Miyu Takeuchi does it all — literally. From her home in Seoul, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter creates YouTube videos of herself covering songs as diverse as BTS’ “The Truth Untold” and Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” She’s also solely responsible for filming, editing and uploading the videos, as well as making the backdrops, using materials bought from the local fabric district.
“I thought that I could learn abilities other than what I’ve done as an artist, doing all of this myself,” Takeuchi says via video call, with one of her self-made backdrops visible behind her. She’s also personally responding to fans (and, to the surprise of this writer, media inquiries). “Sometimes, I get panicked … like, I have too much to do!”
The feeling is a common one among creators in 2021, who often juggle multiple responsibilities to produce a single video. What separates Takeuchi from the others is where she comes from. She started out as a member of idol-pop group AKB48 from 2010 to 2018, launching her YouTube channel in the middle of this period. Then, she found attention in South Korea via the popular reality competition “Produce 48,” leading to several years under Mystic Story, a K-pop agency owned by SM Entertainment.
This past May, however, Takeuchi announced she had left Mystic Story. In a video shared on her channel, she said this decision came of her own volition.
“Last November, I was just thinking about my life and my career a lot. Like, what exactly I was doing, in my life and what I do for a living,” she says. “I realized that maybe my job was to make people happy with my music.”
For now, she’s gone independent — a route that’s gaining more appeal for entertainers in both Japan and South Korea, as social media platforms allow them to carve out a niche fanbase without the aid of an existing industry powerhouse. While Takeuchi’s success is still modest in the world of YouTube creators — with around 244,000 people subscribed to her channel — it’s all her own, allowing her to move in whatever direction she wants.
“This is the first time that I’m not attached to any sort of company,” she says. While daunting, it’s fitting for a performer who thrives on working on her own.
Takeuchi grew up in a musical household in Tokyo, thanks in part to her opera singer mother. Yet, she attributes her artistic spark to her uncle.
“He played the Queen song ‘I Was Born To Love You’ around the house, and that was the first time I realized, this is how exciting music can be,” she says.
Takeuchi says she started composing her own music from around the age of 5 or 6, and she grew more serious about it after watching her uncle, who would make his own music using the software GarageBand.
“I started making my own original music using the presets that came with it,” she says.
Her dream had always been to be a singer, or maybe an actress, but she landed on a somewhat unorthodox path to becoming a solo performer. “Being an idol was an unexpected career path for me,” she says with a laugh. After a few previous efforts to break into Japanese entertainment — including taking part in a talent competition that led to a short-lived pop project — Takeuchi auditioned for and joined AKB48 in 2010, right as that dozens-strong group was beginning its run of pop culture dominance.
However, Takeuchi was stuck in the background. The way AKB48 worked was that every summer fans would vote to decide which of the hundreds of members fronted the group’s music videos and concerts. Takeuchi failed to rank at such election events and, save for some variety show appearances to showcase her vocal skills, she mostly performed at the group’s homebase theater in Tokyo’s Akihabara neighborhood.
Halfway through her run with the megagroup, she launched her own YouTube channel in an attempt to steer her career down a more musical path. It was a move that ended up making her an accidental J-pop trailblazer.
“Back in 2014, not many Japanese people were doing YouTube cover videos,” Takeuchi says, adding that she was inspired by the early efforts of American singer Austin Mahone. “I already had a DSLR camera from my uncle, and one day before an AKB performance in Akihabara, I went to an electronic shop to get all the other equipment. After the show, I brought it back home and didn’t sleep. I made one video.”
The result was MiyuTube, a channel dedicated to Takeuchi’s independent creative output.
These days, plenty of J-pop acts have a social media presence that includes YouTube, but back in 2014, the Japanese music industry was still largely wary of putting content online. Nobody else in AKB48 had anything like it at the time.
“I never really got permission from AKB48’s side to start (the channel). I just thought, ‘Oh, if I do this well enough, they’ll give me an OK,’” she says. “After a while, (AKB48 founder and songwriter) Yasushi Akimoto commented about the YouTube channel. He said, ‘Oh, you are doing something interesting.’ Because of that, the staff never stopped me from doing it.”
Takeuchi’s YouTube output has always been a strategic reflection of where she is in life. In the channel’s early days, she opted to cover AKB48 tunes with new arrangements in an effort to woo fans before expanding to other J-pop tracks. In 2018, she took part in the South Korean reality show “Produce 48,” which found aspiring Korean artists and AKB members vying to be part of a new “global project,” so she started covering “songs that were more international or K-pop. I’m always thinking about what will be good.”
Despite having been delegated a back seat in AKB48, Takeuchi stood out on “Produce 48,” thanks to her songwriting and arrangement skills. She made it all the way to the finale before just falling short of making the group. (It was later revealed that the final rankings were rigged).
“I learned resistance, how to be strong,” Takeuchi says of her “Produce 48” experience. “I had to practice a lot, and even when I felt mentally broken, I would still have to do it. I’ve taken a lot from those experiences, as I’m editing and creating videos on my own.”
Immediately after the show, Takeuchi graduated from AKB48 and signed with Mystic Story, where she spent the next two years. She appeared on a handful of South Korean variety shows and, most notably, some city pop tunes written by singer-songwriter and company CEO Yoon Jong-shin. The collaboration had a major influence on the direction she’s taking for her independent music.
“This is the first time I’ve had to brand myself, and I think city pop is a style I can do well with,” Takeuchi says. She now uses her voice to put a spin on tracks from Japan’s 1980s bubble era gaining new popularity via the internet, including Miki Matsubara’s “Mayonaka no Door” and Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love.” She also mixes in English-language covers as a way to bring in viewers who may not be interested in Asian pop, but might want to check out more of her videos after seeing her tackle Frankie Valli‘s “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
For the moment, Takeuchi is focused on growing her channel.
“I don’t have any final goals, just a series of milestones I want to hit,” she says. “Like, I want to grow my subscriber count up to 1 million, and one day perform internationally.” To that end, she’s preparing new covers and thinking of ways to expand her reach, while operating a secondary channel to show more of her daily life. She also recently launched “Scenario,” a podcast chronicling her life as a musician.
“I want to be in this industry until I get really old, so I have set a lot of milestones to keep me motivated, and keep me going,” she says.
After taking the independent route, Takeuchi says she can’t see herself working with a major entertainment company again, adding that this way of exploring her own creativity suits her better.
“But eventually I do want to hire someone to help me with things,” she adds with a laugh. Even an independent creator needs help dealing with email.
To learn more about Miyu Takeuchi, visit www.youtube.com/c/MiyuTube.
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