My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – 5 to 1

5. Cheeky Parade – Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb

Cheeky Parade hasn’t been on my radar much since their debut – iDOL Street, Avex’s idol arm, has never been much more than hit or miss for me. However, Cheeky Parade’s PV they made in New York city drew me in, for which I am grateful, because this is a great song.

Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb is part of what I think of as the “Hyadain school” of idol songwriting, where the song is fragmented and contains different varied sections, often clashing with one another. Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb is all over the place in the best of ways, and often does so with a great energy. While the song wasn’t written by Hyadain, it feels like a meeting of the minds – taking the hyperactive and interesting idol pop that has been doing well lately and combining it with the level of polish that I have come to expect with Avex artists.

Candy Pop almost always has a great, driving energy throughout the whole song which goes a long way to unifying the sound. Even though the song contains a few slower passages, those feel like a contrast to the energy of the song. The members do a lot to sell the style changes, as well – I don’t know the members very well, but it feels like just about every girl in Chikipa has a moment to shine that fits her perfectly.

While I’m not sure if this is going to make me go back and reevaluate Cheeky Parade, Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb was a joy to listen to, and solidly one of my favorite songs of the year.

4. Takoyaki Rainbow – Meccha Funk

Part of the reason this list is so late is because I nearly had a change of heart about this placement. Not about Meccha Funk – it is a fantastic song. However, Odore Seishun Carnival, another Takoniji B-Side, really got on my radar in a way it hadn’t before. So that’s another honorable mention.

I absolutely love when idol songs incorporate any kind of funk and/or disco into the music – hell, this blog IS called Happy Disco. And Meccha Funk is a joy from start to finish. While Takoniji does a good job of adding a lot of energy to the vocals (which are spoken more than sung), the real star of Meccha Funk is the songwriting and instrumentation. The songwriting and the background vocals remind me a bit of Tsunku’s better songwriting, especially some of his Nice Girl Project stuff (why do I get Mecha Mote I Love You vibes from this?). The song builds itself up really well, and the best parts of the song are sections before the chorus, where the song builds up.

But the instrumentation goes a long way in making this one of the most fun songs of the year. The horns, the aforementioned background vocals, all have a really funky vibe which is super fun to listen to.

Takoyaki Rainbow proved in 2014 that they are a force to be watched like their sister groups, and I am excited to hear more from them!

3. Dempagumi.inc – Bari 3 Kyowakoku

I feel like I sometimes take for granted how good Dempagumi.inc is. All of their music consistently does it for me, and they consistently make interesting stuff, but I don’t talk about them nearly as often as I should. So, here it is: Dempagumi.inc is one of the most consistently interesting groups with a commitment to high quality music and PVs.

Bari 3 Kyowakoku is Dempa doing what it does best – high energy songs with electronic backing. It’s a lot more unified than other Dempa songs I’ve ranked highly up here, but this allows Dempa to shine beyond just having weird music. The melody is infectious, the drum beat is great, and Dempa’s high pitched vocals fit perfectly with this song. This song is incredibly addicting, which is probably why I ranked it higher than other Dempa contenders. This is one of those songs where I just had to keep listening.

Bari 3 Kyowakoku is Dempagumi.inc at its finest, and I am happy they have been able to keep up the momentum for so long.

2. Team Syachihoko – Dakishimete Anthem

OK, here we go, another Syachihoko song on the list! Dakishimete Anthem was the most promoted song off of Team Syachihoko’s first album, Himatsubushi, and for good reason – it is a whole lot of fun. The above video is from Syachi’s first Budokan live, which shows part of why they promoted this song so heavily – this is a LOT of fun live.

The song is really rock-influenced, hence the guitar solo by Japanese rock star ROLLY in this live show. However, it contains a lot of really Syachihoko elements, too – the rap section featuring Haruna is one of my favorite parts of the song. I also like the back and forth between the members, especially during the “woah woah woah” parts. At this point Team Syachihoko’s members know how to handle high energy, and they perform this perfectly.

The melody is incredibly catchy as well, and the pacing of this song is just about perfect – even though the song is four and a half minutes long, it feels like this song finishes instantaneously, with just how fun it all is. This song never drags or wavers, even when it goes into something like the rap section or one of the slower parts. It is a really well put together song.

Dakishimete Anthem is easily the most fun song of the year and probably my most listened-to song of the year.

