Revisiting an Oldie From a New Generation

Many have categorized oldies as songs that have a certain flair to them and have something memorable. Spice Girl’s “Wannabe”, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are a few songs that qualify as oldies.

Japan has a plenitude of oldies too. Each decade presents a distinct set of tunes and genres that capture the attention of many. But sometimes, an oldie might be considered “too old” by the newer generations as the musical arrangement or even the vocals are outdated. That leaves one question: How can people today enjoy a very popular oldie from an older decade like the 1970s? The answer is simple, just reinvent it with today’s sounds and fresh faces.

That isImage and video hosting by TinyPic what exactly Pink Babies is all about. Called the sister group of the legendary idol duo Pink Lady from the 1970s, Pink Babies cover a lot of lovable tunes from the duo and the 70s. Pink Babies formed in 2013 with several girls. The lineup has changed over the years, as one of the members pointed out to me on Sunday during the handshake event, as the current roster has ten girls. These girls cover popular tunes as well as unknown stuff from albums and b-sides.

Pink Babies released their first cover single, “Nagisa no Sinbad”, in the summer of 2015, first at Jan Expo and then at Tokyo Idol Festival. I actually picked up a copy that was signed by Aina at TIF. The group continues to release singles at least once a year while performing at small festivals and venues within Tokyo.

The group went around to various cities in Japan to perform and hold events at various malls to celebrate the release of their second single. One of the spots they visited was the Parco Shopping Mall in the heart of Nagoya’s shopping district. The event had three parts: a mini-live, handshakes, and then photo ops. In order to participate in the later two events, you had to buy their new single beforehand or on the day.

As it was mall event, the stage area was pretty small. The crowd was pretty small too as around 30 people showed up for the mini-live. A small percentage of the crowd were people who were passing by. These lives are a bit up-close and personal as the distance between the stage and the crowd are a few meters. Heck, I had a great view from my spot despite the speakers being in the way as I was a couple of meters away.

The mini-live started on time with the girls performing these songs:Image and video hosting by TinyPic

  1. SOS
  2. MC
  3. Dou ni mo Tomaranai (Rio O., Chinatsu, Aina, Sara)
  4. Kuruwasetai no (Mayu, Rio S., Kotono, Saho, Yui)
  5. Hoshi Kara Kita Futari (Mayu, Aina, Yui, Sara, Chinatsu)
  6. Catch Lip (Kotono, Saho, Rio O., Rio S., Yukari)
  7. MC
  8. Southpaw
  9. MC
  10. UFO

Pink Babies are pretty good in terms of being an idol group. They have mediocre vocals but have an array of girls that have their own appeal. However, my only concern about the group is “how” they perform each song. Even though Pink Lady had unforgettable performances, the group did have outfits and dance movements that were considered maybe too risque. They frequently showcased their legs (and body) as they wore tight spandex outfits with very short skirts or no bottoms. Pink Lady also had dance movements that center around their legs.

I don’t know iImage and video hosting by TinyPicf it was a positive or a negative for the duo as they were 18 years old when Mie and Kei started to perform. However, I wasn’t really satisfied when I first saw Pink Babies performing such songs at the Tokyo Idol Festival two years ago. I felt like the stuff they were performing was a bit too much or risqué for these girls. The group was then composed of girls between 12-16 years old, singing and dancing almost like their big sisters some forty years ago. I just felt weirded out seeing such young girls publically performing dances that were more suitable for late high school to college girls. But, that is the nature of the Japanese idol industry and the argument about “what dances, outfits, and songs are too much for idols” could be saved for another day. I am just relieved after seeing the mini-live on Sunday that the group has mellowed out and matured a bit where singing and performing Pink Lady songs wouldn’t be bothersome.

