The Mid-Year Review (2016 Version)

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It has been half a year! Time has mostly definitely flown by! I am sorry that this blog wasn’t as active like last year. Work has been extremely busy since the beginning of the school year (aka April) where I would just come home, cook dinner, take a shower, and go to bed extra early.  I also worked six days a week. I felt like I was working too much and not getting the necessary sleep I needed.

But! Everything has changed as I now work 5 days a week. I also have ample time to sleep and relax on a new bed. That’s right, a new bed! I was sleeping Japanese style for the past year with a bunch of futons and mattress piled on a hard wooden floor. But now I have an actual bed, I am able to sleep more peacefully now.

Enough of talking about the love of my life, I mean, my bed and my life. Let’s talk about music! Here are the top 5 most popular blog entries from January to July 2016!


5. Reporting Live: Sakura Cinderella near Nagoya Station (August 8,2015)  (Written on January 12, 2016)

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 every day 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”.

Read more here.

4. Get ready for the Olympics with Kobushi Factory (Written on July 17, 2016)

It is less than three weeks to the 2016 Summer Olympics that will be held in Rio de Janeiro. But, everyone is preparing for the major event of the year by releasing merchandise, airing the pre-game qualifiers on TV, talking about it on every morning show, and incorporating themes of the games and Rio de Janeiro in film and music.  This is no exception to Hello! Project, who has started a trend of providing Olympic-themed songs in the last five years.

Read more here.

3. My Thoughts on Eurovision (Written on May 15, 2016)

Eurovision 2016 has already come and go. There were really exceptional acts, good acts, and worst ones. As there were 26 performers for the four hours final, it will take me a while to get through all the acts. So, if I can remind myself to do it, there will be a part two next week to cover the other performances.

Read More Here.

2. Boogie Woogie Into Saturday Night with Morning Musume (Written on May 22, 2016)

One of my all-time favorite Japanese pop girl group just released their 61st single! Yes, you read it right, 61st! Although, I did talk about their 60thabout six months ago. Nevertheless. Morning Musume always impresses their fans with the ability to successfully reinvent themselves for the past 18 years.

Now, the 61st is a Triple A single, with the songs being ‘Tokyo to Iu Katsumi”, “The Vision”, and “Utakata Saturday Night”. I won’t be talking about all three songs as that could be a huge essay that could bore you and that I wasn’t really digging two of the songs from the single.

Read more here.

1. Celebrating Canada Day with Don’t Wanna Fall in Love by Jane Child (Written on July 5, 2015)

Over the past twenty or so years. many Canadian artists have been featured and became immensely popular all over the world. Barenaked Ladies, musical goddess Celine Dion, rock-pop princess Avril Lavigne, “boy wonder” Justin Bieber (which you should check out his new single with Skrillex), and others. But, none were more eccentric or skillful at playing the keyboards than today’s featured artist.

Read more here.

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Get ready for the Olympics with Kobushi Factory

FESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSTA!!

Deixa a festa começar!

It is less than three weeks to the 2016 Summer Olympics that will be held in Rio de Janeiro. But, everyone is preparing for the major event of the year by releasing merchandise, airing the pre-game qualifiers on TV, talking about it on every morning show, and incorporating themes of the games and Rio de Janeiro in film and music.  This is no exception to Hello! Project, who has started a trend of providing Olympic-themed songs in the last five years.

When you first listen to “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro”, you probably think it’s the long-lost relative to ANGERME’s 2012 song “Dot Bikini”. I swear the tempos of each song are about the same and both use the same instruments like a whistle, surdo, and others. The other similarity is when I hear the “cha cha cha” part at the end of “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro”‘s chorus. It reminds me of the “Chuumoku Chuumoku Chumoku” during “Dot Bikini” with a surdo being heard prominently in the background.

Hmm...

However, I give Kobushi Factory some credit as the group did a great job at capturing the spirit of Rio de Janeiro’s samba through music and film. “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro” uses instruments that are prominent in these Brazilian tunes like a surdo, trumpet, and saxophone. Also, the “ya ya ya” parts during the breaks are something you typically find in a  samba song. Whoever hasiejaneiro is, he did a great job trying to capture the spirit of a fun Rio de Janeiro samba festival with his arrangement. (My friend mentioned to me that hasiejaneiro might be Shin Hashimoto, who also arranged old Hello! Project songs like reggae-flavored “Summer Reggae Rainbow”)

The costumes also help bring tradition, originality, and flare. The girls wear a traditional Brazilian carnival costume with various colors scattered all over each piece. I don’t really like how the stylist executed the use green and yellow as the prominent themes. It just makes the costume seem tacky, cheap, and disorganized. I do really like the background dancers’ costumes as they are focused on one color per dancer and the style and blends seem more coherent. I do understand that the stylist wanted to incorporate the Brazilian flag’s colors into the group’s costumes. But at the same time, it should have been executed better. Maybe in a way like the dancers’.