1. Team Syachihoko – Shampoo Hat

One of the things that has made me the most nervous, as a Team Syachihoko fan, is their growth. Now, I want Team Syachihoko to achieve whatever goals they want to achieve, and I definitely don’t want them to remain stagnant. However, Momoiro Clover Z has made several missteps in their growth as a group, and while I admire a lot of what they do as artists, a lot of my fire as a fan has gone out. So, when Team Syachihoko mentioned that Shampoo Hat was a new side of the group, I was kind of worried. However, I shouldn’t have worried, because Shampoo Hat is fantastic from start to finish.

Shampoo Hat is one of the most emotionally mature songs I’ve really encountered in the idol world. Not that it’s a mature subject matter – the song is about first love. However, while the song might ostensibly be about high school first love, it takes a mature look at this. The song focuses on the uncertainty of first love and this is a first love that is unrequited. One of the first lines is “is my heart beating fast is your fault?” which then morphs into “My heart beating fast is your fault” (much more certain) which then turns to “My heart is beating fast, you feel the same, right?” which then turns to “the only person whose heart beat fast was me.” (Sorry for the poor translation but you get the drift). The shampoo hat in question is a metaphor for the protection of innocence, protecting the girls from first love and subsequent heartbreak.

Beyond the lyrics, however, it’s still very mature. The melody is unusual and often rambling – it doesn’t sound like a typical idol song melody. I also imagine this song challenged the members, as the melody is often all over the place. However, this makes for a unique, interesting sound. The instrumentation also shines, focusing on heavy strings and a strong bass line. There are some electronic sounds in there, which add an interesting contrast to the traditional feel of the strings. Even though this is seen as a bit more of a traditional path than Team Syachihoko’s usual music, the unusual melody and contrast within the instrumentation adds enough weirdness to make it still identifiable as a Team Syachihoko song.

The members all sell it well, but I was particularly impressed by Sakura Nao, who takes the first solo. Itou Chiyuri is generally seen as the strongest singer of the group, but Nao is improving rapidly.

This song is just about perfect, as an idol song, as a Team Syachihoko song, as a pop song. I cannot get enough of Shampoo Hat, and I think this shows that I don’t have anything to worry about in terms of liking Team Syachihoko’s growth as a group.

My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – 10 to 6

10. Morning Musume ’14 – What is Love?

One of the coolest, most surreal experiences of my year was seeing Morning Musume perform live and meeting the members. That was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime weekend that I will never forget. However, I might not have decided to fly to New York for a weekend and stand in line for six hours if Morning Musume hadn’t really upped their game in 2013 and 2014.

Morning Musume’s unevenness is it’s greatest asset and its greatest weakness. It’s always an interesting group, to follow, but there are some lineups and some musical eras that I like better than others. Morning Musume has really hit its stride in the post-10th gen era with catchy, fun music, and What is Love is my favorite MM song in several years.

I think what initially made me love What is Love is the way it bends genres, taking Morning Musume’s current electronic music and mixing it with swing. It’s a delight to hear two genres that don’t get too much mixing and putting them together. Aside from that, What is Love is just a successful song; the pacing is perfect and with a catchy melody. I might have liked some real instruments, but the dubstep instrumentation works just fine here.

What is Love was the first song I got really excited about in 2014, and I think it’s going to be a favorite for years to come.

9. Especia – No 1 Sweeper

While i haven’t explored Especia as much as I might like, there’s no denying that they’re one of the most unique groups out there, in terms of sound and aesthetic. While I’m not entirely familiar enough with vaporwave as a movement, it’s clear that they are inspired by vaporwave. They are clearly influenced by the 80s and early 90s, but often the aspects that aren’t the most fondly remembered, like the saxophone.

While I have been intrigued by Especia for a while, No 1 Sweeper is the first song that really spoke to me (though I am also very fond of Kuru ka na). It’s arguably the most listenable of Especia’s songs, with a catchy melody that shines through all the intentional cheesiness and weirdness of the instrumentation.

That said, I do like how ambitious Especia is as a group. A lot of idol groups are doing some fantastic things with music, but Especia has such a distinct and unique sound and feel to them that it makes them intriguing. I like that they have relatively cheesy instrumentation; I might have a high tolerance for cheese, but it gives them a unique appeal.

Especia is going for something unique and I have to love it. No 1 Sweeper is an addicting song and I can’t wait to hear more from them.

8. Dempagumi.inc – Sakura Apparition

Oh man, did Dempagumi.inc start the year out right. Sakura Apparition isn’t perhaps as ambitious or interesting as the W.W.D series (or the next Dempa song on this list), but it’s a well-constructed, fun, song. I especially enjoy the brief snippets of traditional Japanese music, especially the extended bit that sounds like it’s inspired a lot by ondo music. This isn’t a route Dempagumi.inc goes down too often (preferring to surround themselves much more with a modern identity of Japan rather than a traditional one), but I do like the combination of sounds. It makes me wonder what a dempa enka ballad might sound like.

