Can any of the songs on this week’s Music Station come close to equaling the majesty of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s shirt? Not an easy task. Let’s find out though!
Excuse me while I get self-referential for a minute. In pretty much every instance where I rave about robo-bop disco divas Perfume, I always harp on how critics slam the band for not allowing the people in the group a chance to show their personalities. It’s pop music…any “personality” is often the result of market research. Plus, Perfume basically make dance music with pop leanings, so the ear should be focusing on how catchy the music is, not what the member’s hobbies are.
I raise this point for the umpteenth time because boy-band Arashi work in sort-of reverse. Much to my critical dismay, they stand out as the “best” (admittedly not something to be proud of) Johnny’s group because they come closest to not being pop androids. Maybe “personality” isn’t the right word…schtick? Gimmickery? Whatever it is, it’s on full display on latest single “Monster.” If “Thriller” took infectious pop and worked a “scary” theme into it, “Monster” works in the reverse – a pop song gets wedged into music ripped off a “Haunted House Soundtrack” CD. It’s not a particularly good song…even in terms of Johnny’s music, previous single “Troublemaker” came off way better…but, like Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein, Arashi show off all their goofy charms in the song and subsequent “spooky” video. The key difference between Perfume and Arashi, and the reason I can sleep soundly at night knowing I’m not a hypocrite, is that while Perfume are nearly a faceless music machine, personality is vital to Arashi. That’s what Johnny’s actually sells with all their boy bands, so Arashi have to be more charming or else all those notebooks stay on the shelves come the start of school.
AKB48 “Ponytail And Scrunchie”
Less a single and more an excuse to dress the ladies of AKB48 in bikinis, “Ponytail And Scrunchie” actually manages to be maybe the best song the cult-sized group has released thus far. Again, not exactly the most awe-worthy achievement, but hey a lot more energetic than the mournful slow stuff they’ve been giving the world recently. “Ponytail” sprints along to a vaguely Euro-pop electro line that comes dangerously close to annoying – but the singing manages to make the whole affair sorta enjoyable, or at least tolerable. AKB48 sound positively giddy vocally skipping along “Ponytail,” the build-up to the chorus being a particularly memorable bit. A nice enough blast of summer J-Pop.
A blast bound to be overshadowed a bit by the above video and packaging for said single. Similar to the recent shift made by SCANDAL, “Ponytail” finds AKB48 being a little bit more risque, but in a more Looney Tunes fashion compared to the knowing glances of that other band wearing school girl uniforms. Excluding the usual creepiness factor of watching a music video featuring girls dancing around in schoolgirl uniforms, this video isn’t anything too weird save maybe the portion where the dog chases them into the shower. Still, AKB48 are certainly sold on their youth (some members are as young as 15 I believe, though I don’t think any of them appear in the video) and many other facets of the Japanese entertainment industry zero in on youth. It is a bit unsettling, and I’m sure there is a good academic paper in there.
Meisa Kuroki “5-Five’
First, when the five dollar foot-long finally comes to Japanese shores…it’s currently seven dollars, don’t you know there is a recession?….I imagine this song being somehow reconfigured to work as an advertisement. An easy enough job, because the lyrics of “5-Five” manage to dumb down the club-centric content of the Black Eyed Peas so much “I’ve Got A Feeling” looks like The Wasteland in comparison. Otherwise, it’s an electro-flashy club jam. Meh.
Xiah Junsu “Intoxication”
I know nothing about the South Korean pop scene, and since the political climate of the peninsula isn’t exactly calm at the moment I don’t think I’ll be making the trip out to find out first hand anytime soon. In my head, it closely resembles the Japanese scene i.e. a lot of boy bands, a lot of girl-centric bands and a slew of individual artists jumping from ballads to more thumping fare. I know Rain is involved in this somehow. Korean-Set-On-Conquering-Japan Xiah Junsu kinda defies my lame-ass expectations a little bit with “Intoxication,” a Maxwell-wannabe R&B tune. It’s a definite step up from the ballad I expected when I saw Junsu standing around wearing an obnoxious hat. Still, this treads closer to Exile than anything else, an ultimately OK track that’s not gonna light the world on fire.
If you want more K-Pop, have yourself this song meant to pump you up for the World Cup, courtesy of Super Junior.
JUJU “Trust In You”
Just like Junsu’s jam, JUJU’s latest starts the ol’ ballad alarm blaring from the opening twinkly piano notes. Just like the above Korean song, though, the pop star here realizes what a bad idea that would be and switches into a more moving arrangement. The piano stays, but gets joined by a radio-approved beat. One more similarity to Junsu too! “Trust In You” ends up sounding just as meh, not bad by any stretch of the imagination but also not memorable.
Winner Of The Week – An ultimately good collection of songs, but also an unremarkable grouping. Which means this week’s best comes down to Arashi vs. AKB48, a showdown akin to “who won the weekend box office, the new Shrek or Marmaduke?” “Monster” isn’t nearly as good as “Troublemaker,” while “Ponytail And Scrunchie” easily stands out as AKB48’s best yet…so AKB48, revel in this moment.
And to answer the question posed at the top – no, none of these songs best Hatoyama’s ballin’ shirt.