Oakland Tribune: “Japanese band tries to make Dreams Come True in U.S.”

by Sarah Allen
August 3, 1998

THE ASIAN ECONOMY may be depressed, but the Japanese pop group Dreams Come True has still managed to sell 27 million copies of its records. And that’s with virtually no name recognition in the United States.

A 10-year-old Japanese pop band fronted by lead singer Miwa Yoshida and producer/musician Masato “King Masa” Nakamura, Dreams Come True is as big in Japan as Hanson is here. Like Hanson, Dreams Come True appeals primarily to teen-age girls.

The group, which will headline Tuesday at San Francisco’s Fillmore auditorium, offers and odd blend of funk, jazz and even free-form pop. It’s not clear if Dreams Come True will catch on in the United States, but the group’s label, Virgin Records, seems willing to gamble that it will.

The band’s 10th album, “Sing or Die,” is not only its first U.S. release, it’s Dreams Come True’s first English-language record. Yoshida and Nakamura have long wanted to try their luck with American fans, but were thwarted by their former label, Sony, according to Nakamura. The group, he says, was encouraged to continue building on its Japanese success rather than venture out internationally.

“We really wanted to show out music to the world, especially to the U.S.,” said Nakamura in a recent phone interview. “I grew up in American pop-music culture.”

After a nine-year partnership, Nakamura and Yoshida decided to leave Sony. And Dreams Come True became the first major Japanese act ever signed to Virgin Records.

Virgin Records America co-president Ray Cooper told Billboard that “from everyone’s perspective at Virgin, we’ve always liked the idea and the challenge of presenting music from different countries to America. The company (Virgin) has done very well with the Chemical Brothers, Spice Girls and the Verve. We feel positive about the development of this act, and we’ll take advantage of that with all the guns blazing.”

Industry scuttlebutt has it that Virgin has invested $25 million in promotion and development of the group. The label is hoping Dreams Come True can do what no other Japanese act has done before: successfully break through in America.

Nakamura and Yoshida are modest about their Japanese success and nervous about expectations for their work in America.

“I think that if we are a huge band in Japan it doesn’t necessarily mean we will be in America,” Nakamura said. “(American listeners) will listen to just what they like.”

Japanese pop acts such as Seiko Matsuda, Nokko and Toshinobu Kubota pursued fame is U.S., and failed. A few Japanese acts have managed to cultivate an underground following, including Cibo Matto, Shonen Knife, Pizzicato Five, Audio Active, Hi-Standard, Cornelius and Buffalo Daughter. Pizzicato Five’s three CDs, for example, have sold about 300,000 units in total in the U.S., according to the group’s management, Chibari Inc.

But Dreams Come True is approaching this market from a different angle. While the group’s sound is catchy enough to attract teen-agers, Yoshida’s strong-but-sweet voice is expected to attract both male and female adults. The group’s musicial message is positive and feel-good.

It’s difficult to figure out which demographic the group will most appeal to, according to Tessa Grant of Tower Records is Palo Alto.

“That there’s no niche for their music is interesting and really something to be admired considering all the copycat groups out there these days,” Grant said. “But where do I file it? What radio stations play it?”

Yoshida says that, so far, Dreams Come True’s U.S. concerts (there are six in all) have attracted mostly Japanese fans, so the band expects its appeal for other listeners to grow gradually.

“For this showcase (tour) there are many Japanese fans also who live in America,” she says. “I can see a few American fans. Now no one knows us here, so we want to show our music to the American audience. The Japanese fans help us to show our music on our first test in America.”