Song of the Day #2: C-ute – The Power

Today I went to a protest with 90,000 to 100,000 people attending, so today I’m recommending a song that pumps me up, and not much pumps me up like C-ute’s song The Power.

I’ve been listening to a lot of C-ute’s music lately, as their disbandment as a group looms, but one song that I’ve been thinking about a lot has been The Power. C-ute’s trajectory, like any long-lasting group, has been an interesting one, moving from being a group of kids to being a group of adults, but this might be one of their first singles that feels, well, powerful. They’ve had lots of cute songs, songs that are sad, songs that have energy, but The Power is very aptly named. The song builds perfectly through the verse and especially right before the chorus. Yet, while the song is well written, I don’t know if it would have the same impact performed by a different group. C-ute has developed a great confidence in their recent years, which comes from several years of performing experience.

This song isn’t perfect – there are certain points where the instrumentation needs a tad more power, and I’d like a bit more of that in the chorus. But that said, when I want to listen to a song to pump me up, as song that has power, The Power is one that I turn to.

Song of the Day #1: Keyakizaka46 – Silent Majority

Today, as we start the beginning of the new era, I decided I wanted to start a new project. Ultimately that means me writing more. Like many other people, especially people living in the United States, I am frightened, anxious, and want to do something. While I’m going to try to be more active politically and financially, however I can, I also want to use my writing.

Throughout the past nine, ten years of my life, when things are difficult I’ve turned to Japanese idol music. In many ways it’s been a crutch that has helped me get through loss, loneliness, anxiety and a thousand other things that I have dealt with. So, through the next four difficult years, my goal is to write about a song a day that I find meaningful, has impacted me in one way or another, or I just simply like. Honestly, I think this will mostly be that last category. Yet, for everything Jpop is, a lot of the time it’s cheery, upbeat, and has made me feel better, so if you like this music maybe give my song a day a listen and maybe it will help you too.

I’ve liked Keyakizaka46’s debut song since it came out, but for the past few months I’ve been listening to Silent Majority so often that it became my #3 song of 2016. While it has a great melody and its arrangement is wonderful, the lyrics more than anything have stuck with me. If you’ve listened to the song and you don’t know enough Japanese to understand the lyrics (my Japanese skill is really basic), check out this translation courtesy of the Studio48 team:

http://stage48.net/studio48/silentmajority.html

“The people ahead turn to face you
and tell you to keep in line
They preach these rules,
but their eyes are dead

You have the freedom to be the way you are
Don’t be controlled by adults
If people give up like that from the start
Then why were we even born in the first place
Having dreams means at times you’ll be faced with loneliness
You have to walk an empty path
You won’t get there even if the world is all the same
Are you really okay with Yes
Silent Majority”

Now more than ever I think people are realizing that we can’t be silent, that we can’t sit down, and I think Silent Majority does a great job of expressing that need to speak out, even if it’s against a crowd or the status quo. More than just being a song that expresses the need for self expression or chasing your dreams, Silent Majority is about the actual reality of needing to stand up.

“The president of some country once said (he lied)
Those who don’t raise their voices are agreeing

Choosing is important
Don’t leave it to others
If you don’t take action,
they won’t hear your No”

Here’s where Silent Majority goes from “being different is OK” to “we need to stand up and be heard,” and why Silent Majority has been on my mind for weeks now. While the core of its message, being different is OK, is not a stranger to idol music, the reality of Silent Majority is one of protest, of standing up and saying no, which I think is a powerful message and one I didn’t expect from Keyakizaka46. It’s OK to stand up, it’s OK to say no.

My Top Ten PVs of 2016

Hi everyone! Here’s my last list for 2016. This is in no particular order and can include covers, it’s just some of my favorite PVs from 2016.

Dempagumi.inc – Star tto Shichauze Harudashine

This PV wins the purely on set and prop design, and for being a whole lot of fun. The entire PV spoofs B movies, with each Dempagumi.inc member having their own set and gimmick, which are all beautifully and uniquely designed. My particular favorites are Mirin’s spaceship set and Nemu’s giant space creature. Everything seems to be physically built practical props, which is fun to see and works really nicely. Each set looks unique and has a different feel to it. However, partly through the PV we start to see members show up in each other’s sets (Mirin joining Nemu riding the giant space dog, for example), and walking through the large collection of sets, further emphasizing how fake it all is (but, in a way, how all these are built). The end is a giant group dance with all the extras and it’s a nice touch. This also has a lot of humor in it (mostly how Pinky can barely move in her giant monster costume), and does a great job of showcasing the group and the song. If you haven’t been following Dempa, this is a good place to start.