The handshake was after the mini-live. You could shake hands and have a 30-second conversation with each member if you bought a CD. I felt like I had more time with each girl compared to past events with other idol groups as I could talk about many things with the members. When the handshake event finished, then it was time for a photo-op. Depending on how many CDs you bought, you could get a picture with a member. Or, you would play a game where someone would pull out a slip of paper that contained one of various photo-op Image and video hosting by TinyPicoptions. The options were: a two-short or three-shot miniature Polaroid, a 30-second minute video with your favorite member, a group shot with all the members, and etc. I took my chances and picked from the box. I got a chance to take a miniature Polaroid with two of the members. So, I picked Nagoya native Rio O (or Ohrio) and Chinatsu (because she told me her favorite princess is Belle, just like mine).

Like I said before, Pink Babies isn’t a bad group.  They are worth checking out if you like to listen to covers of oldies, if you a fan of Pink Lady or old Jpop tunes, and/or like idol groups. I love them and have learned much more about Pink Lady’s songs, especially my new favorite song “Catch Lip”, from this cute group.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Celebrate ☆ai love music☆’s 100th post with Queensberry!

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Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

It’s the 100th post at ☆ai love music☆! I never thought that I would reach this milestone as I didn’t think I would be continuing to blog after my long hiatus in 2009. It’s all thanks to the readers and my evolving music library both on my computer and in my CD shelves that keeps me going even during difficult times. I hope that I can reach my 200th very soon.

To mark this occasion, I want to use a song that involves the word “celebrate” as this a joyous occasion. I was looking through my iTunes and found a little gem from the German girl pop group Queensberry. The band was formed in 2008 during season 8 of the German version of the hit TV talent show Popstars. The original members were Leonore Bartsch, Gabriella De Almeida Rinne, Antonella Trapani, and Victoria Ulbrich.

Hoping to be as successful as Popstars alumni bands No Angel and Monrose, Queensberry released their debut album, entitled Volume I, in early 2009 with great success. It was certified gold.The group was quick to release singles from the album as well as work on what was supposed to be their US debut album. However, that plan never came about as their contract with Warner Music dissolved at the end of 2009.

What made matters worse was that Antonella and Victoria decided to call it quits by July 2010. Queensberry’s managers were quick to find their replacements, who were Selina Herrero and Ronja Hilbig. Queensberry didn’t release any material, just appeared on a song by rapper KittyKat and did live performances. However, Selina Herrero left the group two years later as she wanted to go back to school.

The group released their last album as a trio in 2012 with little success. Leonore Bartsch decided to leave the group soon after, leaving Queensberry with only Ronja and Gabriella. The group eventually disbanded completely in 2013.

It is currently unknown what the girls are doing now. It is presumed they are either out of show business or focus on their solo careers.

“Celebrate” might feel like a generic synthpop song. It features a high-pitched synthesizer, a clapping machine, and an air drum kit. I think the keys to the song are the vocals and the feel-good meaning behind the lyrics. You can say that the girls vocals are the standard pop vocals you hear from any pop tune. However, I feel like these vocals fit the song perfectly. It isn’t too deep nor high and the vocals are really smooth with a clear tone. They actually make you feel good and relax.

One other thing that makes the listener feel good is the lyrics. Who doesn’t want a friendly reminder like “Celebrate, we made it through the day Celebrate, good times are here to stay Celebrate, dreams come to life today” throughout their day, The song is filled with upbeat lyrics that tell you that you shouldn’t give up because you can celebrate your victories at the end of the day.

Morning Musume Creates a Modern Vision

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As I sit and write this, I am listening to the livestream of Kanon Suzuki’s final concert with Morning Musume. It’s a very sad day for many fans, including me, as we have to say our final goodbye to Kanon as she is retiring from show business to focus a career in social work.

Why do I like Kanon Suzuki?

What in earth possess me to like an idol group?

Am I crazy or what?

Those are the questions that I, friends, and my coworkers have been asking as to why I like Morning Musume. In Western countries, people get weirded out if you say you are a fan of AKB48 or any idol groups. Maybe because most of these groups are filled with girls under the age of 18 and are usually dressed in a less conservative outfit. Some of these groups’ fan bases are made up of males who are over the age of 35, which is a bit creepy.