What the music video lacks a lot of is a carnival. To my understanding, carnivals are usually in streets and with lots of people. Not in a secluded mansion with a pool. Like someone said on the H!P forum MM-BBS, this music video should of have been shot on a street with the members interacting with the dancers (which the girls don’t do much of in the original MV) and onlookers. I know it is really expensive to close a busy street in Tokyo and hire a few handfuls of people to be extras. But, it would make the music video look even more fun and encapture the spirits of samba and a carnival. (Maybe should of also the confetti?)

Enough about the costumes and music video, let’s get back to the important subject; the music. Vocally, the group never disappoints me as each member have strong vocal skills and they blend really well together. But musically, I feel the song is a bit weak and boring. Maybe because it’s a bit generic as a samba and H!P song. I also feel like “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro” is bland. I feel that the singers nor the instruments capture  the true excitement. Instead, the listener is treated to almost four minutes of subdued, non-climatic happiness.

Maybe I am also still reeling over the awesomeness of Kobushi Factory’s last single, “Sakura Night Fever”. I am in looooooooooooove this feel-good song as it features two legendary musicians on the track (DANCEMAN and KAN), a subdued key change, bringing out the bass and the guitar, the excitement, Rei Inoue’s awesome line, and more. The list can go on but maybe I being a little too bias?

What do you think of “Samba! Kobushi Janeiro”? Do you enjoy it’s festive style or do you think it’s subdued and bland?

My real question is: What will be the theme song for Japanese broadcast of the Summer Olympics?

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!

 

Boogie Woogie Into Saturday Night with Morning Musume

Woo Hoo!

If you didn’t see, I completely changed the layout of my blog! It was becoming ancient as the background, icons, and the design haven’t been updated for more than eight years.

Check out the new layout and tell me what you think. Is the background too much? Can you read the side menu’s text just fine?

One of my all-time favorite Japanese pop girl group just released their 61st single! Yes, you read it right, 61st! Although, I did talk about their 60th about six months ago. Nevertheless. Morning Musume always impresses their fans with the ability to successfully reinvent themselves for the past 18 years.

Now, the 61st is a Triple A single, with the songs being ‘Tokyo to Iu Katsumi”, “The Vision”, and “Utakata Saturday Night”. I won’t be talking about all three songs as that could be a huge essay that could bore you and that I wasn’t really digging two of the songs from the single.

The only song from this single that really caught my attention was “Utakata Saturday Night”. Maybe it makes me want to break out singing”Macho Macho Man” or some other well-known 70s’ disco hit.  However, these disco pop tunes are one of the charm points of  Morning Musume. These songs compliment the girl group really well, like “LOVE Machine” (1999) and “The Matenrou Show” (2012). Perhaps, it was due to the fact that the mad (and disco-loving) musicians like Tsunku, DANCEMAN, Maisa Tsuno, and others involved with Morning Musume’s disco tunes knew fully well how to successfully reinvent disco for younger audiences. Or they were mad-crazy by messing around with instruments, riffs, and samples to produced well-loved hits?

Who knows?

But, I feel like “Utakata Saturday Night” is a purer disco tunes then “LOVE Machine” or “The Matenrou Show”. Something more akin to The Commodores’ “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” (1981), Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” (1977), and Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979). These songs most definitely had a bass, a guitar, and some sort of a synthesizer. But, they also featured a lot of traditional instruments like trumpets, violins, horns, and others. These songs from the 70s became well-liked due party to the use of these instruments.

“Utakata Saturday Night” had that “wow” factor like those 70s’ hits as it features a prominent funky bass line and a stringed orchestra. That’s right! I was shocked when I read the linear notes to see that there were real strings used in the song, not some synthesizer. The song also features groovy backgrounds vocals akin to Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland”. And you cannot forget the “Utakata” grunts, which were original and far out in their own way, throughout the song.

