Dance and vocal unit EXILE has released the new single "Jonetsu no Hana" (Avex), which means "a flower of passion." The ballad has a strong Latin feel that hints at a connection with their hit "Ti Amo."
Plus, Wednesday saw the release of the 19-man group's first album of original material in three years, "19 - Road to Amazing World."
The group's five main members spoke to The Yomiuri Shimbun about their latest works.
"There's a maturity to it that's been made possible by the current EXILE," said Exile Takahiro of the new single. "As a vocalist, I tried to express the wistfulness and passion of forbidden love."
The music reflects a melancholic mood and was written by flamenco guitarist Jin Oki, while Exile Atsushi added lyrics about an unrequited love. One line goes "Hajimete deatta ano yoru kara wakatteita hazu nanoni" (Though we should've known from the night we first met).
"In contrast to 'Ti Amo,' which is sung from the perspective of a woman, this song is written from a man's point of view and subtly suggests that it's a response [to 'Ti Amo']," Exile Akira said.
The unit's dance to the song was choreographed mainly by Sekai, a new member who joined the group in April last year. The routine can be seen in a video.
"The stage is designed to look like a flower, and we gave particular consideration to how the routine would look from an overhead camera angle," said Toshio Matsumoto, who does not use a stage name with the word "Exile" but goes by his real name due to his professional commitments as an actor.
In the video, Exile Usa dances with a woman.
"In the dance, I portrayed the emotional games going on between a man and a woman," he explained. "To show that they were attracted to each other on the spot, we didn't discuss [how we should perform] beforehand."
Regarding the new album, Exile Makidai said: "We wrote the third and fourth chapters of our history. The tracks are arranged in the chronological order of their release as singles. It's an album showcasing the best of the current 19 members."
Indeed, the album traces the group's evolution from its third era - from the time when it became a 14-man unit to leader Exile Hiro's official retirement from performing duties (though he remains a member) - to its fourth era, when it transformed into a 19-man system with five new members, including Sekai. The multimedia album features videos for each of the 14 tracks.
The other members try to see Hiro's retirement as a performer in a positive light.
"It's a bit sad, but he's shown us how EXILE should be," said Matsumoto. Takahiro added, "He sees us objectively, and that's been a major plus for us."
The unit's junior group, the third generation of J Soul Brothers (JSB), were winners of the grand prize at the Japan Record Awards at the end of last year. As three JSB members also belong to EXILE, the triumph was big news.
"It was really impressive. When their name was called out, I shouted, 'Right on!'" said Matsumoto, who was a member of the JSB's first generation.
"I'm glad that our guys won the award. It was kind of refreshing to watch the awards on TV. It was nail-biting, and I was doing push-ups," Takahiro said with a chuckle.
The phrase "Amazing World" from the album title is also the name of EXILE's upcoming tour of arenas around the country this autumn.
"We'll show the audience a world that no one has seen before," Matsumoto said. "We're excited."
Akira added, "Putting it out there - and then going for it - is how we work. I think Hiro-san picked the title for us because he truly believes that we current members can fulfil our potential and reach our goals."