Is this too much navel-gazing? Well, I can’t be bothered to care, because this is a 100% subjective list! Hooray!
Note that this isn’t my BEST Happy Disco posts. However, when I think back on my five years of Disco-ing, I think about these posts with the most pride and the most pleasure. So here we go~
Honorable Mention: The Tokyo Idol Festival series. Yeaah it fizzled out last year. I realize that. However, writing about TIF is honestly just as much about my personal edification as an idol fan as it is for the readers. Every single year I discover a new group or artist that grabs my attention, that I might not have noticed had it been for TIF. i*Ris, Rhymeberry, RYUTist, Oomori Seiko, the list really goes on and on. Honestly, if you want to expand your horizons with idol music, taking a quick look at all the artists going to TIF is one of the best ways to do it.
There are two reasons why this is an honorable mention – there is no one post that stands out to me as being a personal favorite, and because there have been years where my coverage fizzles out (sorry!!). But it’s perhaps my most personally rewarding articles, so I feel like I want to include these.
I’ve written three of these suckers, but two of them were on Idolminded, and the first one is the one I remember most. While my idol blogging years have had their ups and downs and I haven’t always been the best example to follow, I do really think that blogging has had a major impact on me personally. So in 2011 I chose to share reasons why I liked blogging and why becoming a blogger (specifically about idols) is a great choice.
This is one of the most influential things I’ve written – it was one of the earliest pieces that I wrote that got anyone’s notice. But more than any of that, it carried a message I’m proud of. If it got anyone to even think about writing, then I think I did my job.
While I had written about the industry here and there before this post, this is the post I remember as being my leap into analysis of the industry, moving beyond mere reactionary pieces and reviews into the thought pieces that are a cornerstone of why I love writing for Happy Disco. Is this the best piece of analysis I’ve written? Certainly not. And I had done some analysis here and there. But this is a proto ‘idol thoughts’ piece, and it’s one of the earliest pieces that made me proud as a writer.
In 2014 I attended two idol events, but the one that made me most excited at the time was seeing Aso Natsuko live. While my Nacchan fandom has grown considerably since then (especially as I explored her albums, which are excellent), I was already a fan by the time Hyper Japan 2012 was around. I was in London, which was exciting, and I went to my first idol live. While my writing on Idol Matsuri and Morning Musume in New York are probably better and more on point, what I think I captured in this piece was the sheer excitement of meeting one of my favorite idols. While the other events I’ve been to were superb, seeing and meeting Aso Natsuko cemented that I love the idol world and that I’m in this for the long haul.
I’ve written other reviews, possibly other better reviews. My review of Team Syachihoko’s Himatsubushi album is incredibly long and took me months. But my review of Ii Kurashi is special because it got me some attention from the songwriter, which was kind of incredible, and it got me some attention from the Japanese Syachihoko fanbase. The idea that Team Syachihoko fans from Japan have looked at my blog is kind of bizarre and wonderful. It’s always fun knowing your blog has an audience, and mine got some small attention that surprised me.
Honestly, at this point I don’t think I’ll post the other interviews from Idol Matsuri. It’s nothing personal, but I just don’t think I did a good enough job there, and I don’t think that there was much I could share that would be interesting, especially this far after the convention. However, I am very happy with my interview with Beckii. As someone who has been aware of her career for quite some time, sitting down with Beckii was VERY surreal. But I had a ton of fun chatting with Beckii, asking her a few questions, and talking. She is a very kind person, and it felt like she was being very upfront about everything, which was nice. Doing interviews is something I NEVER expected to do with Idol Matsuri, and i’m glad I got this opportunity!
Have any favorite posts from my five years of Happy Disco? Leave a comment and let me know!
Five years ago today, on February 23rd 2010, I started a blog. It wasn’t on this domain, and not all of my old posts are on this current site (though my old blogspot blog is still up, if you want to sift through it). But it was still Happy Disco. So today is the fifth anniversary of the day that I created Happy Disco.
