It’s hard to believe 2013 is about halfway over! And so, it’s a good time to look back on the year in idol music, as well as pick some of my favorite songs of the year.
The idol boom has been going on since late 2009/early 2010, and I keep expecting idol groups to suddenly start disbanding or fade into obscurity. However, things are going better than ever, all things considered. AKB48 broke records and sold massive amounts with Sayonara Crawl, Momoiro Clover Z keeps climbing up, and even Hello!Project groups are doing very well. Indie groups are growing more popular, and gaining traction. Groups are becoming diverse, with alternative acts like BiS, Alice Project and Babymetal growing in popularity. Honestly, I can’t think of a better time to be an idol fan, based almost entirely on how many groups there are out there. There are a lot of groups I’m not even putting on this list but are really good groups.
And so, my top 15 songs of the first half of 2013. Note that this is just songs that have been on a release through the end of June; Koisuru Fortune Cookie’s going to end up pretty high on my full list of the year. Honorable mention goes to Oomori Seiko’s Mahou ga Tsukaenai; not quite sure I’d classify her as an idol, but I love this song to pieces.
15. Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya – Juice=Juice
Can I put a song on this list for one sentence? If so, that sentence is “just listen to that saxophone!” Because seriously, I love every second that a saxophone plays in this song.
In all honestly, I wasn’t sure about how I’d feel about Juice=Juice. I didn’t follow any of the Eggs/Kenshuusei that made the group, and I hadn’t seen the hype about Karin. I thought (and still do) the name was silly to a fault. The early pictures had all the girls in white and it looked kind of boring. And while I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever be a super fan of Juice=Juice, I am a huge fan of Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya.
While I was just being silly with what I was saying about the saxophone, that’s actually pretty close. The sound’s so unique, and I can’t think of another idol song like it. Underneath, Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya isn’t that unique of a song. It reminds me strangely of Melon Kinenbi’s Amai Anata no Aji but sped up. The structure feels kind of similar, as does the tune (though I definitely don’t mind H!P bringing back Melon Kinenbi songs). I don’t think Juice=Juice is anything like Melon Kinenbi, mind you, but the overall song isn’t completely new. However, the entire thing put together with the saxophone arrangement, it feels fresh and interesting.
So yes this song is pretty much on my list because of the sax.
14. Kawasaki Junjou Ondo – Kawasaki Junjou Komachi
As I’ll be writing a bit more about later, I love songs where there’s a lot of genre fusion. While I like standard idol pop songs, there’s something really interesting about putting together genres like that.
Kawasaki Junjou Komachi is a group you probably haven’t heard of, unless you follow Tokyo Idol Festival and/or read my TIF posts religiously. But I found them from doing my TIF research posts, and was initially unimpressed by their concept of promoting Kawasaki, mostly because another group I wrote about had a very similar concept. However, Kawasaki Junjou Komachi really shines with their music and performances, the music being a really excellent fusion of traditional sounds with a modern pop sensibility, complete with a rap section. I don’t know Japanese instruments enough to tell, but it sounds like they’re using a lot of traditional instruments in there. In addition, it’s really catchy and fun to listen to and the vocals are really mature and lovely.
I think another reason I’m so impressed by Kawasaki Junjou Ondo is just how good it is for a local indie group. Lots of great music comes from indie idols, and I don’t want to put down indie idols. However, this is the type of song I would be very impressed if I heard it from a big, major label act. If KJK is able to continue this really great mix of traditional and pop and have this general level of quality, I predict they could grow and grow in popularity.
13. Brainstorming – Morning Musume
Late last year and early this year was when I first started to like Morning Musume again. I became a fan of Ishida Ayumi, I started liking (but not necessarily loving) the music, the other new members grew on me. I didn’t like the Help Me! PV, and the song was good, but I didn’t quite love it. However, because of Ayumi, I decided to listen to and watch Brainstorming as soon as I could. And I couldn’t get enough of it.
I think the biggest strength of Brainstorming is how fired up it works to get you. The instrumental works together with the vocals very well to make sure that there’s always something going on. Even in the slower solos (i.e. the solos Sakura does), there’s stuff going in the background. While Morning Musume has used dubstep influenced sound in Renai Hunter, and I really enjoy that song a lot, here the sound feels really integrated.
While I’m one of those people that misses old school Morning Musume a lot, really one of the strengths is in the arrangement. One of the biggest thing that makes me dislike a song is when the instrumental falls flat, and feels empty. Here, that’s not a problem, with so much going on in the back. However, nothing feels extraneous. There’s a lot going on throughout the song, but it feels warranted.
