Shortly after writing the essay on Singapore’s odottemita subculture and its corresponding addendum, Vanilla Dream, a Singapore dance and vocal group, started their first radio show titled ‘Vanilla Dream Scoops!’. This increased professionalization seemed a pertinent example of one of the points raised within the essay, and I reached out to Vanilla Dream seeking their permission to write an article about them.
They responded positively and were interested to meet up for an interview, which was concluded recently. I’d like to thank them for taking time out of their day to prepare and meet up for the interview; the transcript of which is shown below. Without their prompt response, participation, patience and considerable assistance, this article would (quite definitely) have not been written.
Introduction to Vanilla Dream
Vanilla Dream is not simply an odottemita or vocal group, but a dance and vocal group. The group’s members have performed on a consistent basis at the cosplay festival Event of the Year (EOY) since 2013, and are actively making themselves known through taking on more performance opportunities this year.
Comprised of three members who hail from different backgrounds but are united by a similar interest in performing Japanese music, they have also begun to expand their online presence by hosting a radio talk show. Fans can submit questions to them through their Facebook page and have them answered by the Vanilla Dream members in ‘Vanilla Dream Scoops!’.
Knowing precious little about them, I was surprised when they agreed to a face-to-face interview. After a date and time had been set, I sent a list of general topics which I would be asking about. Vanilla Dream drafted their own outline, and the interview was conducted in a conversational manner (as is evident later).The questions asked varied from group to individual queries, with each member definitely having differentiated themselves and being active participants.
The following transcript has been edited for length and condensed for clarity. Colour coding has been utilized with Arashi’s, Aki’s and Ren’s text being coloured blue, green and pink respectively.
On Vanilla Dream as a dance and vocal group [Group]
Roe: When did your start up Vanilla Dream?
Aki: We started in 2013, about three years ago.
Arashi: We just happened to be in the same club, we were interested in Japanese culture. It just so happens that we like the same Japanese culture and we met each other along the way. We like performing as well, dancing was actually what brought us together in the first place.
Roe: Did you all perform before starting Vanilla Dream? I mean, individually.
Roe: And sorry, Aki mentioned that you all started in 2013?
Arashi: Yup, 2013. I think that’s like three years of performing? We performed in EOY at 2013 then subsequently performed at EOY all the way until now.
Roe: Ahh, so your first performance was at EOY. Was it your first time as a group, or…?
Ren: Yup, our first time as a group was at EOY.
Roe: Ohh, I thought you guys performed individually before that…
Ren: Individually…I guess you could say that we were performing individually but it wasn’t exactly Japanese.
Roe: …so you guys did other types of dance like contemporary or Chinese dance? (laughs)
Ren: Well, we started differently. I’ve danced since I was really young, so I did like, contemporary dance and Chinese dance, but after that I went to do more…choir-like things.
Ren: So it’s all choir, singing performances. All my performances were like, school-based or something like that. Occasionally there are solo performances like piano recitals and stuff like that (laughs) but…
Roe: Very cultured~
Ren: For me it was more classical…
Aki: For me, I think I started dance quite late. I was around 16 or 17, and was doing more of…I liked J-Pop, but I didn’t really dabble in the dances for that, so it was more of K-Pop and Korean dances for me. So I sometimes do random performances for singing or dancing…
Roe: In school?
Aki: Yeah, there was once when I went for a K-Pop dance competition, but after that, not any more…(laughs)
Roe: That was before Vanilla Dream?
Roe: Ahh okay.
Arashi: For me, I’m more singing-oriented. I was in choir, and in polytechnic I joined an acapella group. It was also in the first year of polytechnic that I actually got into Japanese dance. I’ve liked Japanese music ever since I was young, but I’ve never really dabbled in dance either. It was only in the first year that I started, and then, from there…
Roe: Oh, so all of you started the group in the first year?
Ren: We started Vanilla Dream in the second year. In the first year of our school when we met, we were called Ren to Arashi.
Roe: Ren to Arashi?
