Before we dive into this week’s crop of pop, give this Los Angeles Times article about Japanese enka star Jero a read. The actual style of music he sings isn’t particularly up my alley – it’s an acquired taste that probably gets better when you actually know the lyrics, which are the main attraction – but his story is certainly touching, not to mention fascinating considering he’s an American from Pittsburgh whose wardrobe skews hip-hop singing traditional Japanese ballads. There probably is a really good cultural thinkpiece waiting to be written about this – though, Jero was the one who bent to be accepted, not the other way around so this isn’t some Debito wet-dream breakthrough – but for now a touching little bio.
Avril Lavigne “What The Hell”
Watch her last Music Station performance of this song here.
Deja vu! I wrote a whole buncha’ words about Lavigne about a month ago when she came to this very show to sing this exact same song so…don’t expect any new insights on this. All this second date proves to me is that Lavigne has probably drifted into the fabled “big in Japan” territory occupied by the likes of Mr. Big and Bon Jovi (sorta?). Not to say she’s unpopular in America, but she’s REALLY liked on this side of the world. I’ve got nothing against “What The Hell” but I’ll be damned if I’m writing another blurb about it.
Let’s talk about the Biebs for a minute. A lot of people hate Justin Bieber, and sometimes to a point usually reserved for state rivals or Two And A Half Men prior to Charlie Sheen becoming a meme. His music probably gets cited for a lot of this vitriol, and hey I’m not a fan but at the same time…is it really THAT bad, enough so to transform Bieber into a pop Murbarak? He’s just an updated model of the Backstreet Boys or Hanson or whatever some record exec drummed up to sell records to teenage girls, and well that type of music often isn’t particularly thrilling, one should have a little perspective and realize this stuff isn’t aimed at them. I think a lot of Bieber hate stems from his age – dude just turned 17, yet he’s a superstar with half of Twitter on his side who makes the papers when he gets his damn hair cut. There is a lot to hate – though, him meeting Tyler, the Creator makes him cool in my book – but it’s sorta like raging out about My Little Pony.
NYC would be my Bieber, except with much more outright detestable music. I recognize the three dude making up this unit can’t even drive cars in Japan yet (all of them are 17) and I also recognize they aren’t targeted for a cynical 20-something like me but rather junior high school girls. Yet goddamn does this song somehow about eggs make me Internet angry. This, like all of NYC’s music, is the nadir of the already-low Johnny’s sound, a banally upbeat pop Shirley Temple powered by vaguely Euro-pop synths (which, I might add, sound a lot like AKB48 but way worse). Considering Arashi and KAT-TUN have recently been blessed with slightly improved versions of the Johnny’s formula recently, NYC’s newest single seems especially pandering, soulless music aimed at a market the record folk clearly don’t respect all that much. Bieber might be annoying, but he shows a lot of depth. Compared to NYC, he’s Elvis Costello.
Koda Kumi “Bambi”
Researching this track lead me to a Tumblr titled “Fuck Yeah, Koda Kumi!” The Internet truly ruined mankind.
The video for Koda Kumi’s latest appropriately mimics a romantic comedy, another form of entertainment best known for being painfully unoriginal and all around terrible. The twist? This isn’t Koda Kumi’s absolute worst look – the snark right here is too easy – as she drops the hyper-aggressive fuckpop that often was as sexy as liver spots for a slightly more bouncy sound that would probably work wonders on those radio stations that only play happy music. One could even be bold and say it has a slight country twang – except most country-pop nowadays sounds a thousands times more interesting than this light-as-air hop. I’m an admitted Koda Kumi hater so I’ll be upfront and admit this track still sorta leaves me unimpressed, but at least it doesn’t batter my face in with poor ideas.
(Quick video aside – The video actually features a nice twist on the rom-com formula, wherein the nerdy girl usually takes off her glasses and becomes irresistible. Well, they do this with Koda Kumi’s bro friend in the video and video-Kumi promptly falls in love with him. So, hey, that’s surprisingly clever. But my question – is that guy supposed to be a herbivore boy? Does this have deeper social commentary? Probably not but hey he looks kinda like a chump.)
Nishino Kana “Distance”
This one has also already been performed once before, so read what I wrote here. “Distance” sounds even better about a month better – it’s J-Pop&B done nearly perfect, Kana floating between a speedy robo-clap beat and syrupy ballad strings. Whereas a lot of Japanese media turns sentimentality into melodrama, “Distance” bounces around just like real emotions do, almost randomly going from self-doubt to bliss back to hesitation. Lots of credit also goes to Kana, who knows how to move with the beat without ever really shouting it down.
Porno Graffitti “EXIT”
Can’t seem to find this one but to be honest that’s OK I’m not a big mark for this band.
RIP SLYME “センス・オブ・ワンダー”
The one previous time I’ve written about RIP SLYME I called them a “hip-hop stooge-crew” before saying the best part of their single “SCAR” was the part in the video where a member of the group hides under a bed while an attractive woman “wriggles about.” Not very positive!
Maybe it’s just because I devoted a whole three sentences to RIP SLYME that I’m not shocked about how good the group’s new single sound. This isn’t like when KAT-TUN does something halfway decent, which usually causes me to write like five posts about it. Really, I could care less what RIP SLYME themselves are going on about here, though they don’t sound bad doing it. This song shines because of the beat, a highly laid-back affair where minimal future-sounds clink away. A lot of J-Pop-afied rap tries to be deliriously happy – see Funky Monkey Babys – yet just sounds stupid. This sounds like it isn’t trying, but in the best way possible. I take back the “stooge” thing.
Winner Of The Week – Tough one between Nishino Kana (“Distance” has been featured before) and RIP SLYME, but I give a slight edge to “Distance.”