Fresh from their debut, J-pop boy group Travis Japan is doing all the right moves as they introduce the world to their catchy form of pop.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can find your next fave artist at a push of a button, and in turn, artists can expand their footprint outside their borders. For J-pop boy group Travis Japan, that’s exactly what’s happening as they move from their native Japan to take on the world stage. It’s a moment that feels like an event years in the making. Even though it may have taken a decade for them to get here, the boys are more than ready for the road ahead.
A J-POP STAR IS BORN
Over the years, Japan has given us numerous J-pop groups worth the stan, and Travis Japan is no exception. Coming from Japan’s most prestigious talent agency, Johnny & Associates, they were formed over 10 years ago with the help of celebrity choreographer Travis Payne (he’s worked with legends like Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga). This is actually why they have Travis in the group name, in honor of him. Since then, the seven-member group has continuously honed their style to form a captivating mix of modern, pop, jazz, and hip-hop. Even though the members were technically still trainees at the time, they became staples of film and television in their native country, as well as selling out numerous headlining concerts.
But as of late, Travis Japan has their eyes set on a new goal, world domination. Already, their first steps have been pretty successful. A notable W came when the seven-member dance and performance pop group appeared on the latest season of America’s Got Talent, with their audition going viral where they ultimately made it to the semi-finals. Soon enough, they signed with Capitol Records and moved to Los Angeles to further their captivating, syncopated dance moves and infectious music stylings. And this past October 28 finally saw a long-awaited dream come true as Travis Japan made their debut with Just Dance, an uber-catchy pop, jazz, and hip hop track. It’s a bop that serves as a great first start for this fast-rising group.
NYLON Manila had the opportunity to chat with the group where they opened up about their debut, performing at YouTube Fanfest, their plans, and much more. Read on below for the full interview.
Can you share the meaning behind the group’s name “Travis Japan”?
SHIME: Our group’s name was given to us by our agency’s late founder, Johnny H. Kitagawa. He gave us a name that represents Japan and would be accepted in the world. It includes Japan so we always remember to “represent Japan.”
UMI: “Travis” is in honor of Travis Payne, who choreographed Michael Jackson’s “This is it,” while “Japan” was added by our late agency founder Johnny H. Kitagawa. He combined “Travis” from Travis Payne and “Japan” and the name “Travis Japan” was born. So, just like Shime said.
For people who haven’t heard of Travis Japan, how would you describe yourselves?
GENTA: We are a seven-member group who puts a high priority on our dance, and we all feel it’s important to specialize in dance with a nice gap to other aspects of our personality. When not practicing, we’re always talking or making a fuss but getting along well like we were in an all-boys school.
NOEL: We belong to the biggest entertainment producer in Japan called Johnny & Associates, and we are a Japanese seven-member boy band.
How does it feel to finally be making your debut?
CHAKA: Woo-hoo! We are all so very happy. As Noel mentioned, we are part of Johnny & Associates, and up to now have been what are called “Johnnys’ Juniors,” which are sort of like trainees. Everyone works really hard doing various performer activities while seeking the dream of a major debut. The debut is one of our biggest common goals, so we are so happy to finally make it happen. More than anything, it’s the fact that we are able to give more of ourselves to even more fans, and give something back to those who have supported us since the very beginning. And since this is just the starting line, Travis Japan will get serious, do our best, and move ever forward.
NOEL: I think it’s very difficult to define a debut. Johnny & Associates is very unique in a sense, as we already have a lot of original songs and have experience doing solo concerts and even national tours. From the outside looking in, it may seem like we were already debuted at some other agency, so what we want to make of our debut is the chance to officially work in a greater capacity for the rest of our lives in the service of everyone who brought us to this point. I will continue to do my best while being proud of making this debut; standing tall with these six other guys to dedicate our lives to a higher purpose.
How has your experience been like living and working in LA for the past few months?
MACHU: It was very stimulating, and everything turned out to be a good experience for us. After we came to America, we were very inspired; feeling firsthand what can only be experienced in America, including competitions such as America’s Got Talent, and other events. It was an amazing experience that will be treasured by us forever.
CHAKA: Definitely all of the new experiences, just as Machu said. But it was also a time to reflect on what we have accomplished so far. Since the seven of us came to America, there was a lot more we had to do by ourselves than when we were in Japan. We had to manage costumes and handle the ins and outs of production numbers for our dance competitions. We had to do all the housework by ourselves as well. Doing everything so independently is something we could never have experienced without having thrown ourselves into this adventure, so I think that was one of the biggest things that helped strengthen Travis Japan’s power through living in LA.
What was so special about Just Dance that you felt that it was worthy of being your debut single?
SHIME: There were times when we were really frustrated and struggling, such as when our contemporaries Snow Man and SixTONES debuted without us, and then when Naniwa Danshi debuted just a few years later, with Travis Japan’s future feeling very unstable. However, even during those times, we never stopped dancing. Through it all, we supported with each other to keep dancing in happiness, and so I personally think that JUST DANCE! represents this perseverance more than anything.
SHIZU: We were able to experience so many new and exciting stages such as America’s Got Talent and World of Dance, and through them were able to remember once again what power we have while singing and dancing. As we continue to work hard with smiles on our faces to bring fun and joy to those to find interest in us, I think that JUST DANCE! captures this perfectly. It’s a song that suits us, and the best song for us to deliver our own sense of hope to everyone who listens to it and watches the music video.
