As I thought of making a top list of 2019, my thoughts went to be more ambitious. While I always love making my end of year lists, as the decade of the 2010s came to a close I became more and more thoughtful of the decade of the 2010s when it came to idol music, especially considering I had been a fan throughout the entire decade. With the rise of the idol boom in the early 2010s to the current slate of idols today, it has been an exciting decade to follow. And so, I decided to make a list of my top favorite idol songs of the 2010s. This list is intended to both be an overview of the Japanese female idol industry over the 2010s as well as a personal list, things I thought were particularly influential but also things I thought were particularly good. I hope that in making this list I can come even remotely close to encapsulating a decade of quality music. Additionally, this list is being ordered by release date, as just coming up with this list was a doozy, let alone ordering it in terms of either influence or quality.
AKB48 Team PB – Enkyori Poster (2010)
I think it’s pretty fitting that the first song to come out chronologically on this list is an AKB48 song – AKB48 kickstarted the early 2010s idol boom, and has been a huge influence throughout the entire decade. While I consider AKB48’s meteoric rise to have officially kicked off with 2009’s River, 2010 was quite a year, with singles like Ponytail to Shushu and Heavy Rotation helping skyrocket the group from popular to the stuff of legends. However, the first single of the year was the quieter Sakura no Shiori, and while I enjoy that song a lot, the B-Side Enkyori Poster is the one I’ve kept listening to over the years. It’s a catchy song on its own, with a melody and energy that makes it pretty infectious, but the thing that stands out above and beyond are the lyrics, that directly refer to an idol fan and the poster of their idol in their room. This is one of the thematic throughlines of the 2010s that is so interesting to me – the level of self-awareness. AKB48 lyrics are fascinating in part because the subject is (usually) male, but sung through female idol singers. Enkyori Poster isn’t exactly critical of the idea of idols, but celebrates the good things about being an idol fan, getting strength from the idea that your favorite idol is out there doing her best. It’s the type of thing that I feel like gets straight at the idol fan in question – it’s not just a generic pop song, but a song about idol fandom in itself, which makes it an interesting song to think about. But, that being said, the catchy song sure helps.
Momoiro Clover – Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo (2010)
It’s kind of incredible how one of the other most influential / important idol groups of the 2010s came out with their big breakout hit so early into the 2010s and in the idol boom. But perhaps the timing is part of what made Momoiro Clover turn from an idol group performing small street performances to being up there as one of the most popular idol groups of the decade, selling out the biggest venues in Japan. Momoiro Clover had good music before and after Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo, but it is arguably their signature song. It has such a good energy, fun melody and arrangement (all by Maeyamada Kenichi, who has been an instrumental part of Stardust Promotion’s identity as an idol agency), to the point where I will always be excited to hear it – it’s the ultimate song to hype me up. It is a bold declaration of intent from the group, where they declare that they will steal your hearts. And given the level of popularity MomoClo has risen to, I dare say they succeeded.
Idoling!!! – Me ni wa Aoba Yama Hototogisu Hatsukoi (2010)
Unfortunately I feel like Idoling!!! is one of the idol groups of the early 2010s that is largely forgotten, at least by a lot of fans. Which is a shame, as their music was largely really great. And while some of their songs for the anime Fairy Tail might be more popular or well known, Me ni wa Aoba Yama Hotogisu Hatsukoi has continued to be one of my favorite idol songs since its release in mid-2010. The melody is just transcendent at some points, particularly the chorus – the way the melody works with the lyrics “aozora ni rendezvous / hototogisu I love you” just is endlessly memorable. Add to that the way that Idoling!!! acts as a chorus at the beginning of the song, with its harmonizing, this has been an addicting song since its release for me. It’s just a perfectly written idol classic that I wish some group would cover and adopt – it’s too good a song to be left unperformed.
Watarirouka Hashiritai – Gyu (2010)
One of the things that the 2010s has largely (and unfortunately) left behind are subunits, that is members of a larger group performing as a smaller group. Well, subunits still sometimes exist, but usually on B-Sides and additional songs to main singles or albums, not largely releasing their own content. Which is a shame, because so many subunit songs and identities are really fantastic. Watarirouka Hashiritai was easily my favorite AKB48 subunit, and I think part of that was how much of an established identity they had, and that identity is, in my opinion, best exemplified in Gyu, an almost too cute idol song about wanting to be hugged. It’s extremely cute, but has a very catchy melody, and feel to it that not even the cutest AKB48 singles got to. It’s almost hard to describe why I love this song so much – it’s just endlessly catchy in the best way, and does a great job of showing off its members. That said, Watarirouka Hashiritai’s entire discography (especially the entirety of their album Rouka wa Hashiruna!) is a gem of classic cute idol pop songs, so if you want to listen to something like that I recommend that whole album – I know I’ve listened to it a LOT. That said, Gyu continues to be my favorite track, I think largely due to its infectious energy.
Morning Musume – Kono Chikyuu no Heiwa wo Honki de Negatterun da yo! (2011)
Morning Musume’s end of the 2000s and start of the 2010s is an interesting one and honestly the comeback story of the decade. Morning Musume has always had solid music, however their sales and interest in the group were waning at the end of its Platinum Era, and as mainstay members had already left or were planning to leave, Morning Musume needed to do something to stay afloat. Morning Musume had gotten a bit stale. However, they managed to put new life into the group and, despite members like Takahashi Ai leaving the group, they have gotten a new life. This song and single in particular feels like a transition, where Takahashi (the longtime main vocalist) is leaving and the 9th generation members are still new (but soon to be joined by the 10th generation). But beyond that, this song feels like it’s a bit of old and new into Morning Musume. It has a bit of a golden era feel to it with its arrangement and the lyrics focusing on small things like dealing with your family and large things like wanting world peace, as well as the disco feel, but it also has a bright energy to it that feels fresh after several years of the relatively dark Platinum Era. This is a return to form for the group, and injects real life into a group that needed that most.
SUPER☆GiRLS – Joshiryoku Paradise (2011)
The first of the iDOL Street songs on this list, Avex getting into the idol game in the early 2010s honestly felt a lot like the idol boom was really happening. First they launched Tokyo Girls Style, which was their first idol group since SweetS in the early 2000s, but Super Girls in particular felt like they were going fully into the idol thing. Whereas Tokyo Girls Style tried to emphasize skill, talent and a general artistry (hence trying to rebrand as artists later on), Super Girls is pure idolness. While I have a fondness for Super Girls’ summer tracks (which I think is one thing they have done remarkably well, capitalizing on that general feeling), Joshiryoku Paradise is the song that I go back to more than anything from this group. It has a great energy, is unapologetically idoly, and has a great beat. It feels like Avex is working to fit the idol mold rather than idols working to fit the avex mold, and this was the start of several great groups under the iDOL Street banner.
BiS – Nerve (2011)
Probably one of the most conventional BiS songs I could put on this list, but Nerve is a classic. With the increased popularity of idol music came the alternative, underground idols, and BiS is arguably the biggest and the progenitor for more idols like this (and other groups that ended up being created by Watanabe Junnosuke under WACK). Still, Nerve struck a nerve (yes bad joke) with the indie idol scene, and later became a dance that many indie idol groups would do covers of, even though BiS often veered towards the avant garde, weird, and anti-idol parts of the idol scene, which I think shows just how weirdly mainstream some of these groups have gotten (BiSH has done remarkably well, for example, for being a group literally called Brand New Idol Shit). Nerve might not be BiS’ most transgressive or interesting work on the surface but it’s an interesting history piece, and in addition is just a well put together song that still makes me want to dance.