Niji no Conquistador – Love Men Koi-Aji Yowame

Why is a song and PV that’s purely a tie-in promotion for cup noodles so good? Love Men Koi-Aji Yowame is 3 minutes of beautiful, absurd bliss, which puts the members of Niji no Conquistador in several completely separate situations like eating bowls and bowls of ramen, doing a quiz show, being woken up on TV, doing TV show antics and so on. They’re all disparate but feel like they’re all familiar things for idol fans, and the details at the end feel pretty legitimate. It’s strange and fun. Plus, they just throw in Hyadain, my favorite songwriter, who didn’t even write this song (and hasn’t written a song for Niji no Conquistador in some time?) It’s just bizarre and fun.

Dream Ami – Lovefool ~Suki datte Itte~

This, much like the Dempagumi.inc PV, succeeds on a production design basis. Every single set, from the band performing during the chorus to the crises around the house, to the basic details, all ooze style. Ami herself plays everything straight, languishing while there is chaos around her, which fits perfectly to the song. Every little detail, edit, set design, is perfect – I don’t have a favorite or #1 PV on this list, but if I had to pick I might give it to Lovefool.

Team Syachihoko – Cherie!

Cherie has two gimmicks in it and both work very well. First off is the QR codes littered throughout the PV, which are honestly kind of genius in that they demand a level of interaction that most PVs don’t interact. It’s so genius, it’s the type of thing I wonder why it hasn’t been done before. I know the night when Cherie came out I got a QR scanner and just scanned as many as I could. Some lead to behind the scenes videos, some lead to brands that are used in the PV. While some of the codes just lead to error messages (where they used to lead to products that are no longer sold at that retailer), looking through these are fun and demands more engagement from the viewer.

The other thing that’s striking is the fashion. Team Syachihoko has never been exactly a fashionable group – most of their costumes in the past have been questionable at best – I say this with love as a fan, but they were often odd, ridiculous. Cherie has fashion and is set in fashionable Harajuku, and all the members have several outfits they wear throughout the shoot, and all of them are pretty cute – even their main member outfits for this are cute too. It’s fun to see the group try on so many outfits, and it’s a really fun gimmick for the PV.

This isn’t to say the basic elements of the PV aren’t good – it’s edited well, it’s shot well, but these two gimmicks make Cherie really memorable.

AKB48 – Love Trip

Look, you should know that I haven’t been great with keeping up with AKB48 – most of my favorite members are long gone, the music is largely uninspiring at best. However, every year I check out a few PVs and singles, just to make sure that I’m not missing some giant resurgence of quality from AKB. Love Trip is, as I mentioned in my honorable mentions for songs, probably the best of the bunch, and the PV is also a lot of fun. Since I’m pretty ignorant to the current state of AKB, I have no idea if the actual premise of the PV is real (i.e., did AKB48 travel around Japan helping people confess their love to their crushes?) or if it’s just acted out. Does that even matter? All I know is that it’s a cute premise for a PV, that AKB goes around to cheer on people in love. It’s kind of weird in a way, that AKB is cheering on love but the members on the group aren’t allowed to date, but it’s a cute premise, it’s shot well, and a genuinely pretty fun and at times moving PV that made me think of it for this list.

Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari) – Party People Alien

Honestly, the fact that this song and PV didn’t get more attention is baffling to me. This is almost designed to grab attention. Set primarily at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, and features a lot of extras, including some wrestlers, a member of Idol Renaissance and the actual writer of the song. The PV perfectly matches the weirdness and the pace of the song, and is a lot of fun to watch. It’s almost unbelievable that this came from Up-Front, considering the budget that had to have gone into this. Party People Alien is chaotic, hectic, and fits its song perfectly.

