Tag Archives: girls generation

Station To Station: Music Station For June 22 Featuring Linkin Park, Girls’ Generation And Atsuko Maeda

How the world divined for me to stumble across the above image the same week Linkin Park are penciled in to play on Music Station, I will never know. Yet I have, and there it is…the members of Linkin Park turned into ponies. I don’t even know. See the original here.

KAT-TUN “To The Limit”

More like “To The Limit…of good taste.” It is bad.

No what isn’t bad? That new Avec Avec EP that came out last night. I’ve given it a few more plays today, and I really like the more overt pop vibe he decided to embrace on this release. His bubbly blasts of colorful noise end up sounding just as nice with a proper singer on top, without losing any of the Toontown charm displayed on earlier releases.

Keisuke Kuwata Special Medley

Fun fact: I visited the college Keisuke Kuwata went to recently!

(Look, I really think Kuwata is a cool guy and one of the more important J-Pop people of the past three decades, but there is only so much I can write about a special medley.)

Girls’ Generation “Paparazzi”

The video for Girls’ Generations’ latest single could dominate this space completely. It is, first, a lovely clip to just watch, three really lovely backdrops fit into the video’s six-minute play time – jumping from modern-day ritz, throwback city streets (which Occupied Territories says reminds him of Edward Hopper, and I think he’s onto something) and futuristic disco room (the part where they wear those pink gloves). Coupled with the use of “Singing In The Rain” – which could probably lead to an even lengthier discussion – the clip for “Paparazzi” is worth at least one essay all its own.

Yet we are here for the song, and it offers plenty to talk about too. Like a lot of K-Pop, “Paparazzi” draws sonic inspiration from Euro-pop music, but whereas similarly influenced American singles turn into repetition exercises, this song features all sorts of shifts during its run. Listen how it goes from the sort of cheese-whizzed Euro-house plinks more suited for this before turning glitzy come the chorus. Around the 4:20 mark, it segues into something that could have come from another song entirely. Yet for all these changes…subtle and otherwise…”Paparazzi” remains catchy (they had me at “ooh-la-la”), one of Girls’ Generations’ strongest in a while.

Atsuko Maeda “Kimi Wa Boku Da”

It was big news when Atsuko Maeda decided to leave AKB48 in order to start a solo career, yet now that she’s releasing her own music it has become clear…she still is plugged into the AKB sound system, albeit her singles, like the above, coming off as way more tolerable than most of the music released by the flagship act. That’s because Maeda…and this goes for any member of AKB recording alone…gets her voice isolated on her own work, whereas every AKB48 song has a bleeting chorus of people coming together to sing every single word of the track, a sonic decision that is just overbearing. “Kimi Wa Boku Da” still boasts the living-room-quality instrumentation (alternatively, and more accurately, “karaoke-box-ready”) of AKB, but by featuring only one voice…it ends up being pretty harmless and even nice in a few spots. I’ve seen a lot of reasons given for people hating AKB48 – overexposure, creepy vibes, that time they wanted you to make a baby with them – but Maeda’s latest solo single shows the main reason I don’t like them by showing what could be – AKB is sonically just too much, while Maeda is middle of the road.

Linkin Park “Burn It Down”

In an alternate universe, I am a huge Linkin Park fan. Unfortunately for the people at Warner Music, they botched this opportunity to convert my 13-year-old brain when they made “One Step Closer” the band’s first single off of Hybrid Theory instead of “Crawling.” The latter was the sort of song designed for a teen just entering the angsty phase of his life, overly dramatic in a really vague way while also hitting all the buzz words an adolescent wishes they could have scribbled onto their LiveJournal first (when Chester Bennington shouts “SOOOOOO INSECURRRRRRRRRRRE,” that’s like melodramatic teendom at its best). Even better, “Crawling” had the one sound in all of Linkin Park’s discography that I’ll still go to bat for – those chilly keyboards, which sound genius when your 13 (and sounded alien on the radio…like, Korn doesn’t do this!) and still stick out when you are a far-better-off 24 year old. Had this been my first taste of Linkin Park, I’d have fucking ran with it.

