Back in April I talked with Anri Okita about her new J-Pop vocal group, BLACK DIAMOND. Since then, the group have released their third single, “Sing Your Dream” and performed an excellent and successful show at Zepp Haneda in Tokyo. Now that they finally had a chance to catch their collective breath, I decided to catch their collected thoughts, to get a little closer to the women behind the music and catch a glimpse of their plans for the future.
Seattle Star: Aris-san, in your other interviews you don’t get to speak much, so I want to ask put you on the spot first. How would you describe BLACK DIAMOND to a fan unfamiliar with J-pop?
ARIS: We’re a powerful group not bound by age or convention!
Seattle Star: You recently graduated from another group, Marshmallow 3D. Did you meet Mary-san then, when she was with Gingin♂Girls? What made you want to join BLACK DIAMOND?
ARIS: I did meet Mary before. I joined BLACK DIAMOND because it’s a group with high ambitions to make its mark on the world, and I want to make a splash overseas!
Seattle Star: What about you, Mary-san? What would you like to accomplish as part of BLACK DIAMOND?
MARY: Since I began playing the Yamaha Electone at the age of two, I have had various experiences, such as playing classical flute, DJing and singing. Naturally there have been many setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many things have happened.
Although I have always wanted to pursue a career in music, I never expected to become a serious musician once I debuted as an AV actress. I started out with this dream I’ve had since I was a child, and now I am here with these wonderful members who have the same passion. I think this is fate, and this is my final chance. So I want to push forward as hard as I can with this great group of people and the amazing staff who have supported us. I want to become an artist who can shake Japan and the world!
Seattle Star: Anri-san, what do you think each member of BLACK DIAMOND brings to the group?
ANRI: We each have totally different ages, backgrounds, personalities and looks, not to mention the amazing talents we each have. It’s because we’re so different that we can come together as one and be strong and powerful. Most Japanese idols are similar in many ways and hard to tell apart, so I think our appeal lies in our diversity.
Seattle Star: I have heard that before the coronavirus pandemic, Miiro-san, you were going to record an album. What did you plan on singing?
MIIRO: I was planning to make some original songs. Up until now, I’ve been doing mostly J-Pop covers, so I wanted to make some music with my personal feelings in it. It still hasn’t come true yet, but I’m looking forward to making solo music in the future.
Seattle Star: Although you are still relatively young, I have heard you sing songs by Utada and older artists from the 90s. How do your fans respond?
MIIRO: I love singing older songs like famous J-Pop and songs from the 80’s because they’re favorites, and I get a great response from fans of that era and music fans when I cover them.
I like newer songs too and get good reactions from my fans, but when I sing songs that are more familiar to my fans’ generation I always get a lot of great responses, so I love to do those.
Seattle Star: L.V.-san, you, Aris-san and Mary-san were all in groups before BLACK DIAMOND. You were a member of Ebisu Muscats group for many years. After that group disbanded, you have not been singing very much. Has it been difficult to readjust to being in a group?
L.V.: After Ebisu Muscats disbanded, I didn’t do any singing in public or recording, so I was very nervous when it came to recording “SUPER DUPER” and “hungry spider,” but thankfully, things went smoothly .
Seattle Star: What are two differences between being part of Ebisu Muscats and being in BLACK DIAMOND?
L.V.: Ebisu Muscats was an idol group based on variety show television, so they had lots of elements of comedy and it was all about having fun and creating an upbeat atmosphere. But with BLACK DIAMOND, since we are a full-fledged dance and vocal group, I think singing and performing are obviously more important. I’m continuing to do vocal training so I can become a better singer, and I also want to hone my skills as a performer.
Seattle Star: Mary-san, for you how is singing in BLACK DIAMOND different from your other group, Gingin♂ Girls?
MARY: Gingin♂Girls was formed during the heyday of AV idols. A few years ago when I joined, it was really popular for actresses to become singing idols. So I joined Gingin♂Girls.
Among those idol groups, Gingin♂Girls is like an older sister group, with strong, sexy, intense dances and songs. It was ideal. Even now, once a month, we hold regular live performances to interact with fans.
