inspired by Korea. My music, my dancing, it’s all more similar to Korea. When I started my career, I started in Korea. The basics I learned in my career, it’s all from Korea. I feel like Korean culture is more natural to me.
Would you like to have more international activities? If so, what would you want to do overseas?
I would love to! I got to meet overseas fans for the first time this year! It was really fun! I would like to collaborate with a lot of artists overseas too! I hope that next year I can go on an Asia tour again.
Who would you like to collaborate with as far as foreign artists?
For Korea, I love Korean R&B, so Jay Park, and Crush. From the West, Justin Beiber. He’s my role model. Also, Chris Brown. The composer Andrew Watt, too. I really love his songs.
Would you want to debut in Korea?
Yeah, yeah! I wanted to, I still do. In Korea, I have fans there, and I just love the industry there. If I got the chance to, I would love to!
What was your favorite moment of 2023?
Having concerts! This year was my first year having concerts by myself. I got to do a lot of shows. It was a great moment!
What can we look forward to from you in 2024?
I hope that I can expand the things I did this year. I want to release a new album next year. I also want to have a new Japan tour, and an Asia tour. Also, I’m still looking to collaborate with overseas artists. I hope that 2024 will be like 2023, but taken to the next level!
Since his album “NO.A”, NOA has released two digital singles:
Also, a special message from NOA!
— NANTE JAPAN (@NanteJapan) December 25, 2023