Category Archives: J-Pop

Preview A New Perfume Track Now: “Hurly Burly”

Perfume’s new single “Spending All My Time” comes out on August 15, but right now you can hear a sample of one of the other two songs that will come alongside it. This snippet of “Hurly Burly” takes the first verse and chorus and loops it, but what is there sounds very…intriguing. Eagerly awaiting a high-quality track of this, but for now check it out here.

The world has also gotten a peak at “Point,” listen to a little of that below.

Controlled Karaoke: MTV Iggy Interviews Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

MTV Iggy interviewed 2012`s most interesting J-Pop star, and you should read the interview right now. Personally, the biggest highlight is that she listens to K-Pop acts Big Bang and 2NE1…that and she doesn`t seemed particularly pumped to listen to J-Pop. Related – this Japan Times inteview with her. She mentions the K-Pop thing there as well, but I had forgotten about it.

Station To Station: Music Station For July 13, 2012 Featuirng Princess Princess, Rola And Keisuke Kuwata

Not the most upbeat week in Japanese news – car crashes, dead pandas, Ichiro Ozawa in general. So here is a quick (so many songs this week) edition of this feature to turn that proverbial frown upside down. Or make it sag a bit more, who knows.

Ikimono-gakari “Kaze Ga Fuiteiru”

NHK is Japan’s equivalent of the BBC, a nationwide network that airs news along with various cultural programs and language-learning shows (and a solid collection of kids shows). They are, for the most part, a very good entity, a lovely break from the other major networks which are (obviously) big corporate monsters full of a lot of inane programming. For the most part, I will defend NHK from detractors.

NHK, though, went and selected the above song from perpetual snooze-button-band Ikimono-gakari as their official song for the 2012 London Olympics. Now, to be fair, it’s a safe choice for them – Ikimono-gakari excel at the cheesy, semi-ballad stuff that can sound inspiring or melancholy on the turn of a 10-yen coin. It is a perfect match for the drama of the Olympic games (at times uplifting, at times crushing, mostly filler while you wait for the good stuff). That said, this is still borderline identical to every ballad off of this year’s Newtral, and those weren’t exciting in the first place. This probably works wonders between breaks in rhythmic gymnastics, but as a song I would like to move on.

Keisuke Kuwata “愛しい人へ捧ぐ歌”

I’m not positive how trustworthy the above video is – I swear the beat is off at various points – but this SOUNDS like Kuwata so it might be legit. If so, yeesh. This is a sleepy – in the sense that I’d like to zonk out, away from this limp guitar stroking – number that features Kuwata pushing his voice in grating directions. This might be a traditional Japanese song…or it just might be trying to sound like one…but the whole thing sounds off, regardless of what era it’s from.

TVXQ “Android”

At first I though “whoa, this J-Pop band is taking cues from K-Pop production, all electric and bouncy and rich in brostep breakdowns!” Then I remembered TVXQ are Korean, and one of the forefathers of the current K-Pop boom in Japan so it wasn’t that special. Still, listening to this compared to uhhhh everything else on this list is jarring – whereas most of the singles here are content to find a decent verse and carve out a chorus that a soda company can get behind, “Android” jumps all over the place, full of menacing electronics, club-ready synths and, yep, brostep. I don’t think it approaches any of the music Big Bang has released this year, but it’s overall a solid, shifty song unafraid to push away from comfort.

Princess Princess “Diamonds” And “The Hottest Summer In The World”

Princess Princess are a band that existed from the early 80′s until 1996, becoming one of the most important rock groups in Japanese history along the way. After the early years spent not seeing much success, the group eventually broke out and became one of the most popular groups of their time, selling out large venues and moving a whole lot of units. They became the first all-woman group to play the famed Budokan arena, and their single “Diamonds” (above) was the first single in Japan to sell a million copies. This year, they’ve reunited for a string of shows aimed at raising money for the Tohoku region.