Not Yet – Pera Pera Perao (2011)
Another one of the subunits of AKB48, Not Yet had some solid music, but nothing quite hit me personally like Pera Pera Perao which is a song that I got stuck in my head more often than not in the early 2010s, and even just listening to it for this list is getting it stuck in my head yet again. A retro-tinged cute pop song, Pera Pera Perao has just a remarkably catchy melody and chorus. The bridge is a particular highlight, going back and forth between members in a way that utilizes the four members of Not Yet particularly well. This is one of the best just straight up idol pop songs of the decade, as well as having a fun retro appeal that works very well.
Kikkawa Yuu – Konna Watashi de Yokattara (2011)
This list is in chronological order for my own sanity, however if I was going to put a song at the top of this list it might possibly be Konna Watashi de Yokattara, which is as perfect of a pop song as I’ve ever heard. It combines one of the catchiest melodies out there, a beautiful arrangement (the piano near the start always serves well to hype me up), and a wonderfully evocative vocal performance by Kikkawa Yuu. Kikkawa often got hype before her solo career as being someone who could have or should have been in Morning Musume (she went far but didn’t pass the audition), but that move gave us a pretty wonderful solo career with a song like this. If there was any justice in the world Konna Watashi de Yokattara would be a massive hit, but it’s still a wonderful pop song that has been one of my favorite songs of all time since its late 2011 release.
Buono! – Hatsukoi Cider (2012)
Another subgroup that ended in the 2010s, this time from Hello!Project, Buono was one of my big gateways into Jpop fandom, and I know this is the case for a lot of international fans as well. Buono evolved from being a subgroup geared solely towards anime openings and endings (for the anime Shugo Chara) to being a group with a strong identity of its own, combining the vocal skills and charisma of the three members with a light rock sound, mostly performing supported by a dedicated band, which lead to quite a few quality tracks from them. None of them have really quite hit as well as Hatsukoi Cider, which does a beautiful job of melding the band sound with a strangely nostalgic, wistful melody. It feels like a perfect combination of idol pop with rock band sound, with some wonderful vocal performances (especially Airi’s solo near the beginning). It’s almost a shame that Buono didn’t put out any new music for several years after Hatsukoi Cider, even though the members were doing great work with Berryz Koubou and C-ute, but this is an excellent summation of a subgroup that lasted longer than I think most people thought they would.
SKE48 – Kataomoi Finally (2012)
There is something just so deliciously melodramatic about Kataomoi Finally. It’s the type of song that is perfect for belting out at karaoke or singing in the shower, and is in my opinion the finest single of SKE48’s history, despite a remarkably solid track record around this time. There is just something so over the top and desperate about this, especially when the members sing about confessing their feelings finally – it feels like there’s a desperation there that feels like a different take on the whole unrequited love trope of idol music. The arrangement fits this perfectly too, with a lush layered orchestral sound that makes this feel like a big, epic song. Here love isn’t something small and fragile, but is instead dramatic and overwhelming, and this interpretation has stuck with me since this song’s release.
Fairies – Beat Generation (2012)
Fairies is one of those groups I’m really happy has lasted and thrived as long as they have, even though I only follow them very casually. Formed by the same talent agency that brought groups like MAX and Speed, Fairies is one of the groups that was formed with the aim of having stronger performance skills than a lot of the other idol groups around that time. Fairies in particular has a strong sense for dance but also some really strong vocals and songs that usually aim for a cooler image than a lot of idols, and while their sound and performance has matured and improved over the years, I still come back to Beat Generation a whole lot. The vocals are strong, as expected, and this is one of my favorite idol dances, but the song has very strong beat that carries the song and makes even the uncoordinated among us want to get up and dance. There’s an energy to Beat Generation that manages to be youthful and cool, and even as I get older I still want to dance to Beat Generation.
Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku – Karikeiyaku no Cinderella (2012)
While Momoiro Clover Z’s impact on the idol industry is pretty obvious, I think that often their sister groups aren’t included enough in the discussion, and the most prominent of those sister groups is Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku, which had several quality indie songs before their 2012 major debut with Karikeiyaku no Cinderella. Karikeiyaku no Cinderella is another song that manages to epitomize what I and so many others find so appealing about Stardust idols, and it’s that willingness to have unusual songs with a high energy. The lyrics in this are an absolute standout, comparing the idol industry to being Cinderella but with only a temporary time. This is one of the earlier idol songs to admit that an idol’s career is just a short-lived allowance to be a star, and I think the idol industry is smarter for this. With the smart lyrics, energetic performances of the members and a catchy, smartly written melody (I love the moment where it shifts over to being 3/4 time!), this took Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku from their fun, indie tracks to being in the big leagues along with Momoiro Clover Z.
AKB48 – Manatsu no Sounds Good! (2012)
I internally debated including any and all of AKB48’s early summer songs on this list but landed on Manatsu no Sounds Good. One of the things I think AKB did incredibly well in the early 2010s was having a strong identity for their spring releases (often focusing on themes like graduation) and then their summer releases. They put out music according to the seasons, and one of the highlights for me were the upbeat, cheerful summer songs they put out. So Manatsu no Sounds Good was one that didn’t immediately stick with me like Ponytail to Shushu or Everyday Kachuusha, but I think works better than those other two great songs. Manatsu no Sounds Good gives everything a much more dramatic, epic feel to it (bolstered by the music video), but somehow feels less lightweight than the aforementioned earlier tracks. It has a strong beat and has an energy to it that makes it work as a summer track, but it has a more impactful feel, which works with the idea of this song being about a more serious love than the fleeting summer love of something like Ponytail to Shushu. It is a great evolution of the summer idol song, and one that I still love to listen to.
Babymetal – Headbanger! (2012)
Arguably the biggest Jpop act in the US and it’s Babymetal. Just, I never thought I’d see the day when I became a fan of the group, but here we are. If you haven’t managed to hear of the group, they are a former subunit of Sakura Gakuin that incorporates idol music with metal music (though lately they are leaning much more towards the metal side of things). And while I thought about Gimme Choco, the group’s main claim to fame in the west, being on this list, or something like Megitsune which blends idol music, metal and traditional Japanese instruments, but I had to go with my favorite track of theirs, Headbanger. I think it does such a great job of combining a wonderful melody and incorporating the metal sounds. The music video echoes the song, taking a melody and then adding more and more drums, guitar and screaming. This is also a song that shows off just how strong Suzuka’s vocals are, and she’s become one of the best idol vocalists out there. I managed to see Babymetal for the first time last year (imagine that, a Jpop group I love came to a city near me?) and had a wonderful time, so I am so happy they have managed to go from Jpop oddity to such an established group.
