10. Hey! Brother – Rhymeberry
While working on Tokyo Idol Festival coverage was fun and I found a lot of groups, probably the group that stuck with me the most was Rhymeberry. They’re a rap subgroup of Usa Usa Shoujo Cllub, and much like Babymetal really sets itself apart from its main group. Their debut single came out this year (though they’ve performed these songs for a while) and while I enjoyed Rhymeberry iz No. 1 possibly more than the title track, Hey! Brother really is more of a complete song. While some idols rap in their songs, this is full on rapping and is kind of what you’d expect from the words “idol rap.” The song’s about their big brother and involves meowing. However, despite these idol elements, the thing that sets Rhymeberry and Hey! Brother apart is just how good they are. Most raps in idol songs are short and idols tend to not be great at rapping. Rhymeberry is just flat out good at what they do and this makes Hey! Brother very good to listen to and a really fun song. I’m not a big hip hop fan myself, but Rhymeberry transcends this and is an enjoyable listen.
9. Hatsukoi Cider – Buono!
Just as a piece of context Buono is not my type of group. I’m not a big fan of Buono and I haven’t followed them much since their early singles. However, Hatsukoi Cider transcends my preconceptions and just ends up being REALLY good and one of my favorite songs of this year. The melody’s beautiful and just sounds sweet. The arrangement is great, as well; my biggest complaint with a lot of Hello!Project songs is that the instrumental sounds kind of empty and hollow, but this is the opposite of that. The band sound with heavy keyboard is just perfect for Hatsukoi Cider. It doesn’t sound cheap or fake, but is just wonderful sounding.
Further, Hatsukoi Cider has some of my favorite lyrics of the year. Occasionally I’ll listen to an idol song, love it, and then realize later that, once I’ve looked up translated lyrics or been able to use my limited Japanese skills to piece them together, the song isn’t as sweet-sounding as I once thought (this notably happened with C-ute’s Sekaiichi Happy na Onna no Ko; I love the song, but the lyrics do nothing for me). However, here the lyrics are really great, about deciding to take friendship into a more meaningful relationship. It’s sweet, romantic, and I love these lyrics.
And finally, H!P did what they should really do with all their smaller groups and made solo versions of the song, though just on the Single V so no actual audio files. My only complaint with the original was that I vastly preferred Airi’s vocals to Miyabi and Momoko’s, and that I would have preferred Hatsukoi Cider to be a solo song as a whole. Hello!Project delivered. I would argue that not only is this Buono’s best song ever, this is the best song to come out of Hello!Project for a good while.
8. Moretsu Uchuu Kokyokyoku Dai 7 Gakusho “Mugen no Ai” – Momoiro Clover Z
While I think 2012 wasn’t quite as good for Momoiro Clover Z music as 2011 (especially considering the completely excellent Battle & Romance that stole 2011 for me, album wise) their first single of the year was fantastic, especially the title track. Written by Maeyamada Kenichi, “Mugen no Ai” is possibly one of the most epic, symphonic idol songs that I’ve heard described as being the Bohemian Rhapsody of JPop. And it deserves it. While I think “epic” tends to be an overused word, it fits here perfectly with a full choir, some of the best idol guitar riffs provided by ex-Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, and the overall theatrical tone fit here perfectly. This is the type of song I could see showing how strong pop music can really be. This is weird, but it fits and I believe is one of the things that convinced a lot of people of Momoiro Clover Z’s real strength as an idol group, embracing weirdness. This is a fantastic song.
7. The Stardust Bowling – Team Syachihoko
This is not the last time you’ll see Team Syachihoko on this list. Truth be told, I could legitimately put pretty much all of their songs on this list, because they’re all very excellent. However, The Stardust Bowling was the first song that got me interested in Team Syachihoko since it was their first major debut single and their first song with a (very strange) PV. The Stardust Bowling, while I doubt it will be as important to Team Syachihoko as Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo is to Momoiro Clover (Team Syachihoko’s signature song is still to come on this list), kind of reminds me of Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo. In fact, the song is structured pretty similarly to Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo, right down to the slow part before the final repeat of the chorus. However, this isn’t a bad thing at all, and The Stardust Bowling really does stand out as a great idol song. It’s high energy, fun, wacky, and despite comparisons really stands out on its own. With Stardust idols, the major debut single song does a lot to say what kind of group the group’s going to be, and The Stardust Bowling only says good things. Team Syachihoko’s still slightly weak in the vocals department and they’re not completely polished, but that’s part of the charm of he group and strong songs like The Stardust Bowling only make me more excited for Team Syachihoko to improve and get better. An excellent major debut and an excellent song in general.
6. DNA Kyoshikyouku – Momoiro Clover Z
When I first heard Mugen no Ai I was immediately in love with the song and convinced that nothing could beat it. Until I heard one of the other songs on the single, which is DNA Kyoshikyoku (DNA Rhapsody). DNA Rhapsody is similarly epic sounding like Mugen no Ai is, however instead of being the guitar-heavy operatic sound that Mugen no Ai has, DNA Rhaspsody is a bit more symphonic and the whole arrangement is orchestral. I’m a sucker for strong strings in a piece as well as piano heavy arrangements, and this combines both of them. This is one of the most simultaneously beautiful and extravagant sounding songs while still feeling very Momoiro Clover Z. Momoiro CLover Z’s music, at its very best, is music that you’ve never heard before. To some it’s weird, and yeah it’s strange, but I can’t say I’ve heard songs quite like DNA Rhapsody and Mugen no Ai, at least within JPop before. This transcends idol pop and is one of the most interesting songs I’ve heard lately, period.