As the end of the year approaches I start to think about the best songs of the year for my year-end rankings. While I stand by most of my rankings and think I made good calls, inevitably I discover some song that I love from the previous year that really should have made the list but didn’t. So this list is me righting the wrongs of my past five years of lists. This isn’t exhaustive – there’s a lot of great idol music out there that does deserve recognition and that I’ve come to later. These are just particular songs that have come out within the past five years that I’ve regretted not putting on a best of list, and in no particular order.
RYUTist – Nichiyoubi no Summer Train
RYUTist has been a favorite of mine for some time and are generally more of a music-minded idol group than most. However, the past two or so years have been very good for RYUTist musically and I’m disappointed I didn’t pay enough attention to their full albums before this year. Nichiyoubi no Summer Train is a great retro song with a funky vibe. The vocals sound perfect and this is easily one of the best arranged idol songs I’ve heard in a while – the background instrumental is just perfect. KOJI Oba, a favorite songwriter of mine, does a masterful job here with layers of horns, strings and RYUTist’s vocals. While I’m partial to the sax solo during the bridge, there is no part of Nichiyoubi no Summer Train that doesn’t sound great. It’s simultaneously high energy and relaxed in a lovely way. This is idol music at its best and I’m mad that I didn’t listen to it much before this year.
Wakita Monari – In The City
While I was a fan of Monari’s former group Especia, it took me until early 2017 to fully become a fan of Wakita Monari. Now, her album I am Only is easily my favorite album of 2017. Monari’s debut single In the City is a retro citypop joy for everyone who misses Especia’s music. Monari’s voice is gorgeous and haunting over this funky track that just works and is easily one of my favorite songs of 2016.
Philosophy no Dance – I’m After Time
Philosophy no Dance was recommended to me by someone I follow Twitter and it’s almost scary how accurate the statement “I think you would like this group” is for me. Philosophy no Dance is easily one of my favorite new groups I started listening to this year, and their mix of retro funk and idol pop works so well together. With some fantastic music and vocals, last year’s album ‘Funky but Chic” has become one of my most listened albums of the year. While this year’s “Like a Zombie” and “Dance Founder’ are two songs that will most certainly rank in my top 25 songs of the year, I’m After Time is my favorite Philosophy no Dance song. It’s just perfection, and I wish I’d found it sooner.
i☆Ris – Gensoukyoku Wonderland
This is the one that I’ve regretted for a few years. While i*Ris hasn’t wowed me much in the past few years, I found this song in early 2014 and was absolutely hooked. While the song itself (melody and arrangement) is great, this is easily one of the best produced idol songs I’ve ever heard. The vocal mix is perfect. Avex has a reputation for putting out well-produced, polished tracks and this is Avex at its best. While nothing i*Ris has released has come close to Gensoukyoku Wonderland, I’m glad this song exists and it deserves recognition.
Especia – Danger
While I know that a lot of Especia fans missed the group’s early, intentionally cheesy vaporwave aesthetic by the time Danger came out (and to an extent I did too), Danger is still easily one of the best idol tracks of 2016 and it’s a shame I didn’t give it much thought until earlier this year. While Danger is not the type of song that only Especia could pull off (i.e. No1 Sweeper, Kuru ka na, Midnight Confusion), it’s a great idol funk song that has an amazing bass line, great horns / strings, and wonderfully sung melody line all sung in English. Danger proves that Especia still had a place in idol music, and it’s a shame they disbanded earlier this year.
Band Ja Naimon! – Kimi no Egao de Sekai ga Yabai
For the past few years I’ve shamefully been discounting Band Ja Naimon as being the knockoff Dempagumi.inc. And while that’s not wholely inaccurate, that was unfair of me, and since Dempagumi.inc has been mostly focusing on solo / side projects for this year I’ve begun to explore Band Ja Naimon and found that they have some pretty excellent music. While this year’s Yakimochi is most likely my favorite song of theirs, Kimi no Egao de Sekai ga Yabai is a ton of high-energy fun that reminds me that I should have been paying attention sooner. While I don’t want to compare them too much to Dempagumi.inc, it’s the type of song that might be welcome if you’re missing Dempagumi.inc this year.