But nope, they went with the knuckleheaded “One Step Closer,” a song practically wearing the same wife-beater and tilted baseball cap Fred Durst laid claim to. Just watch the video. Back in junior high school, this turned me off because 1. this was the sort of stuff the kids who would ask me what the capital of Thailand was before proceeding to punch me in the crotch and 2. even as a teen addicted with the WWF, I could tell Fred Durst was an asshole from a mile away (Woodstock ’99 helped a lot). This, along with finding Radiohead to fill that awkward vastness of teenage me, turned Linkin Park into something always arm’s length away from me, and as I got older it just became that band that wanted to be U2 and soundtracked every Transformers movie and who had once been loved by some of my college friends so I made fun of them about it…even though, hey, easily could have been me had “One Step Closer” not popped up in my life.

“Burn It Down” is the first time I’ve really checked in with the band since high school…when you couldn’t escape their music on the radio…and it’s interesting seeing how much they’ve changed. Whereas stuff like “Crawling” and “Numb” were made to be scrawled in the white space of an AP U.S. History textbook, “Burn It Down” is shooting for stadium status, the beat designed to gets fists a-pumping and the chorus demanding to be sung by an amphitheaters-worth of people. Linkin Park still deal in the emotional vagueness I remember from my younger days, but this also sounds far less…dare I say, “emo,” “emo” here being a lazy fill-in word for whatever word best captures the cynicism and self-loathing of adolescence best. It seems way safer…and just sort of boring. Probably for the best I didn’t hitch my wagon to these guys, because this would definitely be a big disappointment.

Winner Of The Week – Girls’ Generation

Self-Promotion Plus: Writing About K-Pop In America For The Atlantic

I’ve mostly moved my discussions about Korean pop to my Tumblr, but the latest article I wrote for The Atlantic touches on both K-Pop and J-Pop. I wrote mostly about Wonder Girls and Girls’ Generations’ imminent American debuts, but I also touch on the likes of Pink Lady, Hikaru Utada and Puffy AmiYumi. If you want an introduction to why K-Pop has become a buzzed-about trend while J-Pop remains stagnant, this article touches on why that is.

Read it here.

Controlled Karaoke: Arashi Suffer Technical Glitch Live, Real Singing Voices Come Out But Really I Am Here To Tell You A Story About Girls’ Generation

So Arashi went on a Fuji TV music show a few days ago and had some technical difficulties. The group’s pre-recorded vocals failed to play, forcing the group to gasp actually sing. This news comes from Japan Post who slapped the headline “Sound Equipment Failure Reveals Japanese Boy Band’s Atrocious Singing” which I don’t blame the dude for going with…that’s quality “grab attention” work, good hustle…but like most headlines aimed at grabbing eyeballs, is pretty overblown. Watch the above clip and…they don’t really sound that bad. Yeah, it is a far cry from the studio perfection they usually coast on, but hardly “atrocious.” Naturally, the comment section nosedives into high-school jock music analysis (“don’t people realize that pop music is as real as pro wrestling?” thanks dude you have opened my eyes by the way going to the harvest dance?) and a discussion of the difficulties of singing while dancing.

Yet that is not why I post this – the online conspiracy theories to this, though, are a hoot! Japan Post writes some groups think Fuji TV – who nationalistic groups protested back in August for showing so many Korean dramas, which I used for my opening paragraph for this Atlantic story I’m shamelessly plugging once again – intentionally sabotaged Arashi while K-Pop groups like KARA and Girls’ Generation performed unscathed. Well, so did EVERY OTHER JAPANESE ARTIST ON THE SHOW, but hey details! So yes…crazy people, doing things.