The melody is, as always from Dempagumi, catchy and strong. It feels a lot more unified and standard than some of their other songs, but I think it works here. The arrangement isn’t a very stand out one (though I often find myself listening to the bass line of this song) but focuses more on supporting the melody in a fairly unobtrusive way. There are some snippets of what sounds like some traditional instruments, so kudos to Dempa for this.

Sakura Apparition isn’t the most interesting or most out there Dempagumi.inc, but it’s a really solid, really enjoyable listen that I’ve enjoyed since it came out.

7. Takoyaki Rainbow – Zesshou! Naniwa de Umareta Shoujotachi

When Takoyaki Rainbow’s center, Towa, graduated the group, I wasn’t too worried. Stardust does a solid job of promoting every member in its groups, so while Towa is missed it’s not a fatal strike the group. However, I did wonder what would happen to the group. As it turns out, they got another song by Hyadain, and an introduction song.

The song I’d most easily be able to compare this to is Dempagumi.inc’s W.W.D, except much more joyful. W.W.D was about Dempagumi.inc’s members coming from less than zero, while Zesshou is much more of an upbeat introduction song focusing on the group being from Osaka. Much like W.W.D, each member gets a separate introduction piece, which then all comes together into the chorus. It’s the type of thing that you don’t think will work, but somehow all the weird pieces of this song come together in a much cohesive whole than I thought it would.

All of Takoyaki Rainbow are still growing as singers and performers, but there is a real confidence to Zesshou. Sakura, Karen and Kurumi all show off some solid vocal skills. This group is growing very rapidly and it’s really fun to watch.

Listen, just seeing the word “Hyadain” should clue you in. This is another really fun, quality song by Hyadain that does a great job of introducing the group. I am so excited to see more of Takoniji.

6. Team Syachihoko – Akamiso Blood

I love this song. I briefly considered putting it at the very top of this year’s list, but held off. But man, Akamiso Blood is one of the most unique songs that came out this year.

Essentially, this is the collaboration of Team Syachihoko and Daichi, a beatboxer who got a lot of recognition off of YouTube. So this is a very minimalist track of Daichi, a keyboard, and Team Syachihoko, who provide both the main vocals and some of the other rhythm and sounds found in the piece.

This is incredibly minimalist, a completely unusual idol song. While some idols have done acapella before, I don’t know any groups that did something this minimalist and had it as an album track. Of course, this is reinforced by the vocals, piano and melody all working well together, but the fact that this even got made shows incredible trust in the songwriter (Shihori, who also did MomoClo’s GOUNN), Daichi, and the members.

 

My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – 15 to 11

15.  Takoyaki Rainbow –  Naniwa no Haniwa

While the song has grown on me, I didn’t like Takoyaki Rainbow’s debut single Under the Takoyaki Rainbow much initially. I like it now, but it felt disappointing. So, when Naniwa no Haniwa came out, the one thing that struck me immediately was that it was written by Maeyamada Kenichi. Well, this song turned my impression of Takoyaki Rainbow around, fast.
Like many Hyadain-penned songs for Stardust groups, Naniwa no Haniwa is fast paced and weird. However, starting from the drums, it has a bit of a traditional feel to it. While they haven’t stuck with this in their next single, I like that a lot.
There are so many odd elements in here; some melodramatic singing, the shouting, singing “nyan nyan nyan,” the recorders, etc. I feel like written by anyone else, this song could be unlistenable in its annoyingness. However, in Hyadain’s hands, he is able to put together several disjointed elements and weird things to make a cohesive, fun song that put Takoniji on the map.
14. Dempagumi.inc – Dempari Night

My first instinct in writing this was to claim that 2014 was a less than stellar year for Dempa, though that is blatantly false. Dempagumi.inc in 2014 is still one of the most consistently interesting and consistently fun idol groups out there. Even though I wasn’t terribly fond of Dear Stage e Youkoso (it was fine but not to the level of the rest of Dempa’s output), their musical output was fantastic all around.
While Dempari Night isn’t my highest ranking Dempagumi song of the year, it has a lot of interesting elements going for it. It’s a lot more cohesive than some of my favorites of 2013, namely the W.W.D series, but it still has some odd, interesting elements to it. I especially enjoyed the Russian influenced section and the use of the ticking clock as a percussive instrument. The entire arrangement of this is top notch and solid.
While I preferred other Dempa songs, there’s no way I couldn’t include this on my list.
13. i*Ris – Itazura Taiyou

