When Otakon announced that one of their Sunday performers would be Portland-born rock singer Becca, pretty much everybody I knew had the same reaction:
Who is this American girl and why is she performing at Otakon?
What we didn’t know was the unique story of an American rock singer who had already made a name for herself in Japan. But despite her success overseas, she was virtually unknown in her home country. And so her management team are trying to remedy this with a US marketing strategy aimed at fans of anime and manga.
And her appearance at Otakon was the first step in this plan.
Becca’s professional career started at the age of 13 when a demo tape of hers was submitted to music producer Meredith Brooks. Brooks had already made a name for herself in the mid-90′s when her song “Bitch” became a pop radio hit. But after the success of the song faded away, Brooks turned to music producing and began searching for fresh new acts. And so she took on Becca as her protegee.
“She just saw something in me that she wanted to work with,” Becca recalls in a brief interview with me at Otakon. “So she pushed me to a whole other level that I never knew I could reach. She taught me great work ethic, she’s written with me, she just really inspired me. She’s been my guide in learning about the music industry and how everything works. She’s just been the big staple in all my musical endeavors. ”
This was probably the part I took noticed to most when learning about Becca’s career. “Bitch” was one of the first pop songs I loved back when I was just getting into music, and it still lives on as one of my favorites. But I was just 12 when it became a radio hit, which means that Becca was only 7. Did she even know about the song back then?
“I remember it playing on the radio. My sisters and I used to love singing to it because it was the only time we could cuss. But I actually remember another music video of hers that I used to watch a lot as a kid, so yeah, I guess I was even a fan of her’s back then.
“It’s always a joke that I will one day cover ‘Bitch,’ but I think I’m just going to leave that to her. That’s her song, and she’s the master it.”
Under Brooks’ guidance, Becca moved to Los Angeles at the age of 14. She toured around the LA area doing shows with a full band or acoustic sets at certain clubs. But her career didn’t break until they went for a completely different demographic.
“I always wanted to go to Japan, and we thought it would be a good market for me, especially with my style and fashion tastes. So I performed in a showcase in front of a bunch of scouts, and some people from Sony Japan saw me and came up to me.” She signed with the record label in early 2008 and released her first Japanese single in April of that year.
Thanks to the help of Sony Japan, Becca’s music quickly began appearing on Japanese television. Her first single was featured in the imported American TV series Damages, and then she did the theme songs to the Madhouse-produced anime series Ultraviolet: Code 044. In just a few months of signing with the music label, Becca found herself performing on stage at the large Summer Sonic rock festival in Tokyo and Osaka.
This was quite a impressive debut for an American girl in the foreign land. Her single “I’m Alive!”, which was used as a theme song to the gothic shonen anime series Black Butler, was very successful and gave her the unique title of being the only foreign artist to rank on Japan’s domestic music charts. But performing to the overseas audience did lead to some culture shock for the singer.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I went to Japan, but I was just surprised at how quiet and polite everyone is during a rock show. And when I’m talking in between songs, only a few people would understand what I was saying, so I got very few reactions on stage.”
But now that she has an established fan base in Japan, Becca is trying to bridge this language gap herself. “Before going to Japan, the only two Japanese words I knew were konnichiwa and sayonara.” But now she is studying the language and meets with a Japanese instructor every week over Skype. And she has began releasing Japanese versions of her songs.
Now her record label is setting their sights on debuting her back in her native country by releasing her first album in America this fall. But Becca is aware that this won’t be easy. “I feel that you can get away with much more in Japan and still be a successful musician. It’s harder to find that acceptance in America.”
That is why her management is aiming for a particular niche for Becca in America. Because Becca has done the theme songs for a number of anime shows, they’re leaning more towards the young anime and manga fans for their target demographic. And what better place to debut than the large Otakon convention?
“I’m really glad to be performing here at Otakon. This is my first time at an anime convention, and I think it’s a great way to get my first exposure to America. Plus it was cool to get my picture taken with a bunch of Dragonball Z characters!” she laughs.
Becca wasn’t really a fan of anime or manga prior to going to Japan, but she was introduced to the medium after beginning her career there. She is now a fan of several series, and she singles out Nana as a huge influence on her career.
“I just think it’s a really great story. I love the characters, especially the rock singer Nana and her band members. It inspired me to write my own comic about my music career. I mean, if someone else wrote a comic like this, maybe I could too.”
Becca teamed up with Japanese artist Agoo to create a comic based on her life. “I’ve always wanted to tell my story, and I thought a comic would be a cool way to tell it. I think it’s a good form of expression.” The comic is available in the liner notes of her CD.
It’s not just manga that Becca is diving into. Sony Pictures has cast her to perform the lead role in the English dub for the Ultraviolet: Code 044 anime. According to Becca, doing the anime voice acting “was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the best thing I’ve ever done.” Sony is hoping to have the anime release sometime early next year.
And her music is even inadvertently making its way deeper into the otaku music scene. Someone had created a cover version of her song “Shibuya” using the vocalized program Hatsune Miku. The Miku remix has become a viral video on Youtube and Nico Nico Douga.
“Miku is adorable!” she says with much enthusiasm. “After seeing her cover version of my song, I went and watched all her videos. I just love the way she dances. It really was an honor that she’s covering my music.”
Sony Japan was so impressed with the digital cover version that her next single will be a duet between Becca and Miku. Her management jokingly calls this new project Becca’s first “collaboration with an international artist..”
So if you haven’t heard of Becca before, you probably will in the near future. She’s the young American rock singer who has found fame in Japan long before she even debuting in her home country. But with the help of her record label, she’s hoping her Japanese credentials will help her appeal to the young American otaku community.