Just Dance feels and sounds so bright and positive. What was it like working on the track?
MACHU: It was my first time recording in America, and not only that, but it’s our debut song, so it all felt very frush and fun. In particular, while originally the lyrics were all in English, but in the middle of the song we improvised some Japanese words in key places. I enjoyed recording it very much and was grateful for the chance to make this a part of our American dream.
UMI: In terms of music production, because the lyrics were all in English, we had a hard time and there were various difficulties getting the words to sound right. However, just like the title says, JUST DANCE!, the music production was built around choreography. When I first heard this song, I felt that I wanted to dance right away. Being a part of this was a great experience, and I couldn’t wait until the song was completed, all the while wondering what it would be like when we got the chance to shoot the music video. It’s a song that you can dance together with us, so I think I can say it will be a work that will represent Travis Japan with confidence.
How does it feel to be going to Singapore to perform at YouTube Fanfest?
UMI: I’m really looking forward to it! I didn’t expect we would be able to go abroad so quickly after our debut, and I’m really looking forward to having our performance in Singapore, a new place. Also, the cityscape of Singapore is supposed to be very beautiful! I would like to see the Merlion.
SHIZU: It was the same for America’s Got Talent and World of Dance, but I think Travis Japan has always been able to absorb different things by meeting various people and watching various artists’ performances. I look forward to not only giving our own performance there, but also seeing other people’s. I would like to absorb the culture of each participant’s country, or at least find more that can lead Travis Japan in the right direction for whatever next step we take.
Looking back, how would you describe your time on America’s Got Talent? Were you expecting that positive of a reception?
GENTA: Looking back on America’s Got Talent, I am grateful that Travis Japan was able to appear in such a world-famous audition program, representing Japan and standing on the stage as Johnny’s. I think it was a great experience for the seven of us as we went on stage, willing to enjoy the stage as we let new audiences know about Travis Japan. Our aim was to share such a good time, rather than aiming for any specific reward, though of course winning would have been nice.
CHAKA: First of all, just as G said, I never expected we would have the chance to appear on such a famous TV show when we first came to LA to train, especially so soon after we arrived. Looking back now, I can’t even believe that we got to dance on that stage, and I am so grateful we experienced something great and am confident in what we accomplished. As an audition show, as with the competitions we participated in, it all was so novel to have judges and be scored like we were.
As Noel has said before, everyone was nervous at the first audition, as it was the first time to have experienced something like that. But we went on stage in order to show our best performance there no matter what, rather than to be positively received or be able to pass. It gave us a lot of confidence to even participate as far as the semi-finals. This is an experience that we, Travis Japan will never be able to do again, but would like to experience again in other ways. Thus, America’s Got Talent was rather stimulating in many ways.
What do you think it is about Travis Japan that helps it stand out from the crowd?
NOEL: I think it would be our happy aura, or the attitude as we try to enjoy serving others. Although we are very good at dancing, we are by no means professional dancers. We are not professional in singing either per se. We are a group that does various things all-around. Our mission is to impart fun and entertainment from everything by ourselves, let it mature in us, and deliver entertainment as a performance, and I strongly believe that we must be happy to achieve that mission. I think having the desire to be happy and deliver happiness to others as a priority while working as we help Travis Japan stand out from the crowd.
GENTA: While trying to be happy and grab lots of things, Travis Japan will be successful with the support from many people. From the people at our agency, to the fans, to all the choreographers we work with, and so on. So I hope that we can continue to support each other as good as the Chinese character for “human,“ which consists of two lines supporting each other.
You guys have seen success even though you haven’t officially debuted yet. Do you feel a pressure to live up to the hype?
UMI: Certainly, there is a kind of pressure or expectation, but rather than trying to meet those expectations or seeing it as something formal, we try to just enjoy the show and do our best. Enjoying what we do ourselves makes it possible to overcome these expectations and deliver something that is much better, in my opinion, so overall I haven’t felt much pressure.
SHIZU: I think there was a lot of pressure in the fans worry about why Travis Japan couldn’t make our debut for such a long time, and other fears. I have seen those comments, and sometimes it made me worry as well. However, when we do our performances and the fans are happy, that’s what’s really important. There were a lot of expectations from the adults around us as well, but I believe we have worked hard to perform to the fullest, and I just perform as much as I can now.
What can we expect from Travis Japan moving forward?
CHAKA: I would like people to get to know us and join us on this journey, and hopefully be curious enough to enjoy it along the way with us, and through what we express now look forward to what will happen to Travis Japan in the future. I hope they resonate with what we choose to do, whenever another kind of festival may occur, take part in each of these steps together. We might accomplish many things in the future, but our one true dream is simply to share with everyone the sensations of enjoying Travis Japan, and inspire everyone we meet to just get up and feel like dancing, just as the song JUST DANCE! goes. I want everyone who meets us to be prepared to have fun!
NOEL: To be honest, even as Travis Japan is on the cusp of our debut, we are still not yet in our completed form. I think there are a lot of things that are yet missing, but we always want to give 100% of what we can, and we will do our best to make people receive that 100%. We have no intention of stopping our growth. I would be happy if you could see us grow together in the future. While everyone with us now will spend many years with Travis Japan, I hope our group can be thought as “Travis Japan has also grown up,” “Travis Japan was like that at that time,” ”We have grown together” or “We have been together until this year” when they talk about their own lives. We live for you!