Strange Boutique (December 2012)

Here’s my Japan Times end-of-year roundup column. I’ve not much to add really other than that AKB48 are really the worst thing ever. I do think it’s worth mentioning (and this is my view, not that of the japan Times editorial section) that I really don’t think SMAP’s charity and fundraising work gives them license to use the Tohoku tragedy as a marketing hook off which to hang their new Greatest Hits album that they rushed out in time for their Beijing trip. Giving 5% off the sale price to charity is a fine gesture, but calling the album SMAP Aid, with that cutesy sticking plaster logo, is just cashing in on tragedy and they should be called out on it.

At the bottom of the article, there’s also a little box where I give my top five girl-group bubblegum pop tunes of the year. I’ve already posted one or two of the clips, so sorry for any repetition. Anyway, if you want to check them out, here they are:

1. Perfume: Laser BeamI’ve written about this extensively before, so I’ll just add here that I agree with Patrick from Make Believe Melodies that the single mix is better than the over-fussy album mix.

2. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: PonponponAgain, not much to say about this other than that it’s magnificently stupid, even without the video.

3. Girls’ Generation: Mr. TaxiThis is actually good for a lot of the same reasons as Ponponpon (i.e. the chorus is simple, catchy and features just them doing a silly dance and repeating the same couple of nonsense sounds over and over again), but it’s also  important for bringing a bit of modern electro polish, sex and glamour into the Japanese pop scene.

4. 2NE1: I Am the BestTotally stupid, but really quite musically radical when you pull it apart. 2NE1 are by far the most fun group out of the 2011 K-pop pack.

5. Momoiro Clover: Mirai BowlAnother let’s-chuck-everything-in-and-see-what-happens song. On its own, I don’t think I’d like any individual part of this song, but the way all these completely incompatible musical segments are chucked together makes it so much more than the sum of its constituents. Add in the cheesy theatrical drama section that goes with it and you have a minor idol pop-opera masterpiece. Also the last thing they did with the beautiful Akari Hayami (a.k.a. “Blue”) still in the group (chokes back sobs).

If I were to add some more, I’d say:

6. Seifuku Kojo Iinkai: Da! Da! Datsu genpatsu no Uta — Nothing special about the tune, but idol pop with an angry anti-nuclear message in 2011? Hell yeah.

7. Secret: Shy Boy — Infectiously happy pop tune that isn’t quite sure whether it’s trying to be a 50s doo-wop tune or a 60s bubblegum-Motown pastiche, and then remembers it’s a K-pop song and shoves in an absurdly incongruous rap segment. Wonder Girls pulled the same trick on Be My Baby, but they over-egged the production a bit so I’ll go for this bouncy number instead.

8. Nozomi Sasaki: Pa-pe-pi-pu Pa-pe-pi-pu Pa-pe-pi-pu-po — Ridiculously annoying, stupidly catchy, gleefully, calculatedly nonsensical, Sasaki’s terrible singing voice gives it an air of almost punky couldn’t-give-a-fuckery, and those wonderfully cheap 80s synths just get me every time. Awful song. I love it.

9. Afterschool: Let’s Step Up — Not really a proper song so much as an album intro, but tapdancing electropop? The little Riverdance thing they do in the middle? Someone has clearly decided somewhere that the rules of pop don’t apply to them, and if there’s one thing that 2011 proved, it’s that whatever we thought the rules were, they’re not.

10. Momoiro Clover Z: Rodo Sanka — Showa Era nostalgia abounds in this worker’s anthem, written by Ian Parton of The Go! Team. After Girls’ Generation made an album almost entirely full of songs by Western songwriters, it’s interesting to see a Japanese idol group go the same path and come up with something completely different but no less striking. And yeah, I know I had another song by basically the same group earlier — so I cheated.

There are probably a few other’s I could put in — T-ara had one or two good songs, and 2NE1 and Perfume both had one or two more really good songs — but I’ll leave it at a clear ten.

[Edit: Added in Secret at No.7. and Nozomi Sasaki at No.8. Can’t believe I forgot such an adorable pair of little tunes.]


Filed under Features, Strange Boutique

14 responses to “Strange Boutique (December 2012)

  1. miffy

    All females? Bubblegum pop only can be sung by girls?
    And Momoiro Clover………….doesn’t impressed me that much. Seems a bit intentional trashy which I guess is the point. At least its not based around Akiba loser culture and that is always a plus.

    Seems to me the list is full of cute girls singing songs that only music nerds will get. The only song I like was 2NE1 and SNSD.

  2. Because if there was one kind of music that dominated pop in Japan in 2011 it was idol pop and associated bubblegum sung by mostly pretty young girls (although a lot of the Korean groups are a bit older). I talked about this in the main article, and I’ve spent a lot of time this year slagging off AKB48, so I picked out five examples that I rate to show that it’s not all dreary and mediocre (or at least I don’t think it is). When it came to blogging it, I’d come up with a few more that I’d forgotten so I expanded the list, although yeah, I was definitely biased towards the sillier end of the spectrum. T-ara or Wonder Girls could have merited a mention, but I felt Girls’ Generation kind of covered that whole type pretty neatly.