Yet these tin-foil-hat types give me the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite live experiences of the year and the winner of the 2011 “The Inside-Job Award For Incident That Looked Like A Possible Conspiracy That Probably Wasn’t” honor. Back at Summer Sonic, Girls’ Generation closed out the Tokyo leg of the festival with a brief live set. It was deeply bizarre given they went on after headliners The Red Hot Chili Peppers, attracting mostly a gaggle of curious shirtless dudes and ladies wearing head scarf things. Anyway, they got to the final song “The Great Escape” and right before the first chorus the backing track cut out, leaving the members of the group singing with their natural voices. And…they sounded nice! Soon I thought “oh they did this on purpose to show they can really sing, grassroots cred building!” It probably was just a glitch…but you never know [cue X-File’s theme].

Not-Quite-Japanese Review: Girls’ Generation’s The Boys And KARA’s Super Girl

Girls’ Generation’s cannonball into the Japanese pop scene – starting with the initial crossover singles last year and fully splashing with a record-breaking Japan-only album this year – charmed plenty of people, among them the foreign-born music writers/observers living in this country (guilty!). The shiny new sound of K-Pop gems like “Gee” and “Run Devil Run” towered way above the majority of J-Pop coming out at the same time…helping fuel the love for Girls’ Generation was the release of a new AKB48 album, universally hated (and deservedly so) by the pop culture thinkers occupying my Twitter…and carved out a space in a lot of people’s music-loving hearts.

Now comes the Korean album (but easily obtained in Japan) The Boys, the first major release by Girls’ Generation post their Japanese self-titled. The same folks who proclaimed that LP one of the best pop joints of the year heard The Boys and said…meh. I gathered opinion from a small sample size, but the few folks/places in Japan giving this new release a shot mostly dismissed it. The title track got dismissed as “Pussycat Dolls like” or bearing too much of a resemblance to 2NE1, while the rest of it got hammered for featuring gloopy ballads and other cheesy tracks that had more in common with J-Pop than the sounds coming out of Korea. Some called it a step backwards.

I’m not arguing against the idea that Girls’ Generation sounds way better than The Boys, but I think the group’s latest is getting hammered a little too strongly. I think Girls’ Generation – which, should be noted, repackages five popular singles from Korea, compared to the all new material on The Boys – made Girls’ Generation seem a bit too perfect for a lot of people encountering them for the first time. This might sound obvious, but Girls’ Generation…and K-Pop in general…has a lot of bad songs buried in the closet. My first exposure to this group came with “Oh!,” back in college, and it wasn’t because of the music – rather, the clip popped up on a bunch of college football blogs because of the group’s groping of an Iowa Hawkeyes’ helmet (and, being in a rival Big Ten school, we got an extra kick out of this). Then, it sounded like a really annoying re-imagining of the already-terrible “Numa Numa Song” (now, I just hear a hail mary at trying to recapture the lightness of “Gee”). And don’t forget cheese like “Into The New World” and “Day By Day.” So…I basically think people got a little too excited by not-J-Pop music and weren’t ready for a bumpier release.

The Boys, though, has some really great moments! “Trick” speeds up the flirtatious slurs of “Genie” and ends up stronger because of it, while “Telepathy” bangs forward courtesy strobe-light synths and big ol’ drum hits. “Vitamin” melds flashing synth blasts with a lite-disco bob, complimented by string sections. The title track – which also serves as the group’s first foray into Western markets which explains why this – has received the most criticism, accused of aping the Pussycat Dolls. Which is kind of true…see, the chorus…but did we forget “Run Devil Run,” which was just as blatant about it? “The Boys” hits way harder than that number, capped off by some great cheerleader-esque (have we forgotten how great “Hollaback Girl” was, for shame!) chanting. It’s a good, bone-breaking single that, truthfully, probably won’t be a huge hit in America (that’s a whole different article) but isn’t as bad or lazy as some places claim.