It’s also a great song for the group; it features a lot of the members doing shorter solos and mixed group bits. I don’t want to be one of those foreign fans who always complains about the line distribution, but varied groups like Morning Musume work at their best when everyone gets at least a little to do. Brainstorming really utilizes the members in a really great way.
Ultimately, this song is what brought me back and got me really excited about Morning Musume again. I actually preordered the single, because this is just that good.
12. Haste to Waste – BKA48
When I first heard there was going to be a unit of the members who scored low on the Mechaike special, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be something silly and not quite serious. And there are slightly silly parts. However, it’s a pretty standard mid-tempo song with a good deal of guitar and piano in there. A really good standard song, mind you.
Listening to the song and knowing the lyrics, though, it feels right that this is the BKA48 song; it’s silly, but it’s about being happy even if you aren’t necessarily smart. The thing that interests me is just how strangely epic the chorus feels. Perhaps it’s the lyrics mixed with the song, but it feels like it should be the theme song to the anime/drama about Kawaei Rina. Which I would definitely watch, by the way.
Honestly, this song isn’t necessarily the most interesting song on this list. But it’s solid, has a catchy melody, and I really love the lyrics. Especially the line that actually mentions Haste to Waste, taken word for word from the Mechaike special.
11.Sekaichuu ni I Love You – Rhymeberry
When most people got interested in the new Rhymeberry single, they really liked the song R.O.D.. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great song. However, I was really taken by Sekaichuu ni I Love You, just because of how different it is. It’s 30s era swing/jazz (not sure if this is sampling or not) mixed with rap. I’ve never heard something like this before, and if you know of any other songs even remotely similar please tell me.
The instrumental is really entertaining; I love hearing all the instruments featured, especially the clarinet (which I play), but the piano is really what shines here. Miri, Hime, and Yuka all shine and they are really improving their skills. They really sell the song, too, putting a lot of energy into it, which is a marked improvement from their last single (where the live version is a lot better than what was recorded). There are also some fun lines in here; I appreciate the Han Solo reference, and I always giggle at “Dope the shit!”
I think I mostly like this because it’s such an experiment. It’s fresh, new, and something I personally have never heard before, which is really rare for music.
10. Walk my Way – Yokoyama Rurika
I think every time I talk about Idoling!!! I mention that I want to follow them more. Which still stands. I think they’re a really solid, interesting idol group with some great music, but I just don’t follow them. I heard about Yokoyama Rurika getting a solo single, but I didn’t need to read it. One thing changed my mind. Hyadain.
When I heard that this was a new Hyadain song and that it was good, I raced out to listen to it. And oh yes, it is good. The thing about this song is that it really works because of Rurika’s really strong vocals. From what I’ve heard Hyadain really wrote a song for her strong voice, and you can hear it. Hyadain, like always, writes a really strong melody, but here it fits Rurika perfectly, and her strong voice compliments the strong instrumental, or rather the instruments compliment her. This isn’t a very subtle song; this is something that’s meant to be belted out. That’s why Rurika’s voice fits it perfectly.
Steve from Selective Hearing wrote a very good analysis of Walk My Way here, and I suggest you all read it because I’m not going to write something this great about the song. One thing I can say is that, as a Hyadain fan, I love almost everything he does. His music really fits my tastes. However, since he writes almost exclusively for idol acts, I rarely get to hear music by him from an artist with a voice as strong as Rurika’s. So this song is really a treat for me, and I know it’s something I’ll listen to quite a bit.
9.Maji Kansha – Team Syachihoko
If you haven’t noticed, I really love Team Syachihoko. I wanted to put all four songs from their latest single on here, but I was able to narrow it down so that I’d have a more varied list (though another one of theirs is coming up).
One of the things I really like about Stardust groups is just how energetic their songs are, but that’s a bit of a curse as well; there aren’t many Stardust group songs I’ll break down crying while listening to, whereas I’ve cried at many AKB48 songs. And while I don’t think Syachi is going to move into serious ballads any time soon, I have to say I love their first song that seems a bit more serious, which is Maji Kansha.
I’m a sucker for strings and idol music; it’s actually something you could probably notice in this list. So when I first heard the swell of strings of Maji Kansha during a livestream of a Team Syachihoko event, I was hooked. The thing about Team Syachihoko is that if you’re looking for a polished performance with strong vocals, you’d best look elsewhere. However, the thing that I personally love about Syachihoko, that you can definitely hear in this song, is that they really work hard and push themselves. Their voices might not be strong enough to carry a song like this, but they give it their all.
It’s a really lovely song in general, and one I think could become a favorite to perform at Syachi concerts. It’s definitely the most normal Syachihoko song, but that, in itself, makes it the most usual. In a really good way.