Dempagumi.inc – Sabotage (2012)
Are there some original Dempagumi.inc songs that might fit this list better? Yeah. But there is no song I have had more fun telling people to listen to than Dempagumi.inc’s cover of Sabotage. The arrangement, done by Maeyamada Kenichi, is just wild, and somehow manages to work even though it is beyond weird. Dempagumi.inc has had a remarkably solid discography with lots of fantastic songs, but this cover of Sabotage might just emphasize their impact best.
NMB48 – Mousou Girlfriend (2012)
I love this song in so many ways. On the one hand, it is bright, fluffy, and just nonstop cute idol pop. As much as I love songs that challenge idol pop conventions, I love songs that just relish in being as cutesy as possible without a care, and that is definitely Mousou Girlfriend. But on the other hand, the lyrics are another focus on the idol lifestyle, this time even more intense than Enkyori Poster above. This time it focuses on someone who may or may not be in a relationship with an idol, and the idea of some of the drawbacks that would entail. Whereas Enkyori Poster is about the positive feelings of being an idol fan, Mousou Girlfriend wavers back and forth, being about loving an idol but also about delusions. The way that the lyrics are somewhat at odds with the song itself make it work in an interesting way – it’s a stereotypical idol song, but is that just a delusion? It brings joy and beauty to fans, but is that real? I don’t know if the song necessarily goes all in on this, but this back and forth has made Mousou Girlfriend stand the test of time.
Nogizaka46 – Hashire Bicycle (2012)
Nogizaka46 has gone from being the new rival group to AKB48 to being a juggernaut in its own right, with Nogizaka and its sister group Keyakizaka46 in many ways surpassing the 48 groups in terms of recognizability, and in terms of having impressive music, performances and videos. However, early Nogizaka46 with its classic pop, retro sound is something that I still miss and listen to a lot, and the epitome of that for me was with Hashire Bicycle, their 3rd single. With a French pop sound and a lot of energy, Hashire Bicycle is one of my favorite Nogizaka46 songs and a pop song that I think deserves another listen.
Team Syachihoko – Otome Juken Sensou (2012)
It’s kind of incredible that one of Team Syachihoko’s most notable and iconic songs was originally released as a venue-only single, but that’s where Otome Juken Sensou comes from. Using the naming convention of Momoiro Clover Z’s Otome Sensou (a song I have since come around to liking), the song itself bears little resemblance to its fore-bearer, instead being a non-stop energy fest that has become one of the most entertaining live songs of the group (with some fantastic fanchants). This energy is what drives Otome Juken Sensou, and while it’s a well constructed song (with a really fantastic bridge), it’s the energy that makes Otome Juken Sensou infectious and the type of song to listen to if you want to hype yourself up.
Momoiro Clover Z – Hai to Diamond (2013)
Momoiro Clover Z had a big task ahead to transition from being a young group to being a lasting group, especially as the members got older and, unlike Morning Musume or AKB48, there was no planned generation system. Momoiro Clover Z has evolved and grown a lot over the years, but there was a real jump from their first album, Battle and Romance, to their second, 5th Dimension. While 5th Dimension is a solid album with a lot of quality songs (Honestly, just listen to all of Momoiro Clover Z’s albums, they’re all good), Hai to Diamond, the final song on the album, is what has stuck with me. A long ballad written by Maeyamada Kenichi, this feels like the pinnacle of the album. With a runtime of nearly 7 minutes this isn’t a short song, but it builds beautifully from a quiet opening to a big ending to a peaceful ending, with interesting twists throughout. The orchestral arrangement does a lot of heavy lifting to make this an interesting piece (there is a really lovely oboe sound early on and the guitar near the end works well), but I think one of the things that I appreciate most is the raw vocals from Momoiro Clover Z. Despite some talented members (especially former member Ariyasu Momoka), their vocals are rarely polished, and that adds to the overall emotion of the song. This is perfectly paced, perfectly arranged, and just perfect.
NMB48 – Bokura no Eureka (2013)
Another 48g summer song, this time from NMB48. The string section in this is particularly beautiful and I love how it works together with the electric guitar to have a really interesting sound that meshes together throughout. It has a really sweet, wistful feel to it. As mentioned earlier in this list, I have a big soft spot for summer songs from the 48 group, and this is a unique one that I still actively love.
Watanabe Mayu – Rappa Renshuuchuu (2013)
Yes this is a pretty typical idol song in a lot of ways, but that brass line is very good. I have a theory about music that a sax solo will only make a song better, but I might expand that to having brass instruments in pop music. The entire instrumentation of this is fantastic, though, especially the interplay of the more classical string sounds with the bright brass sounds. This song just works incredibly well as a well written idol pop song with a killer arrangement.
AKB48 – Koisuru Fortune Cookie (2013)
Some of you might grumble at three AKB48 affiliated songs in a row, but come on, Koisuru Fortune Cookie is fantastic. It managed to be a new high point for AKB48 that inspired countless videos of everyone dancing along (including the fan version on the official channel, which I was a part of, thanks to the lovely folks at New School Kaidan). But the easy, fun dance is only part of Koisuru Fortune Cookie’s appeal. The rest of it is in the ultimate fun Jpop song with a big disco feel that you know this writer of a blog called Happy Disco is a fan of. This is just a lot of feel good disco sound that is just infectious to listen to. Add to that some really relatable lyrics about not having confidence with a reassuring chorus about the future being not that bad, and it’s no wonder that Koisuru Fortune Cookie ended up a hit and a song I still come back to.
Morning Musume – Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke (2013)
Since I saw Morning Musume in New York in 2014, I’ll always have a big soft spot for this lineup. But more than that, Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke is a relentless song that is one of the big highlights of Morning Musume’s colorful era, utilizing the electronic/EDM sound to deliver an intense nonstop ride. This is the type of song that I would always want to see if I was going to a Morning Musume show, if only because the “Aisaretai” chants are so much fun. This was the best selling Morning Musume single in over 10 years and honestly, it deserves it. This feels like a bold statement for the group, declaring that they were at a new peak with their Colorful era.
E-Girls – Gomen Nasai no Kissing You (2013)
As a foreign fan it felt like E-Girls came out of nowhere, but given the success of the group Exile, it’s no wonder that their search for a female collective to match Exile had success and a level of quality. E-Girls’ main focus was providing a high level of dancing prowess with a few members who were strong at singing being the singers, which is an interesting concept and one I think worked out well for them. Add to that some really fantastic production value and E-Girls was a group putting out a lot of high quality music in the 2010s. The first song that really clued me into E-Girls was Gomen Nasai no Kissing You, a high energy almost eurobeat song that, like eurobeat, is the type of thing that is just infectiously catchy. While a lot of groups that laud prowess in singing and dancing choose to focus on more mature concepts (something that E-Girls and its associated groups do), I love that some of their songs like this and Follow Me are so bright and cheerful.