Tsubaki Factory – Seishun Manmannaka!
While 2017 was a fantastic year for Tsubaki Factory, bringing them more into relevance, I think their debut song is actually very underrated. While the original music video didn’t receive much positive feedback (understandably so – it’s not good!) Seishun Manmannaka is a really solid electronic dance number with some vocoder vocals that give me such strong Electronic Light Orchestra vibes. Seishun Manmannaka is a quality dance track with a great beat that, while not being the stellar debut some may have been hoping for, is a really great start for Tsubaki Factory (who, like I said, have been killing it in 2017).
amiinA – Canvas
amiinA is one of those groups that I wish I’d discovered earlier but I’m so glad I found them while doing my TIF posts of the year. amiinA is a group that does a lot more conceptual, indie music all with interesting instrumentations. It’s really hard to describe, but amiinA does music that’s halfway laidback and then halfway a wall of sound, all in an interesting way. While there are other songs I’d put on this list (Drop and Atlas are both strong contenders, as is everything on their fantastic album “Avalon”), Canvas is the epitome of what I like so much about amiinA. They’re doing something really musically unique, especially for the idol scene, and they’re a group I’m excited to hear more from (this year’s mini-album, “Valkyrie,” is just great)!
Sora tob Sakana – Natsu no Tobira
Sora Tob Sakana is another group I became aware of in 2017 – while I’d heard of them before, 2017 was the first time I really listened to their music, and am I glad I did. Their indie rock sound is really great and so unusual for idol groups. While their EP from 2017, Cocoon, is a great listen, I wish I could have included Natsu no Tobira from their self-titled album from 2016. It’s a great song that mixes an indie rock sensibility with idol vocals. Much like how Canvas feels like the epitome of an amiinA song, Natsu no Tobira feels like the epitome of Sora tob Sakana, in a way. While I’ll be happy to praise songs like “Ribbon” this year (easily one of my favorite PVs of 2017!) Natsu no Tobira holds a special place in my heart.
Rhymeberry – Inhateroku
As a relatively long-time fan of Rhymberry, this group has gone through its ups and downs. That being said, I know a lot of people fell away from the group when Hime and Hikaru left and it seemed like Rhymeberry was in crisis. While there were a couple of years where Rhymeberry has been performing more under the radar, the group seems to be hitting a new peak with the release of their album “Series 1” which includes great songs like Tokyo Chewing Gum and Chotto Yatte Mita Dake. However, despite Rhymberry killing it in 2017, the real return is with Inhateroku, which I didn’t give the attention it deserves. Miri, like always, is the glue that holds Rhymberry together and makes it work, and she does some of her best work in Inhateroku – her flow has only improved over the years. Misaki was always an odd fit for Rhymberry (unfortunately – I met her while she was in the idol unit Aither and she is the sweetest person) but she sounds great here. Inhateroku is showing what Rhymeberry can be and it’s a great song.
Keyakizaka46 – Futari Saison
While I included Keyakizaka46’s debut, Silent Majority, in my top 5 list of last year it took me a while to really get into their other music. Keyakizaka46 came on to the scene last year and has taken the idol world by storm, quickly becoming a popular, chart-topping act, and while all of their singles are excellent, Futari Saison is my favorite one. It’s just a beautiful song, with some of the best arrangement I’ve ever heard from an idol track. It’s just gorgeously put together, with the strings sounding lovely and earnest – this track feels genuine and sweet. While songs like Silent Majority and Fukyouwaon are in your face and powerful, Futari Saison is delicate and well-crafted, and I appreciate that.
GEM – Star Shine Story
While Baby Love Me was also a contender for this list, Star Shine Story is such a frequent listen for me. While it took me a while to listen to more idol street music, GEM is, well, a gem. Star Shine Story isn’t technically Christmas themed but it’s a song I like to listen to during the winter, and while it’s a tad over-dramatic (the cymbal rolls!) it’s a really nice, sweet song that I wish I’d ranked on my top songs of the year list.