Singer and Model Anna Aya Plots J-Pop Rise: For at least a decade, K-Pop has seen impressive growth in the United States to the point that BTS and BLACKPINK are two of the biggest pop acts in this country, the latter headlining Coachella earlier this year. That has led to American pop fans exploring K-pop further (whether it’s a genre or simply pop music from a geographical location is open to debate). There is undeniably an audience here for pop music from Asia.
Los Angeles-based model and singer Anna Aya hopes that the door is open, therefore, for a rise in the popularity of J-pop in the States. There are reports that the explosion of K-pop even led to a decline in the popularity of J-pop in Japan, but those sorts of trends tend to be cyclical. There’s really no reason why American K-pop fans wouldn’t be open to J-pop (or any other Asian pop music), should the right artist come around. It’s early days, but Anna might just be that artist.
Half Japanese and half Armenian (her mom is Japanese), Aya speaks both of those languages, as well as English.
“I only spoke Japanese and Armenian until preschool, and then I started learning English too, so now I speak all three,” she says. “I was born and raised in L.A., but I’ve been going back and forth between L.A. and Tokyo ever since I was a kid. When I was in elementary, middle and high school, I was going for summer break, spring break and winter break. But for the past couple of years, I’ve been going every month basically, for work.”
Aya has been acting and modeling since she was 6 years old; she did Target and American Girl Doll commercials and then helped Steve Harvey host Little Big Shots.
“For the past four or five years, I’ve been doing high fashion modeling in Japan, but I’ve only been singing for a year,” she says. “I started my singing career technically in October of last year, because that was the first time I was in the recording studio in my life.”
Her music career was given a boost when she connected with producer Michael Africk through a mutual friend in the modeling industry in Japan.
“They asked me if I wanted to sing on a Michael Africk song, and I was like, ‘Yes, of course,’ even though I never knew that I could be a singer professionally,” Aya says. “But, I’ve always been into music, been into singing, and I’ve taken vocal lessons as well. I wanted to do it, especially because it was such an interesting project of like J-pop and everything like that. It really resonated with me.”
That song turned into her debut single, “Someone Else,” a mildly melancholy but relatable relationship anthem. The lyrics are sung half in English, half in Japanese, which makes the whole thing highly intriguing. Aya is determined to add her own unique twist to J-pop.
“It’s not the basic J-pop, which is only in Japanese,” she says. “My song is mixed with English and Japanese, so not only is it a fusion of the languages, it’s a fusion of the sound as well because it’s more of a western beat that you would technically hear in America more maybe. But the lyrics and the melody are more Japanese-inspired in that it’s soft and more emotional. So yeah, I think it’s not the most generic way of describing J-pop, but it’s something I define as my kind of J-pop.”
She’s far from done; Aya wants to see how far she can push boundaries while exploring J-pop from within.
“It hasn’t been explored much in America, so I want to see what I can do with my knowledge of my culture and being a girl that’s been living in L.A. for her whole life,” she says. “I’ve always listened to every type of music – I listened to American music and Japanese music – so I’m excited to explore different types of sounds. Like, this one is more emotional, but I want to do more pop, upbeat stuff, too.”
“Someone Else” was produced by Louis Bell (Post Malone, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Camila Cabello, Halsey) and Africk (Mai Kuraki, Zard, Jordan Knight), and recorded in Boston.
“I live in L.A., but the studio that they use is in Boston,” Aya says. “So I’ve gone three times already and I’ve recorded other songs as well, but that was the first song we recorded and decided to release. It was actually an all-English song, but then we decided we wanted to do an all-Japanese version as well, so I wrote the all-Japanese version and then we were like, we should mix this and make it a whole new thing. That happened, and that was the start of it all.”
Having been in the public eye basically since she was 6, Aya learned early how to balance a professional and “normal” life.
“I think it’s more about learning when to be on and off,” she says. “When I’m doing my job or when I’m doing interviews, I’ll be my professional self. Then when I’m with my friends, or with my family, I’ll just be myself. I’ll know when to turn that switch on and off I guess.”
With the single out, Aya is planning to release an album at some point, but she and her team are taking it step by step.
“(More singles) probably for the next couple of months, until up to next year when I’m hoping to have my album out,” she says. “I just came back from Boston two days ago, and I was recording my second single. I can’t say much about it yet, but it is J-pop. It’ll be similar to ‘Someone Else,’ with it being half Japanese, half English. But that one is more anthem-y. It’s a fun, upbeat song in my opinion. I’m excited for that one to come out, hopefully by the end of this year.”
Aya is hoping to get some shows booked soon, too, and she’s going to keep traveling a lot as she stays busy with all of the different sides of her career. If her work ethic is any indicator, there’s no stopping her rise.
Singer and Model Anna Aya Plots J-Pop Rise: Anna Aya’s single “Someone Else” is out now.
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