However nowadays, there are a increasing number of female fans. Someone who went to Meimi Tamura’s graduation (from ANGERME) concert noted that there were more females at that concert than usual. But, these fans have different and unique reasons why they like idols.

My reason for liking Kanon Suzuki, a reason that I have been thinking about during this whole month, is a very personal one as Kanon was a brave, inspiring person who didn’t have the negatives of life get to her. Kanon was able to be herself while rising above the loads of bitter fan comments about her weight. She used her personality as a charm point, being natural funny and always smiling while not letting the negatives of life bring her down. She was always thinking about the people surrounding her, hoping to make them all smile.

Originally, I wasn’t going to talk about “THE VISION” because I felt that “Utakata Saturday Night” was Kanon’s true graduation song as it featured her a lot. But, I can see that “THE VISION” was somewhat a graduation song for her from Tsunku. (“Utakata Saturday Night” was surprisingly not written by Tsunku at all. :O)

If you take a look at his notes about the song, Tsunku writes that he wrote the song when he was thinking of Suzuki and the changes she will embarked after her graduation. He used his experiences from the early days of SharamQ, the dreams expressed in the eyes of the students at the Kindai University Opening Ceremony in 2015, and the dreams of Kanon and Riho Sayashi to penned the lyrics about the future vision that everyone envisions and hopes to gain.

I really love the lyrics as it relates to the ups and downs of achieving goals during life. But, what I love most about “THE VISION” is the piano part. When I fully listened to this song at the Morning Musume. concert on Saturday, I was surprised how modern it was. I kept on thinking this song was a Daniel Powter or John Legend song due how Tsunku used the piano. I feel that if you were going to play Morning Musume music to Americans who never heard of the group before, “THE VISION” would be the best option as the song is relatable to modern piano pop artists.

However, the song does have some weak points. I really wished that Tsunku didn’t used the clapping sound effect or the electric drum kit as they watered down the song’s quality a bit. Like I understand that Tsunku is trying to mix piano pop with EDM (and Tsunku does produce amazing EDM music), but this song isn’t suppose to be an electronica song. Even Tsunku mentioned that the song is “whimsical”. I don’t think you can’t get that feeling with electronic instruments. I think it would be better to get rid of the clapping effects, the synthesizer during the instrumental break, and the electric drum kit and replace them with something more natural like a snare drum and a classical piano.

“THE VISION” is one of the best songs that the modern Morning Musume has ever put out. It’s modern, refreshing, and beautiful. The song’s peaceful atmosphere combined with its inspiring lyrics makes “THE VISION” a must listen to all ages, even if you are moving onto a new part of life or not.

Congratulations on your graduation, Kanon Suzuki! Best on luck on your future! Hopefully your vision will come alive soon!

 

An Endearing Tune About a Mom’s Thankfulness

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A Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all the precious and hardworking moms out there! This post is dedicated to all the moms, especially my own mom.

Today’s post is brought to you by Cheryl Pepsii Riley. A New York native, Riley was a nurse while pursuing a side job of singing. She would sing at nightclubs, do community theater, and also be part of of a group called Stargaze during her free time. During this time, Full Force member Bowlegged Lou approached Riley with an offer to produce her singing career with a song called “I Wonder If I Take You Home” in 1984. But, Riley refused the song and Lou eventually gave the song to Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam, which was a huge hit for the group.

Regretting the decision of rejecting the succesful “I Wonder If I Take You Home”, Riley reached out to Lou again in order for him to write another song for her. Eventually, she hit success with one of her first singles, “Thank You For My Child”, in 1988 when it reached #1 on the R&B charts in the US. The song, written by Bowlegged Lou, was a mid-tempo ballad about Lou’s experience with his wife’s complications during her first pregnancy.[1]

Although Riley enjoyed the success of having her song top the charts, she continued her career as a nurse while releasing songs and other material. She released three albums, which the first one reached #18 on the charts, with semi-successful singles. However, she took a break from the musical industry after the release of her third album in 1993.