Ren: That means “Ren and Arashi” (in Japanese). Aki came in after that, so we first performed together as Ren to Arashi and then after that we became Vanilla Dream as three people. Also, Ren to Arashi was only a singing group…
Aki: It’s like, it was only when we came together as Vanilla Dream that we started singing and dancing together. Also, since all of us like J-Pop and Japanese dance, we all wanted to just try it together, since we all like it so much.
Arashi: It’s also quite interesting since we came together from three different backgrounds. Like one’s very classical and cultured, K-Pop, and then there’s… I came in from English Pop, so it’s different as well. A nice mix of genres.
Roe: Does no one like Chinese Pop here?
Arashi: Ren likes Chinese Pop (laughs)
Ren: The very old ones…
Roe: Like 周杰伦? (Jay Chou)
Ren: Yea, like By2, nobody knows them.
Aki: I only occasional listen to random Chinese groups, like 五月天 (Mayday)?
Arashi: For me, it’s more like 許哲珮 (Peggy Hsu), she’s like an indie Chinese singer. Taiwanese Mando-Pop.
Aki: Like 方大同 (Khalil Fong)?
Roe: (laughs) sorry, I don’t know much aside from Jay Chou and JJ Lin. Well, what do you all think differentiates Vanilla Dream from other dance or vocal groups in Singapore?
Ren: I think the biggest thing that differentiates us from dance or vocal groups is that we’re a dance and vocal group; we sing and we dance at the same time.
Roe: Like Love Live?
Ren: Yeah, something like that, but Love Live is a bit far…(laughs). The other thing that differentiates us from other dance and vocal groups in Singapore as well…
Roe: Oh, there are others?
Ren: Yes, there are. The thing that differentiates us from others is that the three of us are very different. Not only in the genres that we come from or the type of music we listen to, but our personalities, what we like to eat, what we like to drink, how we dress, are all very different. Our voices are also very different, so when we sing together there’s a…
Ren: You can tell that there are three different voices, but yet at the same time it sounds very nice together.
Roe: Ohh..so do you guys do vocal covers?
Arashi: Every now and then, we also have our own vocal covers as solos, and there are also solo dance covers.
Roe: So all these are uploaded on to the Vanilla Dream YouTube channel?
Arashi: Yup!…(laughs), even our lives are uploaded onto the YouTube channel.
Roe: How regularly do your work on projects, like do your have a schedule that says ‘every month I must do at least something’, or…?
Aki: I think we’re mostly ad-hoc, like when there’s a performance or event coming up, then we practice for it.
Roe: How early do your know of events in advance, like…3 months, 2 months?
Arashi: It depends on when they release their performance lists and audition forms, but usually if we’re not performing…for example, covers, dances or videos of any kind like the radio show, it’s basically…because we’re a self-managed group and we have a different lifestyle outside of…
Roe: School? (laughs)
Arashi: (laughs) Yeah, so we do what we can within our ability.
Ren: We try to post something every month, but we’re quite busy people…
Roe: Ahh, as and when your schedule allows your to do so?
Aki: Yeah, based on our schedule we see what we can continue to do.
Roe: Alright, what are some upcoming plans your have? Like to perform at AFA or Cosfest Christmas…?
Ren: There’s Cosfest this weekend (2nd July 2016), and we’re going to perform on Saturday. We’re not confirmed for any events yet (though we’re trying), and we have some photoshoots coming up.
Roe: Photoshoots? Do your cosplay?
Ren: …no uh, it’s like modelling (laughs).
Aki: The photoshoots are based off the costumes we use for the songs that we cover and the dances we cover.
Roe: Oh…do your sew your own costumes?
Arashi: (laughs) We’ve yet to get to that stage yet, but hopefully we will!
Roe: Ahh, I thought the costumes were bought from Taobao or something…
Ren: The costumes are bought from different places and coordinated together, because we manage ourselves in production as well, so we get to decide what costumes we wear as well.
Roe: Ahh, I’m starting to get the Love Live feel of the original three girls that started out. There’s also EOY this year in December, are your planning to go…?
Ren: We are planning to, but information for the event itself is not out yet.
Roe: Ahh okay. Well, what do your want to say to your fans?
