Long time no post! 2018 was a complicated year for me with Japanese music, to be honest. Not a lot of things excited me this year, and then I inexplicably got far into KPop. Now this isn’t necessarily a reflection of my interest in JPop – far from it, I like interesting pop music just in general. But as we are getting closer to 10 years of the current idol era (which I arbitrarily start at AKB48’s RIVER) the J-idol industry is feeling a little stale, especially as idol groups keep disbanding without many standout groups taking their places. That said, there’s still plenty of solid music, and I want to keep talking about it. So Happy Disco is going to get more posts (hopefully!) in the coming year and some of them will be Kpop – centric in addition to JPop.
Instead of a top 25 this year, I’m doing an unranked list of my top 10 favorite Jpop songs of the year and then another unranked list of my top 10 Kpop songs of the year. So here we go!
Juice = Juice – Vivid Midnight
Speaking of Kpop, that’s what a lot of people tended to compare Vivid Midnight to. And you know, I personally don’t really get that as much as I get a comparison with some of Prince’s style, especially the falsetto in the chorus and the funk feel to it. Vivid Midnight is simultaneously a retro funk pop jam and has some of my favorite Hello!Project lyrics in a while, focusing on emptiness and loneliness of modern life. I think it’s one of those very special H!P songs that can talk about how “love is not enough” in a cheerful pop song. It works, though, with the facade of beauty overlaying a sense of melancholy. It’s songs like this that drew me to Hello!Project in the first place and ones that resonate best with me and a lot of fans – combining quality pop music with genuine pathos. I’d love more Hello!Project songs like this!
Team Syachihoko – Jump Man
As Team Syachihoko’s first single in over a year, Jump Man is a return to form for the group in my opinion. They’ve put out quality music in the past years but Jump Man is the first song that really feels like Team Syachihoko in a while, to be honest. Jump Man is much like other Team Syachihoko songs in that it’s weird and all over the place, but feels a bit more cohesive and mature than some of their earlier efforts – it’s structured in a fairly standard way, and doesn’t go off the rails in any major way. It incorporates more rap than Syachi normally does, and has one of the catchiest melodies of 2018. However, while the entirety of the song works for me, the biggest part that continuously impresses me is the bridge where things slow down. The mix of the violins, bass and the vocals is beautiful and inexplicably moving in a way that I’m not sure if I can describe. Jump Man above else feels earnest and genuine, and has been a frequent listen since it came out. If I had to put anything at #1 on this list, this would be it.
Dempagumi.inc – Girametasu Dempa Stars
Dempagumi.inc came back in a big way in 2018 after taking 2017 off, with new members and new music. While their other music is quite good, Girametasu Dempa Stars feels like a return to form for Dempagumi.inc, fast paced, upbeat and weird in a way only Dempagumi.inc gets. The instrumentation is great, the melody is great, but above all else Girametasu Dempa Stars does what Dempagumi.inc does best, which is getting you pumped up while listening to it. I hope for more Dempagumi.inc like this in 2019!
Wasuta – Tapioca Milk Tea
Another song by another weird group, Wasuta typically does some off the wall music. That said, despite the interesting costumes and video props, this is one of the most straightforward singles Wasuta has released, albeit focusing on bubble tea. Tapioca Milk Tea has one of the catchiest choruses of the year, and the production does a lot to make it feel retro and sentimental, throwing in interesting musical ideas like the piano and guitar section, and is it just me or does some of the high pitched noises throughout sound a bit like the sound of a kettle whistling? This is a perfect example of quality idol pop, with Avex’s usual polish making for a song I’ve listened to over and over, eventually making me go out to get some bubble tea for myself to have while listening to this song. It’s a bit wistful, retro, and is an excellent direction for Wasuta.
26ji no Masquerade – Nanairo no Tsubomi
If you’re looking for a group that does fantastic music that feels very idol-y in the best possible way, 26ji no Masquerade is that group. For the past couple of years they’ve put out remarkably solid pop music, to the point where this song kept changing between this and the fantastic Chapu Chapa as my Nijimasu representation on this list. However, Nanairo no Tsubomi feels more like a representation of what drew me into Japanese idol music in the first place. It manages to make a pop song that feels light and poppy but with a large amount of pathos, and this is in part to the phenomenal instrumental that incorporates orchestral strings, piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and a whole bevy of sounds to make a song that sounds both homey and epic in a way that’s just hard to describe. Nanairo no Tsubomi with this manages to sound both big and small, grand and personable, and all of this is a feat for a smaller indie group that manages to have a lot of fantastic music. 26ji no Masquerade feels like a group that could be a big deal in the future, and honestly I really hope that’s the case, as this is a group that deserves recognition.