Princess Princess’ actual music resembles what, based on my admittedly small glance into 80′s Japanese rock, most bands at that time sounded like. They sound very much of a different era – the vocals are far rougher than any commercial J-Rock you could find today, the creaky edges left intact. The music, meanwhile, sounds a bit simplistic but with some highlights – see the synths in “Diamonds.” It sounds outdated, but there is also something charming about it all. That might just be me waxing nostalgic for something I didn’t live through, but these are good tracks and, in the case of “Diamonds,” important ones.

Tomohisa Yamashita “Love Chase”

Hey how about this new song from some Johnny’s guy? Well, to the group’s credit, this doesn’t sound like typical Johnny’s garbage…it is way too electronic and full of rapping. Unfortunately, both of those things sound half-assed and the whole thing sounds like the dippiest of pop.

Rola “Memories”

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu didn’t become a big-deal pop star because of her Harajuku-model past…plenty of folks from non-musical backgrounds have transitioned into J-Pop careers, like Rola, another former model. Her “Memories,” though, is a standard-issue ballad, her debut single but one failing to show anything particularly interesting about her, the singer.

Turns out Kyary’s secret weapon was…good music.

Winner Of The Week – TVXQ

Mid-Year Report: The Best J-Pop Of 2012 Halfway Through

The top of the J-Pop world remains cemented in place so far in 2012 – the best selling albums and singles have been from all the usual suspects of the Japanese music landscape. AKB48, Ikimono-gakari, EXILE, everything Johnny’s…with a few exceptions, the dominant music of 2012 has been pretty much the same as the last few years, and the back half isn’t showing any signs of bucking that trend. Taking stock of this world, then, would mostly be watching repeats, a non-story worthy of only a few sentences.

Yet bubbling just beneath the peak of J-Pop…and, in a few cases, rising up to the static top…are all sorts of fascinating developments threatening to push Japanese pop music into thrilling, still-accessible places. Friends who lived in this country around the time Perfume broke through into mainstream popularity recall a brief window of time where people though that THIS would usher in a new era of pop, of groups mimicking the techno-pop triumph of Perfume while simultaneously tearing down the statues of boring music mainstays in the process. That didn’t happen – soon after, Perfume simply became the only group doing that style of music at a pop-chart level. The status quo remained.

These six months, though, have seen a bunch of mid-level (and beyond) artists merge the future-obsession Perfume introduced to the J-Pop world with all sorts of different styles, none of these groups really sounding like knockoff Perfumes but rather applying the rules that trio introduced to their own work, creating great new material in the process. The top of the charts don’t reflect it, but Japan is experiencing a J-Pop renaissance, full of forward-thinking pop songs that sharply contrast with a large chunk of the nation’s independent music scene, which embraced indie-pop over the past six months and looked back. Below are some of Make Believe Melodie’s favorite J-Pop songs of 2012 so far.

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Station To Station: Music Station For June 22 Featuring Linkin Park, Girls’ Generation And Atsuko Maeda

How the world divined for me to stumble across the above image the same week Linkin Park are penciled in to play on Music Station, I will never know. Yet I have, and there it is…the members of Linkin Park turned into ponies. I don’t even know. See the original here.

KAT-TUN “To The Limit”

More like “To The Limit…of good taste.” It is bad.

No what isn’t bad? That new Avec Avec EP that came out last night. I’ve given it a few more plays today, and I really like the more overt pop vibe he decided to embrace on this release. His bubbly blasts of colorful noise end up sounding just as nice with a proper singer on top, without losing any of the Toontown charm displayed on earlier releases.

Keisuke Kuwata Special Medley

Fun fact: I visited the college Keisuke Kuwata went to recently!

(Look, I really think Kuwata is a cool guy and one of the more important J-Pop people of the past three decades, but there is only so much I can write about a special medley.)