Some fans were pretty sad that Kanon Suzuki didn’t receive a solo song like previous members did (except Riho Sayashi) on their graduation single. But, “Utakata Saturday Night” fully reflects Kanon’s personality perfectly as it’s fun, funky, upbeat, and eccentric. I don’t know any song that really encapsulates Kanon then this song.

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My Thoughts on Eurovision Part I

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Eurovision 2016 has already come and go. There were really exceptional acts, good acts, and worst ones. As there were 26 performers for the four hours final, it will take me a while to get through all the acts. So, if I can remind myself to do it, there will be a part two next week to cover the other performances.

There were so many good acts this year. Albeit that most of the acts today sing in primary English. 😦 (It’s not that I don’t oppose singing in English but I rather enjoy each country’s song in that country’s primary language).

The Great

Jamala – 1944

I linked the final performance of “1944” instead of the music video because it was incredible to watch.

If you didn’t read the backstory of the song on sites like Wikipedia or new sites, “1944” is a personal song about Jamala’s great-grandmother and her family getting deported from their homeland of Crimea and sent to live in Central Asia when Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union.[1] Jamala beautifully displays the raw emotions of sadness, despair, hurt, the feeling of being lost, and the emotional pain of being separated from a homeland. You can feel all of these emotions that Jamala passionately displays at the 2:20 mark when she sings in the mugham vocal style. At that moment, I feel like I wanted to cry with Jamala as I can feel the pain and hurt she emits from her singing.

The inclusion of the gorgeous mugham vocal style, the duduk (especially in the beginning), and the chorus in the beautiful Crimean Tatar language makes this a song a treat to those who like ethnic music. However, it’s still modern as it includes elements of house.

Many, including Russians, have argued that song should’ve been banned from Eurovision as the lyrics are an attack on Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea and is politically themed, which a big no-no in this contest. However, I believe that this song is more than a political statement, it’s a story. A story about a broken past of an ostracized ethnic group mixed in with hopes for “peace and love” in the future.[2]

The Good

Hovi Star – Made of Stars

Although Telegraph.co.uk has mentioned a verse from this song made their top 18 worsr and weirdest lyrics from this year’s Eurovision,  I thought most of the lyrics were pretty decent. It might’ve sounded like a generic love song to some, it might’ve been about two friends who are looking for a better future to others. I think it’s a mixture of both.

What I like about “Made of Star”  is Hovi’s impressive vocal range. There isn’t a lot of instrumentation with this song as it just a piano, briefly a guitar, some strings, briefly drums, and maybe a bass to make it seem like a pure mid-tempo pop ballad. However, Hovi’s vocals are warm, rock-oriented, not overbearing, and well-fitted for a song like this.

I really like the simplicity of the song the best. Songs like these ones tell you just need a really good vocalist, like Hovi, and a few basic instruments to make a pop masterpiece.

Gabriela Gunčíková – I Stand

I will admit, I might of placed this song in the good pile because I have a bias for any Czech singers (Go Team Czech Republic, my mother’s family is from there and her family takes lots of pride in their heritage). But, I mainly picked this song because of Gabriela’s incredible vocals. I love how Gabriela creates a mystic yet beautiful reverence when she sings a vocal run in the beginning of the chorus with “I”. Also, her vocals are well grounded with the song as they are rich, strong, and vibrant.

Like Hovi Star’s “Made of Stars”, “I Stand” uses a few instruments and a solid vocalist to create something beautiful.

Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime

Instantly, the song starts on the right foot with the use of a high-pitched synthesized voice to produce those eerie vocal samples. Maybe I am just in love with them because American R&B and electronica trio King recently used them perfectly in my new favorite, “The Right One“. Besides that, I really like the chorus as Poli is able to seamlessly blend Bulgarian and English together with the melody to create something extremely catchy.  I swear I am going to be singing the chorus randomly at work this week, even if I can’t sing Bulgarian well.

I have to say that Poli’s costume is one of the best costumes from this year’s Eurovision. It took me a while to figure out that she was wearing a skin colored dress and she wasn’t just naked with some random leather and LED lights. The LED light pieces was a wonderful addition as it was cool to see Poli “light” up the stage like that.

The Ok

Dami Im – Sound Of Silence

This song isn’t really bad. In fact, it’s pretty decent as it showcases Dami’s incredible vocal skills. However, haven’t we heard something like this before from the likes of Taylor Swift, Adele, or Demi Lovato? I swear the melody could of been a part of a Taylor Swift or Adele song. As for Dami’s vocals, they sound like an alto version of Demi Lovato or some other female pop singer that I heard before but I can’t put a finger on.

