Leo Ieiri, Miliyah Kato at 2024 Billboard Japan Women in Music Concert

Singer-songwriters Leo Ieiri and Miliyah Kato graced the stage for a double-headlining show at Tokyo City Hall for Billboard Japan’s Women In Music Vol. 2 concert on Feb. 8. The two J-pop stars collaborated with the Tokyo Philharmonic Billboard Classics Orchestra, led by conductor Yukari Saito, for a one-night-only performance featuring special renditions of familiar hits and uplifting messages with an underlying theme of inspiring and empowering women.

First up was Ieiri, who appeared onstage dressed in an elegant beige top with puffy translucent sleeves and matching pants, following the members of the orchestra at the start of the show. As the 29-year-old singer bowed deeply and greeted the audience, the piano sounded and the concert kicked off with “Zutto, Futari De” (Always, Together). The combination of Ieiri’s clear vocals and the orchestra’s solid performance instantly filled all corners of the venue with a luscious soundscape. The next song, “Kimi Ga Kureta Natsu” (The Summer You Gave Me), also sounded more dramatic than usual thanks to the orchestral arrangement. It was clear from the beginning of the show that everyone in attendance was in for a special evening that they couldn’t miss for a moment.

The singer addressed the crowd in the middle of her set and shared some thoughts on gender, inclusivity, and diversity, noting, “These past few years, I’ve been writing and singing songs while being mindful about how to carve out a path as a woman.” She also mused, “Since we live in times of diversity, I think we should expand our sexuality more.” Also, her remark about how “female empowerment can’t be achieved without cooperation from men, so I think it’s actually a theme for all human beings” left an impression, reminding that while the recent move towards gender equality encourages men and women to live under the same conditions, the important thing to remember is to respect each other’s differences and to help each other.

Ieiri also performed “to U” by Bank Band with Salyu in the second half of the set, launching into the song a cappella and gradually adding minimal sounds of piano and harp in the first half, then building up the second half with a grand string arrangement. Ieiri’s voice and the orchestra’s performance showered the venue with a lush sound, creating an immersive environment that drew the crowd into the world of the song. During “Taiyo No Megami” (Goddess of The Sun), she turned her body left and right as she sang, visually accentuating the fact that she was singing for each and every person in the audience. Ieiri closed her set with the uplifting “Sora To Ao” (Sky And Blue), spinning around during the interlude while the crowd clapped along to the beat, leaving fans feeling euphoric by the end of her hit-filled stage.

After a short break, Miliyah Kato appeared on stage decked in a flowing black tiered tulle dress for the second half of the concert. After opening her set with “Respect Me,” the 35-year-old songstress addressed the crowd, saying, “I’m sure there will be many moments when (the music) will pass through your skin and cells and make your heart tremble. It’ll be an evening where something will reach you through this air. Please enjoy it to the end,” then went on to perform “Goodbye Darling,” “With U,” and other familiar hits in succession. Kato’s sultry vocals and the orchestral performance combined resulted in a more dynamic sound than the original versions of her recordings. Like the singer said, it felt like we were taking in the gorgeous sound through our skin and it was settling deep into the cells of our bodies.

Midway into her set, she opened up about her stance as a woman in the music industry. “I’ve always been very aware that I’ve lived my life as a woman. I love it, I enjoy it, and sometimes I’m sad about it,” she said. “I struggle with it every day, but music is what helps me during those times. Female artists were the reason I started music in the first place.” She then covered Hikaru Utada’s “First Love” as a tribute to one of the female artists who inspired her. She drew in the audience with her majestic performance, singing the longing ballad beautifully with both hands clutching the microphone against the backdrop of an orchestra. Each lyric seemed to linger in the air, showering over the audience in a luxurious blend of voice and sound.

Kato then launched into her iconic hit from 2009, “Aitai” (I Miss You). The evergreen, poignant love song is definitely heartbreaking yet sonically comforting, making you wish it never ends. Kato closed the evening with “JOYRIDE,” a song half in English and half in Japanese that she wrote with her hometown in mind. Kato’s vocals, the orchestra’s performance and the audience clapping along to the elevating single ended the show on a joyous note.

The aim of Billboard Japan’s Women In Music concerts is to play a part in encouraging women’s empowerment, and the Vol. 2 show delivered energy in various forms including the mesmerizing vocals by the two songstresses, the performances by the orchestra, the words spoken by the artists, and the sense of unity in the venue. People in the audience enjoyed the concert in different ways, with some rocking back and forth to the music while others listening intently, and many probably were inspired by what the artists had to say.

The synergetic effect of J-pop and orchestral music was more than expected, and was a good reminder that there are no barriers between musical genres. The people who gathered at the venue that day were probably diverse in terms of gender, age, and the music they like. But the fact that they were united by listening to the same music at the same place on this day will surely be an unforgettable memory for all.

This article by Misaki Ito first appeared on Billboard Japan

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