Throughout this week I’m going to post a few retrospective things. But man, I just want to reflect a bit on this. Because really, I’m not sure I expected to keep doing this for as long as I have been. When I created this blog I was 18 years old and in my freshman year of college. I’ve changed a lot in those five years, and I didn’t know if I would even still be an idol fan five years down the line, much less still wanting to blog about it. But here I am, five full years later. I haven’t always blogged as much as I should have, and I’ve taken breaks here and there, but I am still here.
As much as I have changed over the years, my writing has changed as well. Looking back at the early days of Happy Disco feels like looking back at an embarrassing old photo or, perhaps more accurately, an embarrassing old diary entry. However, I owe most of that change to the mere existence of Happy Disco. Writing on this blog has helped me foster my writing skills by the sheer volume of practice I do on this blog.
Blogging has helped me feel like a bigger part of the idol community. I know I’ve gushed about this community several times before this past year (with Idol Matsuri, Morning Musume in New York and my end of the year review) but it’s so true. While I would have met people without Happy Disco, it’s certainly helped make me feel like part of this community, like I’m contributing what I can. Meeting the people I have in this past year has been a real privilege, and it has me excited for the next big idol event in the US.
The idol world has changed a lot in the past five years. February 2010 was before Momoiro Clover’s major debut, it was just after AKB48 released Sakura no Shiori, it was before Morning Musume’s 9th generation. It was before iDOL Street, E-Girls, Rev. from DVL. It was before the very first Tokyo Idol Festival. It was just at the start of the idol boom, and so much has changed within the major idol collectives. It’s kind of staggering, really, to think about just how different the idol landscape was back then. I became an idol fan when things weren’t looking so great for idols, but things have turned around in a major way.
My personal idol fandom has changed a lot. At the start of Happy Disco I was primarily a Hello!Project fan, just barely starting to consider the idea of following other idol acts. Now, while I still care a lot about Hello!Project, my tastes have veered off to a variety of different acts and groups, major and indie. As much as I like to say I became an idol fan in 2007, my favorite groups are radically different. Part of that is because so many groups were formed in the recent years, but I also like to think that I’ve become a bit more open to trying new things.
Thank you to every single person who has ever read this blog, commented on it, or mentioned it to me. You all mean a lot to me, and I always appreciate the kindness I’ve been shown.
As for the future, well, I look forward to the next five years of Happy Disco.
Last year I did 15 PVs, and this year I could barely think of 10 to fit this list. I think that says a lot. 2014 had some fantastic, great PVs, but overall it was an unimpressive year.
SKE48 – Mirai to wa?
This is on here for ambition alone. It was filmed and edited in reverse, so that you see the world moving in reverse behind SKE’s members (which meant that SKE48’s members moved and mouthed the lyrics in reverse). This is a cool idea, and one that fits the idea of the single (since Mirai means “future”). However, I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. There’s not enough moments that show off the initial idea, and most of the second half is a live concert that feels a bit disjointed. The idea’s cool, but the execution isn’t all the way there.
10. Especia – Kuru ka na
Choosing between Kuru ka na and No1 Sweeper was a difficult choice – both really show the Vaporwave aesthetic, showing the very worst of the 80s/early 90s aesthetic, in a good way. However, Kuru ka na goes a step further in being just awful (in a good way!). The PV is nonsensical and more often ugly, with 3D graphics and editing that looks like someone is creating their first PV with limited art assets. The green screen is even iffy, with some of the girls’ outfits matching the green screen, creating that weird floating effect.
It’s the type of PV that, if done slightly better or done by a group without Especia’s aesthetic goals, I would be pretty baffled by. However, as it is, Kuru ka na is very purposefully exploring the ugly aesthetics of the era, and almost a critique of the era. It’s easy to feel nostalgic, because nostalgia often blinds you to the negative aspects that were forgotten by time. Kuru ka na still feels nostalgic (I know I have seen videos that look like this before) but uncomfortably so.
This is probably the closest to an art piece that is on this list, and I am really looking forward to more from Especia.
9. Morning Musume- Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe
For real, Morning Musume, shoot a PV outside and not in the comfort of your own studio. It’s OK!