Aki: (laughs) Can I say it all in Japanese?
Roe: You could do it in both!
Aki: 大好きだよ! みんな愛してるよ！応援してくれてありがとう！ (laughs). It means “I love all you fans, for all our fans who are out there, thank you for always supporting us.”
Ren: 今まで応援してありがとうございます！ えっと、本当に感謝しています！ これからも応援よろしくお願いします！ It means “Thanks for your support all this while, we really appreciate and are very grateful that you’re always here to support us, even though we’re not as active as before, we’ll do our best to keep producing things so that you’ll never get bored of us and we hope that you’ll follow us from now on. Thank you!” (laughs).
Aki: Don’t cheat! (laughs)
Arashi: Aeehh….I don’t have any Japanese spiel to go into, but I want to thank them for supporting us for the last three years, even until now. Some people actually visit us every time we perform, and they meet us after we’ve finished performing. We also hope that we’ll keep improving and that you guys will continue to support us!
Vanilla Dream’s hopes and dreams [Group/Individual]
Roe: What are you all currently doing now?
Aki: We’re all schooling now in tertiary education (laughs).
Roe: Alright, what’s Vanilla Dream to you?
Aki: All three of us have the same passion, the same dream, and that’s why we come together as one. It’s also a platform for us to do what we like, because we’re self-managed and we want to find a stage where we can perform, I think Vanilla Dream to us is that. All of us, we’re friends now too (laughs).
Ren: Vanilla Dream, in simple terms, is a place for all three of us to live our dreams.
Arashi: Yup yup, pretty much what Aki and Ren have mentioned.
Roe: Why do you all feel that way? (in reference to the earlier question)
Ren: It’s not that we feel that way, but it was how Vanilla Dream was created. The three of us have the same passion to perform and create covers on and with Japanese music, that’s why Vanilla Dream’s a place for us to live our dreams together.
Aki: We also feel good performing together as one!
Roe: Why do you all feel that Vanilla Dream has made it this far?
Aki: PASSION! (Laughs)
Arashi: We actually run on passion. For the past three years, there’s been quite a few obstacles for our team, but we never stop, no mattering how tiring it gets, or like, how sad we get sometimes. There’s always ups and downs in life, it’s the same for the group as well.
Aki: We’re all so busy all the time, but we still find time to come together to practice singing and dancing together.
Roe: Where does everyone want to go with Vanilla Dream? Do you all plan to continue with Vanilla Dream in the future?
Ren: We’re actually…planning to become artistes in the future. There’s a difference between what we are now and what we feel an artiste is like, so we’re aiming to become artistes. Definitely, we want to create more things, we want to do more things and find more opportunities to perform, maybe start working on more original content…
Arashi: The focus for us is to find more opportunities to perform. Cosfest is new for us actually, as EOY is our usual. When it comes to creating original work and more covers, we hope to have more longevity in Vanilla Dream and to survive as long as we can. (laughs)
Roe: So it’s like a hobby turning into a profession…?
Aki: Yeah, if we can get signed! (laughs)
Arashi: It started out as a hobby, but it’s turning into something more than a hobby, something more professional and determined.
Aki: To expand ourselves while we try to make more original content.
Roe: Like more original dance covers or more original songs?
Arashi: It depends on what we’re looking for next.
Of inspirations, anime, music and games [Individual]
Roe: So, what was the first dance that each of your learned as an individual and as a group?
Aki: As a group, the first dance we learned was Kodou no Himitsu by Tokyo Girls’ Style. For me, I was randomly dabbling in K-Pop dances, so the first dance I did was Lucifer by SHINee.
Arashi: The first dance I’ve ever done was Love and Joy, which I learnt straight from the video!
Ren: Hmm, I’ve started dance since I was about 8, like contemporary and Chinese dance, but the first dance I learnt by myself was Seishun Amigo by Shuuji to Akira. It’s from a drama, where the song was quite popular and everyone was copying it.
Roe: Who are your inspirations in this hobby, in dancing and/or singing?
