On the Billboard Japan Hot 100 songs chart dated Nov. 9, 2022, “Subtitle” took the No. 1 position for a third consecutive week. In its streaming metrics, which serve as signposts of major hits, it came in at No. 2 on the chart dated Oct. 19 (with 9,905,294 streams), No. 1 on Oct. 26 (18,116,526 streams), No. 1 on Nov. 2 (20,781,069 streams), No. 1 on Nov. 9 (21,044,966 streams), and No. 1 on Nov. 16 (21,377,507 streams).
The number of streams just keeps going up and up and up. For the week tracking Nov. 7 to 13, the song had 29,935,364 streams — the second-highest number of streams for any song on the chart ever, surpassed only by BTS‘ “Butter,” which was released on June 2, 2021. It’s also the first time in Japan Hot 100 history that a song has had over 20 million plays for three weeks in a row. There’s no question that “Subtitle” is one of the leading hit songs of the Japanese music scene in the latter half of 2022.
“Subtitle” is a winter ballad written as the theme song to the dramatic TV series silent. The members of the band read the script treatment and actual script for the show, which are completely original. The story and the show’s message resonated with the band, which is why they decided to write the show’s theme song. silent is a love story focused on protagonist Tsumugi Aoba (played by Haruna Kawaguchi) and her former boyfriend, So Sakura (played by Snow Man’s Ren Meguro). The bittersweet and endearing tale of Sakura, who begins to gradually lose his hearing at the age of 18, Aoba, who works to accept the changes he is undergoing and rebuild her relationship with him, and Nana Momono (played by Kaho), who was born deaf, has attracted a diverse audience. The show itself has become one of 2022’s outstanding programs, with playback numbers that sweep away previous record-holders on TVer, the television broadcast service for over-the-air broadcasters. The synergy between the show and its opening theme is boosting the hit’s trajectory. It’s an ideal tie-up.
The choice of the name “Subtitle” for the theme song of this drama about meeting again in a soundless world shows the respect they have for the series.
“Subtitle” begins with the line “‘Pouring the sun into your frozen heart’ and ‘That’s what I’ll be for you,’” sung by Satoshi Fujihara (vocals and piano). The way the song launches straight into the vocals without an intro shows a modern sensibility, but the structure of the song itself is pure J-pop: verse, bridge, chorus, soft chorus, middle eight. HIGE DAN’s strengths, like chord progressions which make effective use of modulation and dramatic melody lines, are taken to a new height, producing a song that is pleasant yet never goes stale. Care was also taken with the arrangement, and the colorful guitar phrases and rhythm line, with its deep bass tone, make quite the impression. Another of the appeals of this song is the musical skill shown by Daisuke Ozasa (guitars and chorus), Makoto Narazaki (bass and saxophone), and Masaki Matsuura (drums and chorus).
Coming in at over five minutes, the song is unusually long for a modern song, but thanks to the quality of the melody and the intricacy of the song’s design, it never overstays its welcome. The reason the number of plays keeps rising is that the song has so much depth — every time you listen to it, you discover something new.
What enthralls listeners the most about “Subtitle,” though, are its lyrics. The core of the strong is the powerful love the singer feels toward “you,” and the frustration they feel about not being able to convey that love. The lyrics artfully express how words spoken to convey one’s feelings vanish the moment they are uttered, as epitomized in the phrase “words are like snowflakes.”
This emotion peaks in the line “Even more than saying I love you, I want to say wait, just a moment more, until you feel my love.” The struggles faced by the singer end, unresolved. They do not take any concrete action. But the love the singer feels for “you” is true and without question, and the singer wants to share their feelings, moving “your” heart. Listening to the song, you feel these emotions ring pure and clear.
Immediately after the song’s release, people started posting their interpretations of the lyrics on social media and in YouTube comments. “I love the lyrics. I’d rather feel the kind of love where two people support each other than love that’s a one-way street. If I have to experience the lowest of the lows in life, that’s the kind of life I’d rather lead.” “I feel like the lyrics to ‘Subtitle’ really affect the way I see love…but shift them a little, at the same time.” “No matter how you try to express yourself, if your emotions aren’t of the same intensity, your ability to communicate your feelings will suffer. But you can’t give up on sharing what you feel in your heart.” Comments like these are testament to how the words to “Subtitle” resonate with the experiences and memories of listeners, and how they feel like the song is their own song.
Official HIGE DANdism has produced countless hits, including “115man Kilo no Film,” “Pretender” and “I LOVE…” “Subtitle” will surely become one of their new standards, thanks to the quality of its music and the profundity of its lyrics. It will become a leading J-pop winter ballad of the 2020s, continuing to enthrall listeners for years to come.
—This article by Tomoyuki Mori first appeared on Billboard Japan.