Girls’ Generation “Paparazzi”

The video for Girls’ Generations’ latest single could dominate this space completely. It is, first, a lovely clip to just watch, three really lovely backdrops fit into the video’s six-minute play time – jumping from modern-day ritz, throwback city streets (which Occupied Territories says reminds him of Edward Hopper, and I think he’s onto something) and futuristic disco room (the part where they wear those pink gloves). Coupled with the use of “Singing In The Rain” – which could probably lead to an even lengthier discussion – the clip for “Paparazzi” is worth at least one essay all its own.

Yet we are here for the song, and it offers plenty to talk about too. Like a lot of K-Pop, “Paparazzi” draws sonic inspiration from Euro-pop music, but whereas similarly influenced American singles turn into repetition exercises, this song features all sorts of shifts during its run. Listen how it goes from the sort of cheese-whizzed Euro-house plinks more suited for this before turning glitzy come the chorus. Around the 4:20 mark, it segues into something that could have come from another song entirely. Yet for all these changes…subtle and otherwise…”Paparazzi” remains catchy (they had me at “ooh-la-la”), one of Girls’ Generations’ strongest in a while.

Atsuko Maeda “Kimi Wa Boku Da”

It was big news when Atsuko Maeda decided to leave AKB48 in order to start a solo career, yet now that she’s releasing her own music it has become clear…she still is plugged into the AKB sound system, albeit her singles, like the above, coming off as way more tolerable than most of the music released by the flagship act. That’s because Maeda…and this goes for any member of AKB recording alone…gets her voice isolated on her own work, whereas every AKB48 song has a bleeting chorus of people coming together to sing every single word of the track, a sonic decision that is just overbearing. “Kimi Wa Boku Da” still boasts the living-room-quality instrumentation (alternatively, and more accurately, “karaoke-box-ready”) of AKB, but by featuring only one voice…it ends up being pretty harmless and even nice in a few spots. I’ve seen a lot of reasons given for people hating AKB48 – overexposure, creepy vibes, that time they wanted you to make a baby with them – but Maeda’s latest solo single shows the main reason I don’t like them by showing what could be – AKB is sonically just too much, while Maeda is middle of the road.

Linkin Park “Burn It Down”

In an alternate universe, I am a huge Linkin Park fan. Unfortunately for the people at Warner Music, they botched this opportunity to convert my 13-year-old brain when they made “One Step Closer” the band’s first single off of Hybrid Theory instead of “Crawling.” The latter was the sort of song designed for a teen just entering the angsty phase of his life, overly dramatic in a really vague way while also hitting all the buzz words an adolescent wishes they could have scribbled onto their LiveJournal first (when Chester Bennington shouts “SOOOOOO INSECURRRRRRRRRRRE,” that’s like melodramatic teendom at its best). Even better, “Crawling” had the one sound in all of Linkin Park’s discography that I’ll still go to bat for – those chilly keyboards, which sound genius when your 13 (and sounded alien on the radio…like, Korn doesn’t do this!) and still stick out when you are a far-better-off 24 year old. Had this been my first taste of Linkin Park, I’d have fucking ran with it.

But nope, they went with the knuckleheaded “One Step Closer,” a song practically wearing the same wife-beater and tilted baseball cap Fred Durst laid claim to. Just watch the video. Back in junior high school, this turned me off because 1. this was the sort of stuff the kids who would ask me what the capital of Thailand was before proceeding to punch me in the crotch and 2. even as a teen addicted with the WWF, I could tell Fred Durst was an asshole from a mile away (Woodstock ’99 helped a lot). This, along with finding Radiohead to fill that awkward vastness of teenage me, turned Linkin Park into something always arm’s length away from me, and as I got older it just became that band that wanted to be U2 and soundtracked every Transformers movie and who had once been loved by some of my college friends so I made fun of them about it…even though, hey, easily could have been me had “One Step Closer” not popped up in my life.

