ONE N’ ONLY, a Japanese dance and vocal unit that celebrated its fifth anniversary this year, recently released a new EP, You are / Hook Up. The EP, which came out on Dec. 6, contains eight new songs. The title song, “You are,” is the group’s first ballad. “Hook Up” is also the name of their tour of all 47 of Japan‘s prefectures, which began Oct. 13. Another song on the EP, “EVOL,” is already a mainstay of their live shows. Billboard Japan talked to them about the highlights of You are / Hook Up, the making of the EP, their impressions of EBiDAN THE LIVE UNIVERSE 2023, and more.
You’ve recently had a rush of new releases, including this new EP, You are / Hook Up. A month ago, you began streaming a new song, “Freaking Happy.” I’m sure your schedule lately has been really hard lately as you were recording this new material.
TETTA: It was a really intense period of recording, but somehow we made it through. It was a really fulfilling time. We even recorded a music video in the midst of our 47 prefecture tour.
HAYATO: We film a lot of our music videos on location, so we go to urban ruins or overseas sites. But, looking back, even after our five-month period of continuous releases, we’ve been able to release even more.
NAOYA: We’ve been in this cycle of performing at various summer events, and then as soon as they’re finished we go in to record a new song.
HAYATO: Yeah, there’s no need to downplay it, our schedule’s been really hard. (laughs)
And in the middle of all that, you also had EBiDAN THE LIVE UNIVERSE 2023.
HAYATO: That was so fun.
TETTA: Yeah. EBiDAN LIVE really brought EBiDAN together. Until EBiDAN LIVE, each group performed their own music at their own events, so it felt like we were colleagues but, at the same time, rivals. With this event, though, we all really bonded and worked together as one.
KENSHIN: The Soiya project, which everyone in EBiDAN took part in, was another huge accomplishment for us.
EIKU: Right. I’m sure there are people out there who learned about ONE N’ through the project and became fans. In EBiDAN LIVE, we played with label-mates, with different sets and lineups. It was a ton of fun. Yuki from Bullet Train was involved in the production, so we really got to interact a lot more. I’m looking forward to performing with everyone again!
And then you released “You are” and “Hook Up.” These are two very different types of songs.
REI: The EP shows a different side of us, coming right after “Freaking Happy.”
KENSHIN: “You are” was sung by our three vocalists (TETTA, REI, and EIKU), and it’s a song about really straightforward love. The melody, the choreography, it all conveys a different emotional feel than our past songs. It expresses its own well fleshed-out worldview, so I hope people realize that it’s a love song to our SWAGs.
It’s bound to strike an emotional chord with the audience when you perform it live.
TETTA: Right. Plus, we’ve never sung any rock ballads before, so I was really happy to be able to sing a song like this. Personally, I like rock music, and this song opened my eyes to what a surprisingly good match ONE N’s JK-POP and rock are. I think this may have opened the door to more rock-like songs in the future. It’s an extremely freeing song, and it sounds great even with some vocal arrangement twists, so I’d love to perform it live.
“Hook Up” is almost its polar opposite.
HAYATO: It’s really different from “You are.” There’s a lot of rap in “Hook Up,” but I love how these two songs showcase our strengths. We’ve always had a lot of hip-hop based songs, but this is our first time doing this much sampling, so it was really exciting. When we were planning for our tour of all 47 prefectures, we all talked about what to call the tour. We wanted for everyone to feel connected, so we went with the slang “Hook Up!” This song really matched up with that theme. Due, in part, to that, we decided on “Hook Up” as the name of the song, too, and the lyrics became all about racing across Japan. What we ended up with was a more positive-feeling song.
KENSHIN: I sing the start of the second verse, and the lyrics in my part are perfect for this 47 prefecture tour theme. I feel it even more when performing it live, and the song has a lot of interplay with the SWAGs, so it gets everyone amped up. When we perform it live, we take time before the chorus to teach the audience (the call and response), which gets people even more excited, so you can really feel the live ONE N’ experience. A lot of the shows in our 47 prefecture tour are at clubs, so the song is even more special, creating a greater sense of unity with the crowd.
