Doul is rising J-pop artist hailing from Fukuoka, Japan, who made a strong debut with “16yrs” in Sept. 2020. The 18-year-old musician has been releasing music mainly through streaming platforms and YouTube and dropped her latest EP called One BeyonD on July 28.
In an interview with Billboard Japan, the young singer-songwriter broke down some of her musical influences, naming a globally influential American band first. “My father loved Linkin Park, so their music would often be playing in the car,” she shares. “I think that’s at the root of my music. Even now, not a day goes by that I don’t listen to them. They’re the artists I respect the most and I’ll probably listen to them for the rest of my life.”
When Doul entered junior high school, she became interested in K-pop. “I liked BIGBANG, TVXQ! and Super Junior,” says the “Howl” singer, which rhymes with how her stage name is pronounced. “When I saw their music videos on YouTube, I was blown away by their stylishness. I was drawn to their high level of performance and the diversity of their music, like the way they included rap in their songs, which were a bit different from the Western music I grew up on. Also, their outfits and styling were so cool, and K-pop was the reason I became interested in hair color and makeup.”
At the time, the multi-talented young woman had been pursuing street dancing and martial arts — something she’d seriously considered doing professionally in the future — but got hold of an acoustic guitar at the age of 12 and set off on her journey to become a player. “I couldn’t get enough of videos with Kurt Cobain playing and singing on his acoustic guitar,” she shares. “So I was inspired to pick up a guitar and practiced playing chords, and when I was able to play and sing Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven,’ it felt awesome, like I’d found my calling. So I’m good at arpeggios. I still basically play with my fingers all the time, and tend to use my nails when strumming. I ask my manicurist to make the top coat nice and thick. [Laughs]”
Then, in addition to livestreaming on Instagram and other social-networking platforms, she started to perform in front of people on the street when she was a 14-year-old junior high school student. “I was doing street performances mainly in Kego Park in Fukuoka, Hakata Station and Tenjin,” says Doul. “About a year after I started, I had over 100 people coming to see me.”
While this might seem like smooth sailing, she says that her relationships with friends her age and classmates deteriorated from there. “In junior high school, everyone hated me. I was bullied by dozens of people when I went to school because I was doing something different from others, and my address was exposed on social media,” the singer recalls. “So I didn’t expect anything from school and didn’t rely on my classmates at all. I had other friends who supported me through my street gigs, my music, dance and martial arts. At school I was like, ‘Leave me alone. I’m not interested in you, so don’t be interested in me.’”
Then something happened that made her focus on music in earnest. “The first time I performed live in a place with proper music facilities and not out on the street, the audience shed tears when they heard me sing,” she shares. “That was a huge moment for me, that I was able to move someone to tears with my voice and the music I played was a great reward for me. I was also training to become a professional martial arts fighter at the time, but from that point on, all I saw was music. I had a lot of bad days at school, but gained a lot of followers on social media and the number of people interested in my music kept growing, so I figured I’ll just keep going.”
Initially, Doul’s performances were centered on covers, but it was during this period that she began to write her own material. One of the tracks she completed was “16yrs,” her debut number she released when she was 17 years old. The song attracted a lot of attention as it was included on the Spotify playlist “RADAR: Early Noise 2021″ that highlights noteworthy new acts. Since then, the breakout artist has continued to release songs such as “We Will Drive Next,” featured in a TV commercial for Mode Gakuen.
While the teen is often regarded as a “young genius” due to her age, Doul doesn’t seem particularly concerned about her youth and writes lyrics with universal themes. “It’s not that I want to say stuff that represents my generation,” she explains. “But my lyrics are also a record of myself, so I guess the feelings and thoughts that I have because of my age are reflected there in some way. I want to write lyrics that people of my generation and people who are 60 years old can both enjoy, relate to, and even object to. I don’t expect my songs to change the way people think, but I do hope they add new perspectives. For example, sometimes people — especially older ones — say disapprovingly, ‘You have tattoos.’ It makes me angry, but that’s how they think and it’s hard to change. So I don’t try to change how people think, but instead encourage them to sense that there are other ways of thinking through my songs and approach, and hope that they take note of those new perspectives.”
The songs she has released so far and her EP One BeyonD are impressive for their multifaceted musicality that defies genre categorization. This aspect can also be seen in her music video for “The Time Has Come,” in which she performs by herself dressed in a variety of looks that pay homage to artists of various genres, ages and styles. Her eclectic sensibility comes across as the result of music production in a post-streaming world, where all music is available on the same platform and consumed alongside each other.
“The genres and ages of the music I grew up on were all different, and even now, I don’t listen to music in any particular age or genre,” she shares. “That’s why I think my music is a combination of band sound, beats, rap and vocals. I want to make music that never existed before, but with elements of nostalgia from the past.”
The fact that she self-produces her work also speaks to the freedom she emits. “The reason why I self-produce is because I want to know what I can do,” Doul says. “What kind of clothes and makeup do I want to wear? What kind of lyrics do I want to write? How do I want to sing? What kind of music do I want to make? Every day it’s different. I love it when I rock grungy fashion, I love it when I dance and nail cool moves. And if I take a different approach, I might find another side of me that I love even more. That’s why I want to take on various challenges on my own and pursue my identity. Being produced by someone else can wait until I know who I am.”
Doul describes herself as “the world’s biggest narcissist,” which is reflected in the line “I can say I love myself” in the lyrics of her track “Howl.” But what follows are the words “But I hated me before.” So how did she learn to love herself? “As I mentioned earlier, when I was bullied in junior high school, there were times when I’d have negative thoughts like, ‘Maybe it’s my fault after all,’ and feel bad about myself,” she admits.
“But then I focused on improving myself, including the visual aspect like makeup and fashion. I concentrated on becoming a better person and brushed myself up,” Doul continues. “I think that meant I was looking at myself and loving myself, and actually felt that I was getting more beautiful and better looking. I realized then that I could grow if I looked at myself properly and didn’t mind the opinions and noise around me. That’s why I’m now able to exist as Doul and write songs like ‘Howl.’ If anybody out there is struggling like I used to, I’d like to encourage them to look at themselves and love themselves. But in order to love yourself, you have to try to change, and that’s something I think about really stoically.”
As an artist set to play a major role in the J-pop music scene, Doul shared her vision for the future. “My goals to win awards and perform lots of concerts haven’t changed since I made my debut,” she says. “But now that about a year has passed since then, I think I’ve developed an ego about how I want people to perceive my music and feel about it. Before making my debut, I used to just make music, but now that I’m a professional artist, I want people to relate to my music, and also object to it. Most of all, I want to give people courage. I want people to use my music to solve all kinds of problems, so that’s how I approach music production now. But maybe I’ll say something different next year. I hope I can keep searching for new sides of myself like this from now on as well.”
Doul’s latest single “My Mr.Right,” her first love song where she played all the instruments herself, is out now.
This article by TAKAGI “JET” Shinichiro first appeared on Billboard Japan.