i*Ris is one of those groups that, when I first listened to them this year, I immediately wondered why there wasn’t more buzz surrounding this group, especially among foreign fans. Their music is great, but more notably, i*Ris has strong vocalists and high production values. Their music is really fun and sounds great. While the group’s masterpiece is 2013’s Gensoukyoku Wonderland (a song, had I known its existence, would have been easily in my top 10 songs of the year), 2014’s Itazura Taiyou is fantastic.
While the overall production value is arguably the strongest part of Itazura Taiyou (the vocals are mixed very well), the entire instrumentation and arrangement is very well done. The way that the heavy drums and guitar is mixed with some electronic sounds reminds me a bit of Jeff Lynne from Electric Light Orchestra. However, the vocal arrangement is really the top, here. The background vocals and the harmonies sound fantastic. On top of all this production value is a solid melody and hook.
i*Ris is a group that I’d recommend checking out if you haven’t already. I haven’t heard a great amount of buzz about this group with foreign fans, but if you value any kind of production value, I’d give i*Ris a shot.
12. Rhymeberry – Idol Illmatic

Going into 2014, Rhymeberry had me worried. Their early single, Winter Jam, was fine but not anywhere near the heights of something like SUPERMCZTOKYO. Then one of their members, Yuka, graduated from the group. Then they left their label, T-Palette (whether they left on their own volition or were booted, I have no idea). Things weren’t looking good for Rhymeberry. Then they put out Idol Illmatic and all my worries were assuaged, because Rhymeberry came back better than ever. A cliche? yes. However, it doesn’t stop it from being true.
The biggest thing that sets Idol Illmatic apart from Rhymeberry’s earlier singles is that there are only two members; yet, their skills as MCs have improved, even since the release of SUPERMCZTOKYO. Miri in particular has a great flow, but Hime is more than pulling her weight. This track goes back and forth between both Miri and Hime, adding a great energy to the track. Even DJ Hikaru gets in and sings, adding a sung hook in the middle of the song.
Idol Illmatic is not as inventive as Sekaichuu ni I Love You or as polished as SUPERMCZTOKYO, but it focuses on the raw skill of the members of the group. It reminds me a little of Rhymeberry’s first single, Hey! Brother, but with a lot more skill involved. Miri and Hime are legitimately skilled as MCs and fun to listen to.
While I started 2014 worried for Rhymeberry’s future, Idol Illmatic has me excited.
11. Team Syachihoko – Ii Kurashi

 I’ve written about Ii Kurashi twice already, so I’ll keep this short. Going into listening Ii Kurashi, if you told  me “Team Syachihoko will do an acid house song as their latest single,” I would be unsure of what to think. Ii Kurashi is not a song I would normally listen to, but it made me intrigued in the genre and allowed Syachi to do a song that isn’t very idol-like. It’s a long song that never outstays its welcome. While it’s not my top Syachi song of the year, I do think it’s a very well-written song and one that I’m glad that my favorite idol group got to perform.

My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – 20 to 16

20. Rev. from DVL – Step by Step

I can’t find a video link that contains this song, but if you haven’t checked out the B-Sides to the Rev. from DVL singles, please do! There are some really surprising and excellent songs in there. One song in particular is Kimi Dake no Story, a duet between members Nagisa and Miki, and Eien Puzzle. But man, Step by Step is one of my favorite songs of the year and ended up being my favorite Rev song, after a year of three really solid groups.

It’s hard to explain why I latched onto this song so much. The back and forth in the vocals during the verses is great, the (admittedly fake) strings in the instrumentation sound great, and everything has a nice energy to it. But really, it’s the repetition of “step by step” in the chorus that got to me. The back and forth between “step by step” and the other words of the chorus have a great, infectious effect. I first really listened to this song during one of their performances at Tokyo Idol Festival and since then I had the song stuck in my head. This is one of the catchiest, most infectious melodies of the year.

This isn’t one of the most groundbreaking singles, but Rev wasn’t one of the most groundbreaking groups. Yet, despite that, Rev has succeeded by having a discography of really solid pop tunes with catchy melodies. So while I might not think they are the most interesting songs of the year, they are some of the songs I’ll be listening to in the future.