Years from now, when you hear this song, they’ll remember the 47 prefecture tour.
TETTA: Really vividly.
EIKU: It’s such an exciting song. However, the choreography is pretty exhausting, even compared to our other songs, so it’s also a hard song to perform.
HAYATO: It’s so hard!!
EIKU: When we were filming the music video, the dancing took so much stamina, it was a tough shoot. But the energy that goes into our moves looks great on-screen and made for a really cool music video.
HAYATO: We filmed the video in Chigasaki, which is a center for skateboarding, basketball, graphics, and other elements of hip-hop culture. The weather forecast said it would be cloudy all day, but it ended up being sunny.
That’s because you’re stars!
TETTA: Of course!
Haha! I’m sure the music video will also have a really open feel to it.
TETTA: Our performance in the video is really fun, too. KAITA did the choreography for it. KAITA always has really powerful vibes, but this time the dance was three times more energetic than usual. The dancing is really a blast.
REI: The song has a pretty strong hip-hop feel, and it really put our abilities to the test. I love the kind of atmosphere it creates, and I’m sure that aesthetic is going to shine even more when we perform it live. I like our performance in the song even more than the other things we’ve done, so I want to do right by it.
The EP has a lot of other wonderful songs, too.
TETTA: I love the melody to “I Don’t Know.” It’s fast and the singing requires some technical skills, but the chorus uses falsetto. It has a very sophisticated feel. It’s one of my favorites. I like it so much that during show rehearsals, even though we’re not planning on performing it in the show itself, we use it for the sound check.
“I Don’t Know” was JUNE’s first song in a while, right? How did it feel taking direction from him again after all this time?
HAYATO: He has a really strong aesthetic.
KENSHIN: JUNE does the vocals in the demos he sends us, and they’re so polished you could probably release the demos as-is.
TETTA: Yeah! So it always feels to me like we’re doing a cover version. Also, each time I hear a new song from him, I can tell that he’s expecting even more out of us, so it’s really exciting (laughs). The switch-ups in the arrangement were complex, so I struggled with them a bit, but it was really fun.
“The Light” is another cool song.
TETTA: It’s wonderful. At the same time, I feel like it ratchets up expectations for our performance.
KENSHIN: The rap in the second verse was so hard that I really struggled during the recording. It took a long time to make it truly my own. But I recorded that part over and over again, and everyone stuck there with me to the end. I could really feel everyone’s love for the group.
REI: When I heard “Nice Guy,” I was like, “Perfect.” (laughs) In a certain sense, it’s an unusual song for us, so we had to think about the best way to make it shine. We still haven’t developed the choreography for it, but our own efforts have a big impact on the quality of a song, so I want us to really think hard about this one before we perform it.
NAOYA: I particularly like “Turn it up.” It’s a very Japanese-feeling take on hip-hop, and it’s addictive. That said, it’s also a really hard song, and we had to record the rap parts several times. It’s the kind of song I hope people listen to closely.
EIKU: This was the first song I performed a spoken part on. I gave it a bit of a bad-boy feel, so keep your ears open for it.
TETTA: When I first heard it, I didn’t even think it was you, EIKU! I thought it was HAYATO. So I guess you really look up to HAYATO…
TETTA: It feels totally natural, and the transition from your lines, EIKU, to your singing, HAYATO, was really smooth.
You mean because of EIKU’s respect for HAYATO?
EIKU: Huh?! Uh, yeah! (laughs)
HAYATO: You sound like that was dragged out of you. (laughs)
I’m looking forward to hearing these songs performed live.
HAYATO: As we’re celebrating our 5th anniversary and touring all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, with this EP we’ve also fully leveraged the rap and vocal strengths we’ve been refining through the years. For now, we want to make it through the tour without any accidents or injuries and top the tour off with a successful final performance at Pacifico Yokohama, so make sure to come see us!
—This interview by Kana Yoshida first appeared on Billboard Japan
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