The World Standard – Ultra Mirakurukuru Final Ultimate Choco Beam

This has such a strong aesthetic throughout, with paint dripping as the main backdrop of the dance section, the interior set (with paint dripping behind the window), and down to the costumes. These are probably my favorite idol costumes of the year. However, the real draw is the narrative of the song in the PV, which is the RPG game stylized fights with clearly hand-drawn enemies. It adds an interesting flavor to the PV, and made it immediately stand out. Adding to this some surprisingly decent graphics at the end, Wasuta’s debut PV has a ton of heart and character, making it one of the most fun PVs of the year.

Momoiro Clover Z – The Golden History

The Golden History has one of the more interesting concepts for a PV this year, which is the idea that this PV was a complete surprise to MomoClo. Whether this is true or not is up for debate (I have no idea how they wouldn’t hear/notice the crowd for the final section of the PV) but it’s a really fun idea and showcases MomoClo at its most candid and entertaining. MomoClo’s personalities are a big part of their draw, and a PV that fully shows them off is a lot of fun. The PV is also paced pretty perfectly, and the editing near the end as they start performing on the stage in front of fans is just perfect. The Golden History’s PV is one of the more creative ones of the year and is certainly one of the most fun.

Takoyaki Rainbow – Dot JP Japan

Much like the Star tto Shichauze Harudashine, Dot JP Japan features different scenes for each member, this time being a different type of singer. Saki seems to be a Showa era idol singer (judging by the filter on her scenes), and Kurumi is doing her best Lady Gaga. All of these different scenes work really well, and while certain girls start showing up in each other’s scenes I love how separate these all feel and how seriously they’re played – even when Kurumi is posing with a kebab of meat (relating to the lyrics about Japanese food), she plays it serious. That said, since this is such a goofy song Takoyaki Rainbow do play into that. Dot JP Japan, the song and PV, are such a joy to watch that this PV is continuously enjoyable.

Dempagumi.inc – WWDBEST

Dempagumi.inc put out their best of album, also titled WWDBEST, and this is the original song and PV off that album. As noted by the title, this PV is chock full of references to older Dempagumi.inc work, making it almost a love letter to Dempagumi.inc’s previous work. There are clear references to Future Diver, WWD, WWD II, Gida Gida da Zuba Zuba da, Fuyu e to Hashiridasu o, and countless other costumes and references – I’m sure there are several things I’m missing. It’s well made, as to be expected, and it’s a fun love letter to fans and to the group.

My Top 25 Songs of 2016 Part 5

Here we go, time for my favorite 5 songs of 2016!

5. Dempagumi.inc – Va! to the Future

Dempagumi.inc had a pretty solid year with, among other things, two big albums – Go Go Dempa, earlier in 2016, and then a best collection called WWDBest ~Denpa Ryoukou~, and I recommend both – if you aren’t super familiar with Dempagumi.inc, WWDBest collects a LOT of Dempagumi.inc’s best music, and if you use Spotify it’s on there too!

However, from Go Go Dempa came one of my favorite songs of the year, Va! to the Future. While Dempagumi.inc has some great ballads, they’re at their best when they’re manic, fast paced, and Va! To the Future is that to a T. Perhaps not quite as ambitious as some of their past songs like both WWD songs, Va! to the Future is one of the most enjoyable songs of 2016 to listen to. It’s perfectly paced, has a great melody, and is super catchy. The arrangement is great – the piano sounds wonderful in particular. It’s pretty straightforward Dempagumi.inc, but, considering Dempagumi.inc is one of the most consistent idol groups out there in regards to having quality music, that’s not a bad thing at all. Va! to the Future is manic, upbeat, and one of the most fun songs of 2016.

4. ANGERME – Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku

I don’t think I expected an ANGERME song to to get this high on a top list, but I’ve been listening to Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku pretty regularly since its release back in April. Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku is near perfect, and a lot of that comes down to its beat and how well it works with the overall song. This was written and arranged by Hirata Shouichiro, a long-time arranger for Hello!Project who, among other things, has aranged songs like Def.Diva’s Suki Sugite Baka Mitai, Morning Musume’s Renai Hunter, and so on. While he’s arranged some other, cuter songs, Hirata’s great at doing cooler, EDM sounds, and it’s great that he’s been able to take that history of arranging for H!P and make a song that’s cooler and more interesting than a lot of H!P songs. So the beat is great, the electronic sound is great, and the melody works very well with this. There’s a perfect interplay of vocals, spoken sections and rap, to the point where this is a pretty complex song. Just an anecdote, but I tried to sing Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku at karaoke and completely failed, not from the rap sections but from the chorus. The members of the group also sell this song with all of that. This is one of Kamikokuryo Moe’s first songs and she completely sells her spoken section. Surprisingly the rap sections sound great, even though idol song rap sections are often mediocre. All the members of ANGERME are on point. Every element of Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku just works, and it was one of the best songs of 2016.
3. Keyakizaka46 – Silent Majority