8. Bokura no Eureka – NMB48
The easiest way to describe NMB’s summer singles is in comparison to other 48 groups. Whereas Nagiichi was much like songs like Ponytail to Shushu; happy and upbeat, Bokura no Eureka feels a lot more like Manatsu no Sounds Good. It’s a bit darker, more serious in tone, but still retaining a summer feel to it. Bokura no Eureka is a bit slower, very strings heavy (yes I do love that), and it just works.
NMB has had more mature sounding songs before (i.e. Virginity), but I didn’t really expect this song when I saw that it was an NMB48 summer song. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s so unexpected that makes me love it so much. It allows for something like their full PV, where the NMB girls are on a deserted island; even though it’s a summer song, and has fairly typical lyrics, it has a lot more emotion to it. It’s a bit darker, slower and more serious than I expected from this track, and I have to say I love it.
7.Megitsune – Babymetal
Babymetal keeps surprising me and taking themselves to new levels. Every time I hear a new Babymetal song it’s exciting, because I never know what it’s going to be like. Megitsune is a new direction for Babymetal, now incorporating traditional instruments and themes into their metal/idol pop hybrid. It completely works. It’s still one of the most ‘metal’ songs Babymetal has put out (though perhaps not as metal as Ijime Dame Zettai), utilizing Suzuka’s strong vocals and a lot of drums.
It’s kind of amazing, really, that all these elements work so well together. I’m constantly impressed by how innovative Babymetal’s music can be, in incorporating Suzuka’s voice, Yui and Moa’s shouting, the metal sound, while still being accessible to people who may not necessarily enjoy metal music. I know I never really listened to metal before Babymetal. And perhaps I wouldn’t be so fond of this if I was a metal afficionado. However, Babymetal does a really great job of creating accessible music for everyone that blurs the lines of genre in a really fantastic way.
6. Den Den Passion – Dempagumi.inc
2013 is shaping up to be the year of Dempa for me; I’ve known about them for a while, but I really got into them this year. Den Den Passion does one of the things I wish more idol groups did, and really plays off the fact that this is a group effort. Especially in the chorus, there’s a lot of vocal overlap, which fits really well. I really like what they did with the vocals in this single; the voices in the chorus often sound almost vocaloid-esque, or a high-pitched Perfume, but in a way that really fits Dempagumi.inc.
That’s the thing that I really love about this single. Everything about it fits dempa’s identity as a group, which, as a fan of the group, is something I love. The quick pace, the high pitched vocals, the focus on the group, the entire song feels very dempagumi. Even the rap section really fits the song (perhaps it’s the edited vocals in that section). Sometimes when writing reviews for this blog, as an exercise, I try to imagine another group tackling a song. This is a song that I can’t imagine anyone other than dempagumi doing.
It’s frenzied, energetic, and fun. While another song on this list convinced me to start following demmpagumi.inc (spoilers), Den Den Passion helped keep Dempagumi.inc as one of my favorite idol groups out there. It’s not one of their strangest offerings, but it’s a worthy addition to the dempagumi discography.
5. Te wo Tsunagou – Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku
Who else has spontaneously started crying during an idol song? Because uh, that’s the first thing I did when I listened to Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s latest, Te wo Tsunagou.
Ebichu is another one of the Stardust idol groups a long with MomoClo and Team Syachihoko. However, for whatever reason, Ebichu hasn’t quite clicked with me in the same way as these other two groups. However, I can’t deny how great their music can be (especially since they work closely with Hyadain a lot), and Te wo Tsunagou is just incredible. Instead of taking the usual energetic route that Stardust group often does, Ebichu does a really great job with a sweet, heartfelt song (though they have done some of this before, to be fair).
The song starts off on a great note with the strongest vocalist in the group, Kashiwagi Hinata, singing a capella. She sounds really lovely, and is a really great start to the rest of this song. This song has a really great pace, helped out by the strong percussion in the background, but ultimately it’s just how earnest this song feels, both with the song, the vocals and the lyrics, that makes me really love it.
This song isn’t quite as unique as the others on this list. It’s not even as unique as the other song on this single, Kindan no Karma, which is a much darker song. However, this song does pretty much everything right in being a really lovely, heartwarming song. As groups search for the next gimmick or style, this proves that what you need more than anything is a good melody, charismatic performers, and a strong arrangement.
4. Ijime Dame Zettai – Babymetal
I remember distinctly the first time I heard this song. This had been a very long awaited song for Babymetal fans, so I was very excited. I was doing a project for a class (auditioning people to be in a project I was managing), but I had to listen to this as soon as I saw the PV had been posted. It was completely worth the anticipation. I sat alone in the room I was holding auditions in, mouth open, completely in awe of what I was listening to.