19. Aso Natsuko – My Starlit Point

This is a very bittersweet placement on my list, as Natsuko announced this year that she was putting her music career on hiatus. I don’t blame her; last I checked she was studying law at a prestigious university as well as being a television presenter. However it is bittersweet that her last album ended up being so good, possibly her best album. Natsuko’s music has always been a very high standard, but My Starlit Point as an album was cohesive, well-written music, and its titular song is no exception. While not as strong as her recent singles Moonrise Romance and Never Ending Voyage, My Starlit Point goes heavy on the strings and guitar to create a fast-paced yet beautiful song. It’s arranged beautifully, and Natsuko is at her finest, vocally. It’s more laidback than something dramatic like Never Ending Voyage, but it does a lot to show off how strong Natsuko is. I’ll definitely miss her, as she was a bright spot in the idol business.

18. RYUTist – Chu-la-la

One of the best moments of my year was seeing RYUTist live, but man do I wish they had put out this song before the live because this is fantastic! I love a good deal of RYUTist’s music, but I don’t think I would complain if they veered more to the style of Chu-La-La. This is definitely old-school, but what it reminds me of more than anything is 2nd generation Tanpopo, stuff like Otome Pasta ni Kandou. This song gets that style perfectly, down to the background vocals of “ooh la la.” Deciding to do this song is one thing, but the execution of it is near perfect, from the vocals to the melody to the arrangement. The back and forth between the main vocals and the background, for example, is stellar. This song chose to have a specific style and just aced it, and it happens to be a style of song I really love. This is a big highlight of the year, and I hope that RYUTist can keep it up!

17. Team Syachihoko – It’s New Sekai

Choosing a selection of Team Syachihoko songs to include on this list was no easy feat. So there are going to be others higher up on this list. This is a late addition, a B-Side off their newest single, Shampoo Hat. When Shampoo Hat, a much more normal song, came out, I think a lot of people wondered how Syachi’s music would end up in the future, since Syachihoko has long been a group known for upbeat, weird music. However, It’s New Sekai proves that they aren’t completely doing a new thing. It’s New Sekai is fast paced and catchy from the getgo; it’s hard to not get the “Wow wow wow” stuck in your head. The further you go into the song, thought, the more interesting it gets, with tempo and style changes. The slower sections are very beautiful, with piano-heavy instrumentation. I also love the execution of this song; the members really growl out the word “ishibashi” for example, and get into this.

I really don’t like using the word “epic” because it’s really overused, but that’s how I feel like I have to describe this song. It feels like there is a sense of scale to it; even the title, “It’s New World” has a sense of scale. Immediately after this song was first played, people started saying it sounded like an anime ending, and I think it’s because of that sense of weight the song has.

It’s New Sekai is a fantastic song, and one I’m glad to have in the Team Syachihoko discography.

16. LinQ – Uessai! Gassai!

I believe I said this last year, but I want to get more into LinQ. I really like the leader, Amano Natsu, and the group is a bundle of fun, as in Uessai! Gassai!. This single had quite a bit of hype surrounding it, as it was produced by Dempagumi.inc’s producer. And, by the vast amount of energy in this song, it shows. This song is very high energy, with a great melody and a really fun back and forth between the members. It reminds me a bit of SKE48’s 1 2 3 4 Yoroshiku, which is one of SKE’s best singles in my opinion. This song is very well produced, with tons of energy and fun. There’s never a dull moment, and even at it’s slowest it still feels like there’s a good deal of energy at play. Uessai! Gassai! is one of the most fun songs of 2014, and one I will keep listening to for quite a while.

My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – 25 to 21

Here it is guys, the main event!

25. Babymetal – Gimme Choco

Babymetal had quite an eventful year, but most of it was just that – events. Babymetal released their first, self-titled album, but spent most of the year touring, and doing a lot of that touring abroad. It’s a very solid strategy, but that means that there wasn’t too much new Babymetal music out this year. While I liked their album just fine, it did the all too common idol album thing where most of the album was already existing singles and B-Sides; there were only a couple of new songs.

Gimme Choco has a lot going for it, and does a lot well. I like how the heavier metal seems to be in the verses where Yui and Moa shout, and I like how the chorus is a bit poppier. This song is one of Babymetal’s most poppy songs since Doki Doki Morning, but that’s definitely not bad. The electric guitar solo is really fantastic, and the whole instrumentation is great. I love the arrangement that manages to mix metal, idol pop, and a bit of electronic music in there. What Babymetal does best is mix and match genres, and while Gimme Choco isn’t as obvious as something like Megitsune, it still has clear metal and pop in there, which makes for a fun listen.

Gimme Choco isn’t as successful as Headbanger or Megitsune, but still is a fun song. It’s easy to see why Gimme Choco caused the viral sensation it did.