Last year I got the chance to join BLACK DIAMOND, a dance and vocal unit. I thought it was the perfect place to use all the skills I’ve been building up, and that I could aim for the world with this group. I felt like it was a group that could really do music seriously. If I hadn’t joined Gingin♂Girls, I wouldn’t have been able to join BLACK DIAMOND, so both have been really important in my life!
Seattle Star: Gingin♂Girls are said to be “An idol group to cheer up the men.” Would you say that BLACK DIAMOND is “An artist group formed to cheer up the women of Japan?”
MARY: Gingin♂Girls are a group who really play up the sexy factor! Their lyrics and dance moves are so sultry and their live performances usually involve skits and games with the audience members! So I think they hope to entertain their fans and win their support by providing content that they will really enjoy.
BLACK DIAMOND’s mission is to inspire people, regardless of whether they are male or female.
We want to enable all people to be emboldened and inspired, despite any differences in gender, occupation, age, body type, or any other individual barriers. I think that each person has their own difficulties, but if you see us shining beyond those barriers, listen to our music, everyone! We want our music and our presence to inspire everyone to embrace their own unique potential and to take on the world with confidence, to give you the power to empower yourself.
Seattle Star: Which reminds me, Aris-san. You said in another interview that at the beginning when the group was founded, you had not heard the word “empowerment” until Linda-san mentioned it. How do you feel about it now?
ARIS: In this world full of discrimination and prejudice, I was thinking it would be great if I had the power to make everything equal, and to make everyone happy with my bright light, rather than just shining by myself alone. I want to be that kind of person, always.
Seattle Star: Miiro-san, you obviously respect the other artists in the group. Do you find that “empowerment” begins with yourself, and then spreads to others?
MIIRO: Music has always been close to me my whole life and it has helped me in many ways. I think if I can express my own empowerment through music, it could also lift many people’s hearts and brighten up their daily lives.
All women are strong and beautiful. Even when life feels shaky, I want them all to walk through life with confidence every day.
Seattle Star: You are the youngest member of BLACK DIAMOND, but it is obvious everyone respects you. You are extremely talented! What is the best quality you add to the group?
MIIRO: I also have the utmost respect for my fellow members.
This group is made up of members of different ages and backgrounds yet they are able to do amazing things together. I believe it’s all thanks to the staff and especially the members for their hard work.
I don’t know if I contribute much to the group yet, but I feel like my passion for music and my longing to fulfill my childhood dreams are somehow present in BLACK DIAMOND’s activities.
Seattle Star: What would you like to accomplish as part of BLACK DIAMOND?
MIIRO: With BLACK DIAMOND, I’ve finally been able to make my childhood dream of becoming a singer come true.
Now I want as many people as possible to listen to and watch our performances, so that they can be more confident in going through their daily lives. My dream is for our music to always be close to everyone. I believe that there are things we can do as a group, which we wouldn’t be able to do alone. I want our music to shine even brighter, and to meet with not just the people of Japan, but those all around the world too.
Seattle Star: Mary-san often works as a DJ. What is different for you being part of an artist group?
MARY: The difference between being a member of a singing group and being a DJ… Regarding DJs, we are constantly researching current trends, and skill is required to create a flow with song selection and a sense of groove. When my DJ flow hits with the audience, everybody feels great and it creates a sense of togetherness, which is fun and rewarding. (I don’t have my own mixtape yet, so I’m dying to make one in the future!)
As a member of singing group, though, I want people to enjoy watching the performance that all the members create together, and I want to give people strength that I couldn’t if I were on my own.
I want people to listen to our songs and relate to the lyrics, and give them strength as they listen to our music and enjoy our performances.
Seattle Star: The new single, “Sing Your Dream” is much different sounding from the first two singles. Are you excited to make more diverse-sounding music?
L.V.: Personally, I would like the challenge of making cool songs with a hip-hop flavor and deep bass. If we have the opportunity in the future, I think we would be able to show a different side of us with music provided by a composer overseas.
Seattle Star: In your opinion, what are some differences between K-pop and your J-pop sound for BLACK DIAMOND?
L.V.: J-Pop is getting really diverse these days, with lots of different types of artists, and I get the impression that because there’s a lot of listeners who focus on the message of the lyrics, or the overall atmosphere of the song, creators are focusing more on that too. The music is usually structured in a way where the chorus is the most exciting part, with lyrics to match.