The rest of The Boys finds Girls’ Generation trying on different sonic hats. Some of these choices do end up being inexcusably bad – the two ballads included on this album fail to go anywhere interesting, “How Great Is Your Love” hoping a ho-hum Mariah Carey impersonation will fool you into thinking it’s good while “Sunflower” is just looking for an ending credits sequence to latch itself onto. Yet elsewhere, they flirt with disaster only to come up charming – “Say Yes” opens with a wince-inducing spoken word gigglefest, but leads into this sunny chirp of a pop song that is simple and sweet. “Lazy Girl” embraces the K-Pop trend of 60’s imagery/sound (see Wonder Girls’ “Be My Baby“), imitating girl group bop and merging it with modern-day synth burbles, all leading to the album’s best chorus. There is also “My J,” which I’ll cop to liking simply because it’s so cheesy and goofy it ends up being sort of sweet despite sounding like a Keisuke Kawata Christmas song. The Boys, though far from perfect, shows how diverse Girls’ Generation can be in style and personality – yeah, there is no “Gee” or “Mr. Taxi” (errrrr, except for the Korean version of “Mr. Taxi”) but enough to make this a pretty above-average release.

Much more deserving of eye daggers is KARA’s new Japanese album Super Girl, which really does suck BUT managed to break the record set by Girls’ Generation’s Japanese debut for most units moved in its first week by a foreign group. Super Girl finds KARA’s sound J-Pop-ified, all the worst contemporary touches of mainstream Japanese pop grafted onto KARA as a challenge to see if this would still sell. And hey…it did! We all lose.

Super Girl isn’t a total bust – most of the tracks here have at least one good idea or sound floating around (like the bass on otherwise turgid seasonal ballad “Winter Magic,” or the rapid-fire techno intro of “Go Go Summer!” which promptly settles for a slightly-advanced AKB chug), and there are good songs present! A lot of people point to it as the beginning of the end, but I hold that “Jet Coaster Love” is bouncy and bright enough to rise above subsequent singles, while “Whisper” is kinda cool.

But man, overall this is just not good. The ballads are, unsurprisingly, the worst offenders, forced into the same rectangular cookie cutter that makes 90 percent of the ballads in Japan. “Ima Okuritai Arigatou” and “Missing” paddle around too long without building up to anything resembling a payoff…credit to Girls’ Generation, the ballads on The Boys at least hold interest unlike these slow roasters. “Dreamin’ Girl” features the line “I want to rock you” despite lacking anything one would constitute as rockin’, while closer “Girls Be Ambitious!” sounds as clumsy as the title hints at while existing solely to serve as the next viral wedding dance soundtrack. I’m all for female empowerment songs, but they should also sound good!

Let’s focus on the positive…KARA still have the Korean single “Step,” which remains one of the best K-Pop songs of the year. And Super Girl does feature “Only For You,” which is the fucking jam. KARA imitate the dated-but-oh-so-catchy sound that combined late disco with R&B, and K-Pop it into something that sounds simultaneously like a record you would find in your cool Aunt’s basement and a nostalgia-glazed number that could easily exist in 2011. Heck, this style of music has seen a resurgence this year – see Toro Y Moi’s cover of “Saturday Love,” originally by Cherrelle, and “Only For You” sounds like at least three tracks on her High Priority album. It’s not enough to redeem a very lame album, but geez “Only For You” almost makes it worth it. Almost.

Self-Promotion Plus: Writing About K-Pop In Japan For The Atlantic

In which I finally get a big platform to share my love of Girls’ Generation…sorta. I wrote an article for The Atlantic online about K-Pop’s growth in Japan over the past year, which you can read here. It features a bunch of videos which you’ve probably seen around these parts since last August…though the T-ara clips (the Japanese one at the top of this page, for example) haven’t been shared here yet though both are…something and the closest you’ll get to a sociological study from music videos.

Stuff We Missed Catch-Up Post #1: DODDODO, Turntable Films, Africaemo, Aloha And Girls’ Generation

Welp, it’s now September and we’ve completely failed to talk about a handful of great (and not so great!) Japanese albums. Massive, massive failure on my part, especially after I went and named uhhhhh June “Stuff We Missed Month” before not getting through anything.

Yet with the time fast approaching when nerds like me put together year-end lists, it seems like time to run through all the important Japanese releases that didn’t get a thorough write-up this year. So…welcome to part one of a series of posts offering up quick reviews of notable Japanese albums that slipped by me. These won’t be as wordy and drawn out as the regular reviews, as quick as possible actually for time’s sake. Still, I hope these can lead you to some good stuff that didn’t get the full attention they deserved (or maybe didn’t). Let’s go!