24. Rev.from DVL – Do My Best!!

While I’d consider Love Arigatou to be a stronger single song, Do My Best has the distinction of being one of the most fun songs of the year to me. While their third single, REAL, stood out to a lot of people, Do My Best is just a happy energetic song that is just trying to be happy and fun. Its melody is addictive and memorable, the arrangement is cute but not cloying, and the pacing of the song is pretty impeccable. It’s not trying to experiment, but is instead a very successful pop song. The song builds all the way to the end with a driving beat and never outstays its welcome.

Even though Rev became popular because of Hashimoto Kanna’s rise to popularity, Do My Best does a great job of proving that Rev is ready for the big time. Their first single is all covers of previously released music, and while it’s fantastic (I really wish I could put Love Arigatou and Kimi Dake no Story on this list), it’s still all older music that they have done for a while. Do My Best!! was their first new music after their major debut, so there was really a lot to prove. Could they continue the momentum? I say yes. Do My Best is the type of fun and happy idol song that made me fall in love with the idol genre in the first place, so even if it’s not the most intriguing song of the year I feel comfortable putting it on this list.

23. Team Daiouika – Diving

If you haven’t heard of Team Daiouika, you are probably not alone. The team was a temporary group that was formed for this year’s 3B Junior concert, and to be on the 3B Junior best album. They will probably not continue being a group, as two of the members went on to join Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku. Still, man I love Diving a lot.

Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head, had no idea what it was, and then realize that it was some song you listened to weeks prior? No? Well, that happened with me with Diving. It’s a relatively simple idol song, but I love the way the melody goes back and forth between members of the group. The arrangement isn’t really anything special, but is a solid guitar-heavy arrangement that goes a long way in supporting the stand out melody and vocal line.

This isn’t really anything new, which is why it’s so low down my list. However, I do think it’s a really solid song for the idol genre, and one to be looked to for good songs within the idol genre. It doesn’t break new ground or anything, but it’s strong melody and vocal line does a lot to elevate this song into one of my most liked songs of 2014.

22. HR – Evolution Da

I am very pleased by HR’s rise to relevance. The group first grabbed my attention when they performed at Tokyo Idol Festival, and now it seems like they are ready for the big time. Evolution Da was the single that I think really grabbed a lot of people’s attention, and it certainly got me even more intrigued in HR. Starting out with the plucked, almost Spanish-sounding guitar line and then moving into a more electronic sound mixed in with heavy percussion and guitar, this is an unusual, but cool sounding idol song.

This song reminds me of older-school anime them songs, in the best way; it’s a song that’s specifically geared to sound epic. Just about every second has a lot of stuff going on, never letting up except for a single moment of silence later in the song. I really like how the strong beat can combine with the lyrics, about becoming a different person from yesterday (hence, evolution). The lyrics have a great, strong message, and are backed up by the fantastic melody and instrumentation.

There was so much strong music out this year that Evolution Da has to be down this low, but it definitely made me much more excited for HR’s future.

21. Babyraids – Koi wa Panic

Babyraids’ first album, Ji Tora Shoukai, was a bit of a revelation for me this year. While I had passively enjoyed Babyraids’ debut single for a while, their entire first album is really quite good. I really hope it ends up being a sleeper hit, or at least gets recognition from the idol fan community, because Babyraids is really putting out a lot of solid stuff.

Koi wa Panic is a bit of an odd duck among all of the rest of the songs on this list because it is relatively mellow. However, it’s a song that never happens to be boring while being mellow, which is the key. Koi wa Panic comes across like an indie rock song or a classic rock song with a mellower melody. Even when the instrumentation veers into being more minimalist, the sound feels full. Every element in the song feels like it’s working together for something great, which is always good to hear. Nothing feels excessive, and yet it never feels like it’s missing anything.

Koi wa Panic is a good song that I didn’t expect to find as an idol song, in a good way. It feels more akin to a good indie rock song, and I’d really like to hear more songs like this, from Babyraids and from the idol world as a whole.

My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – Honorable Mentions (part 2)

When I started thinking of the preliminary songs on this list, it took me a while to even list 15. Once I got going, however, it ran to nearly 50 songs, with a wide variety of acts. I think that’s the most important thing here: while there are a couple of acts that pretty heavily dominate the top 5 or so, this is a really varied list. While the idol boom is shifting and changing, there is a remarkable variety of acts that are doing great things out there, and I’m really happy to highlight some of those.

