Music at the Heart of HoneyWorks’ Characters: Creators Discuss LIPxLIP & What’s More Important Than Buzz

On March 13, LIPxLIP, the men’s idol unit produced by HoneyWorks consisting of Yujiro (voiced by Koki Uchiyama) and Aizo (voiced by Nobunaga Shimazaki), released their second album, Umarete Kita Koto Ni Kansha Shinasai! (“Be Thankful You Were Born!”).

To commemorate this release, the unit’s first album in roughly four years, Billboard Japan interviewed HoneyWorks composer shito and illustrator/animator Yamako, who talked about the new album and what they think is even more important than buzz.

How do you usually divide up your song creation duties?

shito: Generally, both Gom and I write our own songs, and whoever writes the song decides the theme of the lyrics. Then we both work on the lyrics together. Once we’re done with the lyrics, Yamako creates the music video. HoneyWorks is all about writing songs for specific characters, so while we’re working on the lyrics, we check them with Yamako to make sure we’re staying true to the character. We try to pick lyrics that draw on the personalities of the characters and that ensure that the song leaves a lasting impression.

Yamako: I not only do the illustrations for the songs, but also supervise most of the creation of the music videos. I check the storyboards, illustrations, video editing, and the like. 

When people think of HoneyWorks, I’d venture that most of them think of songs that set listeners’ hearts fluttering and songs with a youth-focused aesthetic.

shito: I started reading shojo manga (“girls’ comics”) after I’d already become an adult, and I was like “I never knew a world like this existed!” That’s what got me into shojo manga. That’s also when we formed HoneyWorks. Yamako’s drawings had a shojo manga feel, so the decision to go in that direction, making songs about romance and youth, just felt natural.

On LIPxLIP’s second album, Umarete Kita Koto Ni Kansha Shinasai!, I feel like you were trying new things, musically.

shito: Until now, LIPxLIP’s music has been created with the concept that the duo are princes, and their fans are princesses. On this album, though, we went a little beyond that to create something more artistic. It defies fans’ expectations, in a good sense, as our concept for the new album was to produce the LIPxLIP music we truly wanted to make.

“A.B.SECRET” has an Arabian feel and “Meoto” is a rock song with traditional Japanese elements. Both of them are new styles you didn’t hear in previous LIPxLIP songs.

shito: That’s right. For “Meoto,” when I asked Yamako about what kind of song would be good, she said “Japanese rock.”

Yamako: I wanted to have LIPxLIP wearing gorgeous, fantasy-like traditional Japanese clothing, which is why the idea was to make it rock with a really Japanese feel. In my case, I come up with ideas based on the kinds of clothes I want the characters to be wearing in the music video.

shito:  Yamako is the main producer for LIPxLIP, and also their biggest fan, so I trust her.

Yamako: Sometimes I create conceptual presentations for shito and GOM that reflect fans’ feelings.

In a certain sense, you’re able to create works that resonate with fans because you’re a fan yourself. Is there a reason that you decided to take a more artistic approach with LIPxLIP?

shito:  I’m usually there providing direction when the voice actors for LIPxLIP (Koki Uchiyama and Nobunaga Shimazaki) do their recordings, so we’ve worked together for a long time. I feel like we’ve developed strong communication skills, based on a common understanding, that make it easy to convey what kinds of expressive approaches to use. Both Uchiyama and Shimazaki understand LIPxLIP’s expressive approach, and they’ve also both grown tremendously. In the past, we on the production side have made the decisions entirely on our own, but now we talk with the voice actors to create even better expressive approaches and nuances.

Which songs on the album especially stand out to you two?

Yamako:  For me, “Meoto,” which Aizo sings differently than any of LIPxLIP’s past songs. I was surprised that he’d developed the ability to sing like that! Also, I really want people to listen to “Last Stage,” which ties into the future of the group. It conveys what LIPxLIP is feeling in a raw, true-to-life way.

shito: The standout for me is “Oshi no Maho.” I wrote it starting with the idea that I wanted to make a really crazy song. The vocal artists had broadened their range, so I wanted to try a song that was unlike anything LIPxLIP had ever done before.

It has the most shouted choral parts of any LIPxLIP song.

shito: HoneyWorks does sound production for the “real” idol groups Karen Na Ivory and Takane No Nadeshiko, so we’ve shown up for some idol events. The way the crowd shouts along, and the energy that comes from the crowd, is really fun. We wanted to put that into a LIPxLIP song.

How did you write the lyrics for the parts with the shouted sections?

shito: We used as our template the things that male fans shout at shows by female idols. There’s a certain format to it, with fans replacing parts of their favorite idols’ or groups’ names. We went to actual shows and listened in, paid close attention to what people were shouting, and looked at that template when writing the lyrics.

In “Julieta,” whose title comes from the name LIPxLIP fans call themselves, you can feel the unit’s love for their fans. I feel like the song also links to another of LIPxLIP’s iconic songs, “Romeo.”

Yamako: “Julieta” is the sequel to “Romeo,” and it has the same concept. With “Romeo,” we didn’t know how to convey that aesthetic. We had to figure it out as we went along, exploring how to depict this world of princes and princes, where to get materials to work off of, and how to decide on those aesthetics. When we wrote “Julieta,” though, we already had an image of the LIPxLIP characters and what kinds of “princes” fans would enjoy. I think we were able to project an even more finished and polished image of the two as princes.

In 2023, HoneyWorks’ “Kawaikute Gomen (feat. Kapi)” took the number 1 spot on Billboard JAPAN’s year-end “TikTok Songs Chart.” The music video features Chu-tan (Chizuru Nakamura), a character on Heroines Run the Show! The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task, and people really liked how it showed her cheering for LIPxLIP while shining in her own way. This song is reaching global audiences. Are you thinking of turning your attention overseas as well in the future?

shito: The fundamental stance of LIPxLIP is that of creating songs that we want characters to sing, not creating songs with the aim of generating buzz. That stance hasn’t changed. Within those bounds, though, we’d love to do a virtual overseas show. They can go anywhere (laughs).

I’m sure some people discovered LIPxLIP by seeing them in the “Kawaikute Gomen” video.

shito: Ever since “Kawaikute Gomen” went viral, when making character songs, we’ve focused even more on how the characters would move and what they would think, not on buzz.

Yamako:  These are, at heart, character songs, so they tell a story within the world inhabited by the characters. It’s like we’re thinking about how LIPxLIP would be successful within that world — how they would work hard in that world — and we act based on that. In the real world, Chu-tan’s song went viral, but within HoneyWorks’ world, she’s just an ordinary fan. We’re going to continue to create great works while keeping on drawing that line between the real world and the world our characters inhabit.

This interview by Mio Komachi first appeared on Billboard Japan

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