DODDODO DO

On NHK they have a kid’s show called Nihongo De Asobo. Airing once every morning and again in the afternoon, the brief program follows a giant-orange-ball of a man and various other characters as they have fun using (and secretly learning!) the Japanese language. Throughout the entire thing they play this classical Japanese music made kid friendly, full of traditional noises I’ve heard in, like, Kabuki videos we watched in Japanese history class.

DODDODO’s DO could easily soundtrack an alternate reality version of Nihongo De Asobo where everything happens inside one eccentric individual’s head, all the parts played by that very same person conjuring up the cerebral kid’s show in the first place. The Osaka artist makes songs that at times resemble children’s nursery rhymes, simplistic hop-scoth tempo colliding with her shouty voice. She peppers these songs with what I can only describe as very “Japanese” sounds, something like the noises you hear in those traditional Japanese dramas. Like her live show, which finds DODDODO going it alone with only a sampler and her wild voice, this is a defiantly solo work complete with a ballad where DODDODO croons over a lonely guitar and some kid-stuff flute.

Yet what elevates this above NHK merchandise is the dual threat of her music having an experimental edge and being incredibly catchy. Their is a song here where DODDODO might just be dropping stuff on the studio floor…yet it’s a fascinating bit of recording. Even the more kindergarten-ready-chant songs sometimes get a strange touch. Seeing as these are almost like nursery rhymes, DODDODO makes sure they could be accessible to everyone, most of the tracks here built around jaunty beats and slightly upbeat melodies. Something seems slightly subversive here…or maybe a really strange throwback to the Edo Period…but few albums in any country sound as outright interesting as this one.

Turntable Films 10 Days Plus One

Originally released in late 2010 but re-released in greater numbers by Second Royal this year, 10 Days Plus One ends up being a strange record to write about from the super-promising Kyoto quartet. They move in a slightly folkier direction here which isn’t really shocking considering last year’s great Parables Of Fe-Fum had plenty of woodsier moments, and they at worst these Dylan-esque bits still sound OK. Thing is, the absolute best parts of Turntable Film’s first album came on the tracks embracing pure pop. They channeled Brian Wilson on “Hot Tea After The Lunch” and hit on something especially special on “2Steps.”

10 Days Plus One doesn’t really have any similar highlights. There is good stuff for sure…opener “Tape Recorder” brings to mind The Beatles at their silliest, while “Awake” finds them nailing the folk thing and “A Monster” giving us a version of the band flirting with psychedelic horizons. “Collection Of You” ends up the album’s unfuckwithable masterpiece, a sad-sack gallop that is the band’s best lyrical moment to date. Lead singer Yosuke Inoue seemingly copes with a breakup by…focusing on the inevitable end of all things. The other parts of 10 Days ring more spotty – most of the other folk songs seem like stretched attempts at being Nick Drake, with diminishing returns. Worst of all, though, is the two song run late of “Lazy Sunday” and “Hawaii.” The latter is a bit of go-nowehere Tommy Bahama soundtrack, but “Lazy Sunday” sees Turntable Films put on their shit-encrusted cowboy boots to record a song aping the very worst of Wilco with 3/4s of the budget. That’s the only true skippable moment here, but as a whole 10 Days feels more above average than knockout…”Collection Of You” deserves all the love it can handle but everything else just seems “OK.”

Africaemo Power Of The City

Africaemo’s debut Squatter came out relatively close to Turntable Film’s Parables Of Fe-Fum…which is to say, 2010…and just like the above-reviewed group they had the tough task of following up a great debut with a sophomore effort in 2011. Yet whereas Turntable Films stepped out a bit with mixed results, Africaemo stick firm like Bubble Tape to the frantic noise that got eyes-a-turnin’ in the first place. Power Of The City offers up more twisting dance-rock like Squatter did and pretty much hits all the same pleasure spots. They offer up some new twists – “Yes! Today” breaks out some fat neon-grubworms of keyboards that should be on a Dam-Funk album to create a surprisingly slinky track, yet everything else is pretty much in order for Africaemo to get compared to Friendly Fires more. Power Of The City’s biggest strength, though, comes from the two tracks bookending this album. “City Boy, City Girl” has already gotten some props, while closer “Kiss You” might be the best track Tokyo Police Club failed to write.