E-Girls – Odoru Ponpokorin

Nothing E-Girls has done this year has really stuck with me the way that Gomen Nasai no Kissing You did. That song was one of my favorites of 2013, and E-Girls generally haven’t gotten to that level. However, Odoru Ponpokorin was a really cute cover song. It doesn’t seem like it does too much other than doing a solid arrangement, but the original song is already really fun so they really didn’t have to. Odoru Ponpokorin is a lot of fun and E-Girls do a great job with it. It’s not really their typical style; E-Girls go for a cooler, more KPop sounding sound than most other idol groups. However they made it work, and I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of listening to this.

Bitter & Sweet – Dare ni mo Naisho

This song is Call Me Maybe. It really is. If you compare the beat and the pizzicato violin instrumentation, you’ll realize that this is very similar to Call Me Maybe. That said, Dare ni mo Naisho is still a good song, even with its similarities. Both this and Bitter & Sweet’s self-titled debut really put Bitter & Sweet on the map for me. I never paid too much attention to Tasaki Asahi during her solo debut (though, listening back, maybe I should have), but Bitter & Sweet is a really solid group. While Gesshoku and Install might get more notice (at least, from what I’ve seen), their poppy, upbeat numbers are where they shine. They have a real maturity to them that not a lot of idol groups have, and I’m looking forward to more from Bitter & Sweet. Hopefully Up-Front will be able to promote them a little more, and we can see where they go!

Berryz Koubou – Ichi Oku Sanzen Man Sou Diet Oukoku

Oh Berryz. Berryz Koubou is an interesting group for me. They were my first idol group I actively became interested in, but they pretty quickly lost my interest. They also have a really spotty record, where I won’t like most of their music for quite a while before they release something I really like. While I find Ai wa Itsumo Kimi no Naka ni to be a pretty solid song, Ichi Oku Sanzen Man Sou Diet Oukoku is the song that put Berryz on the map for me this year. This is a very polarizing release, mostly because its lyrics can be interpreted multiple ways. For a lot of people, this song exists to shame the larger girls in Berryz to go on a diet. But, I really think the lyrics go a long way to show how damaging a diet-obsessed culture can be. Health is important, but I think the song tries to show how these girls want to do other things but are trapped in a diet-obsessed culture, reinforced by the repetition in the melody and lyrics. Berryz hasn’t been this interesting for years, and I think I’d like to see more songs like this. Most songs don’t really cover any issues, and while this isn’t as direct as I’d like, this does go in interesting places.

Juice = Juice – Are Kore Shitai

This is honestly here just for the lyrics. The song itself is cute and poppy, but not terribly remarkable. However, the lyrics are what really made Are Kore Shitai stand out to me. So many idol songs focus on pure teenage youth, but Are Kore Shitai stands out to me because the lyrics have a maturity to them while still being about younger people. They are the idol lyrics that possibly fit me as a person best, as a single woman in my 20s who is still trying to find herself™. With lyrics about looking back at graduation photos, reaching the age where your mother got married, and wanting to do a lot of things but not having time, Juice=Juice succeeded in encapsulating me, which makes me have to put this on there.

Oomori Seiko – Kyuru Kyuru

I never know where to classify Seiko; she really defies classification. Is she an idol? Anti-idol? Singer-songwriter? Since this is a list of idol songs, can I put Seiko on there? Last year Oomori Seiko grabbed my interest with her song Mahou ga Tsukaenai Nara Shinitai, and so I was very pleased by her rise and major debut in 2014. Kyuru Kyuru in particular grabbed my interest; it’s a lot more polished than Mahou ga Tsukaenai, for sure, but it still has an edge, a rawness to it. While her music has a lot more synth and has become more complicated, it doesn’t feel like Seiko is selling out in any way. It feels like a natural extension of her pre-existing aesthetic, like she was given more resources and told to run with it. Oomori Seiko is doing some really great work, and idol or no you really should be checking her out.

Momoiro Clover Z – Moon Pride

Momoiro Clover Z was given a thankless task. Perform the new theme song for a classic, beloved anime series with a very iconic theme song. There were so many ways this could have gone wrong. Yet, Moon Pride is by most accounts a success. It’s the right level of epic energy for a magical girl series, complete with big electric guitar solo. I personally prefer the Moon Pride lyrics to Moonlight Densetsu’s lyrics as a fan; Moonlight Densetsu emphasized romance, Moon Pride emphasizes the girl power attitude of the series that made it a beloved favorite of so many ladies my age. Moon Pride does a great job out of a difficult task, and while it just barely got edged out by other songs on this list, I still love it.

My Top 25 Songs of 2014 – Honorable mentions (part 1)

Hey all! It’s time for my top 25 songs of the year, plus the assorted change that makes up my honorable mentions list.

