Asia Spotlight: Japanese singer-songwriter SIRUP talks mental health and being a catalyst for change

Asia Spotlight: Japanese singer-songwriter SIRUP talks mental health and being a catalyst for change

Glittering Tokyo nights and the bustling weekend crowd, SIRUP’s music feels like a never-ending dance party. Much like actual syrup, the Japanese singer-songwriter is a versatile artist that has a way of bringing together the sweet and smooth stylings of R&B with the upbeat energy of hip-hop. 

During our interview with SIRUP, it was clear from the get-go that he was someone that loved what he did. Giving extra careful thought to every answer and jumping at every chance to share his creative process, this was an artist incredibly passionate about music. 

Photo credit: Haruta.

SIRUP first entered the music scene in 2007 but back then he was known as KYOtaro. Armed with a similar flavour of R&B but with a dash of neo-soul, KYOtaro made waves in Japan’s R&B scene with a distinctive sound and wide musical range. But as time went on, the artist wanted a fresh new start and sound. and thus, SIRUP was born. 

“There are a lot of shifts that I was considering both musically and lifestyle-wise. I was sort of getting tired of the name ‘KYOtaro’ as well as associating myself with that artist. I just wanted to start new. The other thing was that I also wanted to focus more on the hip-hop sound that SIRUP has now and sonically get a fresh start,” he tells Bandwagon

A name as sweet as it sounds, SIRUP came up with his name after combining the words ‘sing’ and rap’. “It suddenly came to me during a recording session, it was just very random,” he shared. 

But after a good thought, the name fits him perfectly, signifying his ability to bring together varied inspirations and influences to create a wonderful blend of R&B, hip-hop, and unique Japanese melodies. 

 
 
 
 
 
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SIRUP came out with his debut single ‘Synapse’ in 2017. Boasting his full range of skills and artistry, the track showcased exactly what this new era was all about. 

“I made the song together with Yaffle and Nariaki Obukuro. It's still very important to me since it was my debut song and we wrote it together before I even decided on my new name. In a way, it was the first experience I had as SIRUP,” he says. 

“It was like a brand new experience for me. Even my name was inspired by the experience of having written this song with them two. It was the first time that I was able to visualise this new world as SIRUP that I wouldn't have been able to see if I hadn't collaborated with these artists and producers.”

Following his debut single, SIRUP has gone on to release two EPs and two albums and performed at stages all over the region. When asked about his favourite live stage memory, he gushes over an unbelievable performance in Korea. 

“My most memorable stage performance was when I performed at a Korean club called MODECi and I performed a song called ‘Rain’. There's a point in the song where there's a shift in the overall sound and musicality, and the audience was shocked and surprised by it. It was the first time that they've heard the song and yet they had this very open and raw reaction to the music; it was very new to me since this is something that doesn't really happen in Japan,” says the ‘LOOP’ hitmaker.

SIRUP performing at Zepp Haneda in Tokyo. Photo credit: Leo Youlagi.

Sonically, it’s no doubt that SIRUP’s music can wind up any party. However, lyrically, the artist’s discography explores themes deeper than just memorable weekend nights. 

“My music also incorporates themes like mental health, and how to live in the current society. I want to be able to make music where you can listen to it and dance to it but also really take in an important message and be able to digest it as your own,” says SIRUP. 

Coming from a conservative society, mental health and socio-political issues almost never make it into music but the singer-songwriter is determined to change that. With a mission to encourage his listeners to speak out and confront some of life’s most difficult topics, SIRUP wants his music to be a catalyst for change in Japan. 

“It's not very normal and is even pretty stigmatised to talk about mental health and politics in Japan. So people normally hide these emotions and don't talk about them, which makes it even harder to share and learn about these issues,” he shares. 

“In 2020, I realised the importance of all of these things and decided that I needed to learn more and educate myself on topics like mental health, racism, politics, environmental issues, and more. My songs are always about what I experienced and what I wanted to share, and so naturally, I came to the style of music that I make now – I wanted to continue sharing these messages through my music and eventually incorporate them into my life in order to make a positive change."