Dempagumi.inc – WWD II (2013)
So many Dempagumi.inc songs have become idol classics in their own right for me, but two songs that have stood out are WWD and WWD II, the latter has made this list. Whereas WWD focuses in an autobiographical sense on the difficulties that the then members of Dempagumi.inc went through to become idols, WWD II focuses on the continued struggles of the members. It maturely realizes that even after some measure of success that anxieties and insecurities don’t go away, but emphasizes the ideal of getting through it together. These lyrics are bolstered by a beautifully melodramatic song by Maeyamada Kenichi that always manages to make me cry by the end, with how beautifully it shifts and builds throughout the entire thing (the bridge and fanchant near the end are especially meaningful). Since the video takes place in 2020 I can only hope that these six members reunite to perform this one last time, because this is one of the most emotional pieces of idol music out there. Both WWDs are worthy of praise, but WWD II still manages to make me cry years and years later. (This is also up there as one of my favorite music videos of the decade).
NMB48 – Zipper (2013)
One of my biggest disappointments in the 2010s is the lack of new 48 group stage shows. Granted, it’s not hard to see why they would shy away from this – writing several new songs for a group when you can perform old ones and fans will still come doesn’t make financial sense. But still, there is a lot of fantastic music in the 48 group stages, and one stage that I particularly liked was NMB48’s first original stage for Team N, Koko ni Datte Tenshi wa Iru. And while there are other songs I might have considered (the start of Aoi Tsuki ga Miteru is absolutely gorgeous), nothing really compares to Zipper. One of the smaller group numbers, this originally featured Watanabe Miyuki and feels just perfectly suited to her as an idol. The way that this combines a cute and flirty feel with a classic idol feel makes it seem like they specifically aimed this song for her. The song has such a catchy sound and works incredibly well as a stage song.
Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku – Mikakunin Chuugakusei X (2013)
If Zipper has a classic appeal, Mikakunin Chuugakusei X has a completely different appeal in that it is just weird, focusing on aliens. While the music video has a B movie appeal the song is a slick, catchy electronic feel that is occasionally intercut with weird sound effects that makes the entire thing feel more alien. But at its core, despite all the weird flavoring it is a still very accessible, very catchy pop song. Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s catalog is very strong all around, but Mikakunin Chuugakusei X manages to blend catchy idol dance music with a weird theming perfectly.
Morning Musume ’14 – What is Love? (2014)
I do love a good genre mashup, and What is Love is a beautiful mix of electro swing while keeping with the electronic feel of this era of Morning Musume music. The melody has so many interesting bits that lend to its swing feel, and the lyrics also have so many little moments that stand out too (especially the “what do you want? Is it necessary?” which continues to be a favorite). This feels like the epitome of Morning Musume, incorporating unusual sounds and styles of music while still managing to feel uniquely Morning Musume. This is the type of sound you don’t always get from idol music, but one I particularly love.
Especia – Kuru kana (2014)
Especia is one of the most unique groups of the 2010s and one I wish had stuck around for a bit longer. They excelled in the retro styled city pop that revels in an 80s/90s aesthetic in both music and video, but the best part is that their music is genuinely great beyond its vaporwave-esque trappings. Kuru kana is a relatively chill pop track that is certainly retro but also has a gentle melody that sometimes feels wonderfully at odds with the strong drum beat and synth sounds. It feels somehow nostalgic to listen to Kuru kana, even though it was released less than six years ago at the time of writing this. It therefore completely succeeds in the goals of modern vaporwave or city pop, and is easily one of the most memorable songs of the decade.
Team Syachihoko – Shampoo Hat (2014)
When it was announced that the main songwriter behind the group Gesu no Kiwami Otome was writing Team Syachihoko’s newest single, I think I thought it would be a strange song, given that pedigree. However, it was strange for another reason – it was easily Team Syachihoko’s most straightforward single at that point, a song about unrequited love. That said, Shampoo Hat truly is something special, a song that felt like a move forward for the group. The instrumentation is lush and orchestral but layered with electronic sounds that make the song still feel unique and unusual. The lyrics are also subtly interesting too, with the chorus shifting from the feeling of first love to wanting it to be requited to it ultimately being unrequited and moving on, as well as the song moving from happy endings being boring to wanting to make a happy ending. So while at face value this is straightforward, there is a lot of interesting, smart songwriting at play in Shampoo Hat which makes this a mature, interesting turn for Team Syachihoko.
Cheeky Parade – Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb (2014)
There is absolutely nothing straightforward about Cheeky Parade’s seven minute long Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb. Its disjointed nonsense title does a perfect job describing how disjointed and strange this song is, jumping to different tempos and styles of music, moving from rap to a lyrical ballad to an electronic song to more standard idol pop to the point where it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb is and what it isn’t. That said, this willingness to throw everything into a single song makes the seven minute runtime never drag – this doesn’t feel like a long song. The shifts are jarring but each element is compelling enough that the disjointed nature of this song makes it enjoyable to the point where I wish more pop groups would experiment like this and allow for this freedom of form.
GEM – Star Shine Story (2014)
Star Shine Story has always felt to me like a Christmas song due to the use of string instruments and the time of its initial release, even though there’s nothing explicitly that calls it out as a Christmas song. Nevertheless it is a very catchy pop song that suits listening to it during the winter, and does a really beautiful job with its orchestral sound (even sampling Beethoven’s Ode to Joy throughout). One thing that always strikes me is the lyrical phrasing in the chorus, where the lyrics of “Kimi ga naitari, warattari..” fit perfectly with the melody. While the other elements of the song work it’s the melody (especially in the chorus) that just sticks with me.
Armor Girls – A!Chu! A!Chu! (2015)
I feel like there’s a lot I could talk about with regards to Alice Project and their impact in the idol industry. This track is an interesting beast too because of its inclusion on one of the many versions of Alice Project / Kamen Joshi’s single Genkidane, which topped the Oricon weekly chart with over 130,000 sales against all odds (though more than likely because the singles were dirt cheap and they made 12 versions). That said, Armor Girls is one of the most conceptually fascinating groups out there. They have the gimmick of performing in costumes of fake armor, but also perform mostly songs that have an Irish folk or rock appeal to them. And despite that weird combination, all of the original Armor Girls songs work really well for me. A!Chu! A!Chu! also has the Irish appeal with its flute and violin sounds, but also gets almost tropical in certain parts? It’s a weird combination, but one of the best songs by this idol unit. And while you’re at it, the rest of the Armor Girls tracks are on the Alice Project YouTube and they are all great, with the only caveat being that I would like more songs from them!
Rev.from DVL – Kimi ga Ite Boku ga Ita (2015)
Rev.from DVL was a group I really loved and one I miss. In a way it was both helped and hindered by the viral success of one member, Hashimoto Kanna, who brought the group its mainstream success but at the same time was wildly more popular than the rest of the group. That said, for the few years that Rev.from DVL had its mainstream success, they put out a lot of great music, some from their indie roots (the wonderful Love Arigatou, for example) and then newer songs hat suited the group. Kimi ga Ite Boku ga Ita felt like the epitome of what Rev succeeded at, which was the classic idol group. Where so many groups were aiming for something unique or unusual with their music, Kimi ga Ite Boku ga Ita was a classic idol song that highlighted other members as well as Kanna. The bridge section in particular works well with a segment highlighting some of the members one by one and followed by a guitar solo. I feel like if you like idol music in general this is an easy recommendation and one that shows Rev at their peak.
