I feel like when people talk about the trajectory of idol singers in Japan, at least with English-speakers and foreigners, not enough people talk about Speed. Speed’s a bit of an odd one out, with their R&B inspired sound not really being super influential for future idol groups. It’s not very easy to track the trajectory of idol groups in the way that you can say that Onyanko Club lead to Morning Musume which lead to AKB48. That said, Speed’s best of album Moment is the highest selling girl group album in Japanese history. So while it’s difficult to show Speed as being as influential as something like Onyanko Club or Morning Musume, they are an important part of Japanese idol history.
Arguably their most recognized song, White Love isn’t my normal cup of tea. While not slow paced it is a ballad, and while not quite as r&b focused as some of Speed’s other music that influence is still present. That said, even if its genre isn’t my particular interest, White Love is just an undeniably good song. While the entire song is good, the chorus is so strong and powerful that just listening to it makes me want to belt it out. The song is also carried by just how strong vocal performers Speed are (another aspect of Speed that’s sadly not idol mainstream right now), and some great instrumentation including the acoustic guitar in the bridge.
White Love is a classic idol song at this point and definitely deserves to be a classic.
I’ve seen this referred to as a definitive idol song and it’s hard to argue why. With some stellar lyrics written by Akimoto Yasushi, this is very self-referential and refers back to the life of being an idol singer in Japan. The translated lyrics can be found here and I think they’re worth a read purely based on how much they feel like an idol song. Sections like this:
“As for the subject of love, I do fall in love, but
If it’s a scandal you want, then no thank you
My image is important!
Being pure, proper, and beautiful”
work really well as being a comment on idol culture that still works today. It’s this directly commenting on idol culture and things like dating bans that makes some of Akimoto Yasushi’s lyrics so interesting – he touches on this again in NMB48’s Mousou Girlfriend, for example. It’s one of the most interesting aspects of Akimoto’s lyric writing, and I wish he’d touch more on it.
Nantettate Idol is also a really great song – the melody works well throughout and it’s fun song to sing. I know that I love doing this one at karaoke and hamming up the “scandal nara NO THANK YOU” line. While it’s a relatively old song, being from 1985, it feels really current. While I enjoy Matsuda Seiko’s work despite (or maybe because?) it’s a little dated, Nantettate Idol sounds like it could be a new song.
When it comes to idol music before 2009 a lot of it comes down to Hello!Project and Morning Musume. Morning Musume is in many ways my first idol music love, so a lot of Morning Musume’s early music has gotten to be very nostalgic for me. One of the most nostalgic songs and best songs of early Monring Musume is Renai Revolution 21. One of Morning Musume’s most well known and well loved tracks, I know that I’ve heard a lot of criticism that this song is overplayed. While this may be in many ways accurate – the song is played at a lot of concerts and on a lot of TV appearances. And yet, despite its relative overplay, I have yet to get sick of Renai Revolution 21.
In many ways it’s a song that is up my alley – disco-inspired arrangement by prolific Hello!Project collaborator Dance Man? Check. Morning Musume’s golden era featuring one of my favorite pop singers ever? Check. Upbeat pop track with solid bass line? Check. But I think ultimately it’s just a really catchy song that’s well written and arranged well, set at a perfect upbeat tempo (though without being TOO fast. Renai Revolution 21 is in many ways a modern pop classic. It’s about as perfect as a pop song can get. I honestly can’t think of any real flaws to Renai Revolution 21, which is why I can listen to it again, and again, and again.
Honestly, if there’s any person that could have and should have matched Matsuda Seiko as being an Eternal Idol it was Matsuura Aya. I still find it entirely frustrating just how little Aya’s career was supported near the end, when she’s one of the most talented and charismatic performers in Japanese pop history. She has a gorgeous voice, tons of personality and stage presence.
While a lot has been said and written about Aya’s early career when she was at her most popular (This article is particularly good), the song of the day is off one of her later, less listened to albums, Double Rainbow.
I think one of the reasons I love this song so much is because of this performance. If I’m ever asked about why I love Matsuura Aya, I’d say it’s all in here. Like always Aya’s vocals are great, but she also plays to the audience so well, so almost effortlessly, that it’s immediately clear how great of a pop performer she is.
The other thing about Happy to Go is that it’s just a great song. Double Rainbow is a lot slower of an album than Aya’s earlier work, with more ballads and more jazzy numbers, but Happy to Go has that kind of jazzy feel with an upbeat sound. It’s a lot more mature than her earlier music, but it’s completely suited to Aya’s vocals and her strengths as a performer at that time. In general Double Rainbow is one of my favorite albums ever, so if you like this then I definitely recommend that as well.
When looking at my first week of song of the day posts, I realized quickly that I was favoring recent songs, songs that had been released within the past three years (with several from 2016). While I’m certainly more familiar with recent music rather than older music, I don’t want this series to just be current songs I like. So, for my second week doing a song of the day, it’s all going to be songs released before 2009.
Why 2009? I was thinking of doing only songs more than 10 years old. However, in many ways 2009 is the start of the current idol boom. AKB48’s first #1 single was River, which came out late in 2009, and 2009 was also when Hello!Projects older members left en masse with the disbandment of its Elder Club. So making the cut off 2009 makes some sense to me.
If we’re talking about classic idol music, I don’t think there’s a better person to listen to than Matsuda Seiko, who I’d say is probably the most influential idol singer in Japanese history. While other singers and groups like Yamaguchi Momoe, Pink Lady and Candies set the stage, when I think of a standard idol it’s Matsuda Seiko that comes to mind, and her upbeat, happy pop music. And while I have a lot of Seiko songs I could write about (and frankly probably will, in the upcoming months/years of this series), her first single “Hadashi no Kisetsu” is genuinely wonderful.