“Burn It Down” is the first time I’ve really checked in with the band since high school…when you couldn’t escape their music on the radio…and it’s interesting seeing how much they’ve changed. Whereas stuff like “Crawling” and “Numb” were made to be scrawled in the white space of an AP U.S. History textbook, “Burn It Down” is shooting for stadium status, the beat designed to gets fists a-pumping and the chorus demanding to be sung by an amphitheaters-worth of people. Linkin Park still deal in the emotional vagueness I remember from my younger days, but this also sounds far less…dare I say, “emo,” “emo” here being a lazy fill-in word for whatever word best captures the cynicism and self-loathing of adolescence best. It seems way safer…and just sort of boring. Probably for the best I didn’t hitch my wagon to these guys, because this would definitely be a big disappointment.

Winner Of The Week – Girls’ Generation

New Nanba Shiho: “Kami O Kiru 8 No Riyuu”

She’s on the left, away from the creepy puppet thing.

Straight to the point: This new single from Nanba Shiho pails in comparison to her last two releases, particularly this year’s triumphant “Shoujo, Futatabi.” That song, released all the way back in January, hinted at a better path for J-Pop to follow, one able to hold hands with the future (electronics) while still being loyal to the structures of the past. Shiho imagined a J-Pop world where the digital leanings of Perfume were common-place and integrated into pop form in clever ways. It was the first of many J-Pop songs exploring new territory, whether that be from MiChi’s post-Perfume jaunts or Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s candy-coated madness. “Shoujo, Futatabi” may not have ended up a sales juggernaut, but it is important in 2012.

This new song, though, seems to be about getting your hair cut over some relatively safe piano strokes and guitar strums and beats. It’s not bad…and their are legitimate sweet moments, like the post chorus “fu-ooos”…but definitely an effort by Shiho’s people to nab her a TV theme show or commercial appearance (a hair cuttery, perhaps?). Nothing wrong with that, but it’s possible to achieve commercial visibility without having to play it so safe…case in point…Shiho’s face graced a series of mobile phone ads here in Tokyo for the last few months, presumably on the strength of her first two, far more adventurous singles. Here, she’s too safe and cutesy…the part where she says “bye bye,” presumably to her hair, just makes me click over to the Zooey Asks Siri Twitter. I’ve still got hope (two for three, not bad!) so let’s just hope the below is able to spread her name more and move on, yeah?

Station To Station: Music Station For June 15 Featuring Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Kou Shibasaki And BENI

Big things happening around these parts in the near future, so this will be a relatively quick edition…with picture complete with Japanese buzzword!

aiko “Kuchibiru”

WATCH HERE, STARTING AT THE THREE MINUTE MARK

Here’s an artist who exist in the unoffensive middle, someone who never releases anything terrible but also has failed to release anything great. At her best, aiko makes pleasant music, while at her worst she makes completely forgettable stuff – not in a “this sucks, get away from me” way but rather “oh, I did listen to that.” “Kuchibiru” falls into the prior, a track with a pinch of funk – check the bubbly keyboards, which feature the sort of sound Tori Y Moi would kill to achieve – that isn’t going to leave any deep marks, but is also a light treat that pleases more than most aiko songs.

Kanjani8 “Medeshita”

So how about that single by Kanjani8? Let’s not talk about it.

Instead, let’s talk about this great footwork and juke compilation featuring some of the most bonkers songs outta Japan this year.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu “Tsukematsukeru”

1. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s debut album Pamyu Pamyu Revolution only gets better with time – it’s right behind that MiChi album for the title of best pop album of the year, a colorful collection of songs anchored by the huge singles but boosted up by the playful track in-between. This is a fun album, but also a pretty daring one – nothing in J-Pop right now sounds like this, and that’s pretty big – which deserves your attention.

2. This single remains my least favorite of Kyary’s major releases thus far. To some degree, it’s just “Candy Candy” in a chrysalis, both boasting a twinkling giddiness leading up to the big catchy chorus. “Candy Candy,” though, just ends up more memorable to me. I’m also still a bit unnerved about the fact the song is a celebration of fake eyelashes, which wouldn’t be a problem if Kyary didn’t have her own line of the things, turning this into a subtle commercial. I’m not sure this SHOULD bother me…but it does. I’m glad her album ended up being great, because when I first heard this song I thought the rainbow wheels came off her bandwagon.

