How Anime and Japanese City Pop Influences Yung Bae

VICE spoke with the American music producer about anime, Mariya Takeuchi, and how the internet opened him up to genres from around the world.
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Kilo Lounge and Collective Minds

When I first heard Yung Bae’s “Here With Me” featuring Sydney-based producer Swindail in 2016, I was immediately transported to a world far away from our own. I imagined lush magenta landscapes and a beach that stretched to the horizon. Listening to the rest of the mixtape Bae 2 — with its seamless blend of Japanese city pop, funk, and soul — was an afternoon into the rabbit hole that left me wanting more.


Born Dallas Cotton, Yung Bae is a master selector with a keen ear for samples. Listen to any one of his songs on the Bae albums (there are now 5 of them) or the three Japanese Disco Edits mixtapes, and you’ll see what I mean.

His sound is as if a time traveler went vinyl shopping, bought a crate-full from various decades and genres, and made music with them. With an expansive range of influences, Yung Bae weaves curated samples from classics and transforms them into 3-minute ballads. With a genre as “of the internet” as future funk, the world wide web is undeniably the largest influence for the 25-year-old. His name says it all.

“[Swedish rapper] Yung Lean was really big when I started out, and I always liked that name because it was kind of light-hearted, but it’s also got some history to it. Bae, as you know, is super internet, it’s kinda the most internet name,” he told VICE in an interview after a concert in Singapore in December.

Yung Bae’s style is indebted to the internet, which allowed him, a guy from Oregon in the 2010s, to easily access music from 1980s Japan. The ability to sample a whole catalogue of music regardless of genre or time period is the foundation of his distinct sound. The most obvious of these inspirations is Japanese city and retro pop, think: Mariya Takeuchi, Tatsuro Yamashita, and Toshiki Kadomatsu.

“I’d been aware of future funk when it was starting out, but I really wasn’t familiar with city pop until, I swear, it popped up as a recommendation on the sidebar on YouTube, and it was actually great,” Yung Bae said. “From there, it was just a rabbit hole and I just thought, ‘I’m in too deep now,’ and I’ve fallen in love with it since then.”


Japanese culture extends to other aspects of Yung Bae’s work too. The art on Bae, BA3, and all three of the Japanese Disco Edits, all feature characters from anime films and TV shows.

“I grew up with Sailor Moon. My sister kind of forced that on me, but I obviously love it, still. Cowboy Bebop is a classic; Boondocks was also a really big one that I grew up with.”

Yung Bae knows that he is treading a fine line between drawing inspiration from and appropriating a culture different from his own, so he makes sure to pay reverence to his influences.

“You just show respect where you’re supposed to and not try to completely come off as your own. I’m just trying to give it a fresh take with my sound, but still, at the same time, pay homage and respect to the original.”

He has also started to introduce more of his own style, like in his latest album Bae 5, released in June . Reinvigorated by a 2-year hiatus, Yung Bae takes a different approach, almost hyper-aware that a lane switch might be the right move. He dials down on his remix-heavy sound and exchanges the sampler for a live band, an orchestra, and even a children's choir.

In “Up All Night,” Yung Bae enlists the help of electro-pop vocalist Paper Idol for an infectious track that would fit right at home in an EDM festival. From the harmony of whistles that hit you from the get-go, to Paper Idol’s energetic vocals, and the children’s choir in the background, the song sounds entirely fresh and feels different from Yung Bae’s earlier work.

Yet the beatmaker still regales listeners with tracks featuring twangy guitar melodies and rousing vocals that are anthemic and reminiscent of a roller rink disco party. In “It Must Be Love,” Yung Bae samples the song of the same name by 70’s American Disco Girl Group Alton McClain and Destiny. The producer isolates the rousing tone of the violins and brings it to the forefront, punctuating every beat with the pitched-up vocals of McClain and her posse of singers.

A more contemporary style of vocals presents itself in songs like “Bad Boy,” featuring rappers bbno$ and Billy Marchiafava, who take it up to the next level by dropping bars that don’t take themselves too seriously but feel right at home with Yung Bae’s bombastic beat. Another layer of energy is slathered on whenever he works with other artists, like Party Pupils, Macross 82-99, and Flamingosis, who each add their own personality to each record.

The style completely transcends the barren dystopia that was its predecessor, the genre vaporwave. By integrating live elements into electronic music, Yung Bae is revitalising a tired sound and becoming an artist who’s one to watch.