In a weird way I like writing the honorable mentions more than the top 25 songs of the year. The reason for this is because I feel like there’s an inherent pressure on the top 25 songs to be the songs I legitimately found to be the most interesting and best-written songs of the year, and the actual ranking is often splitting hairs. However, the honorable mentions are usually pretty clear; they’re the songs that didn’t quite make it, I couldn’t put on my top list for whatever reason, or might have good parts without being actually good. So, without further ado, here are my honorable mentions for the best of 2014.

AKB48 – Kokoro no Placard

Kokoro no Placard is a song that either thrives or languishes based off of comparison. If you compare it to last year’s election song, the fantastic Koisuru Fortune Cookie, it’s a disappointment. Koisuru Fortune Cookie is a fantastic song, and this isn’t anywhere near fantastic. On the other hand, if you compare Kokoro no Placard to the rest of the year’s output for AKB, it sounds much better.

This year was not great for the 48 groups. Not a single 48 song made it on my top 25, although there will be another for the honorable mentions. Most of the songs the 48 groups did were generic and nowhere near the heights of what the 48 groups can do. Even songs like Kibouteki Refrain, which was hailed as a return to form for AKB, fell flat for me.

Kokoro no Placard isn’t very interesting, nor is it particularly memorable. However, it’s much more memorable than stuff like Labrador Retriever. It’s passable, listenable, perfectly mediocre. But, since AKB ‘s year was so lackluster, I suppose I’ll take what I can get.

NMB48 – Ibiza Girl

Again, this is here because of NMB’s lackluster year, though I do like Ibiza Girl much more than Kokoro no Placard. It’s a fun upbeat number with a catchy melody. It has a real energy to it, in a way that’s missing from a lot of 48 group songs this year. In the entire NMB48 oeuvre it’s not particularly memorable, but it’s NMB48’s best song of the year, and is the best 48 song of the year. Like I mentioned, I’m not particularly impressed with the 48 groups this year. I really think they can do better, with their level of popularity and the resources the 48 groups have, so it’s unfortunate when nearly everything they put out this year is forgettable and bland. Ibiza Girl is probably the only 48 group song from 2014 that I will still be listening to in 2015, so for that it gets an honorable mention. It’s fun, upbeat, and has a memorable/fun melody. It’s not quite NMB’s best (last year’s Bokura no Eureka might be up there) but it’s still good.

Everything Armor Girls put out this year, but especially A!Chu! A!Chu!, CLAP and Matsuri Adventure.

I never thought I would become a fan of Alice Project. I never really got into Alice Juban and Steam Girls’ music doesn’t really appeal to me. However, Armor Girls struck a chord with me that I didn’t know I had. The members perform in fake armor and perform Irish-inspired pop songs? Somehow this is what I’ve always wanted out of a group. The armor gimmick is cool, but the fact that Armor Girls’ songs are all fantastic. All of them. The three songs I’ve highlighted are the three of the ones that came out last year (a few others came out late 2013).

The only thing is that Alice Project groups tend to do more live performances than release singles. While Alice Project has become one of the three big groups of Alice Project, they haven’t put out any singles yet. My rules for my top 25 songs of the year state that they have to be songs that were released this year and no covers, because I want to honor the music that was put out this year. So I can’t technically honor any of these Armor Girls songs in my actual top 25. But I have to give them an honorable mention because all of the Armor Girls music is excellent, and I really hope that this group does well in the future.

Ange Reve – Yuukan na Koi no Serenade

Ange Reve is another Arc Jewel group, the label that also brought Lovely Doll and Doll Elements. Ange Reve made its debut just this year, and Yuukan na Koi no Serenade was its first song. Even though Lovely Doll and Doll Elements have been around for a couple of years now, I have to say I’m very impressed by Yuukan na Koi. It’s a very catchy song that sounds fantastic for a group’s first song. It’s not necessarily the most interesting song of the year, but I think it’s impressive that a new indie group can have a song that has me singing it to myself for months after the first listen.

Rev.from DVL – Love -arigatou-

You might be wondering why I have this down on my honorable mentions. Rev. from DVL is one of my favorite idol groups around, and Love Arigatou is one of their most beloved songs. The reason it’s on here is because it’s a cover. A cover from the group that wrote a lot of Rev’s songs, but the first time I know of Rev performing it happened after the original group did it. Love Arigatou isn’t particularly unique, but it’s a really solid pop song that has a melody that doesn’t scream idol to me. It has one of my favorite melodies, and I think it’s a very solid song. I’m not entirely thrilled with every change that has been made to the arrangement since Rev went major, but it’s still a favorite idol song I wish I could put on my top list.