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.
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.
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