That said, Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe is my favorite of the “let’s shoot this completely in front of green screen” PV that MM has done in a while. The celestial background is beautiful, and looks like effort was put into it. The solo shots in front of this look just lovely, and the solo shots in front of the white background look good, as well. None of the effects look extraneous or out of place. The editing is paced well, and moves between shots at just the right pace. I might have made the lighting a bit more interesting in the solo shots with the white background, but ultimately this is a well put together PV.
Green screen and effects heavy PVs aren’t bad, but what you need more than anything is a solid visual style and effects that don’t look cheap. While Morning Musume hasn’t always excelled at this in the past (Help Me and Pyoko Pyoko Ultra are two notable ones), Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe looks gorgeous, and so a lot can be excused.
8. Michishige Sayumi – Shabadabadou
Speaking of PVs with limited resources and locations still having potential to be good, how about that Shabadabadou? It’s a PV that relies on very little – there are two outfits, a couple of props and a minimalist sets. The bulk of the work is done by Sayumi herself (who is at her most charismatic here) and the visual effects. What makes this a great PV is that there is a unified, clear style at play. The retro visual effects fit the song perfectly and are used perfectly – they are there to serve the song and to give attention to Sayumi. This should be the goal of PVs, so Shabadabadou does a lot of good.
This PV is a great example of taking a little and making it into a lot, and what having a good staff can do. The editing is just about perfect, the lighting looks great (especially in the scenes with the mic stand). Having these basic elements done well makes a lot of the other parts seem better, too.
Ultimately, though, Shabadabadou has a unique, interesting visual style which makes it a treat to watch. H!P, take notes, this is a PV you’ll want to emulate in the future.
7. E-Girls – Odoru Pon Pokorin
I have to admit, external forces were part of what made Odoru Pon Pokorin such a memorable PV. This PV came out just after I saw Snowpiercer, my favorite movie of 2014, which is notably set almost entirely on a train in a post-apocalyptic setting. So seeing this PV, joyfully taking place on a train, was a bit weird to say the least.
However, while that’s why the PV initially stood out to me, I can’t say that’s why the PV was good. While the whole group scenes are just fine, colorful amusement park scenes that are serviceable, and the external shots of the train are hit and miss (not the best CGI, E-Girls), the set decoration of the season-themed train cars is just wonderful. I especially like the gorgeous Autumn-themed car, but the rest are great, too. There is some subtle lighting changes with each car, too, and it just all looks great. This is excellence in set design.
Beyond that, though, there is just a sense of fun throughout this PV. Getting little kids to dance along was really cute, and it felt like a chance for E-Girls to let loose, especially since E-Girls is generally a very polished group. Odoru Pon Pokorin allows the members to have some fun, and they do it well.
Ultimately, though, this PV came to mind because of the fantastic set design. Design elements like this can make PVs stand out.
6. Takoyaki Rainbow – Naniwa no Haniwa
If you’re going to do an entirely green screen PV, Naniwa no Haniwa is not a bad one to emulate. What a lot of these PVs have in common is a sense of overall style; they don’t rely on a single idea or a collection of moments, but have a unique artistic vision.
Naniwa no Haniwa looks great, and is the type of PV that you can hardly complain about being almost entirely green screen. There is a lot of style to Naniwa no Haniwa; I particularly like how the backgrounds start out muted and then become brighter and more colorful as the PV goes on. It seems like the members are bringing color into the world. Throughout everything there’s a lot of interesting, colorful graphics, and it really feels like Takoyaki Rainbow’s members are in a storybook. There are also a lot of surprising, interesting moments – my particular favorite is when the background becomes sepia toned and there are the lyrics on the screen, becoming a karaoke video.
Beyond the impressive visual style, though, what I liked was the movement. There’s a lot of camera movement, movement of the graphics in the background, and of course the movement of the members. Nothing feels static or boring, and the combination of fantastic editing and the camera movements make for a visually interesting PV. The flow of this PV is just perfect, and everything is visually engaging.
Naniwa no Haniwa is, in essence, how to do a PV in front of a green screen and do it well.
