Thanks to a fiery fan base in Japan for figure skater Rika Kihira, Jennifer Thomas’ music is on the rise across the Pacific Ocean.
Thomas, a Sequim musician, learned this summer that 16-year-old Kihira has been using her song “A Beautiful Storm” for the free skate portion of Kihira’s routine.
“It’s been crazy,” Thomas said. “I have a music video for that song and it’s doubled its views in the past three weeks, with most views coming from Japan.”
Since using Thomas’ song in her routine, Kihira won the 2018-19 Grand Prix Finals in Vancouver, B.C., and silver in the Japan Figure Skating Championships in December among many other accolades in 2018.
In recent years, Kihira set multiple world records and was the first woman to land a triple axel and a triple toe loop (at last year’s Junior Grand Prix Finals).
For Thomas, learning of the musical connection with Kihira has been a happy surprise, she said.
“Sometimes you feel like you’ve worked so hard to get your music out there and then one single, random thing happens that you didn’t even ask for or try to do, happens,” Thomas said.
As Thomas said in previous interviews, figure skaters tend to love using her music for routines. Fans let her know when they hear her music, too, including during the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on NBC.
Thomas traveled in December with her family to Vancouver to see Kihira skate during the Grand Prix Finals. The two weren’t able to connect, but after the competition Thomas congratulated Kihira on the win on Twitter.
About a week later, staff with Avex Entertainment in Japan reached out to Thomas about releasing “Key of Sea,” the 10th-anniversary edition of her album in Japan.
“They said Rika is winning all these competitions and we’d love to do an official release,” she said. “I’m independent (without a record label), so it was something I’ve never ventured into before.”
But so far the partnership has fared well, she said, with the album featuring “A Beautiful Storm” shooting up to No. 2 on Japan’s iTunes’ classical charts.
The record label plans to put CDs of the album in stores later this year, she said.
“Key of Sea” was Thomas’ first album she recorded and later remastered with four re-orchestrated tracks, including a new version of “A Beautiful Storm.”
Kihira skates to the original version, which is fairly similar to the remastered version, Thomas said.
“The crazy thing to me is that it’s something that’s come back full circle,” she said of the popularity of the album.
Thomas said she doesn’t have any previous connections to Japan and the streaming services her music is primarily streamed on in America, Pandora and Spotify, aren’t used or are less popular in Japan.
However, with the recent partnership with Avex, and Kihira’s growing popularity, Thomas appeared in The Japan Times, Billboard Japan and many other sites about their connection.
“I’m excited,” Thomas said. “I hope it opens up a new territory of fans for my music.”
Aside from the growing international popularity of “Key of Sea” and “A Beautiful Storm,” Thomas saw her latest album “The Fire Within” debut in the US at No. 2 on “Classical Crossover,” No. 3 on Billboard’s “Classical,” and No. 25 on the “Heatseekers” chart in October.
She also appeared in Rolling Stone’s November story “Inside the Secretly Lucrative World of Solo Piano Music.”
At Christmas, her music was also put on Pandora’s playlist for Top Christmas music, too.
Thomas said she promoted “The Fire Within” for about a month before transitioning into the Christmas season and promoting her “Winter Symphony” album.
However, in the months ahead, she’s planning to shoot and release several new videos for “The Fire Within” and setup a West Coast tour this summer, potentially including Sequim.
Thomas said she’s exploring the possibility of performing in Japan, too.