Yeah, I’m just as surprised as all of you that Silent Majority is up here. When I spoke about The World Standard earlier I mentioned that they had a pretty stellar debut, I also mentioned that there was another group that had a great debut, and that’s Keyakizaka46. In many ways, Silent Majority feels almost like an instant classic, like they put out something as memorable as AKB48’s Heavy Rotation or Nogizaka46’s Seifuku no Mannequin as their debut. Silent Majority is just wonderful in every way. The accoustic guitar heavy arrangement works very well, the melody is almost immediately catchy – after the first listen I was almost immediately singing the final “Silent majority!” of the chorus to myself. Even though the melody from the verses and the chorus are very different, they manage to work well together.

However, while the musical elements are pretty perfect and memorable, the lyrics are some of my favorite that I’ve heard from any idol song. While they’re focused on individuality and choosing your own path (which has been tread before), it especially calls out that silent majority who stick to the designated path society gives you, asking them “are you really OK with saying yes?” and telling people that they should think for themselves, even if it means travelling an empty path. It’s a realistic but compelling argument, and one that feels culturally relevant for modern society in a way that not a lot of other idol songs feel. Lyrics are rarely a reason I choose a song for this list, and I wouldn’t put Silent Majority so high on this list if the musical elements weren’t all fantastic, but Silent Majority’s lyrics are wonderful.

2. Morning Musume ’16 – Utakata Saturday Night

If I didn’t expect ANGERME to make my top 5 I certainly didn’t expect Morning Musume. Morning Musume’s output in 2016 was mostly unmemorable – they’ve hit a bit of a musical rut. However, Utakata Saturday Night has the double whammy of being just about a perfect song, being a perfect Hello!Project song, and being clearly disco-flavored (which you should know, based off the name of this blog, is something that I adore). Utakata Saturday Night feels reminiscent of old-school, golden era Hello!Project in the vein of Love Machine and Renai Revolution 21 without retreading or rehashing those old songs. In many ways Utakata Saturday Night feels like an instant classic – it’s a song I wouldn’t be surprised if Morning Musume was still regularly performing in 10 years. It has a great beat, the strings in the arrangement are great, and it has an immediately catchy melody. It also feels like a very relevant song for idols, focused on how ephemeral and short lived the experience is. While it may not sound immediately like a song for graduating idols, in a way it’s pretty perfect as being Suzuki Kanon’s big last hurrah while in the group. It’s one of the most fun songs of 2016, too, and the one that I honestly thought would be #1 for months until I got to November.

1. Momoiro Clover Z – The Golden History

I fought pretty hard over which song I should put at #1, this or Utakata Saturday Night. Both are fun, upbeat songs with a lot of disco and funk influence. However, The Golden History ended up getting it. It has a pretty fantastic, funky beat, the horns that start out the song immediately caught my attention, and it’s up my alley in a way that I didn’t quite expect Momoiro Clover Z to get. Earlier this year, I hemmed and hawed about whether I should fly out to see Momoiro Clover Z’s live show in New York – I had already gone on vacation to New York earlier that year, and it didn’t make a whole lot of financial sense. However, The Golden History’s PV came out and I immediately realized I had to go see this performed live. I think I would have eventually chosen to go, but The Golden History sped up that decision – that’s how good it is to me. This is also one of the best songs I’ve ever seen performed live, as it builds perfectly, gets the crowd pumped, and gets everyone jumping throughout the chorus. It’s one of my favorite concert experiences ever. However, even outside of a concert venue, The Golden History is a pretty perfectly written, arranged, and performed song and it definitely deserves being my #1 song of a strong year of music.