I’d argue that Ijime Dame Zettai is the most metal of the Babymetal songs; you could potentially make a good case for the song Catch Me if You Can, but I’d argue the chorus gets too pop-y. IDZ, on the other hand, is pure metal, without the pop influence of other Babymetal songs, and it’s just good. One of the things that I love about IDZ are the slower sections; the piano-heavy section at the beginning, the slower section right at the beginning of the second verse, and the section before the big guitar solos. These do a really great job of pumping up the more intense sections, and making them exciting. All the guitar solos in this are incredible, as are the rest of the instruments; they do a really excellent job of pumping you up, and having a lot of energy.
Suzuka’s vocals, while they’ve since improved again for Megitsune, made a really big leap from Headbanger to Ijime Dame Zettai. She sounds amazing here, her strong voice really fitting the great instrumental. Yui and Moa take a bit of a backseat from their already limited roles, but their presence mainly serves to remind you that yes, this is actually Babymetal you’re listening to.
This isn’t metal-pop. I’d go so far as to say this is just metal, with pop performers. Suzuka sounds great, the instruments sound great, and everything about this track is phenomenal.
3. Shuto Iten Keikaku – Team Syachihoko
Figuring out which two Team Syachihoko songs made this list was a bit of a difficult decision, because the whole single is pretty amazing, but it came down to Maji Kansha and Shuto Iten Keikaku. Let’s just get it out of the way: I’m biased towards Team Syachihoko. They’ve quickly become my idol group of choice, and I can’t think of a song they’ve done that I haven’t liked. However, this is because they have really high quality music, and this has continued with their national major debut single.
This song was cowritten by Japanese hip hop artist SEAMO, and that’s pretty obvious. Even if there’s only one actual rap section (done wonderfully by Haruna), you can hear the hip hop influence throughout the whole song, which features a lot of spoken parts and a whole lot of attitude. According to wikipedia, one of SEAMO’s influences was MC Hammer, and I do get a bit of an 80s/90s hip hop vibe from this. This is honestly not a song I expected to hear from Team Syachihoko, but they really put a lot of effort into this song, with Chiyuri rolling her R’s and Nao putting in a lot of energy. All the girls really fit in this well.
The lyrics are one of the most fun parts of the song, featuring Syachi’s plea to make Nagoya the capitol of Japan. It’s a silly topic and the lyrics are silly, but Syachihoko actually sells it pretty well. There’s a pretty good translation on the PV on the official Syachihoko channel, so I recommend you check that out.
Otherwise, all the parts come together for a really fun and entertaining song.
2. W.W.D – Dempagumi.inc
W.W.D stands for “worldwide Dempagumi,” a very fitting title given Dempagumi.inc’s recent announcement of performing at Japan Expo USA this August.
W.W.D is weird. And this is coming from someone who loves weird music. Can you guess who wrote this song? If you guessed Hyadain, yep you’re right. However, while some people may criticize W.W.D for being kind of disjointed, in actuality it really fits the group. The song centers around the group of six girls, their individual stories and how they all came together to become one group. Therefore, the fact that the song has so many different styles in it actually makes a lot of sense, because it’s reinforcing this narrative found in the lyrics. I’m really glad they decided to work with Hyadain to write this deeply personal song for Dempagumi.inc; Hyadain is the master of writing very eccentric songs that somehow work, and W.W.D is one of those songs.
Because this song is based off the histories of the girls in dempagumi.inc, they perform it really well. The girls all have an interest in Akihabara culture, and as such really play up the shouted parts well. Groups in the past have called themselves ‘otaku groups,’ but you really believe it with dempagumi.inc. This song is so weird, but Dempagumi.inc manages to sell the slow/serious section as well as the energetic sections. They do well with a song that I imagine would be difficult for most idol singers to get.
If you don’t like your music weird, I doubt you’ll like W.W.D.. In fact, I have a feeling it’s the type of single that would be very polarizing. However, I really like Hyadain when he’s at his wackiest, which he is here. Combine that with the personal stories of dempagumi.inc, and you have a classic idol song on your hands.
1. Hai to Diamond – Momoiro Clover Z
If you read my review of Momoiro Clover Z’s album 5th Dimension, you’ll already know how much I love this song, so I’ll keep this brief. Hai to Diamond is incredible. It’s not necessarily the most idol-y song out there, but it’s a really beautiful song featuring orchestral instruments, many different sounds, and some really nice performances from Momoiro Clover. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, written very well and arranged even better. It’s gorgeous, epic, and has been an instant favorite ever since I heard it.
This is one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard, and I know I’ll keep coming back to it again and again in the future.