Overall, it’s a mediocre song. I give props to Dami’s pipes. However, I am disappointing that it’s not original enough.

The Bad

Jamie-Lee – Ghost

There were a lot going wrong with Germany’s entry for Eurovision this year. The most blaring one was the costume. I understand that the decora kei style might be fashionable and cute to some, I just think it’s a weird mishmash of things that don’t relate to each other well, thus causing confusion. And, “confusion” is the word you would think of when you see Jamie-Lee’s headdress. It’s not cute nor goes well with the song! It’s so bizarre and unflattering to watch her sing in that. If she wanted to pick an appropriate Japanese street fashion to go along with the song, how about picking something with lolita or a kimono-style fashion?

I also think that Jamie-Lee wasn’t really ready for Eurovision. Sure, she is a talented singer however, she isn’t quite there yet with her current skill level as she seemed to be still working on getting her style. Throughout the song, her vocals sounded a little bumpy and her tone wavered. It didn’t make her sound totally off key but you could notice some tiny faltered notes here and there if you listen carefully. Also, at the 2:32 mark, she belts out in a way that seems to be lacking breathe support. I wonder if Jamie-Lee was nervous at all during these live performances?

I think Jamie-Lee should’ve polished her skills and waited a couple more years until she was definitely ready for Eurovision.

What did you think of this year’s Eurovision? What was your favorite acts? What were least favorite?


Source

[1]  “The Dark History Behind Eurovision’s Ukraine Entry.” Time. Time. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://time.com/4329061/eurovision-jamala-russian-ukraine-crimea/?xid=fbshare)

[2] Stephens, Heidi. “Eurovision 2016: Ukraine’s Jamala Wins with Politically Charged 1944.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2016. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://www.citationmachine.net/bibliographies/101376594?new=true)

“You Are My Destiny, Lovelyz”

 

To tell you the truth, I have never heard of Lovelyz until last week when they released their new mini-album “A New Trilogy”. The Kpop scene is very confusing as there are many groups debuting and some groups pull the whole “Hey, we are an old group but we are having a comeback, I mean, we are releasing new stuff”. Did you know that 100 new groups made their debut in Korea last year alone? That is madness! Too many to keep up with. 😦

I discovered “Destiny” while looking at a group on reddit called “Kpop”. Someone played this song along with the opening for the new Sailor Moon series. Although the lyrics might not fit the premise of the magical girls’ show really well, the song is pretty catchy and reflects a clear picture of a girl’s anxiety for wanting a boy to be with her because it’s destiny.

The key for this song is how the strings are executed. The combination of an augmented electric calpyso keyboard and violins that used a mixture of martele and staccato techniques to help build drama surrounding the song. You can heard this during moments like the beginning before the first verse. With the key changing through the middle of the transitional melody, the violin and the keyboard brings out the key change`s mysterious atmosphere that pulls the listener In.

I think the instrumentation for “Destiny” is more satisfying than the vocals. Lovelyz isn’t a bad singing group, unlike some Jpop idol groups I have heard. However, their vocals as a whole are the typical Kpop idol group vocals. There isn’t anyone who really brings flavor to the song with a hidden punch or extraordinary techniques. Again, all the credits go to the instrumentation. They should release a karaoke version of this song to show how awesome the instrumentation is.

The other charm point of this song is the music video. There a lot of beautiful camera angles and shots throughout the video. Also, the use of the warm filter really highlights this beauty. You are probably wondering what is with the circles and marbles. In my opinion, they are physically symbolizing the lyrics. The basis of the lyrics is about a person whom the song`s character refers to is his or her soul mate. They are the center of their universe, the earth whom the character revolves around, and the gravity that pulls the character close. Circles always move in an endless circular motion, just like this character does with her soul mate. It sounds a bit cruelly but hey, I find it a bit romantic. The marbles, circle drawings, and the circular camera motions are a perfect allegory to the song’s theme.

The song and its music video are most definitely exquisite and pretty. I don’t know how catchy the song is to other Lovelyz songs because I haven’t heard any other song by this group. If you have any recommendations, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below. However, “Destiny” is a most definite recommendation for those who like melodramatic sythnopop songs with gripping instrumentation and/or anyone who likes a pop song with a good instrumentation.