K-Pop on the other hand puts more emphasis on the beat, with hardly any lyrics in the chorus, and structure where the bridge at the end of the chorus is really exciting, suggesting that rhythm is more important than lyrics.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved Western music that my body naturally moves to, without thinking too much about what the lyrics meant. I think that’s why I still enjoy K-pop, EDM, or other rhythm-heavy genres more than J-pop.
So with BLACK DIAMOND, our goal is to create songs beyond language barriers, that can be enjoyed even if you don’t understand the lyrics.
Seattle Star: I think you’ve accomplished that very well. And it’s clear that you come alive when you dance. You become open and expressive as you move, I think, even more than the rest of the group.
Anri-san, we’ve talked before about what I thought was earthy in your first two singles. But “Sing Your Dream” is a very meaningful song about friendship and connection, and very spiritual. Even the costume design with everyone in white suggests pure spirits. Do you plan on incorporating that joyful, spiritual element in BLACK DIAMOND’s future music?
ANRI: I think it is certain because we are a group that takes on a lot of meaning and challenges. It’s because the people who have seen us have seen more potential in us than we have. Isn’t that amazing?
We are still growing and struggling to tell more, to be better and to know more. But our fans have a lot of expectations of us. We want to live up to those expectations.
Seattle Star: I’m also really touched by the way the video links the generations in the band. At the end, when you see Miiro-san standing in her old blue costume from “Super Duper,” in the rain, you reach your hand out to her. It’s really beautiful how it connects your first video and your latest, the past and the present. Do you think that is also a metaphor for older women everywhere helping younger women toward empowerment?
ANRI: That’s part of what I’m saying.
I realized something through this song. I was under the mistaken impression that we were all on the same page because we’re in the same boat. That puts a very heavy burden on Miiro and Aris, who are still less experienced. True companionship is also about supporting each other by recognizing their position and experience, pulling them along, teaching them, and showing them behind their backs.
It is this kind of showing up for each other that also makes our group good and strong.
Seattle Star: Can you tell me three of your favorite J-pop artist groups?
MARY: I hold solo singing concerts about twice a year and the artists that I often cover are MISIA, aiko, and YOASOBI. I’m captivated by each of their unique worldviews and overwhelming vocal prowess.
By the way, when I was asked to sing a verse of my favorite song in an audition, the song I chose was “カブトムシ（Kabutomushi)” by aiko.
Seattle Star: Let me turn back to Aris-san. You seem to have the quiet personality in the group. Do you still feel enough support from the rest of the group?
ARIS: I do. When I’m too busy to attend lessons, I have no idea what to do with myself, so I get help with things from Anri. Like understanding what I missed or getting help with my English pronunciation.
Seattle Star: It’s nice to have someone like Anri-san, who is always so nice and so helpful to you and Miiro-san. Anri-san, as a performer what would you like to accomplish with BLACK DIAMOND?
ANRI: I hope that our completely new and heretofore unseen type of group can gain recognition and popularity around the world, give people hope through music, and then turn to support activities among even more diverse groups of people.
And I would eventually like to be offered a solo stage. Because that will also help my juniors. They will see in me a hope for them, too, to be out on the next stage.
Seattle Star: What would you like to accomplish as part of BLACK DIAMOND, Aris-san?
ARIS: I want to become the famous “ARIS, known all over the world!”
Seattle Star: L.V-san, what would you like to accomplish as part of BLACK DIAMOND?
L.V.: I want to spread our unique way of life where we stay true to ourselves and live with determination, without being bound by other people’s preconceptions and stereotypes. I want us to be a group that can give everyone courage and hope and spread tolerance. I want to make a fandom that stretches all the way around the world. And a truly big dream too: I want to perform on the stage at Coachella!!
Seattle Star: Now that you have had your highly successful Zepp Haneda show and your singles are conquering the world, what is next for BLACK DIAMOND, Anri-san?
ANRI: You can look forward to this!
We are about to get even busier. We are taking good things to the world and to our fans. I hope you will wait for further news.
The success of reaching a #5 iTunes ranking in Canada and #3 in Australia has helped us. We will definitely continue to strive to get a lot of people to listen to our music with your support!