Rev. from DVL – What a Surprise! (2015)
Another song from the Kimi ga Ite Boku ga Ita single, but this time featuring some of the older members and, notably, no Kanna. What a Surprise is a mellow, funky disco track that features its members really well through the verses moving to a killer chorus and eventually a killer guitar solo. What a Surprise is probably the song on this list closest to my own personal tastes with pop music and if I was making a different list this could be the sound I just focused on.
Niji no Conquistador – Yarukkyanai 2015 (2015)
Niji no Conquistador is one of the bigger idol group debuts from the mid-2010s, at least on a personal level. It felt like they came out of nowhere with their energetic, offbeat sound. As someone who likes weird idol music, even I will admit.. Yarukkyanai 2015 is really weird! It moves between a wide variety of sounds, effects, in a really inexplicable way. It is a very chaotic song, but I think that shows off the variety of members and the group itself. It feels like a song that wants to revel in its uniqueness, and honestly this works. This one song took me from not knowing who Nijicon was as a group to being a fullblown fan, in a single song and PV.
Juice=Juice – Umaretate no Baby Love (2015)
This was the top of my Best of 2015 list and I stand by that decision wholeheartedly. This is just on of those perfectly crafted pop songs, with a disco feel that manages to be beautifully structured, have a great arrangement, fantastic lyrics (the focus on small feelings growing into big ones works well throughout) and even maybe the most perfect ending to an idol song ever, this is just joyful idol bliss. Juice=Juice has had a lot of great songs and this one immediately blew me away. It also shows off the members vocals, utilizing every member while also showing off some of the stronger vocals within the group. I feel like it’s hard to talk about this song because I just love everything about it. It’s an immaculate retro-styled pop song.
LinQ – LinQuest ~Yagate Densestu e (2015)
LinQ went from a group making some solid songs but not really standing out that much to me to a group to look out for around this time, having several fantastic singles in a row. Of these songs, LinQuest stands out to me the most, perhaps as a Hyadain fan. But LinQuest is a melodramatic, energetic song that not only manages to give a spotlight to every member of the group but have a unique feel to it. Incorporating orchestral sounds, video game theming and a choral vocal sound, LinQuest is energizing. The song gives me chills, as it urges LinQ and the audience to move forward. For all the unique elements it merges together to being something larger than the sum of its parts. LinQuest is truly an epic feeling song in a way that most idol songs or even pop songs don’t.
E-Girls – Dance Dance Dance (2015)
While E-Girls had some fantastic early tracks when they performed more upbeatand happy songs like Gomen Nasai no Kissing You, Dance Dance Dance feels like E-Girls becoming the group they were always meant to be, a retro styled dance track that allows the vocalists in the group to show off their more powerful vocals and allowing the dancers to show off a cooler side. E-Girls came into their own being the cool group among idols, and Dance Dance Dance shows that off with a jazzy funky track that also incorporates a bit of rapping. This is the track that I feel largely represents E-Girls in general, showing off their strong skills and presenting a cool image. And, of course, as expected of an E-Girls track the production is always fantastic.
5572320 – Ponpara Pekoruna Papiyotta (2015)
I honestly don’t know how a song for a cookie commercial ended up with one of the most avant garde and interesting idol songs and videos, but I won’t complain. 5572320 is Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s band side project where they initially hid that they were Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku but everyone figured it out pretty quickly. That said, I do wish they had a chance to do more of these band songs beyond a few promotions because there’s a lot of fun in their songs, but this one especially which goes all over the place. It features a heavy rock sound but with operatic vocals and some orchestral sound? Ponpara Pekoruna Papiyotta defies description, going for an avart-garde orchestral rock sound while just going all over the place. It is kind of the opposite of what I would call an idol song, but that’s what makes it so appealing.
Idol Renaissance – Funny Bunny (2015)
Throughout the years one of my big restrictions on my top songs of the year lists was that I wanted original songs, no covers. Which ultimately is the stipulation that hurt Idol Renaissance most, a group that primarily focused on covering songs, though most of them weren’t idol songs. Funny Bunny was originally performed by The Pillows, and while that song has always been good I honestly prefer this cover, which adds a more dramatic feel to the song. A lot of this is due to the vocal performance of the members, especially the vocals at the start of this song which will absolutely stick with you. Idol Renaissance took an already great song and really made their own spin on it that I ultimately prefer, which is sometimes rare with covers. For being a group that did a lot of covers, Idol Renaissance always managed to take these songs and make it their own.
Kobushi Factory – Sakura Night Fever (2016)
For being a cover this is kind of the quintessential Hello!Project song. Part of that is the arrangement by Dance Man, who is responsible for arranging some of Hello!Project’s most iconic songs, and whose presence almost always guarantees a great song. The other part is the lyrics, which are at a surface level about cherry blossom season, but at its core have a melancholy feeling to them. This incorporation of both melancholy and its upbeat arrangement give it an eerily nostalgic feeling for being such a recent song.
Momoiro Clover Z – Pink Zora (2016)
This might be a bit of a weird pick, considering how much great music is on the two albums Momoiro Clover Z released in 2016, Amaranthus and Hakkin no Yoake. You could make a case for so many songs off those albums to fit a best of list. However, I went with my gut about Pink Zora. Perhaps less flashy than some of the others on those albums, Pink Zora is a long dreamy track that goes for a laidback funky style that makes it incredibly listenable. Add to that some great horn sounds and guitar sound, Pink Zora feels like a song that is incredibly complex for being so relaxing. Whereas Hai to Diamond, the final track of 5th Dimension, is melodramatic and all over the place, this is a warm, relaxing finale to two incredible albums by Momoiro Clover Z.
Negicco – Mujun, Hajimemashita (2016)
I swear a big part of this being on this list is that the opening piano to this is burned into my brain, but the other part is that this song and Negicco both deserve recognition. The song itself is a jazzy pop track that, as I alluded to, has a killer arrangement (the piano and horns is among the best in idol music but the entirety of this is great), and a catchy melody that builds beautifully and is performed incredibly well by Negicco. Mujun Hajimemashita feels like a mature, classy jazz pop track that elevates idol pop to something genuinely artistic and lovely.
Keyakizaka46 – Silent Majority (2016)
Keyakizaka46’s debut track Silent Majority felt like a big influx of energy into the idol industry several years removed from the initial idol boom at the start of the 2010s. There is a level of anger and rebellion in Silent Majority that feels unusual for a debut of a group, asking fellow people to stand up for what they believe in and not to be silent. I don’t think it’s a wonder that a song like that, in the midst of increasingly confusing times, has hit hard with so many people. Silent Majority is also just a good song beyond its message, with a melody that is so versatile that a more indie artist like Oomori Seiko covering it doesn’t feel out of place at all. Silent Majority is a burst of energy and I think it’s possible to see its influence throughout the idol industry, which I don’t mind mostly because of how good it is.
Angerme – Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku (2016)
Another more intense song, Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku is pure intensity as a song, which makes it particularly fun to listen to and to watch live performances of. It’s also a song that could only really be done by an idol group – I once tried to sing this at karaoke with my friends and the back and forth is hard. Hell, even the parts that are sung together are tough – the chorus is so fast that it’s impressive to be sung. But this song is a relentless intense track that is improved by being performed by a group, and is a genuinely impressive track live. Intensity is the word here, and it’s wonderful.