Arashi: For dance, it’s more of Perfume’s style of dance, but as we came together as a group, it soon migrated to Tokyo Girls’ Style. They have more power in their dance, while Perfume is more lady-like…
Arashi: (laughs) yeah, more glamorous and high fashion. Their producer works in fashion as well, while Tokyo Girls’ Style has more power in their dance. For singing, those that have inspired me since primary school…it would be BoA, Ayumi Hamasaki and Tokyo Girls’ Style.
Aki: For me, last time, I was inspired by BoA (like Arashi). BoA is good in singing and dancing at the same time, and she also started out very young, so she’s like, super pro (laughs). For me also, it changed along the way, for dance it became Tokyo Girls’ Style (laughs), because their moves are full of power and like, their dances are all very cool. When you see them, they’re kinda different from other girl groups as well. They put a lot of power…
Roe: Have they came to Singapore?
Aki: For singing, it’s more of Supercell and CHiCO. EGOIST and CHiCO…their voices are super nice! And they have powerful voices as well.
Ren: For dance, I’m influenced by Johnny’s Entertainment. I like the artistes inside, like Hey! Say! JUMP, Arashi, NEWS…they have a lot of boy bands, but I follow their dances a lot. The reason why the other two girls say Tokyo Girls’ Style is also because it came from me (laughs), I’m the one who started all the Tokyo Girls’ Style dances. The reason why I like their dance a lot is, well, they’re cool…it’s very different from other idol groups where, when they’re dancing, they look very cute, but Tokyo Girls’ Style doesn’t focus on the cute factor even though they’re naturally cute.
Their music is also more like J-Rock even though it’s J-Pop. As for singing, I don’t really have a singer in mind especially for Japanese music, but I began to sing a lot of Japanese music because of Gundam Seed Destiny…there were many songs played within (the anime) that had the soft kind of voice and is very soothing, it’s like a sweet ballad. Also, this isn’t Japanese, but it’s probably the one that carved the genre that I like to sing in: Disney songs.
Ren: Yup, because I performed some Disney songs when I was young.
Roe: How does everyone feel when you all are performing on stage?
Arashi: I feel very nervous usually before a performance, but the minute you walk on stage, it’s like ‘Yes!’ and then you get super excited, and start dancing. It comes naturally after a while.
Aki: Last time, I used to have quite a bit of stage fright, because I didn’t have a lot of experience performing on stage, but over time it gets better. I feel very excited and nervous at the same time, but when you go on the stage you feel like…OMG I can do this!
Roe: Like “Everyone’s here for me?”
Aki: It’s like…you just feel very happy when you’re standing on the stage and performing for everyone to see. It’s just like the sense of “やった!” (laughs), I mean, the sense of achievement.
Ren: Mine goes the opposite way. I’m probably the one with the most stage fright, but I don’t look like I’m scared at all until I’m at the stage. I always look normal, as if I don’t feel nervous, until I reach the stage, and I tell them “Girls, we can do this!” and “Vanilla Dream Shuppatsu!” and I’ll start shaking and my stomach will hurt really bad. So usually when I go I’ll be super nervous and very excited, but the butterflies will stay in my stomach until I go down.
Aki: I think it can’t be helped, like…everyone will definitely be nervous when you go on stage, it’s just how well you hide it.
Roe: How do you all feel when your leave the stage?
Aki: I think all of us feel the same way, like “We want to go again!” no matter how nervous we are, because it’s fun!
Roe: What genres of anime, manga or music do you guys most like?
Aki: (laughs) I’ll say mine last!
Ren: I don’t really read a lot of manga because I’m not really fond of reading, but the genres for anime and manga for me are the same. I like shounen, fantasy… I like Shounen Jump a lot. I do read shoujo once in a while, not the genre but like 4-koma, I do read those once in a while. For music, I like J-Pop and classical, mainly for piano and strings. I prefer the deep strings over the violin, so like, cello and bass.
Arashi: Mine’s a bit more typical, I guess. It starts out with shoujo manga, then it goes into shounen, and then into slice-of-life. For anime, it takes a 180-degree turn, I like the more action-based anime like Shingeki no Kyojin and Highschool of the Dead. More action-based…fantasy with a bit of romance. For music, it’s J-Pop, soundtracks from movies and anime…any kind of soundtrack, and English Pop.
