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Hyadain Week, Day 3: "W.W.D." & "W.W.D. II"
We bend the rules for day 3 to talk about the two Dempagumi.inc epics and Hyadain writing about the darker side of the idol experience
Hello! Welcome to Hyadain Week of This Side of Japan, a special week-long program where we celebrate the producer’s 10 best songs of the 2010s with my very special guest, Crests. You can return to the intro page to learn more and check out the overview of the week. You can check out previous issues of the main newsletter here.
“W.W.D.” & “W.W.D. II” by Dempagumi.inc (2012)
“W.W.D.”: Music and lyrics, by Kenichi Maeyamada / Arranged by Kenichi Maeyamada
”W.W.D. II”: Music and lyrics by Kenichi Maeyamada / Arranged by Shunsuke Tsuri
Ryo: After a number of silly affairs, Hyadain gets intensely dark for the twin epics by Dempagumi.inc, “W.W.D.” and “W.W.D. II.” While the production’s theatrical flair seem like typical Hyadain in the first “W.W.D,” his lyrics touch on subjects far grimmer than, say, a ghost hunt or a love of sweets. “I was bullied and stayed shut in my room / the arcade was my only home,” are the song’s first words, and he spends its entire almost-six-minute run excavating the skeletons of the fellow Dempagumi members.
The stark details come from a very real place. “W.W.D.” was initially commissioned as an “intro to the group” type of song, made to be Dempagumi’s version of Onyanko Club’s “Kaiin Bango No Uta,” and all of the lyrics directly comes from the bio gathered by Hyadain from each of the members during the songwriting process. That opening line about escaping to the arcade is an anecdote that belongs to Mirin Furukawa, and other parts like Moga Mogami’s accounts of being a hikikomori are also all true. “W.W.D.” may be grim, but it only reflects the very reality of the Dempagumi girls, who all didn’t have the most happiest upbringing.
When I first heard “W.W.D.,” it felt a little too on the nose for me. I’ll only speak for myself here, but as an idol fan, I’ve accepted that I qualify the not-so-flattering reputation of an idol fan as being escapists who ignore reality by indulging in materialism. I come to idol songs to suppress these insecurities, not confront them, and I didn’t need these parts about me so transparently projected on a song even if they ultimately sing about triumph over that darkness. I’ve come around it now to the point I think it’s one of the best idol songs of all time, but what is your impression of these dark parts of the song? What’s your connection with “W.W.D.”?
Crests: “W.W.D.” is a song I first heard about seven years ago with no idea who Hyadain was, and for seven years now, I’ve cried every time I heard it without fail. The song is emotional and tells a story of struggle and triumph even musically, but it’s really the lyrics that make it what I agree is one of the best and most important idol songs of all time.
If I had to explain what I thought idols were and why I loved them to someone with one song, it would be this. An appeal of idols in the current era is that they’re more relatable, but “W.W.D” took it to another level: a level of “we’ve been through absolute hell, but we made it and are doing our best for the sake of others, together.” Hyadain himself even thought Nemu’s story was too depressing to be more than vague about in the song. This allowed Dempagumi to become maybe not an escape for people who were looking for that from idols, but a refuge for people who found solace and inspiration from the openly otaku members and how they’ve overcome adversity and now moving forward to big things. I’ve heard from countless people that this song and “W.W.D II” got them through some of the lowest points in their life, and I know few people who have not cried to one of them at least once.
Ryo: It’s amazing to think that “W.W.D.” was initially rejected by Dempagumi’s producer Maiko Fukishima because it was so open about the idols’ faults that it unflattered the idols. “They weren’t these traditionally beautiful girls who would sing a song like [Onyanko Club’s] ‘Kaiin Bango No Uta,' and they weren’t idols who got here through auditions or other traditional ways, so I wanted to get across that they got to where they are by trying really hard,” Hyadain said when asked by music site Natalie about his thoughts while making “W.W.D.” “I honestly don’t know why the fans love it, but it’s maybe because it’s honest.”
“W.W.D.II” music video with English subtitles by Courtney
Ryo: “Honest” describes “W.W.D. II,” too, but instead of revealing their past, the idols spew all of the ugly thoughts that run through their heads as they go on with their idol activities. The almost-seven-minute song cycles through a spike of self-belief and a harsh dip into self-loathing multiple times. “Hey, are you fine with how you are now? / Are you fine going back to how it was before? / No one needed me then / and I didn’t need anyone,” they sigh, their sorrows stinging even deeper if you know the details from “W.W.D.”—and this is only minute two out of seven.