One of the things that amazes me about Hadashi no Kisetsu is just how strong of a singer and a performer Matsuda Seiko was from day one. With a lot of current performers, it takes some years before we really see their full potential, but it’s pretty clear to me (perhaps just with hindsight) that Seiko was a star from day 1.
Hadashi no Kisetsu is also just a pretty great song. While in many ways it sounds a bit dated, not exactly the early 80s sound that gets revived in pop music today, it’s still a pleasant, really catchy song. The instrumentation is lush with strings and flutes, and the melody is catchy. But at the heart of Hadashi no Kisetsu is Seiko’s appeal – like all of her music, Seiko’s performance improves almost anything.
When I was getting ready for the Women’s March last week I inexplicably got GEM’s No Girls No Fun stuck in my head. While No Girls No Fun isn’t exactly the slogan I needed to put on my sign, it’s one of the catchier songs from recent years.
One of the things I really like about No Girls No Fun is just how much it feels like a song meant to be sung by a group. While this is kind of obvious, I think it’s always a little awkward when groups perform a song that was clearly meant to be sung by a solo artist. With how much of a back and forth there is from members during the verses, this song is clearly intended for a group.
I also like how cool and laid back the song is at first in the verses before bursting into the chorus. This song has an interesting pace, but manages to stay interesting and fresh throughout. Each section of the song leads into the next well. It feels cohesive but at the same time changing up well.
No Girls No Fun is just a good song, and performed well by GEM.
Much like Especia’s Danger, which I wrote about a few days ago, Wakita Monari’s debut single, In the City, is a song I really wish I knew about before I wrote my Top 25 songs of 2016 list. And, coincidentally, Monari is a former member of Especia.
In the City is very much a continuation of Especia, in a way, being retro sounding city pop. It’s not quite the same sound (this doesn’t have the same synth sound as earlier Especia) but it’s also excellent. The with a lot of strings, a strong bassline and clapping that gives it a real disco feel, perhaps even more old fashioned than Especia’s standard late 80s / early 90s sound.
I don’t like In the City nearly as much as Danger, but In the City is a very promising debut. I love all the strings, the clapping, and Monari is a compelling singer. Monari has a new single coming out next month, and I’m hoping for future successes for her.
In my first post I mentioned how I use idol songs to improve my mood, and by my estimation there’s no song that’s quite as mood-lifting as Kiss Me Happy. It’s just pure sugary bubblegum pop but in the best way, by crafting a song that’s so upbeat and happy that it’s infectious. When I think about wanting to listen to an idol-y song, Kiss Me Happy is one that I listen to.
Honestly, thinking of more to say is tough. There’s nothing particularly wrong about the song to harp on, though one of the members’ vocals sounds a bit like Kermit the Frog in that it sounds like she drank a big glass of milk before recording and got her vocal chords all gummy. But other than that small thing (which isn’t even really a thing), Kiss Me Happy isn’t bad. That said, it being pure idol pop it’s not particularly interesting, either. Whereas Especia’s Danger is a song I’d point to if I wanted to make an example of an interesting song, I wouldn’t do that here. Kiss Me Happy is like a slice of plain cheesecake – it’s good, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not particularly interesting. And yet, like that plain piece of cheesecake, there’s something comforting about revisiting Kiss Me Happy.
When it comes to hip hop and idols l’ve always been more of a Rhymeberry fan. However, I’ve known of Lyrical School for a while, and when I heard that Hime, of the founding members of Rhymeberry, had joined Lyrical School, I decided to give them another shot. And boy is Run and Run good.
I think a big part of Run and Run’s appeal is in the members, in that all of them have a good flow and have definitely upped their skills at hip hop. Hime is particularly good (sounding her best she’s ever sounded), but another member Ayaka sounds really great too. They sound a lot more confident than I can remember from the last time I listened to Lyrical School, which is really exciting to hear.
The backing music and the melody of the hook are also really well done – Run and Run is an incredibly catchy song and well made. This is their first song under King Records, the label behind AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z, so I hope that Lyrical School can keep getting what they need to continue making music like this. Lyrical School is definitely a group to look out for.
Especia recently announced they’re disbanding, which is a shame because they only just released one of the best songs they’ve ever released. In fact, I’m actively unhappy that I only just listened to this after I made my Top 25 song list, because Danger is easily one of my top 5 songs of 2016, and is up there.
While Especia has been in the business of doing late 80s/early 90s city pop with a lot of disco and funk inspired sound, a lot of their music sounds very purposefully dated. Songs like Kuru Ka Na and No1 Sweeper purposefully sound pretty archaic, like the 90s music you’re not all that nostalgic for. Danger keeps the inspiration, but instead doesn’t sound dated, and instead sounds inspired by the best parts of the era. There’s no early 90s cheese, but only the best of that funky sound.
The bass line starts off the song and is perfect throughout. As is the instrumentation and arrangement, really – there are so many things going on throughout this song. The bass line is always present, there’s a shock of trumpet every so often, the guitar line is great, there are strings in the chorus and sparingly (but perfect) keys. When I mention instrumentation and arrangements being lacking in relation to other songs, this is what I mean by a good one. It’s lush without being too busy, it’s noticeable but it doesn’t take away from the melody line sung flawlessly by Tominaga Haruka, who, if there’s any justice in this world, will have some sort of solo career following Especia’s disbandment. Also, isn’t it kind of weird and amazing that this song is 100% in English?
Danger is perfect. Just, everything about this song is wonderful and I need you to go listen to it. And I need more songs like this in idol music, immediately.