Riley reemerged in the late 90s and early 00s as an actress in a bunch of Tyler Perry’s plays. She also appeared in various film adaptations of Perry’s productions such as 2011’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family”.

“Thank You For My Child” starts off with a lento tempo. Only a series of triads and skeleton chords are played to support Riley during the first verse. The instrumentation rarely ever expands on those chords with the help of an 808 bass, Roland synthesizer, and electric piano. The instrumentation doesn’t gain memento until the last third of the song when the instruments plays a little bit more of recognizable melody. Although, one of my favorite parts of the song is when the electric piano plays an a sweet chordal progression when the song briefly switches to a minor key during the first verse.

Riley’s vocals is one of the pinnacle points of “Thank You For My Child”. Her voice is smooth yet just the right of powerful needed for this song. It’s a perfect fit for this inspirational ballad as it isn’t overpowering the backing instrumentation. It’s tone is pretty warm in order to help support and convey the song’s meaning in a motherly way. An example of this is found at the ending when Riley sings strong yet tender vocal runs.

The lyrics are another important point. It’s beautifully written as it told from a perspective of a single mother who cherishes and thanks the man above for her precious child. It is such an inspiration to mothers and non-mothers alike as anyone can relate this warm and caring thank you letter. If you have a chance, you should check them out on Genius.com to see how inspiring these lyrics are.

Moms, thank you for all what you do and loving your family unconditionally. You’re the true superheroes.


Credits

[1]  “Cheryl Pepsii Riley – Thanks For My Child.” Genius. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://genius.com/Cheryl-pepsii-riley-thanks-for-my-child-lyrics)

Signal’s “Secret Rain” Promo Event at HMV Sakae (August 15, 2015)

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Commited to catching up, here is another report! This is dedicated to all the Sailor Moon musical fans all over the world. ❤

Signal is a Japanese pop band that had three ladies transformed as handsome guys (more like the “ikemen” type). The trio formed in 2015 with members Root, Rei, and Lyra. If you are a fan of the all-female theatre troupe Takarazuka Revue, you might recognized Lyra from the Tsukigumi or the Moon Group. Others might recognized Root from various “ikemen shoujo” magazines like KERA or Men’s Bible. But, I think a lot of people from the Western World knows Root as the phenomenal Jadeite from the 2013 Sailor Moon Musical La Reconquista.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The group released their first mini-album, entitled “Secret Rain”, on July 29, 2015. This is the only CD they ever released as Signal announced at the end of last month that they were going to split up due to each member wanting to pursue their own individual activities.

Originally when I went the mini-live at HMV Sakae on August 15, I just wanted check out this ikemen group because they looked interesting when I researched them beforehand. I didn’t really know that Root was in this group until she did her self-introduction. I was shocked when she introduced herself and had to check the group’s blog to make sure it was true. At that moment, I grew excited as I really loved Root when she starred in the 2013 Sera Myu musical. She makes a great guy villain and is an amazing singer.

The live started promptly at one o’clock. The crowd was a bit small with most of the audience being young adult females. I stood in the back of the crowd because I didn’t know this group really well to join the front section with the true fans. The “guys” came onto the stage and did their self-introductions. Root’s acting as a guy is pretty spot-on, like always. She got the mannerisms and can produce a guy-ish tone easily. So can Lyra. However, Rei was the weaker ikemen as she was pretty girlish. She really can’t do the ikemen really well as you can tell in the picture above that she is one that looks less masculine then other two. During the MCs, she brought out the playful female side as she tried to be cute and more girlish. Maybe a career in ikemen entertainment isn’t suited for her but she was having fun.

During the twenty minute live, Signal sang two or three songs, which the very last one was “Secret Rain”, while entertaining the crowd with a couple of MCs. The group was pretty shaky live as Root and Lyra could perform in an ikemen style and Rei couldn’t. I swear she just sang the song in her normal voice (and not the ikemen-type that was featured on the PV). However, the “guys” were having fun and you could see that the members enjoyed each other and had a good relationship between them.