My Top 25 Songs of 2016 Part 4

10. Momoiro Clover Z – Imagination

Here’s another MomoClo track, this time it’s Imagination off the Hakkin no Yoake album. This is one of the more straightforward songs off these albums. It’s very cute, upbeat pop. Cute is the operative word – it’s straightforward and one of the cutest songs the group has done. Yet, everything works for Imagination. It’s got a perfect arrangement, the melody is cute, and its pacing is impeccable. It’s not one of the most inventive songs of the year, but it’s one I listened to on repeat and feels pretty perfectly crafted. Imagination is a delight from start to finish, and it says a lot that this is one of the highlights from MomoClo’s two wonderful albums.

9. Juice = Juice – Keep On! Joshou Shikou!

I have high hopes for Juice=Juice moving forward. Hello! Project’s output is inconsistent at best, but Juice=Juice keeps having solid music. I think it helps that all of the members are increasingly becoming legitimately good performers and singers. Last year’s Umaretate no Baby Love was my #1 song of the year, and here Juice=Juice is again in my top 10. Keep On Joshou Shikou is basically tailor made for me to love it. It was written by Maeyamada Kenichi, my favorite songwriter, and was arranged by Dance Man, who arranged a lot of classic H!P tracks like Renai Revolution 21, Love Machine, The Peace, etc. It lives up to that impressive pedigree, by being a clearly 80s Michael Jackson inspired track that works incredibly well. Even if I cringe a bit at the repeated “you only live once,” it also has some great lyrics. Everything about this song is impeccable, and it should be no surprise that it’s on this list.

8. Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku – Haruyasumi Moratorium Chuugakusei

Ebichu’s most recent album, Anarchy, would have been a contender for album of the year had MomoClo’s albums been any less good. The clear stand out of Anarchy (other than Zette Anarchy, which should be an honorable mention here) is Haruyasumi Moritorium Chuugakusei. With a lot of rock flavor, this song is a perfect combination of some killer guitar-heavy instrumentation (with some great piano/keys too), a great melody, and some great pacing. This song has some great interplay between different vocals and exclamations, so there is zero boredom in this song. It’s one of the most fun, high paced songs of the year. Anarchy is available on iTunes, so if you have some money definitely give it a shot, but at the very least check out Haruyasumi Moratorium Chuugakusei.

7. Niji no Conquistador – Alien Girl in New York

Niji no Conquistador didn’t have quite as good of a year musically in 2016 as they did in 2015, but Alien Girl in New York all but makes up for any songs I didn’t particularly care for because it’s just wonderful. A bit funky, a bit disco inspired, a bit jazzy, Alien Girl in New York has some great instrumentation (there are some clanking piano sections that are particularly great), one of the catchiest choruses of the year, and, if not great vocals, vocals that completely sell the song. I feel like in many ways this song is completely up my alley. The arrangement also reminds me a bit of Berryz Koubou’s Ryuusei Boy, which, given that both of these songs were ALSO arranged by Dance Man, this totally makes sense. This song is weird, funky, and hits all my buttons.

6. Momoiro Clover Z – Guns n’ Diamond

Guns n’ Diamond is one of the hardest songs to describe – I’ve been trying to think for a while how I would describe it, and I’m coming up blank. The best way I think I can describe it is that I can almost imagine it being used as the theme song to a modern noir, detective film – it’s mysterious, almost inscrutable (given how much the last 45 seconds deviate from the last of the song). It feels almost completely new, dark and mysterious. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard any songs completely like Guns n’ Diamond, which is why it’s my standout song from MomoClo’s Amaranthus.
In trying to describe just what Guns n’ Diamond actually IS, I came across this review on New School Kaidan which I think describes just how special I feel Guns n’ Diamond is, and why it’s one of the best songs on Amaranthus. Take a look!

My Top 25 Songs of 2016 Part 3

15. Team Syachihoko – Kemono no Hanamichi

As you may have noticed, this is the third song from Team Syachihoko’s Cherie single to make it to this list, which is why, even though the highest ranking is #15, Cherie is probably overall the strongest song. Kemono no Hanamichi is a high energy, vaguely ska inspired (though not as much as Batten Shoujo Tai’s Osshoi). It’s one of the most positive songs of the year, with lyrics focusing on working hard to be your best self. It has some of my favorite lyrics of the year. Overall, though, Kemono no Hanamichi is one of the most fun, positive songs with a great arrangement and all of Team Syachihoko’s infectious energy. It’s Syachi at their best, and it’s one of the most enjoyable songs of 2016.

