The four members of Intersection face a problem most artists in the J-pop industry strive for.
“I feel a lot of our music probably appeals more to international listeners,” says Kazuma Mitchell. Given three-decades worth of Japan struggling to figure out what clicks abroad, this should be a positive.
The issue, though, is that Intersection (stylized as INTERSECTION) features a line-up of performers each hailing from mixed Japanese and American backgrounds. Accordingly, the quartet wants to attract fans both in Japan and beyond.
“It’s tough getting a read on what kind of music that we should do. We all like different types of music, and we’re trying to combine all of those into a genre that can be interesting but appeal to a lot of people,” Mitchell, 19, says. “So we’re just trying to see what works in Japan.”
Intersection, which debuted in 2018 and counts Mitchell, William Aoyama (19), Mika Hashizume (21) and Caelan Moriarty (18) as members, presents a progressive mission statement for J-pop. The self-described boy band gathers performers from international backgrounds together to create a group that can function both domestically and in non-Japanese markets. On a more holistic level, it is introducing artists from mixed cultures to a nation that still often finds the idea novel, while also going vice versa, sharing Japan with the world.
“We want Japanese listeners to be more open to mixed people and international culture, and open up their minds a little bit,” Mitchell says.
Moriarty jumps in to add that the group isn’t like other J-pop acts, stressing that this isn’t a put-down but a fact.
“We’re different. I hope people are open to that,” he says. “In the end, we’re just trying to spread music. Some of us don’t speak Japanese fully, but we can connect with music.”
So far, numbers show Intersection making inroads with one album, an eponymous full-length released last year. Its songs, which take a post-One Direction approach to bridging different genres such as rock and R&B with big earworm choruses, often go beyond the million views mark on YouTube and six-figure averages on subscription streaming service Spotify. Latest single “New Page” sits at nearly 1.2 million views on YouTube at the time of publication, and serves as the ending theme for anime series “Black Clover” — always a sign of forward movement in J-pop.
At the same time, Intersection is aiming to do something never achieved in the industry before — present a multicultural pop group that works at home and abroad.
The history of Japanese music post-World War II is full of non-Japanese and dual heritage participants popping up all over the place, though it has only been more recently that they’ve enjoyed real time in the spotlight. Efforts range from the exoticized Coconuts Musume — a sister group of idol powerhouse Morning Musume featuring an all-Hawaiian lineup — to soloists Crystal Kay and Thelma Aoyama, who pushed through racial hurdles to become locked in the J-pop consciousness.
Intersection, though, is trying to do it in the social media age. It isn’t the only new group trying to do this — female-fronted project Bananalemon features a similar hook, while Colorfuuul promises to be “Japan’s first multinational idol group made entirely of foreigners.” Yet Intersection represents the biggest commitment, being backed by entertainment titan Avex.
“It wasn’t a shock to me that they wanted to develop a group like this,” Hashizume says. “When I lived in Hawaii, I knew the two ways that Japanese people view (dual heritage) people. One is a little more negative, the other is more like ‘cool.'”
None of the members say they have any overtly negative experiences coming from a mixed background — “I think I was blessed,” says Mitchell — pointing to identity misunderstandings in either Japan or the U.S. as the only constants.
“I thought it was new for Japan to try to branch out with something international,” Mitchell says. “I thought it was a good move.”
The group came together in 2015, after Avex scouted the members out, and the project started when all of the members of Intersection were still in their teens.
“We were in the dance studio and I just heard Kazuma and William go out for a drink and say, ‘He’s so small!’ I was like 13 or 14,” Caelan says of their first practice together.
Although the unifying factor for the group is the members’ Japanese and American heritage, each of them boasts a background and character adding far more depth to the endeavor. Hashizume comes from Hawaii and recalls once being too shy in high school to even sign up for debate club; Mitchell models and writes for a fashion magazine while also attending Harvard University; Moriarty was born in Cuba and hopped all around the world; Aoyama was a Junior Olympic swimmer.
“I hated music. I despised musical instrument players. It seemed like a waste of time, to be honest,” Aoyama, who seems guarded at first but soon opens up, says. “I don’t feel that way any more.” He adds that his world view has changed significantly since being in the group, and he has learned new instruments and tools in that span, ranging from drums to production software.
Intersection function like many pop groups globally, in that teams of songwriters and producers often present the group with fully formed songs and the members decide whether to record them.
“But sometimes we do work with producers who let us have our own input,” Aoyama says. Songs such as “Starting Over” found the members themselves getting a chance to collaborate on the final product by jamming it out and seeing what stuck.
“It’s definitely more interesting for us when we are the ones who are getting involved in the writing process,” Mitchell says.
This ability to offer input about Intersection has proven valuable for the group.
“In the beginning, we had a totally different image, and it was a little more toward Japanese boy bands. We were getting a lot of those types of songs shown to us. I think once we heard that, we realized we didn’t want that image attached to us,” Hashizume says. “I think our relationship with our staff is really tight, so I think we can tell them how we actually feel about something. And I think, thanks to that, we were able to develop.”
Avex also relies on the members themselves to explain what the youth of the world are up to.
“I think one thing they struggle with is understanding what things could trend globally, like TikTok for example,” Moriarty says. “They struggle to understand what the youth is into. And to be fair, it’s tough to know what’s going on. You’ll only know it if you live it.” This leads to a discussion on the speed of memes and how tough it is to keep abreast of new developments, and how quickly things can play themselves out.
Social media plays a central role for Intersection, as it does for countless groups all over the world, with an Instagram page and more casual YouTube uploads capturing the group’s friendship. The downside to that, though, is being defined by metrics.
“A lot of the things in the industry are numbers,” Mitchell says. “It doesn’t sound romantic … to be able to do what we want, we have to get a certain amount of numbers, and present that to our company.”
Aoyama rejects that reality, though, believing the scrum for numbers to be misguided.
“It’s not about the industry, it’s about the music,” he says. “And that’s where the fun is.”
For more information on Intersection , visit intersection-tokyo.jp/en.