Wasuta – Ultra Miracle-cle Final Ultimate Choco Beam (2016)
Wasuta’s debut, meanwhile, has intensity but in a different, weird way. It’s a high energy upbeat pop track that goes all over the place in terms of style, tempo and sound in a way that is really disorienting (especially with the nonsensical lyrics) but all of those things come together to make a memorable, addicting song. While Wasuta has had a lot of really fun pop songs come out over the past years, this is what set them up for success with an unforgettably strange debut that throws everything into one song and somehow manages to make it all work.
Morning Musume ’16 – Utakata Saturday Night (2016)
OK yes, part of this is because I love the disco feel and aesthetic of this one. Utakata Saturday Night is very much playing to my interests. But it’s also a well-made pop song that feels like very much an evolution of classic, golden era Morning Musume with a fun catchy melody but lyrics that are focusing on how ephemeral love is and how ephemeral the song is – it’s that Hello!Project duality of happy song with bittersweet lyrics again. It especially works as a graduation song (reminding us all just how limited the time of all idols and members of Morning Musume are) and also that even fantastic, upbeat songs like this one have to come to an end sometime, drawing attention to that fact.
RYUTist – Nichiyoubi no Summer Train (2016)
For being a smaller idol group local to Niigata, RYUTist has some of the best music in the business. They continuously release quality music, but possibly my favorite track is Nichiyoubi no Summer Train, a relaxed retro track but with a lush arrangement that conveys excitement. The entire song is arranged beautifully with some great strings and guitar parts, but the real treat is the sax solo for the bridge. The first time I heard it I felt like throwing my arms in the air, it is so perfect for this song and just so good. Every time since I’ve listened I still get that sense of joy from that sax solo. The whole song is great but THAT SAX SOLO THOUGH.
Takoyaki Rainbow – Dot JP Japan (2016)
Takoyaki Rainbow’s first single at a major label, Nanairo Dance, was received with mixed reactions. It’s not a terrible song, by any means, but Takoyaki Rainbow’s indie output was generally all offbeat and fantastic whereas Nanairo Dance was kind of blander? So their second major single, Dot JP Japan, brought back Stardust favorite Maeyamada Kenichi to write a frankly weird for Stardust standards track that combines a more intense dance track with some strange lyrics about Japanese culture and food. It’s an unusual combination but that just makes it fit with Takoyaki Rainbow while being one of the catchier tracks of the decade. Add a guest spot by DJ Koo and Dot JP Japan was a return to form for Takoyaki Rainbow. Also the line “It’s so yum yum yummy yummy gochisou sami sami” is the pinnacle of lyric brilliance.
Happiness – Ordinary Girls (2016)
Happiness and other LDH / E-Girls related groups really were doing something of their own and it paid off with popularity. Ordinary Girls does an interesting thing where it jumps between a brighter sounding verse and a darker electronic chorus with way more intensity. The chorus is mostly instrumental as well, focusing on the members’ dance skill more than anything. And the thing is, the members pull off this transition perfectly, so it doesn’t feel forced, but that this is just two sides of Happiness that both work. That said, not many Japanese idol groups are pulling off the darker, bass filled chorus like Happiness are, which made them very appealing.
Keyakizaka46 – Futari Saison (2016)
Easily my favorite Keyakizaka46 track. While a lot of more well known tracks have a certain intensity and anger to them, Futari Saison is just elegant. The strings in this track are beautiful and the melody is just beautiful. The orchestral arrangement is the most notable part of this track but the melody builds beautifully throughout the entire song – the arrangement works because it matches the rest of the song so well with all of its elegant drama. Also while this list is about songs and music, can I say that this is probably my favorite choreography of the decade, with its unique elegance. It’s shown off perfectly in the video as well.
Especia – Danger (2016)
A lot of people are mixed on the music of late-career Especia, but Danger is still above and beyond one of my favorite tracks of the decade. Sung entirely in English, this is just such a great laidback funky retro track that, while it doesn’t completely continue the previous vaporwave-y style of earlier Especia, is still just fantastic on its own merits. The bass line in particular is funky and delightful, and the vocals are gorgeous (especially when all the members are singing and there is a gorgeous harmony). So even if you left following Especia after some member changes and style changes, Danger is still more than worth listening to.
Lyricalnaissance – The Cut (2017)
Another cover by Idol Renaissance, this time including Lyrical School for their collaboration single as Lyricalnaissance. This is a cover of a song by Base Ball Bear featuring Rhymester and honestly I much prefer this to the original – despite being a cover by two idol groups the overall tone and feeling of The Cut is much darker in this cover. This also shows off the strength of both groups, with Idol Renaissance singing and Lyrical School contributing the rap, and both do very well. I think this collaboration worked so well that I wish they had managed to cover other tracks, but The Cut is one of the best covers of the 2010s regardless.
Wakita Monari – Boyfriend (2017)
Please do not sleep on Wakita Monari’s solo career – all of her songs are phenomenal and she’s put out several great songs. That said, the song that made me discover her solo career (she was previously a member in Especia) and begin to follow her more was Boy Friend, a retro styled pop track that is absolutely perfect if you like 80s style pop. Everything about this is stellar, but I especially like the start of the chorus with it’s emphatic ‘let’s fall in love darling.’ It feels like the best of that retro styled songs, and Monari’s gorgeous vocals make it work even better. While there are a ton of Monari songs I could list here (her first album I Am Only in particular is just perfect), Boy Friend is still probably my favorite.
Oomori Seiko – IDOL SONG (2017)
While I decided to limit this list to specifically female idol tracks of the decade, there was a lot of great, unique music from Japanese artists in the 2010s, and a lot of female-fronted acts grabbed my attention in the past few years. Oomori Seiko is much more of a singer-songwriter than an idol, however she clearly has a love for idol music and culture, writes songs for idol groups, and released a song literally called Idol Song and so I had to include it here, even if it’s not exactly from an idol performer. The lyrics of Idol Song are made up of idol catchphrases and introductions, and that with the cutesy idol-styled song makes it a really fascinating postmodern take on idol culture. It takes the cutesy catchphrases that are used to directly used to appeal to fans and puts them in the forefront, without any context. It allows listeners to take these phrases without context and also to address them within a new context, a larger overview of idol culture. Oomori Seiko has come a long way and I’m glad to have her writing music both for herself and the idols she loves.
Up Up Girls (Kakko kari) – Upper Disco (2017)
OK, if you haven’t guessed by now, I love a good pop song with a disco/funk feel to it. And Upper Disco delivers on its name. Up Up Girls have put out a lot of great music over the past several years, and while there are quite a few songs I wish I would have recognized on this list (Bijo no Yajuu, Upper Cut, Samurai Girls, Party People Alien, Up Up Typhoon), Upper Disco is still my favorite. It’s just such a cheerful song that makes you want to dance and is infectious in that regard – while I can imagine something like Party People Alien might be a bit more controversial, Upper Disco is just a song I can imagine most people liking. That being said, Up Up Girls have managed to build a career for themselves after setting out from being Hello!Project trainees, and had a lot of great music in the process.
