A Japanese song has unpredictably become a massive hit among TikTokers — and their parents

Justin Chan
@arisa.teo / TikTok
@arisa.teo / TikTok

In November 1979, Japanese singer Miki Matsubara, then 19 years old, released her debut single “Mayonaka no Door – Stay With Me” — a song that came to define the city pop genre in Japan. Now, more than 40 years later, her song has resurfaced and become a huge hit — all thanks to TikTok.

So how did an obscure song from Japan become a massive, international hit? According to Billboard’s Ryohei Matsunaga, it’s all thanks to Indonesian YouTuber Rainych Ran. The cover singer, who has more than 1.35 million subscribers on the video-sharing platform, first posted her rendition of Matsubara’s song on Oct. 29, 2020.

“For me personally, whenever I listen or sing to it, I feel like I’m traveling to a very old period of time, an experience that I can only imagine its beauty in all its complexity,” Ran wrote in a lengthy description of her cover. “To be honest, when I started working on the cover, I felt nervous as to whether I can deliver the song while making sure to maintain its emotion and energy.”

But Ran’s concerns turned out to be unfounded — her cover has since received more than 1.26 million views. It also, in turn, led to an intense interest in the original version in Indonesia, Matsunaga points out. From there, the song’s popularity spread to countries outside of Indonesia (most notably, in the U.S., where streams of the song on Apple Music and Spotify have jumped significantly).

Around the same time, a number of TikTok users shared Matsubara’s hit song. Though it’s unclear who actually shared the single first, the song appeared to hit its peak popularity on the social media platform on Dec. 10, 2020, when user @arisa.teo shared her mother’s reaction to a clip of the song.

“They said japanese women from the 80’s know this song,” a text overlay reads.

The user then walks over to her mother, asking her if she recognizes it. Feeling nostalgic, the mother nods without hesitation before bursting into the chorus.

The TikTok, which was viewed over 23 million times and liked more than 6 million times, sparked similar videos in which other users tested their mothers’ familiarity with the song.

Who is Miki Matsubara?

Matsubara was a Japanese composer and musician from Osaka who rose to fame following 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 entrance into music marked the next generation of singers who would come to shape city pop. The genre drew from Western influences and embodied what Matsunaga describes as the “cosmopolitan lifestyle” that many young Japanese adults yearned for.

Matsubara’s song peaked at No. 28 on the music chart upon its release. The artist would subsequently release other hits, including “Neat na Gogo 3 ji” and “THE WINNER.” None, however, reached the level of success as Matsubara’s debut did — for years, the song was a favorite among DJs.

Sady, Matsubara died in Oct. 2004, after being diagnosed with uterine cervix cancer.

Why is Matsubara’s song so popular among non-Japanese speakers?

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’ drops in the chorus,” he told Matsunaga. “To grab the interest of non-Japanese listeners, it’s still necessary to have a direct English phrase in a place where you want people to focus on a track. That plus the song’s underlying homage to Western music starts connecting like a puzzle and there’s a kind of vast drama there that uplifts people everywhere, even if they doesn’t understand the meaning of the Japanese lyrics.”

For a full translation of the hit single by Miki Matsubara, click here.

If you liked this story, check out this article on the artist behind another TikTok hit, “If I Back It Up.”

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