5. Dempagumi.inc – Sakura Appareshon
While I’ve be en extolling the virtues of good effects-driven PVs, I really have a lot of respect for PVs that go the opposite route, and have more minimalist PVs. While there are certainly visual effects in Sakura Appareshon (I’d actually be very interested to know just how many of the various visuals in this PV were real and how many were visual efects), it’s a fairly plain PV. There are some close up shots, but the bulk of the PV is done in very few takes, with the members of Dempagumi.inc moving around to different rooms, using props, and dancing. That’s about it. It’s a credit to the girls of Dempa that they can make this so compelling, but it totally works. The minimal effects matched with the props looks great, and it’s fun to see a PV that chooses to do so few takes/cuts.
Honestly, the biggest disappointment of this PV is that it does cut away, there are takes, and that there are these added visual effects. I’d almost rather see a single-take version of Sakura Appareshon. It might be less polished, but it would be ambitious and fun.
Still, despite wondering what might have been, this is still a lot of fun, focusing on making the best use of small amounts of resources.
4. Babyraids – Koi wa Panic
This is one of the most fun, joyful PVs of the year that shows that doing a PV almost exclusively in a studio setting can still be a ton of fun.
The PV makes use of a lot of slow motion as Babyraids’s members do a lot of silly things. The slow motion is a big part of the fun of the PV, as it adds a lot of tension and allows for anticipation to build . This also allows for the editor to make control the speed to match the song perfectly.
The slow motion works really well with the what looks like stop motion filming of the other sequences in the PV, which are done over an orange background. This adds a great contrast to the rest of the PV, and breaks up the slower moments of Koi wa Panic.
This PV is just a lot of fun, watching the members of Babyraids goof around, and I enjoyed it immensely.
3. Team Syachihoko – Shampoo Hat
While I am very fond of Ii Kurashi’s PV, Shampoo Hat was simple, relatively understated, but at the same time incredibly well made. While this is the most restrained Syachihoko PV, it is probably the best made one.
Honestly, I might have to review this PV to show everything I love about it. It’s lit perfectly, it’s shot perfectly, and the editing is just about perfect. There are several moments that, when I first saw it, made me have to pause and look – this is a beautifully made PV.
But what stands out is the use of the shampoo hat as a visual metaphor – it not only adds a lot of color and visual interest to the PV, but adds a lot to the meaning of the PV, as well. Each member’s shampoo hat corresponds to their member color (and a color they’re wearing), and show up with the person they have feelings for. It’s really clever and relatively understated.
Honestly, the only thing I would change about Shampoo Hat is a bit of the acting direction – Syachi’s members do a good job acting here, but I think it could have been improved a bit. Still, that is a small complaint for what is otherwise a fantastic PV.
2. Cheeky Parade – Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb
Well, I didn’t think that Cheeky Parade would make me cry this year, but Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb gets to me. There is a very palpable joy in Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb, which comes from this being from Cheeky Parade’s New York concert.
I really like the variety of shots in this PV – there are shots from their concert, from their appearance at New York Comic Con, and various places all over the city. It really gives you a feel like you are seeing a condensed version of Cheeky Parade’s trip.
This is a very well put together travelogue, showcasing Cheeky Parade in New York. There’s a lot of real emotion here, and it’s fantastic.
1. Dempagumi.inc – Bari 3 Kyowakoku
Honestly, just about every Dempagumi.inc PV deserves to be on a top PV list – they are just in their own category for greatness. But Bari 3 Kyowakoku just about blew me away.
In addition to every basic element being very well made (framing, lighting, editing, visual design), the clear thing that sets this apart is how well animation is combined with live action Dempagumi.inc. The transition between animation and reality is pretty seamless, with a lot of the animation being done over the members. It makes the distinction between reality and animation blur just a bit. Which I believe the group is trying to achieve – animation blurs into the members, and the members’ faces meld into the background.
It wouldn’t work well unless the animation looked good, though, but it does. Just about everything looks absolutely fantastic. I also really appreciated the clear references to anime here, specifically referencing the mecha genre (there might be a specific series but I wouldn’t know it) and Sailor Moon.
The visual style is hectic and almost purposefully clashing, but it works. There are a lot of very strange elements to this PV visually, but it all feels purposeful.
This PV is really fantastic, and was the clear choice for #1.
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.