Tsubaki Factory – I Need You ~Yozora no Kanransha~
The entirety of Tsubaki Factory’s first single of 2018 honestly deserves a space on this list. Following Tsubaki Factory has been a whirlwind, going from being such a junior group in Hello!Project to being one of the most consistently high quality group among the rest of the groups. And while Teion Yakedo and Shurenka both are fantastic songs, I Need You is the one that made the biggest impact, in a song that both includes a strong beat and an electronic break as well as some genuine, heartfelt lyrics. The parts of I Need You shouldn’t work together. It’s in many ways combining a dance track with a soft, personal ballad, but it comes together to make something dreamy. It’s both relaxing and exciting in equal measure, reflecting the ferris wheel featured in the song. But above all else it’s just a great song to listen to, and one I listened to a lot in 2018.
Philosophy no Dance – Livelife
Earlier this year, one of my good friends asked me for recommendations of songs that sounded like they could have come from a Persona soundtrack. I gave her some recs, including several Philosophy no Dance songs, but when Livelife was released this is the first thing that came to mind. It’s the perfect mix of pop and retro funk, a mix that has become PnD’s specialty. While the instrumentation immediately stood out, the solid beat, structure, and just catchy melody has made Livelife one of my most listened to tracks of 2018, and as Philosophy no Dance has become better performers there’s a real confidence to Livelife as well. This song was already one of my favorites of the year at the start with the piano, but the sax solo puts it over the top in rivaling Jumpman as my favorite of the year.
Wakita Monari – Take it Lucky!
What more can I say than this is the new single from one of my favorite artists out there, Wakita Monari? Well, while 2018 was less of a successful year for Monari than 2017 at least in terms of my own personal taste (no song as effervescently perfect as Boy Friend came out this year), Take It Lucky is a really fantastic example of what I love about Monari and her style of retro pop. Take It Lucky is a much more laidback song than many of her others, but that makes it a perfect listen. The instrumentation is perfection (electric bass and electric piano being the biggest contributors), but more than anything Monari’s strong vocals and her unique vocal style make this a must listen. Her vocals in the chorus, with her long, held notes, make the song feel both bright and happy while also relaxed (while knowing that singing this well isn’t relaxing at all). Take It Lucky feels like the song to listen on vacation or when you want to feel like you’re on vacation, a relaxing retro jam that is just fantastic to listen to.
RYUTist – Aozora Signal
Jpop fans need to seriously stop sleeping on RYUTist. Yes, they’re a local group to Niigata, but they are consistently producing some of the strongest music in the Japanese idol market. Written by composer / performer Okii Reiji, Aozora Signal has this kind of bright, nostalgic feel to it – it feels slightly retro, especially with the organ and some of the vocals, but it more than anything feels like a timeless Jpop song. It’s both energetic and sweet, managing to utilize its instrumentation and the group’s dreamy vocals to feel almost wistful and old-fashioned while having a quick pace to it. It feels like quintessential Jpop, in a way. This feels like the type of song I would have fallen in love with over 10 years ago, when i was just getting into Jpop as a genre, and so listening to this feels like coming home, within the genre.
Keyakizaka46 – Ambivalent
Out of the biggest female JPop groups out there, Keyakizaka46 has been absolutely killing it in terms of being consistently interesting and unique, which is pretty impressive for a group that manages to also be incredibly popular. Ambivalent is messy and kind of all over the place, but that kind of feels like part of the point of the song. It doesn’t care what you want it to be, it’s going to be itself, mess and all, and that kind of feels like Keyakizaka46 to me. Their music is frequently fast paced, aggressive and honestly a little uncomfortable, but that’s what make them stand out in the idol industry, and the reason their first single Silent Majority struck a chord. Ambivalent is, in its nature ambivalent, both poppy and aggressive, and that makes it pretty interesting for the idol industry. It also helps that Keyakizaka46 has some remarkably well produced music out there. It almost gives me hope, that a group like Keyakizaka46 can continue to put out music like this and be successful. I’m just really glad a group like Keyakizaka46 exists.