3. The video, though, is still great.

Kou Shibasaki “ANOTHER: WORLD”

Very quietly, Kou Shibasaki is killing it in 2012. She’s responsible for one of the most sneakily enjoyable J-Pop singles of the year thus far, the elastic-ball that is “Strength.” Now she hits us with “ANOTHER: WORLD” which, horrible capitalization aside, is another solid number. Here, she’s wiped the smile off her face in favor of a facial expression a bit more dramatic – “WORLD” aims for the dramatic, but thankfully never becomes a drag. For the first 3/4ths of the song, Shibasaki can thank whoever put the sounds together – opening with a rush of backwards-sounds, “WORLD” then jets into math-y rock territory bolstered by a fair smattering of electronics. Shibasaki’s singing fits in well – more serious than on “Strength,” but never trying to stretch itself too thin – but the real uhhh strength of the song comes from the small sonic details.

For the song’s final act, though, Shibasaki does borrow an idea from “Strength.” That song featured a jarring moment in the middle where the skippy melody suddenly stopped, with what sounded like a part of an entirely new song playing for a few seconds before sharply turning back to the original tune. “WORLD” adopts a similar splintering effect, but takes it further, the producers behind this song taking samples of Shibasaki’s voice and twisting them into a series of mutating sounds that doesn’t sound too far removed from what Seiho does. From there the song flips out and nearly becomes something new – until everything rights itself for the home stretch. It might not be a new trick, but it still works wonders on “WORLD.”

JUJU “Tadaima”

WATCH HERE

Couples, prepare to have to put this aural donut onto your anniversary mixtape. Bonus groans for that Hallmark card of a video.

BENI “Ti Amo”

The above is a cover version of a song by EXILE. Comparison time! Check out the original below:

The biggest difference is that BENI chose to do her version in English, which almost makes her version of “Ti Amo” sound completely alien from the EXILE take. Her version is also a bit more busy – whereas the original makes a lot of space for the two singers in EXILE to work their voices, BENI’s version snaps and crackles (and, uhhhh, violins) a little bit more. She does include the best sonic touch of the original, which is the Spanish guitar playing, so props to her for that (though, with a song called “Ti Amo,” I think you sorta have to have it?). Ultimately, both versions are good albeit unspectacular – for EXILE, “Ti Amo” is one of their best songs, one wisely using space to create something approaching intimacy. BENI’s take, meanwhile, sounds more dynamic and immediately catchy.

Winner Of The Week – Kou Shibasaki

Self-Promotion Plus: Reviewing tengal6 In The Japan Times

Not sure whether I’m proud or sorta embarrassed about this one…ahhhh who am I kidding, it’s both. As the review lays out, tengal6 is a pop group sponsored by a male-adult-toy company, which leads to all sorts of gross thoughts and inevitable sexual innuendo. Thing is, this isn’t some piss-take at the expense of tengal6 – their debut album City features a damn solid collection of producers (Fragment and tofubeats among more) and at times sounds really good. The rapping, courtesy of tengal6 themselves, isn’t up to snuff, but when they sing it’s all OK. A flawed but interesting album…with some very unfortunate corporate ties. Read it here.

New Vanilla Beans: “Non Section”

Playing with irony is a dangerous game…one wrong move, and suddenly what sounded like a good joke transforms into something legitimately off-putting. Idol-duo Vanilla Beans have always tip-toed on the edge just fine, their winking brand of J-Pop managing to deliver catchy tunes alongside the smirks. New single “Non Section,” though, comes close to tumbling over. The video has moments of the old Vanilla Beans – the still shots look sorta thrift store, while every part of the video involving the group eating/touching food comes off like a nice parody of AKB48 – but it also tends to leave the camera focused on Vanilla Beans’ legs too long, or focus a little too much on the two of them laying on a bed together. It’s not as clever as previous clips.