    Of course a lot of the classic bubblegum was sung by boys: 1910 Fruitgum Co., The Monkees, Ohio Express and all that kind of stuff. But boy bands in Japan seem to have lost momentum now. Arashi are still enormous, but they had six songs in last year’s Oricon Yearly Top 10 and only two this year. Tohoshinki didn’t make the albums top ten while Kara and Girls’ Generation (and Lady GaGa) did. And no boy bands sang any brutal rants against the nuclear industry this year. Girl groups are where all the ideas and the momentum were this year, so that’s what I focussed on in my yearly review.

    As for music nerds, guilty as charged, although it’s kind of funny you picked on this rather than my top five recommended ultra-obscure new indie and punk bands.

  3. miffy

    I saw your indie band and thought it was cool to see such varied acts still Rocking in Japan. No comment on that page as it takes some time to digest
    Cool to see that you are open to really silly songs (particularly Nozomi Sasaki).
    And something I really didn’t expect

    Perfume album at no.14 for Spin’s best Pop Album 2011!!
    SNSD at 18 while 2NE1 is at 6!

    The days where magazines are considered an authority or curator of music is slowly dying but its cool to see 3 asian acts in there

  4. Yeah, that’s excellent. I actually think once you take Perfume out of context, they sound better if that makes sense. I did them down a bit over JPN partly because I feel they fell so far short of what they could be, but I imagine they’d be a lot more fun for someone who’d never heard any of Yasutaka Nakata’s work before. I still can’t see it transferring into commercial success in America, but it’s good that they’re at least being brought to people’s attention. There are two or three standout tracks on JPN that really deserve to be heard more.

    A music journalists’ role nowadays seems to be as a sort of kicking doll who attracts people who think they’re cleverer than him/her into returning to the site to slag them off in the comments. Like the sweet scent that attracts flies into a carnivorous plant, which then ensnares them with advertising.

    As for silly songs, I think all pop music is silly, so the stuff I like best tends to be the stuff that recognises this.

  5. miffy

    But where is Perfume going to perform in America? Anime Conventions? Brrrr……I met these “spiritually Japanese” fans in Akiba…….my brain melted….

    Best they team up with Kpop as Kpop has made some headway into America. Avoid the post 2006 Japanophile like the plague

    • Ugh, I know! Japanophiles are Japanese culture’s worst enemy.

      • miffy

        A bit off topic, but you stay in Japan, so I gotta ask? What happen to Japanophiles? It seems like these kids are now wannabe otaku, closeted pedos, and slavish followers of imaginary Japanese trends. I was called a racist for suggesting that hot Japanese girls are no different in behaviour with hot girls the world over. I never will forget that conversation.

      • I don’t know, I only see them on the Web sometimes, never in real life. I can easily imagine that conversation of yours though. Have you read Orwell’s “On Nationalism”? Your Western otaku seem like a clear case of “transferred nationalism” to me.

  6. miffy

    *snaps finger* transferred nationalism sounds about right.
    back to the topic, due to this article recommending Momoclo, I found Hyadain who I nominate as Best Jpop song of 2011

    It even has that Momoclo girl you were pining for

    And, Yeye – Morning

    And the compliments for the holy 3 who shall save Jpop/Kpop hasn’t stopped

  7. First time I’ve heard either of those. A couple of nice songs there. the Hyadain track kind of reminds me a bit of some of the more eccentric technopop and post-Shibuya-kei artists that appeared in the mid-2000s. The Usagi-chang, Softly! and Vroom Sound labels in particular. The Yeye song has a sound that makes me nostalgic for the sort of late-90s/early 2000s offbeat singer-songwriter stuff that used to flirt with the edges of the mainstream when I first came over to Japan.

    I can’t decided whether I should do a more comprehensive “songs of the year” thing or not to be honest. My main problem is that I feel it’s kind of pointless putting stuff like tacobonds or Bossston Cruizing Mania, who released some great stuff this year, on the same list as something like 2NE1, and if I decided to separate it into indie and mainstream stuff, which side would I put Sakanaction and capsule, both of whom released somewhat leftfield songs I really liked on major labels?

  8. Pingback: Great pop music denied to Japan in 2011: Kara’s Step | Clear And Refreshing

  9. miffy

    Hmmmm, why don’t you put out a list on music that moves you the most this year? You look like you have pretty a diverse taste that covers mainstream, indie, foreign and otaku-ish.

    On another note, have you seen the WSJ on AKB48 ?

    I’m not going to argue the article veracity but, come on, Kpop and Perfume are now appearing in reasonably popular websites, Even Pitchfork gave Kpop a try. Nobody gives a damn about AKb outside of Japan.

    I mean, I been to Japan, and talk to Japanese at my country. Sure, AKB has name recognition but it was real hard for me to find anybody who really liked them. Maybe because I’m a gaijin but that’s doesn’t reflect well on the scene, does it?

  10. AKB48 are a lot of fun to write about though, and as a social/marketing phenomenon they’re important I think. I don’t like the way the WSJ article lets Akimoto’s comment that “Slightly older men want to cheer them on, as they would little sisters or daughters” go unchallenged though. Even if they *think* that’s what they’re doing, it’s pretty clear that the whole AKB thing is designed to push the lolicon sex buttons in older men, although i think it’s interesting the way Akimoto pushes it further and makes it about forming a bond between fans and group members that makes it more like a mass live action version of a video game dating simulator.

  11. Em-El

    I’m a bit late to the conversation, but I do wholly recommend Hyadain. He is also responsible for co-composing “Mirai Bowl” and other Momoiro Clvoer songs that give them their frenetic edge.

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