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.