We’re knee-deep into baseball season so sorry for the unrelated-to-anything image above of the only Japanese player on my favorite team. Who needs real news hooks! Anyway, let’s get into this, starting with probably my least favorite J-Pop group in all of Japan.
About ten minutes from where I live is a Thai massage place called “マイホーム.” As a person who likes to believe he has an upstanding moral character and an aversion to massages (they hurt!), I’ve never been inside but walking by it repeatedly I’m always struck by how shady the place looks. Blacked out windows, no way to see inside, a lack of information in general. Who knows what’s going on in there.
Whatever it is, I’m positive it’s way more enjoyable than Kanjani8’s “マイホーム.” It’s a standard-issue Johnny’s ballad, crammed up with sap in an effort I imagine to land it in the end credits to some melodramatic film fluff. Boring boring boring, soulless soulless soulless. This is the sorta of plod of a song that even Arashi, who sometimes can at least be goofy about it, couldn’t save. Put it in the hands of total snores Kanjani8 and…well, no happy ending here (I’m so sorry).
SMAP “not alone ～幸せになろうよ～”
Hmmmm, looks like it’s the time of the year where Johnny’s pushes all the new singles out at once. Elder statesmen of J-Pop SMAP return with a long-winded title of a new single that’s slightly above “make me want to punch my face because it’s a lame ballad” but not really by much. Opening with an imitation of what a child’s toy box would sound like if it could use Pro-Tools, SMAP dive into a fairy-dust-sprinkled song slightly more bouncy than Kanjani8’s but still pretty firmly shooting for that “opening theme of a goofy TV drama” money. They try to work in some barbershop quartet touches for some reason, but it’s not enough to make this track interesting let alone “good.”
Nishino Kana “Esperanza”
Big ups to this not being a J-Pop stab at Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” which is what I feared when I saw the Spanish-name title. Turns out whoever makes her singles realized Kana already has a great sound that doesn’t need to be hitched to the back of some other pop star’s ship. “Esperanza” leans on a pretty silly “Spanish” theme – cue Spanish guitar solo, make Kana speak some unaccented Spansih at the start! – but strip away all the “exotic” touches and this is a pretty solid bit of J-Pop&B. No major shift in her style, “Esperanza” plays to all of Kana’s strengths: Up-tempo speed that eventually enters an even giddier gear late, opportunities galore for her to show off her sweet yet strong voice. She’s had more memorable songs, but “Esperanza” is far from a struggle.
More importantly, Kana strikes me as one of the very few J-Pop stars sorta in tune with Western pop music and willing to explore it. Listen to the two Johnny’s creations before this again. Those are the sounds of groups stuck in a fantasy land where music begins and ends at the company CD catalog. Rarely do groups like SMAP or Kanjani8 look outside their office building for inspiration. Kana, meanwhile, mines American R&B (J-Popped up a bit, of course and forced to wear a sombrero) for ideas and hey, her music sounds great in comparison.
Ken Hirai “いとしき日々よ”
In case the entry above came off as a little too “Japan music bad, Western music good,” keep in mind shitty ballads exist in every country on Earth (not to mention intolerable faster pop as well, hello Eurovision). Not everyone can pull an Adele, and Ken Hirai certainly doesn’t on this track. A pretty ho-hum bit of magic balladry spinning its wheels for a few minutes. To his credit, Hirai claims a nice falsetto, which makes this ballad way better than the Kanjani8 one at the top of this page.
B.B. Queens “Odoru Pompokolin”
Turns out I didn’t need to slap down a picture of some random baseball player this week – Music Station this week will celebrate the cartoon Chibi Maruko-chan by dragging out the group B.B. Queens to perform “Odoru Pompokolin” which served as the show’s theme back in the early 90’s. B.B. Queens represent one of the truest forms of a one-hit wonder – this track shot to the top of the Oricon charts and hung around for 52 weeks, selling millions of copies in the process, but the band never released anything coming remotely close to capturing that sort of glory again. It’s a case where a band that probably shouldn’t of been pushed into the spotlight did…just check the live video above where the group manages to forget some of the words to this song.
Talking about the actual track sorta seems pointless – it sounds like it was made for the anime in mind, extremely silly and the sort of thing I could see the under 10 set freaking out to. Still better than all those ballads above, though.
Winner Of The Week – “Esperanza” by a mile.