Rhymeberry – Tokyo Chewing Gum (2017)
While there have been a few idol groups with a hip hop / rap focus over the years (including the previously listed Lyrical School), none of the groups have really hit me like Rhymeberry did. Starting as a subgroup of the larger Usa Usa Shoujo Club, the group evolved with different members leaving (including one, Hime, going over to Lyrical School) and joining. While a lot of people (myself included!) loved their earlier more idol-y days, there was something really nice about their later years, including Tokyo Chewing Gum. There they became less “idols who rap” and more “rappers who are also idols,” especially in the case of frontwoman Miri who was really the heart of the group. Tokyo Chewing Gum has a laidback, dreamy feel to it that also does a lot to show off the skills of Miri as well as newer member Yuika, and this created a song that was both appealing and showed just how strong of a rapper Miri became. While I encourage you to listen to other Rhymeberry tracks, I think Tokyo Chewing Gum is one of the group’s stand out songs. A bit disappointing, since it’s the last single Rhymeberry released before disbanding, but I’m glad they were able to put out so much good music while they did.
Tsubaki Factory – Waratte (2019)
Waratte combines two things I love most from idol music into one, the first being funky retro-inspired pop and the second is the bittersweet, melancholy lyrics of Hello!Project. Waratte is a beautifully paced pop song with a great, funky arrangement, which makes it extremely listenable. It also is a song that’s called “Smile” but is about conlicted feelings like ‘If I get tired of smiling I might cry,” in a way that feels like classic Hello!Project. Tsubaki Factory’s early major debut singles are almost ridiculously good (I considered putting Shuukatsu Sensation, another song off this single, on this list as well) but Waratte is easily my favorite Tsubaki song – it’s a fun, listenable song with a Hello!Project twist.
Sasaki Ayaka – My Cherry Pie (2017)
One of the things I think is most important for when an idol has a solo career or song is that their music style fits the member. Which is why this 50s rock inspired song is kind of a weird choice that somehow suits Sasaki Ayaka very well. Sasaki Ayaka has always been the most idol-y member of Momoiro Clover Z, and it would be easy for the management to give her a song that fit that image of her (and in fact her other earlier solo songs often fit that mold), but My Cherry Pie has her sing from a male perspective with a classic rock n’ roll feel that is inspired by her interests and likes. The retro song is great but Ayaka totally nails the performance, which gives the impression that she loves what she is doing. The song has energy and a fun feel to it that I wish more idols would emulate – retro doesn’t just have to mean the 70s – 90s!
Juice=Juice – Fiesta! Fiesta! (2017)
I think there’s a reason that, when Jpop fans want to share the strength of JPop performers, Fiesta Fiesta is one of the first things a lot of people jump to. It combines a great Latin sound with powerful vocals from Juice=Juice, especially including Danbara Ruru’s first solo. There’s a real power to this song, especially live, that makes it impossible to not get hyped up by. It feels like a different feel for most idol groups, but one that suits Juice=Juice very well. Also, Hello!Project, can we get a full version of the music video sometime?
Philosophy no Dance – Dance Founder (2017)
If you’re looking for retro style music with great vocals, Philosophy no Dance (Also known as Dance for Philosophy) is a group you should be paying attention to. While their entire discography is worth checking out (I’m After Time and Livelife are two highlights for me), Dance Founder is a lush, upbeat dance track that shows off its members in great ways and is a funky track that is always sure to make me smile. It’s a song with a fantastic arrangement that I think I will always be in the mood to listen to.
Wakita Monari – Wingscape (2017)
There were other Monari songs I ranked higher in my end of 2017 list, and others I’d probably rank higher. However, I just can’t get Monari’s vocals out of my head, especially with the expressive and broad way she sings the chorus. The entire track has a jazzy, bossa nova feel to it over an upbeat track that makes it an idol song unlike any I have ever heard before. The arrangement is wonderful, as is the melody, but Monari’s vocals steal the show here. This is the song that shows Monari’s strengths as a vocalist, and it’s those strengths that make me implore you to not ignore her career. But I don’t know if much can get to be quite as good as the feeling of Monari singing this chorus.
Team Syachihoko – JUMP MAN (2018)
Describing this song feels reductive. On its surface Jump Man doesn’t have any buzzwords or things that set it apart, but it’s just a really great pop song by a great group. In their last single before their rebrand to Team Shachi, Jump Man has a really lovely indescribable feeling – it’s just warm and sweet. The entire pacing of the song is great, and it uses rap to great effect in a way non-rap idol groups don’t always here it just ups the energy. The bridge in the middle of the song is just beautiful, as well, as the song slows down with strings behind it. Jump Man is upbeat and fast but it feels warm and sweet as the group focuses on thanking its fans. There’s just a genuine sweetness to Jump Man that always cheers me up.
Suzuki Airi x Akai Kouen – Hikari no Hou e (2018)
Post-idol careers are always interesting to me, especially since an idol career is usually seen as being a stepping stone towards further work in the entertainment industry. Suzuki Airi’s post Hello!Project career is arguably one of the biggest success stories of a former idol within the music industry for a while now (though plenty of idols have gone on to acting and variety careers, of course). Airi’s first solo album came out in 2018 and while there are a lot of good songs, my favorite was her collaboration with all-female band Akai Kouen. Hikari no Hou e is a song that suits Airi in particular – it’s a cheerful song but it feels a bit more mature than a lot of Hello!Project tracks, and it being a rock song feels like she’s taking what she learned from her years in Buono. While other tracks on her albums might be more outwardly mature, Hikari no Hou e feels self-assured, like an evolution of her many years in the idol industry have lead her to this point. And if songs like Hikari no Hou e are any indication I’m looking forward to what more she has to offer.
26ji no Masquerade – Chapu Chapa! (2018)
Finding 26ji no Masquerade on YouTube felt like the feeling of discovering a lot of my favorite idol groups, with that overwhelming feeling of “how have I not seen this group before?” If you haven’t seen them before I suggest checking out their music. While making this list I was wondering why something like Chapu Chapa stood out to me but writing this in the context of my past choices it feels pretty clear – it feels like a throwback to early 2010s JPop. It’s a fun, cheerful summery song in the vein of an early 2010s AKB track or Super Girls track. It feels almost revolutionary in this way – while a lot of idol groups are trying to define themselves with a unique sound or by incorporating other genres like rock or hip hop, 26ji no Masquerade is here with a bright, summery song that feels like it’s embracing the idol-ness of it all. And while 26ji no Masquerade can handle other types of music (just listen to the rock track Flash Back from earlier in 2020), it feels refreshing that there is still idol music coming out that is unabashed in being idol music.
amiinA – Caravan (2018)
amiinA is one of those groups that seriously people should be following, even if sadly they will be disbanding later in 2020. Even with all of that, I seriously recommend giving their music a shot, as there’s nothing quite like their music – a lot of it is orchestral and almost mysterious, in a way that is hard to describe. It’s more like Western indie music than many other groups. Caravan is a bit of a departure, having a sound that is like Irish folk mixed in with some Americana influence (mostly Irish but they literally go yeehaw). It’s cheerful and fun, mixing together idol music with those genres in a way that feels natural. The performances of Ami and Miyu of amiinA also shine, as they have beautiful vocals that sound like they are enjoying themselves. Caravan radiates joy, and I’d like to think it’s this joy that the members of amiinA would like fans to remember them by.