14. The World Standard – Ultra Mirakurukuru Final Ultimate Choco Beam

This year there were two big debuts that I think made a huge splash on the idol world. This is the first, the other is later on the list. The World Standard (also known as Wasuta) is a new group from Avex’s Idol Street label, but is cuter and more idol-y than Super Girls, Cheeky Parade and GEM ever are. This song from their debut album is all over the place in the best of ways. It’s just weird, and off the wall goofy, but with Avex’s production values. There’s a great melody, the lyrics are all really fun (though I have to say some of the cat stuff veers very closely to fan service). This is one of the songs that will get stuck in your head, and I feel like will continue to make an impact within the idol fan community for quite a while. It’s odd and delightful in a way I haven’t come to expect from Avex groups, and I hope that Wasuta keeps up the good work.

13. Momoiro Clover Z – Tougenkyou

Picking out the songs from Momoiro Clover Z’s albums to put on this list was a very very difficult choice. And frankly, if this list was more accurate, it would be half Momoiro Clover Z, becuase both Amaranthus and Hakkin no Yoake were pretty phenomenal albums. Of the songs not put on this list, I can think that We Are Born, Mahalo Vacation, Pink Zora, Saboten to Ribbon, Demonstration, Hakkin no Yoake, and many others really SHOULD be. That said, I tried to limit it to just a few songs to represent what I love about these albums. Because there is a lot to love.

If I had to sit down and pick a favorite between Amaranthus and Hakkin no Yoake, I’d probably go with Hakkin no Yoake. Hakkin no Yoake often feels more dreamy, laid back and conceptual. All of these things are in full force in Tougenkyou, the first song (aside from the prologue) on Hakkin no Yoake. Even when the song is more upbeat and even during the relatively fast chorus, the backing instrumentals is often slow and dreamy. The arrangement works perfectly, something that’s the case within all of Amaranthus and Hakkin no Yoake. This song is the perfect marriage of being a fun upbeat song to start off the album while also conveying the tone of the rest of the album.

12. Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari) – Party People Alien

Party People Alien seems like a song almost tailor made to go viral, and the fact it didn’t is kind of baffling. It’s a catchy dance track with a fairly easy dance and almost inscrutably weird lyrics and one of Up Up Girls’ biggest (and weirdest) PVs. That said, even if it’s the song that seems designed to bring Up Up Girls more relevance, it’s just a great dance song. The entire song builds perfectly and is paced perfectly. The verses build perfectly up to the chorus, which ends up delivering on the promise of the verses (though I do find it interesting that the chorus doesn’t feature any vocals from Up Up Girls themselves). The few moments of slowness work well too – I like that it knows to vary up the energy of the song, and Sekine Azusa’s vocals in the few moments of slowness are absolutely lovely. This isn’t just a great idol song, it’s also a great dance song, and is one of Up Up Girls’ finest.

11. Takoyaki Rainbow – Dot JP Japan

Takoniji’s major debut with Avex didn’t start all that well. Nanairo Dance, their major debut single, was mediocre at best, and I know that as a fan of Takoyaki Rainbow’s indies work I was worried if this didn’t bode well for a Stardust act being part of Avex. However, Dot JP Japan assuaged those worries by being a perfect mix of what makes both Stardust and Avex work – being a weird, high energy song (Stardust) with some great production value (Avex). The song being written by Maeyamada Kenichi also doesn’t hurt. Dot Jp Japan is a weird song with odd lyrics but it works so well. It has a great melody, builds well (much like Party People Alien, now that I think about it) and has some of the strangest lyrics but ones that will stick in your head (I know I’ve quoted “it’s so yum yum yummy yummy gochisou sami sami” about a thousand times). Dot JP Japan also feels like Takoyaki Rainbow’s indie work, which is pretty important as well. It’s both Takoyaki Rainbow and Avex at their respective bests, and it shows that both of those can work together for something pretty great.