Aloha うたのゆくえ

I’ve never been on a cruise, and thanks to David Foster Wallace I probably never will, but I imagine Aloha’s latest album captures the experience pretty well. Everything starts off peachy, excitement over swift cabin service and all the shuffleboard you want on the ship, and in the case of うたのゆくえ two great opening tracks. There’s the lazy-day twee of 恋のリズム followed up by the super-fun lounge bop of “ChinaTown.” Looking good right? Then the middle hits. On the boat, the extravagant meals become a chore and you run out of books to read and boredom sets in. Aloha embraces the organ-and-horn-heavy vibe of “ChinaTown” but does so in a way not nearly as joyous as that track, resulting in a relaxed but ultimately slogging center that is too chilled out to hate (beats work, yeah?) but something that prompts a lot of iPhone peeking. There are late highlights – the skittery “ユレルキセツ” ups the tempo and succeeds because of it, while “Tack” uses those horns in a way that feels enveloping instead of lazy. I guess it would be the equivalent of…I don’t know, Mexican night, or a pirate attack? Their are highlights definitely worth revisiting on this Aloha album, but for the most part it’s like a cruise…a brief, at times boring, escape from whatever you were doing before.

Girls’ Generation Girls’ Generation

It’s important to give any review of this album hyper-specific context before jumping in so…I’m not going to compare Girls’ Generation’s Japanese debut to anything else, no other K-to-J-pop crossover groups nor to any Japanese acts of the moment. This is miles ahead of nearly everything Japanese pop groups are pumping out, and you don’t need to hear it again. People way smarter than me have compared this to AKB48 and pretty much nailed it, so you don’t need me to reheat it. Instead, let’s consider ONLY this album.

The verdict? Pretty good, albeit no classic. This is mostly a home for Girls’ Generation’s smash-hit singles to stay in, so your opinion of those will determine your overall opinion of this release. Personally, I’m pretty so-so on “Genie,” coming around but not in love with “Mr. Taxi” or “Run Devil Run,” and blindly in love with “The Great Escape.” Oh, and “Gee,” which probably bests several alien civilizations.

How about those non-singles? Vary in quality. “You-aholic,” save for its stupid name, ends up one of the strongest tracks here, taking cues from Off The Wall and bringing them up to speed for the iPad generation. “Beautiful Stranger,” “I’m In Love With The HERO” and especially closing ballad “Born To Be A Lady,” meanwhile all seems pretty forgettable, either biting from ignorable Western acts (Pink?) or trying to copy J-Pop (never do that). But man, “Let It Rain” nails American R&B at it’s most dramatic, as the name kind of hints at, the sort of tune guaranteed to play in a Gold’s Gym locker room but also enjoyable.

So overall, on its own merits with no mention of outside forces – above-average pop record with a handful of killer singles that guaranteed that this album would sell like crazy.

Controlled Karaoke: Saturday Night Live Japan Parodies Girls’ Generation,

Japan recently got its own version of Saturday Night Live and, this past weekend, the fledgling program did a brief parody of South Korean juggernaut Girls’ Generation, recreating the video for the group’s Japanese single “Mr. Taxi.” Can you spot the joke? Hint, some of them are men. Watch it now, as the YouTube uploaded MAKES IT CLEAR IN ALL CAPS this will be removed next week.

A weaker man would write something like “lol as bad as the American SNL right?” but 1. I have no idea if there is some sort of deeper commentary going on here so I won’t say anything to critical and 2. yeah SNL in America has a lot of strike outs but they still knock one out (or at least record a respectable single) once in awhile, which is more than a lot of shows can boast. And hey, they gave us this.

The Japan Times recently ran a story about Saturday Night Live Japan, read it here.