After the mini-live, the staff prepared the stage for a handshake event for those who bought the CD. I quickly bought the album and obtained one handshake ticket. The line for the event was small, so it wasn’t much of a wait to approach the table. The first member who I greeted was Rei, who spoke some English to me and asked me if I lived in Nagoya. Then next was Root, who I told that I loved her in La Reconquista because she was my favorite Jadeite and I will continue to support her. She thanked me. Lastly, I approached Lyra, who I had a small conversation with. The event was laid-back as the fans could spend a decent amount of time talking to each member. I swear some of the girls before me were fangirling a lot though.

I haven’t listen to much of the album since I bought it. But, if you enjoy ikemen or vocally-altered dance music, you should check out this group. It’s a basic Jpop group that you expect to be from 2015. However, the group’s charm and the great relationship between each other is what makes Signal stand out. Just look at the PV below. You might even fall in love with one the members.

Reporting Live: Sakura Cinderella near Nagoya Station (August 8,2015)

 

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Aaaaaaaaaaaah, I am so behind on the Reporting Live segment! I keep on going to countless events but become lazy and not report on them! I am so sorry, I will try really hard to catch up before the end of March.

Sakura Cinderella is another “local idol” group here in Nagoya. Unlike Idol Kyoshitsu who performs in another company’s sushi restaurant,  these girls perform in their own cafe near Nagoya Station. Formed in 2014, this AKB48 copycat group performs in their cafe everyday and does street lives all over the city. Named after one of the main streets “Sakura Street”, Sakura Cinderella’s catchphrase is “Tidy and pretty true idols.”[1]

The group released their self-titled debut single a year later in May 2015. They will release their second one coming up this April.

I actually stumbled upon this event when I was out shopping with a friend around the central part of the city. We noticed that there was stage being set up and a handful of people were starting to gather around the area. I turned to my friend with eagerness in my eyes. I wanted to see this live because a) I didn’t know these girls and b) it was free! My friend rolled her eyes slightly and sighed as she didn’t want to join in. She went off and did more shopping as I stayed around for the live to start.

As it approached one o’clock, there were more and more people gathering around the stage. The main members of Sakura Cinderella (there were no “trainees” attending this event) came out and tested all the equipment and practiced a little. As they were practicing, I found a spot in the center-back. I had an ok view but there were a lot of tall people surrounding the stage.

The live promptly started at one. It was pretty long compared to other free mini-lives I been to. During the live, they sang about four to five songs, had a couple of MCs, and even did a photo session time (the only time where you can take a photo without the staff kicking you out from the event). I don’t remember what was the setlist or which members were on stage. And there isn’t information on the web about this event. However, it was pretty good live and the girls were really cute. They aren’t the best of singers but it was a lot better than Idol Kyoushitsu. No one was off tune, they blended together nicely, and they had a cute, good tone.

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After the live, they announced that they were holding a free handshake event. A no-strings attached event. You didn’t have to buy a CD or a DVD. You didn’t have to give money to anyone. Just stand in line and wait you turn.  :O

While waiting in line, I met a really kind elderly fan who chatted with me. Before we parted ways, he gave me his cheer light. At first, I tried to refuse it because it was a good-quality one with the group’s name written across on the upper section. But, he shrugged off my attempt to return it to him with a smile as he told me it was gift for coming and seeing the idol group. 🙂 ;_;

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It didn’t take a long time to wait. As I approached each girl, I just said the normal “Hey, I enjoyed your live” and “It was my first live”. And in turn, they asked where I am from, how did I enjoy the concert, and such. I talked with each member for fifty to sixty seconds, I can’t remember. But, it was longer than most other idol group’s handshake events.

Sakura Cinderella is a cute group that have a really good tone and ear-pleasing voices. Sure, they and their music are AKB48 knockoffs. However, this is a pleasant group that I recommend seeing if you ever come to Nagoya.

Check out a live that did in September 2015:

(Also, you can check out their channel for more videos)

The Music That Made 2015

When thinking of what to write about 2015, I kept on hitting a roadblock.

