An Interview with Former Universal Records Managing Director, Kimi Kato About His Work With Justin Bieber

Kimi Kato (left) with Justin Bieber for Universal Japan Photo credit: @justinbieber Instagram

Hi Kimi, let’s talk about some of your amazing work as the managing director behind Justin Bieber breaking into Japan, whilst at Universal:

The Managing Director position is the equivalent level to the “Company head”. A label refers to a “company” that focuses on finding and nurturing artists and helps promote to sell records. The Managing Director is seen as the “President” of the label.

I was the Managing Director of International at Universal Music Japan from 2007 where I was responsible for managing all areas of A&R, marketing, and promotion to develop and break International artists into Japan. I had a team of about 65 staff who worked for all the artists signed to Universal in International. During my time, I was involved in launching and breaking Justin Bieber in Japan through 3 key releases; “My Worlds”, “Under the Mistletoe” and “Believe”. It became the base to the album “Purpose” that sold double platinum in Japan, with total sales of over a million albums.

What did your role involve?

I led the marketing, promotion and sales team coordinating all activities related to releases of music; manufacturing of products, promotion, and marketing to maximize sales.

- Localizing products (artwork, pricing, packaging) and managing manufacturers, stock and distribution; In fact, the first release for Justin in Japan was a complete album of “My World” and “My World 2.0”, and was called “My Worlds”, released in 2010.

- Managing all aspects of promotion and marketing for artist including budgets and staffing as well as securing multiple appearances and performances on national TV.

- Coordinating with the label to set up and manage promotional trips including creating awareness through media, fan engagements, and support tour.

What did you think when you first heard Justin Bieber? Were you amazed by his incredible talent, like me and the rest of the world were?

He came to Japan for the launch of “My Worlds” in 2010, and we had secured the most significant television shows he needed to be on and showcased with guests from all media and critics. He was young and energetic — it was evident that he was already a shining star! The launch and the promotional trip was very successful, and on the final night of the trip, we went to a restaurant where he personally thanked everyone — and in particular, my product manager at the time who had worked extremely hard to get to where we were. I recall she was so overwhelmed and broke down in tears. Much of Justin’s success comes from his talent no doubt, but at the same time, he is brilliant at getting people on board which seems to be one of his natural abilities. He is kind at heart and very caring, especially for people who are less fortunate.

There was one time when Justin came to Japan in 2011, after the devastating earthquake that hit the north-eastern part of Japan (the great Tohoku earthquake of 2011). We coordinated with the US embassy and the Ambassador John V. Roos at the time to support the Tomodachi initiative(which started as a recovery support for the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 in Japan. This initiative is a public/private partnership between the US and Japan Councils and the US Embassy in Tokyo). Justin was eager to help and support this initiative, and we organized a meet and greet with children who had suffered from the tragedy -children who had lost their homes and families. He played the guitar and sang to them, talked to them which gave the children much hope and energy. He even invited everyone, which (was not planned) to his show. (see below note from ex-Ambassador John V. Roos). He hosted the event with much care and love, and I am sure it was a special day they would remember for the rest of their lives.

What was one of the biggest challenges while working on this project?

The biggest challenge was that he was still young (and impulsive which I am sure was challenging for the people who were close to him. At the same time, the great thing was that he was devoted, passionate and genuine in all that he did..

What do you think the key is to artists like Justin Bieber reaching superstardom?

He, most likely, knew what he wanted to do; what kind of music and sound he wanted to create; and saw it through, supported by talented people like Scooter Braun and his team.

Do you think the rough times he went through over the last 5 years, stems back to being so young in the industry and so much success too soon?

Achieving such fame and success so young in the industry may have something to do with his recent rough patch but then again, who wouldn’t be affected by it all?

(The rough times he went through over the last 5 years might have something to do with him being so young in the industry and so much success too soon, but I always think, who wouldn’t?) It is all the more impressive that he continues to achieve hits and remain true to himself. There is so much devotion and hard work behind all this, you just don’t see it in all the gossip and tweets.

Did you have any idea he would become this huge?

I had no idea he would become this huge, but he is one hell of a superstar!

Thanks for your time Kimi!

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