=Love – Want You! Want You! (2018)
Part of me wants to just spend this blurb talking about what I feel like the implications of =Love are to the industry. Produced by former AKB48/HKT48 member Sashihara Rino, =Love represents a new path for post-idol career for idols, which is more inclusion in the production. And yeah, I think that Sashihara’s move to producer is notable. That said, there’s a reason I put Want You! Want You! on this list and it’s just such a cute song. It is absurdly cute, and feels like something that would have drawn me into the idol fandom if I wasn’t already in it. The song and its arrangement is adorable, but the lyrics (written by Sashihara) throw it over the top.
Beyooooonds – Nippon no DNA (2019)
Beyooooonds is the latest group from Hello!Project and was a jolt of energy to the idol industry, as well as a jolt to my own personal fandom. While a big part of me would like to put the entirety of Beyooooonds’ first album on this list (it’s seriously all fantastic), I’ve settled for only putting two songs on here. Nippon no DNA is an energetic song that suits the members and made for an accessible debut. While I love their track Megane no Otoko no Ko and all of the songs they have that feature skits, Nippon no DNA is a big declaration – they can and will succeed beyond any particular gimmick. The song features some fun lyrics, including multiple instances of the members shouting at the audience, and it’s just a fun song that feels like the evolution of Hello!Project into the Reiwa era.
Chica#Tetsu – Toei Oedo Sen no Roppongi Eki de Dakishimete (2019)
Chica#Tetsu is one of the three groups within the super group that is Beyooooonds, and from the two songs they’ve put out so far they are a much more traditional, cute group than the other two. That said, that’s really their charm, and this song in particular is just a remarkably good cute pop song. One of the things that is especially nice are the lyrics, which compare the deepness of Roppongi station with love, asking literally “how deep is your love?” The song also goes a bit into weirdness with leader Ichioka Reina’s spoken word train facts, but that almost only adds to the cuteness. This is a classic pop song and with Country Girls ceasing to be soon I’m just glad there’s a group carrying on the torch with a cuter style of music at Hello!Project.
Country Girls – One Summer Night (2019)
Would anyone actually believe me that I did not intentionally go for that transition? But the disbandment/suspension of Country Girls was, while not necessarily unexpected, a sad way for me to end the decade. As a revival of the group Country Musume, Country Girls not only performed many of the great songs from Country Musume but came out with a lot of great music of their own, mostly with either a cute or a 60s retro feel to it. This made Country Girls unlike any of the other groups at the time, which, at least in my opinion, leaves us with a hole in Hello!Project’s lineup. At first One Summer Night felt like an odd song to me – it’s not necessarily very retro (closer to the 80s than anything before it), and I think it’s maybe my favorite Country Girls song since the group’s revival. However, after the group’s suspension of activities came up, I realized that this song is a farewell song, even if we didn’t know it at first. The lyrics and feel are lovely, as a way of saying a warm farewell to their fans before the fans knew they were doing it. The group’s vocals are at their peak, and the instrumentation is lovely (that saxophone solo in particular stands out). This is a sweet song and one that is a good send off.
Last Idol – Seishun Train (2019)
Last Idol is one of those idol things I feel like I should know more about but beyond the member Misaki who was in Rhymeberry and Aither (and who I got to meet at Idol Matsuri in 2014) I know very little about the competition show turned idol super group. Still, I don’t need to know much to know that Seishun Train is a great fun song. This also has a bit of an American country feel to it, but it has a steady quick beat that makes it very fun to listen to. I’ve seen this described as being Keyakizaka46 like, but I think the style is similar but not in any way a copy. Seishun Train’s initial vocal lines of “train, train” are the type of vocals that will get stuck in my head out of nowhere, but isn’t a bad thing because I enjoy listening to this song so much. This has the energy of something like a Keyakizaka46 song but the Americana/country feel gives it a flair that makes it sound like a completely new thing. After a song like this I know I’ll have to keep more of an eye on Last Idol in the coming decade.
Kobushi Factory – Go to the Top (Acapella ver.) (2019)
When I first put this list together I had a whole theory in mind of how groups like Kobushi Factory prioritzing talent and unique skill like acapella and beatboxing were the future.. and then it was announced that Kobushi Factory was disbanding. But I think Go to the Top’s acapella version really shows what will be missing in Hello!Project once Kobushi Factory disbands and what I really hope is the next evolution in idol music. This song features all the members doing acapella, and while that’s been done before within idol music Kobushi Factory did it so well that they made it a thing. It also features beatboxing and an original rap written by Wada Sakurako. It feels like being in Kobushi Factory allowed the members to foster their talent along with being an idol. And while Kobushi Factory is sadly disbanding, I can see a future with this thinking with Beyooooonds highlighting member Kobayashi Honoka’s piano skills and Kiyono Momohime’s beatboxing. I really hope that with this, former idols producing groups and writing lyrics that we can get more idols using idol careers to show off and develop their own skills beyond just singing and dancing. And it would be lovely to see a group take on the mantle of acapella, if only so we get more great acapella covers like Kobushi did.
Team Shachi – Rocket Queen (feat MCU) (2019)
In a way it feels fitting that Team Shachi ends this list – after all, they are the group I personally felt strongest towards throughout the majority of the decade. And while a lot of that might be bias, I think they put out some phenomenal music when they were younger and now, after rebranding from Team Syachihoko to Team Shachi, I think they have a lot of opportunity in the future. Rocket Queen is a culmination of a lot of things coming together – first and foremost is the brass instrumentation especially in the chorus, which is provided by Shachi’s dedicated Brass Min group. There’s the rap provided by MCU, which is a really solid rap verse. There’s the 8-bit instrumentation added in as well, because this is a tie-in to Megaman after all. And then there are the members, who absolutely sell this song with a lot of skill but also a lot of flair – you can tell they have been idols for a while (the best line is when Yuzuki sings ‘himitsu no date’ because nothing says secret date like singing VERY loudly). This just feels like so many disparate elements that work well together, and that’s the other thing I hope for more of in the 2020s – a willingness for idol groups to experiment.
Ultimately, the 2010s were a really great decade for Japanese idol music. A big part of that is the initial push of the idol boom at the start of the decade. But even as that’s settled down, there are so many groups out there consistently putting out great music and, as the decade went on, doing more and more experimentation and innovation. It’s why as a music lover I love following this genre – there’s an endless amount of possibilities and genres that mix within the overarching umbrella that is idol music.
Recently the 10th anniversary of Happy Disco passed, and while I’ve certainly taken my fair share of breaks writing on this blog, I am incredibly happy to be part of this community and to have spent my 2010s following this genre of music. While I arbitrarily decided to stop this list at 75 songs, there are countless more songs, groups and albums I was unable to mention and that genuinely hurt cutting from this list. And I think that even as the idol boom settles down, there is still so much music out there to learn and discover.
If you’ve read my blog before, thank you so much for checking it out. I’ve enjoyed doing this for the past 10 years, and maybe we’ll get another 10 more.
What are the songs that you would put on a best of the 2010s list? What do you hope to hear from the next 10 years of Japanese idol music? Let me know in the comments or on my twitter @writerserenyty. If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading – it’s very appreciated!