This thing is an epic, kind of literally with this story arc of redemption weaved throughout, but what sticks out for you, Crests?
Crests: “W.W.D. II” is really an incredible, raw and desperate sequel. When you compare it to “W.W.D,” the first song actually becomes the more idol-ish and unrealistic song out of the two. The lows of “W.W.D. II” are even lower, and its highs are more lifelike with it full of passion and determination to not give up. The song gives the feeling that we’ve overcome adversity, but in the end, things still aren’t picture-perfect, and there are a lot of setbacks and a long way to go—a song of having no confidence but bravely trudging forward and facing the future.
From the very beginning with the fake out in the intro call, “W.W.D. II” feels like an argument between these highs and lows. The song reaches its lowest point with each member passionately venting their frustrations and personal failings to each other right before building up to the song’s most victorious moments. This argument is best exemplified after the first verse. Each member vocalizes the tension and hardships that have risen from being in the group that they can’t express. They wonder “is someone like me really needed,” only to be met by a powerful “Just stop it already!” and encouragement to tell the others how they feel and stop running away. There’s really no way to describe this song other than an epic.
Ryo: “W.W.D. II” almost had to be seven minutes long to hit on that exact point you mention, Crests, that “there are a lot of setbacks and a long way to go.” It’s so long-winded that it makes you lose sight of the end because that’s how it really feels to be in constant war with yourself. The perpetual return of the group’s internal agony also complicates this naive belief in a happy ending and that happiness leads you to freedom and closure. It ends with them singing “all for one / one for all” in unison, though you also get the feeling that they will fall apart again if the song kept on going past the seven-minute mark. It’s kind of great, then, that the music video leaves with a cliffhanger: it resists a neat conclusion to the narrative because part of the point is that there really isn’t one.
“Future Diver” by Dempagumi.inc (2011)
Ryo: Hyadain is associated a lot with Stardust, and understandably so, though it’s worth reminding that he had a hand in Dempagumi’s career from early on as well. While he wasn’t as closely involved as he was with, say, Momo Clo or Ebi Chu, the lyric-writing process for “W.W.D. II” still suggests that he had a strong rapport with the Dempagumi members.
“Hyadain asked us ‘how have you been?’ when we were in the studio recording [“W.W.D. II” B-side] ‘Notto Bocchi… Natsu,’ and we ended up talking for about an hour,” Mogami said in a 2013 Natalie interview. “I was wondering what was going on, and I found later that that was the discussion for ‘W.W.D. II.’”
“He also asked me, ‘how’s being center been,’ on the side while recording,” Furukawa said in the same interview. “I told him, ‘I don’t feel confident about it. I get really yelled at.’ But I didn’t think that would be…”
Crests: I’d often wondered what the more muffled speaking parts near the end of the song were a part of, and it turned out to be recordings of that very conversation. The members spilled out their feelings to him with no idea that it would become a song. The response to “W.W.D. II” from the members was actually rather negative. They thought “is this really entertainment?” and had trouble singing the song without crying during recording, saying it was harder to talk about the present than the past. However, Hyadain’s trick on the members was not mean-spirited. Like the song could save others, it also served a purpose to save Dempagumi.
The most upset may have been Yumemi Nemu. Hyadain purposely made a song only the six of them could sing, where they proclaimed that they wouldn’t give up. Having truly felt she wasn’t needed and wanting to quit, during the recording she cried saying “if I sing this, then I can’t quit” to which Hyadain responded “yeah, I guess you can’t.” Nemu genuinely hated him at this time but ultimately was thankful for him. The members were worried the song wouldn’t do well, but his feelings were that even if the song ranked lower than usual, it was a song that was necessary for them to sing at the time.
Ryo: For the record, “W.W.D. II” went to no. 8 on Oricon Weekly, their second-highest charting single at that point. “W.W.D.” made it to no. 10, nine spots higher than its previous single, “Kira Kira Tune.” I want to think fans bought the second expecting the length as well as a continuation of the serious, honest topics heard in the first.
I wonder if Dempagumi would have been a group that’s willing to discuss serious matters like depression, bullying and emotional trauma in their music without the “W.W.D.” series. The group returns to those topics later in their careers though without Hyadain and in much less direct and self-referential ways. It’s unfair to solely credit Hyadain for inspiring the Dempagumi members to make their unpretty image more transparent, and maybe he was a bit overboard with his ways, but I definitely think he provided a much needed push for the group to speak on much deeper material. He was one of the few in their circle who could draw those key details out of them, and I can’t imagine any other producer treating those details with such deserved care and ambition.