SIRUP most recently released cure. An album overflowing with collaborations, the record was the product of a rough year full of anxiety, fear, and eye-opening realisations. 

“There are so many things that I learned in 2020. I absorbed a lot of things and the output became sharing what I learned in life, and what my life is. That output took form in these songs and the process of making the songs itself became the cure for me. And I chose this title because I wanted it to be a cure for my listeners too,” says the ‘Keep In Touch’ act. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Inspirational, powerful, and necessary, cure is an introspective record that tackles more than just pandemic worries. It reflects on daily life and the choices we make, encouraging us to re-examine our perspective of the world. 

“I think even when COVID eventually comes to an end, there's going to be so many social problems and inner struggles that we’ve kept ignoring for so long and that we still need to confront. We're just going to have to be honest with ourselves and fix these problems. That's a step that's necessary in order to cure ourselves in our society and that's one of cure's main theme,” says SIRUP. 

Cure also features collaborations with acts in the likes of ROMderful, Slom, SUMIN, Full Crate, and so many more. 

Beyond his latest record, SIRUP has been involved in various organisations and charities that help with COVID relief, social movements, and mental health in an attempt to further get his message out there.

“The very first start was participating in this support organisation called SustAim and through participating in their activities, I really learned more about the society that I live in. The reason why I decided to really start taking action, utilise my voice, and educate myself, I realised that being a musician makes me a minority in society already; I'm also a minority in the sense that I grew up in a single-mother household. I also grew up in an environment with a lot of minority people around me and I really felt that it's important for these people to be able to live life the way they want to and not be socially oppressed or go through these problems,” shares SIRUP. 

“By participating in these charities and organising these projects, I also realised the amount of influence I have and that I have the ability to change these people's lives if I use my voice wisely. I do have a responsibility to act on these issues.”

Even behind the language barrier, SIRUP’s sincerity, empathy, and passion for his various projects broke through. Wanting nothing more but to help people, the artist created an app called channel SIRUP where his fans and other people can have a platform to talk about issues like mental health, something especially necessary in a society and culture like Japan. 

“Japanese people, in general, don't really have the opportunity to openly talk about mental health and I thought it was such an important thing right now to talk and learn about in terms of effectively giving people the emotional and psychological help they need," he says. 

“I had always received a lot of DMS on Instagram asking for advice and cries of help so I wanted to create a space where people could safely discuss it directly together on this app.”

 
 
 
 
 
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Whether it’s through his music or community efforts, SIRUP is committed to helping people live freely. 

“By educating myself, it felt like these shackles that were unconsciously tied to me fell off, allowing me to move more freely. All these things that have been bothering me just made sense now and I was able to have a lot more clarity and peace of mind which helped me love myself and others,” he shared.  

“In general, I think that humans get anxious and upset and angry when they don't know what's going on, when they can’t make sense of their own lives and their thoughts and what's going on around them. Removing as much of that anxiety as possible made me feel a lot better and I want to share my experience with other people and give them the same opportunity to have more clarity in their lives.”

Moving forward, SIRUP wants to continue collaborating with artists from all over the world, and take his music and heartfelt messages to the global stage while simultaneously elevating Japanese R&B music. As someone who sits “between the mainstream and underground scene”, the CIY act wants to showcase the sonic beauty and diversity of Japan.

“I think my ultimate goal would be, whenever I release one album, to tour Asia and other countries all over the world and then make another album with all the artists that I met locally. I’m especially interested in getting to know more Asian artists, like brb. from Singapore, Zion T., NIve and SUMIN from Korea, UMI and Joyce Wrice from the US, and so many more! Collaborating is something that I want to do until I die,” he says excitedly. 

“In terms of bigger goals. I really want people all over the world to know that there are artists like me in Japan that are looking into the future to connect with more people overseas and just be more socially aware. I want people to know that there is so much interesting stuff going on in Japan, that there's so much interesting music outside of what people know as J-pop.”

 
 
 
 
 
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SIRUP is slated to perform at this year's Fuji Rock Festival alongside fellow Japanese acts like King Gnu, RADWIMPS, CHAI, and many more. 


Listen to SIRUP's cure here. 


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