Arashi “Troublemaker” – A college friend of mine once told me Arashi was her favorite Japanese boy band because they debuted the same year she started junior high in Japan. After spending more time with Arashi’s music and the current-day junior high school girls who adore them (I’m a teacher, gutter-minded people), everything suddenly makes sense – Arashi are the prototypical Japanese pre-pubescent girl group. None of it’s in the music – like most Jonny’s outfits that’s only part of a much deeper business plan – but rather all in the image. They are goofy yet nice, the type of boys your parents would probably have no strong opinion about. Funny, innocent dudes with less sex appeal than a beach ball. While you try to marry SMAP or have a filthy one-night stand with EXILE, Arashi’s the kid you daydream about during English class, wondering what it would be like for him to buy you a crepe and then walk your dog together.
“Troublemaker” drives this image home even further, though none of it comes via the actual song. It’s another could-have-been-anyone pop hit with two distinguishing factors – a catchy chorus and an intro that would double as excellent theme music for an Arashi-helmed game show…if one already didn’t exist with it’s own theme music. The video for the single is what you really should be focusing on. It finds the group clowning around in a cool stop-motion style. And look at them dance! Now I’m no shaker but…that’s some of the least sexually suggestive dancing you’ll find on YouTube. I’ll avoid comment on the one guy’s suit. “Troublemaker” may be nothing special to most folks, but for anyone who was a Japanese junior high school student in there life this is gold.
IMALU “そんな名前 欲しくないよ” – Here’s an example of a song done entirely in Japanese actually boosting it’s cred. Remember Natahsa Bedingfield, and her song “Unwritten?” It had a a catchy beat, the type of thing designed to get caught in your head and hang around all day. But dear god those lyrics. The moment Ms. Bedingfield starts on about “opening up her dirty window” everything changes for the worse, and that OK pop-beat gets drowned out by a sea of chick-lit scrap. IMALU’s latest thrives on a similar drum-machine heavy beat, though the general tone skews towards sad (revealed through the video’s book-constructed ennui). And since I know barely any Japanese, the song can’t be ruined by the lyrics. Hooray! All I can hear is catchy mainstream musicand IMALU’s very pretty (also very studio perfected) voice. For once, I’m glad I have no idea what’s going on vocally.
Also of note – IMALU sells suits. THAT HEADLINE GAH.
Galileo Galilei “ハマナスの花” – I don’t know much about this band as the guys at SparkPlugged do – read this and instantly feel old once you see how old the kids in this band are – but this single sounds pretty good to my ears. It’s a tightly constructed number reminiscent of Bump Of Chicken with kinda-downcast singing. SparkPlugged wrote about how exciting it is to watch this band, since they are so young and thus have so much potential. A year later, they’ve reached the J-echelon of Music Station. How much further could they go?
I’d also love to make fun of that band name, but I love both Franz Ferdinand and Abe Vigoda. Not to mention it’s kind of refreshing to see the “name group after famous person” trend after the rise of the “name group after famous person but change one part of the name” meme. Looking at you Joy Orbison and Truman Peyote.
Mai Kuraki “永遠より ながく” – This song just screams to be sung by karaoke fans. Not too fast or slow, “永遠より ながく” also already has all the cheesy sounding instruments plugged in for it. Mai Kuraki’s singing sounds good enough, but she never does anything really interesting with it during the course of this tune. And the really see-through backing sounds don’t help matters. Not to mention the chorus sounds vaguely familiar – someone already did this or a similar song was featured in a movie trailer. Look, when the best thing your song has going for it are the cute kids scampering around the video, you’ve got problems.
Kana Nishino “Best Friend” – If Slate’s Olympic Sap-o-Meter could be reconfigured to measure J-Pop, “Best Friend” would be scrambling the poor device. A cherry blossom song (peep the vid), Kana Nishino’s naturally singing about saying goodbye to a friend as graduation/a job transfer/maturity approaches. Plug in anyone of those, and it all still works. On the musical side of things, “Best Friend” slaps sappy J-Pop strings on top of a vaguely R&B track while Nishino unleashes her vocal abilities over the top. Nothing special, just a faux-ballad dripped in extra sentimentality.
Winner Of The Week – IMALU edges out the guys named after the astronomer by a very close margin. Hey, pop is made to be catchy!