What was so special about 2015 in terms of music? 

At least in Japan, many of 2015 hits were recycled tunes that were heard before. EXILE and Sandaime Brothers, AKB48’s “Halloween Night”, King of Cream Soda creating different versions of that hit Yokai Watch song, and countless idol groups debuting as they copied already popular artists’ sounds for a chance of fame. It seemed like these artists want to hold on to that fame by regurgitating that popular tune than exploring new avenues.

Even in Korea, the same type of music is continued to be released. Although, it was a bit invigorating to hear that some artists released material with a different flavor of pop. For example, WONDER GIRLS with their throwback to 80s’ synthpop and BoA experimenting with current electropop.

“REBOOT” is my favorite Kpop album of 2015 while Girls’ Generation’s “Party” is my favorite song. You are probably thinking why do I like this generic summer pop song? It may be generic but it’s so fun, screams “girl power”, and makes me want to party straight away. The video is super cute and fun, making me wish I was escaping to a tropical beach.

America is a bit different though. Taylor Swift, Adele, and Sam Smith all dominant the music charts and award programs on their own accords. Although I don’t like “1989” that much (because I think she is selling herself to commercialism and straying from her “true” self), Taylor Swift turned heads when she released an album that was groundbreaking and refreshing.

But, the biggest accomplishment of 2015, in terms of Western music, is Adele’s “Hello”. Now, I don’t really know what is the big deal about this song as it is not really popular in Japan. However, after listening to the song for the first time tonight, I can see how it has touched many. Adele crafted the song very well to attune to everyone’s feelings with it’s melody, lyrics, and pace.

Even though 20 wasn’t popular in Japan, the concept of “self-producing artists” was. One of these artists was Gen Hoshino, who has been slowly but surely noticed by mainstream listeners. His music reminds me a lot of John Legend and Macy Gray. With his whispy, soulful voice, upbeat pop instrumentation, and charisma charm, who can’t resist him and his songs like “SUN”?

Hopefully he can dip a little more into neo-soul and funk in 2016?

Another trend that crept up in popularity here in Japan is the “band boom”? Bands like Gesu no Kiyomi Otome, KANA-BOON, Sekai no Owari, ONE OK ROCK, and others have abandoned the traditional Japanese rock sound in favored of a diverse one that is constructed by range of instrumentations, technology, techniques, and genres. Gesu no Kiwami Otome.’s latest song “Otonatic” is an example of this.

…and Sekai no Owari’s “Anti Hero”.

It kind of reminds me of the New Wave boom in the 80s but tamer. In the 80s, new wave music was a buzz as that genre too used less guitars and more electronic devices. A great example of this was The Police, who started off in the late 70s with punk rock and ended on a jazzed up, spiritual “new wave” sound.

The same goes with the current “band boom” in Japan. Although, what makes the “band boom” different is how they present themselves and their music; clean, well-kept, crisp, and simple. Ryotaro Aoki pointed out in a recent article on The Japan Times is that the bands today are getting rid of those blazing guitars that made songs in 90s and 2000s chaotic and using more instruments to present a clean yet simple song. These songs also have lyrics that contain more personal messages in order to garner attention from the younger generations.[1]

As we head into 2016, it is unsure if the band boom in Japan will continue to rise or even fall in popularity.  And, if it will influence other acts including idols (please, let Sayaka Yamamoto write at least one NMB48 song) and EDM acts.

Time will only tell.


 

References

[1] Aoki, Ryotaro. “Gesu Tapped into the 2015 ‘band Boom’ | The Japan Times.” Japan Times RSS. 6 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2015/12/06/music/gesu-tapped-2015-band-boom/#.VpOO2xV97cf)

[2] “Gesu No Kiwami Otome. and the Band Boom of 2015 | Japanese Entertainment News.” ARAMA JAPAN Gesu No Kiwami Otome and the Band Boom of 2015 Comments. 1 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9V5aByfeCM)