Kylee Saunders: The Japanese Pop Idol Phoenix Didn’t Know It Had

Kylee Saunders
Kylee Saunders
Kylee Saunders
Kylee Saunders

Kylee performs outside the Channel 12 studios in Downtown Phoenix on May 13, 2011.

There is more Japanese culture in the Phoenix metro area than anyone would possibly assume. For starters, Phoenix is sister cities with Himeji. There is a Japanese friendship garden here complete with an elaborate koi pond and vegetation transplanted from Japan. James Beard Award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda serves up one hell of a soft-shelled crab sandwich at his izakaya situated downtown. And as luck would have it, there happens to be a Japanese market and bakery only a few blocks from where I’m writing this.

It was at this market that I first came across Kylee Saunders – or at least a picture of her. I was paying for a bento box when I noticed Japanese tour posters from some idol’s 2010 tour hanging on the wall. It’s not uncommon for me to come across a J-Pop idol I’ve never heard of before. There are lots. I foolishly assumed that the shop owners were huge fans of whoever “Kylee” was and didn’t think twice about it.

Little did I know that little more than a stretch of interstate away, the Japanese idol in question was attending high school.

On May 10, The Arizona Republic published a piece called “Chandler teen, Japan pop star Kylee Saunders” introducing Phoenix (myself included) to the girl who is an honor roll high school student during the school year and an up-and-coming pop sensation in Japan on holidays and summer break.


Kylee caught a big break when Sony Music of Japan happened across a YouTube video of her singing the American National Anthem at a Portland Trailblazer’s game. Since then, she’ released a handful of single and two EPs. Many of her songs have been featured as openings and endings for anime series. “Everlasting” was used as the ending theme for the second episode of Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn.These days, she’s playing shows like the Summer Sonic Music Festival in Tokyo – you know, before heading back to Chandler to ace a test.

On May 13, Saunders performed a few songs during the channel 12 KPNX news broadcast from a make-shift performance space right outside the studios. No more than a hundred people were actually in attendance, and I was surprised to find out that a great deal of them were her family members; grateful for a chance to see her perform live without jetting halfway across the world to do it.

Kylee gets interviewed by KPNX anchors Syleste Rodriguez and Scott Light.

Kylee gets interviewed by KPNX anchors Syleste Rodriguez and Scott Light.

I’m not exactly in Kylee’s demographic, so I’ll reserve my opinion of her music. What I will say is that she’s an absolute talent. It’s sobering to see someone so young perform at such a high level. One thing I really enjoyed was the way she would sing a line in Japanese and follow it up with a line in English that rhymed; a clever gateway for getting American ears used to Japanese lyrics perhaps.

One thing I’ll briefly mention that the Republic story left out is that Kylee is actually one of two Phoenix-based Japanese acts. Three ASU kids from three different parts of Japan met and formed the punk band Toybox right here in the desert only a few short years ago. More on Toybox later.

For more on Kylee, visit her official site.


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