Roe: Ahh, any particular artistes for English Pop?
Arashi: Well, currently I’m listening to Little Mix, the British girl group. They’re also big on singing and dancing at the same time.
Aki: My genres for anime are very, very different…like two ends of the spectrum, that’s why it’s so weird (laughs). I like watching psychological thrillers like Shinsekai Yori and Evangelion…
Roe: Evangelion’s quite dark…
Aki: Yeah, and romance (laughs). It’s funny when I say it together. I like horror, but I still have a shoujo heart. So I like watching and reading romance manga, but psychological thrillers are still very nice.
Roe: Did you watch Liar Game?
Aki: Ohh no, but I read a bit of the manga. For music, it’s more of…I used to listen to a whole range of K-Pop and K-drama and all that, but I kind of just stopped suddenly when I went back to J-Pop, so for me it’s more of J-Pop and Anisongs. Occasionally I’ll listen to English or Chinese songs that I hear on the TV as well, although now it’s mostly Anisongs.
Roe: At the end of a long tiring day, what do you do unwind and relax?
Ren: For me it’s pretty standard, I play a lot of computer games. My genres are quite wide, but the main type of games I play are very girly. I like to play a lot of things from RPGs to MMOs to FPS, but I also like puzzle games, point and click adventures, dress up games, children’s games, educational games… (laughs)
Aki: Usually at the end of a tiring day I just eat and sleep. Like if you’re very tired, that’s what you’d do right? (laughs). But since she mentioned games, nowadays I’m playing a lot of Overwatch, but I cannot really play much, since it’s so expensive and I’m on my brother’s account to play.
Arashi: Now that you’re on the topic of games, I also want to talk about games (laughs). But I’ll start with what I do to unwind. Basically it’s singing and sleeping, sleeping is a norm for the Vanilla Dream girls, but for singing, there’s no point where I ever get tired of singing. Whether I feel happy or sad, I just break into song for like…2 hours worth of sets (laughs)…it goes from J-Pop to English to Anisong and jazz, then musicals and…loads of other genres, like choir. And just a bit of addition for the games part, I’m more of a console player, but I go on Steam every now and then for co-op games.
Roe: Like Left 4 Dead?
Arashi: Not so much of Left 4 Dead yet, as I’m quite scared of horror stuff. It takes me a while to get used to horror-based games. I need to come in with friends and slowly get used to the whole interface, which is why when Ren keeps asking me to…
Aki: But you play the Last of Us!
Arashi: Nooo I can’t play the Last of Us, it’s quite easy until you hit the part where the spores all come out and then I can’t go on anymore because I keep screaming every five minutes (laughs). But more console games.
Aki: I also listen to music and sing when I’m tired…listening to music releases all the tiredness. Also for games, I used to play a lot more in the past, but when I get busier I can’t play much. I like to play FPS even though I’m not good at it (laughs).
Roe: What FPS games do you play?
Aki: Like Left 4 Dead…we (Ren and Aki) play Left 4 Dead together!
Arashi: I’m still one of those that hasn’t gotten into Overwatch yet. I’m just waiting for the hype to die down first.
Ren: I’m waiting for the price to drop, because I want to buy Doom 4. It’s about the same price as Overwatch, but scarier than Left 4 Dead 2 and Killing Floor.
Aki: Actually, it’s like we’re just chatting now (laughs)
—– End of Interview Transcript—–
As Vanilla Dream continues to grow and expand, it felt at times like I was interviewing something before it became much bigger. They certainly do seem to be in it for the long haul with a clear goal of what they need to do for where they want to go. This attitude will be the key for them as they continue to juggle their studies, commitments in life and production schedules in order to reach what they are chasing, and maybe one day, touch it.
Every step of practice, every extra effort put into learning, perfection and expansion is an achievement in itself, but also brings them one step closer to something that would have been difficult to imagine prior to the undertaking. One could almost call it…a dream.
Until then, their fans will be looking out for them. They too, will gladly reciprocate in kind.