In November 1979, Japanese singer Miki Matsubara, then 19 years old, released her first single “Mayonaka no Door – Stay With Me” – a song that defined the city pop genre in Japan. Now, over 40 years later, his song has resurfaced and become a huge hit, all thanks to TikTok.
So how did an obscure song from Japan become a huge international hit? According to Billboard’s Ryohei Matsunaga, this is all down to Indonesian YouTuber Rainych Ran. The cover singer, who has over 1.35 million subscribers on the video-sharing platform, first posted her rendition of Matsubara’s song on October 29, 2020.
“For me personally, every time I listen to it or sing it, I feel like I’m traveling to a very ancient time, an experience whose beauty I can only imagine in all its complexity,” he said. writes Ran in a lengthy description of her cover. “To be honest, when I first started working on the cover, I felt nervous about whether I could deliver the song while being careful to maintain its emotion and energy.”
But Ran’s worries turned out to be unfounded – her cover has since received more than 1.26 million views. This also, in turn, sparked strong interest in the original version in Indonesia, Matsunaga points out. From there, the song’s popularity spread to countries other than Indonesia (most notably the United States, where the song’s streams on Apple Music and Spotify increased significantly).
Around the same time, a number of TikTok users shared Matsubara’s hit song. While it’s unclear who actually shared the single first, the song appeared to hit its peak of popularity on the social media platform on December 10, 2020, when user @arisa.teo shared the reaction of his mother has an excerpt from the song.
“They said Japanese women in the 80s knew this song,” reads a text overlay.
The user then walks over to his mother, asking if she recognizes him. Nostalgic, the mother nods without hesitation before bursting into a chorus.
The TikTok, which has been viewed over 23 million times and liked over 6 million times, sparked similar videos in which other users tested their mother’s familiarity with the song.
Who is Miki Matsubara?
Matsubara was a Japanese composer and musician from Osaka who rose to fame after the release of “Mayonaka no Door – Stay With Me”. As Matsunaga notes, the song was written by Tokuko Miura and the music was composed by Tetsuji Hayashi.
At the time of the song’s debut, Matsubara’s entry into music marked the next generation of singers who would come to shape urban pop. The genre drew on Western influences and embodied what Matsunaga describes as the “cosmopolitan lifestyle” that many young Japanese adults aspired to.
Matsubara’s song peaked at number 28 on the music chart upon its release. The artist will subsequently release other hits, including “Neat na Gogo 3 ji” and “THE WINNER”. None, however, reached the level of success of Matsubara’s debut – for years the song was a DJ favorite.
Sady, Matsubara died in October 2004, after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Why is Matsubara’s song so popular among non-Japanese?
In an interview with Matsunaga, Yohei Hasegawa, a DJ, attributed the song’s popularity in the West to the one and only English phrase: “Stay with me”.
“The English phrase ‘stay with me’ falls in the chorus,” he told Matsunaga. “To capture the interest of non-Japanese listeners, it’s always necessary to have direct English expression in a place where you want people to focus on a track. That, plus the song’s underlying homage to Western music, starts to connect like a puzzle and there’s a kind of vast drama there that uplifts people everywhere, even if they don’t understand the meaning of the Japanese lyrics.
For a full translation of Miki Matsubara’s hit single, click here.
If you liked this story, check out this article about the artist behind another TikTok hit, “If I Save It.”
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