The music, meanwhile, is also hit or miss. The emphasis on cheesy guitars early on takes the air out of this song quickly, although the pre-chorus singing saves the song a bit thanks to how the group vocally zig-zag their lines. The chorus isn’t one of the duo’s knockout hooks – “Nicola” this ain’t – but rather one of their serviceable ones, the type that isn’t bad but also the sort that play it a little safe. Overall, pretty middle-of-the-road music from a duo capable of something much more subversive. Here’s hoping the rest of 2012 is spent getting that grin back.

Courtesy of Neaux

Station To Station: Music Station For June 1 Featuring Arashi, Nishino Kana And Sekai No Owari

Hideki Matsui…still mashing ‘taters over in America. Onward to J-Pop!

Arashi “Your Eyes”

“Your Eyes” apparently touches on the theme of “light and dark” – I’m quoting Tokyohive on this one – yet all I can pick up on is grey. Not “grey” in some ambiguous, The Wire way in which casting something as purely “good” or “bad” ends up being a fool’s errand due to complex development. From Arashi? God no. I mean grey as in the almost-center color hexagons of Microsoft Powerpoint. Grey as in a cloudy day with no chance of even sprinkles. Grey like this Google Image search I just did.

What I’m trying to say here is Arashi’s latest is really boring, and the fact they even bother to clip a vague theme like “light and dark”…what, they graduate from “happy and sad” all of sudden?…seems like such a waste to whatever poor soul has to put together those press releases.

Sekai No Owari “Nemurihimi”

WATCH HERE

To me, this will always be the band featuring a member always wearing a clown mask because I’ve seen this band’s photo every time I wander into a Tower Records yet have never taken the two minutes necessary to listen to their music to render an opinion beyond “huh, that mask is kinda creepy.” Yeah, lazy on my part, but it’s not like Sekai No Owari didn’t bring it on themselves by having a dude dressed as a clown – it’s a transparent grab at creating SOMETHING people can identify them with, like AKB48′s school-girl garb or that guy from EXILE’s sunglasses. So…clown guy.

Turns out that wasn’t a bad idea, because if this song represents anything, Sekai No Owari are a ball-less bunch. This single – translates to “Sleeping Beauty” which just lobs up the potential for “tired” jokes – attempts to showcase the group’s songwriting smarts with various passages. Problem is, the song never actually transitions into anything – the music speeds up or stops for a second, but it then retreats back to the main rhythm, too cowardly to try anything within a safe radius of what the label probably told them what to do. Clown guy seemingly handles the drum beats if the video can be trusted…which, note, features the most interesting angle here, a kinda-sorta gender inverse of Sleeping Beauty, though even that was probably done in the 60′s or something…and I take it the lack of real drums is supposed to make Sekai No Owari more “electronic,” more “experimental.” Don’t fall for it – this is Sakanaction stripped of everything great and given a botched vasectomy.

Nishino Kana “Watashitachi”

WATCH HERE

Nishino Kana tends to always avoid the puddles messing up other J-Pop artists. While so many others embrace gooey-crud ballads, Kana takes those mopers and speeds them up into catchy R&B, leaving the drama intact but allowing the music to not be a complete drag. Alas, “Watashitachi” is a misstep, trudging number complete with too-long video and unnecessary goop. Don’t let them talk you into this next time, alright Nishino?

Hey! Say! Jump! Special Medley

No thank you. Listen to Miii’s Bassrabbit EP instead.

Yusuke “ヨッシャ来い”

On the one hand, this sounds nifty because of how Yusuke incorporates traditional Japanese sounds and touches into this single – the shouting in particular grabs ears. On the flip side, though, it only uses them as badges to spice up an otherwise bland bit of pop. But then again…when he busts out the Auto-tune AGAINST all the traditional noises, this song turns into a strange “old vs. new” stare down, one much more interesting than anything else this week.

Yuzu “With You”

Dramatic violins will only take you so far, especially if you decide to sully them with some very-Yuzu-sounding music.

Winner Of The Week – Yusuke