gay pop idol

Shinjiro Atae made J-pop history by sharing his truth with the world

Shinjiro Atae, wearing a plaid hoodie unzipped over a black shirt, poses in the middle of a city street. His hair is parted in the middle and he smiles softly.
Credit: Nina Menconi

This profile is part of Queerty’s 2023 Out For Good series, recognizing public figures who’ve had the courage to come out and make a difference in the past year.

Name: Shinjiro Atae, 34

Bio: This Japanese singer-songwriter, actor, dancer, and model was born to perform. A love for movement at a young age led to his 2005 debut as a member of J-pop group AAA. Atae may have been the co-ed band’s junior member, but he quickly became a fan favorite with his beaming smile and precise moves.

As the crew’s profile began to rise, so did Atae’s. AAA (pronounced Triple A) nabbed eight top-10 hits on the Billboard Japan Hot 100, and Shinjiro became a mainstay with roles in Japanese film and television shows. Still, a competitive spirit within the group took a toll on Atae, who had gotten “stuck in a marsh of negative thinking,” according to his memoir.

Cue the trip that began to change everything. In 2016, Atae took time off to study English and entertainment in Los Angeles, where the city’s openness inspired him. He went on to release his first solo record This is Who I Am in 2018, followed by 2021’s This is Where We Promise.

But the albums, filled with bubblegum bops and saccharine lyrics like “Girl, I’m falling deep / I’ll be yours to keep”, only found moderate success.

So, when AAA decided to go on hiatus after 16 years in 2021, Atae made a decision. When he returned to his passion –– and he would –– he was doing it on his own terms.

Coming Out: After two years away from the spotlight, Atae was ready to share his truth. In July 2023, the J-pop idol rounded up 2,000 fans for a special event in Tokyo.

Taking to the stage amidst cheers and applause, he began reading from a prepared letter.

“For years, I struggled to accept a part of myself,” he said. “But now, after all I have been through, I finally have the courage to open up to you about something. I am a gay man.”

Having grown up in a world with little gay representation, it was an important declaration for Atae to make.

“I’ve come to realize it is better, both for me, and for the people I care about, including my fans, to live life authentically than to live a life never accepting who I truly am,” he said.

His biggest hope, though, was to inspire “people who are struggling with the same feeling” to “find courage and know they are not alone.”

Still, it took courage for Atae to come out publicly. Not only is there a dearth of LGBTQ+ performers in the API pop-idol machine, but homosexuality remains taboo in Japan. The country is the only member of the G7 where same-sex unions are not recognized, and legal protections for queer people remain minimal.

Thankfully, the reception was beyond his wildest dreams.

“I ended up crying on stage and [the fans] were very supportive,” he told Queerty. “They were like, ‘Don’t worry about us, you’re doing great.’ It was a very awesome moment.”

Sometimes, a bop speaks louder than words. Atae accompanied his big announcement with his long-awaited return to music. “Into the Light.” His uplifting single, “Into the Light,” co-written with Wrabel and Afterhrs, documents his journey to self-acceptance.

“I spent so long being these versions of myself,” he sings, before revealing, “I’m coming into the light / From out of the dark / You opened the door / so I could open my heart.”

The cheery tune is perhaps Atae’s most authentic and inspiring yet. In its sunset-colored visual, the singer dances on rooftops, embraces freedom, and comforts his younger self.

“I wanted to deliver my message to the world –– my struggles, but there is always a light at the other end,” he told Queerty.

A portion of the proceeds benefited a handful of Japanese LGBTQ+ youth resources.

As for what’s next? The singer will be the subject of a forthcoming documentary (directed by his close friends and produced by Green Book‘s Peter Farrelly) covering the lead-up to his coming out, as well as his life afterwards.

Atae invited us onto his journey with his irresistible 2019 solo bop “Follow Me.” And now that he’s living his truth, on his terms, we’re fully seated.

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