It has been an eventful week here in Japan. The flu season has been very active this year as already 1.3 million people have caught the flu. I was unlucky to be one of those affected. However, it is getting better.
In the US, my home country, it wouldn’t be a big deal to have the flu. Just stay in bed, take some medicine, and you be good a new in a few days. But, here in Japan, it is a bit different. I have to take off work for up to five-seven days and be quarantined from the public as the virus is feared here.
So, to pass the time, I been watching videos on Youtube, listening to music, and just sleeping. While I was sick, I nearly forgot it was a birthday for an influential singer in the 90s. Her music was part of my music collection when I was growing up.
We have a month left until the “Superbowl” of the European music scene happens: Eurovision. There has been a plenitude of great entries this year, including from the Czech Republic.
Mikolas Josef is an up-and-coming artist from the Czech Republic’s capital, Prague, who made his musical debut in 2015. He first performed as a street performer in various European cities like Oslo, Hamburg, and Vienna. He released his debut single, “Hands Bloody”, in the same year by himself. Although it didn’t chart on local charts, his second single, entitled ” Free”, did. It reached #15 on the Czech music charts. He hasn’t released any albums yet as he is primary releasing singles at the moment (His Eurovision single is the fourth in his discography).
“Lie to Me”, in my own opinion, is a luxurious piece that can catch anyone’s attention at the very second it starts. The song begins with a sassy, fiery trumpet solo. Then, after the introduction, Josef crones the opening verse with a smooth tone. However, Josef showcases a variety of sounds during the song. My favorite part is at the 00:33 mark when he sings in a low, seductive tone.
This tune reminds me a tiny bit of Austin Mahone’s “Dirty Work”. Maybe because the vocal tones between the two singers are very similar. Nothing else though, as “Dirty Work” is more EDM while “Lie to Me” is less electronica.
I have admitted before that I have a soft spot for Czech entries as my mom’s side of the family came from the Eastern European country. However, this is not the case. I repeat: this is the not the case. “Lie to Me” is an excellent song that is sooooooo catchy as well as scorching hot.
If you ever came across a Japanese pop song, more than likely it was by Namie Amuro. For the past twenty-three years, Namie Amuro has become a household name as she is everywhere in Japan: CDs, magazine covers, commercials, billboards, pamphlets, and even in stores. Whether it is because of her youthful, beautiful looks or her superb vocal skills, Namie Amuro is a pop icon that will be around for a long time.
You are probably asking, “Didn’t Amuro make her musical debut in 1992? Why are you writing an article about her and her 20th anniversary now?”
It is true that Amuro did make her musical debut in 1992 when she was apart of the teenage girl group Super Monkey’s. However, it was twenty years ago today, October 25, that Amuro peeled herself away from the idol group and made a name of herself by starting her solo career off with the single “Body Feels Exit”. I am not ignoring the fact that many, including at one point her official site, has said that the singles “Taiyou no Season” and “Stop the Music” is part of Amuro’s solo discography. However, if you look at the backs of “Taiyou no Season” and “Stop the Music”, the singles are credited under the name “Amuro Namie with Super Monkey’s” as she was still part of the group until the summer of 1995. I consider “Body Feels Exit” as her true solo debut single as it features none of the remaining Super Monkey’s members as dancers (at least in the music video) or backing vocals unlike the “Amuro Namie with Super Monkey’s” ones.
On the mist of her solo debut, Amuro Namie was already a household name in 1995 as her last two singles with Super Monkey’s became top ten singles. She also appeared in various commercials, magazines, movies, and television shows, including the adorable kids, show “Ponkikkids“. Whenever she wasn’t donning a pink rabbit suit, Amuro would be found on music programs, attracting various viewers with her sexy, fast-paced dance moves and a good sense of style. In fact, it was that sense of style that helped to boost Amuro into the top spot of Japanese pop culture by the end of 1995. Even the fashion featured on her debut single spawn a cult following as the term “Amura” described anyone who had the combination of dyed brown hair, tan skin, and white boots.
Over the years, Amuro adapted her sound and style to keep up with the ever-changing pop culture. Slowly, Amuro shed the Eurodance-sound found in her earlier works and went for a more R&B/hip-hop one, starting in 1999 with “toi et toi”. As the Japanese music industry was shifting from dance pop to R&B, mainly thanks to Utada Hikaru, Amuro struggled with the shift as “toi et toi” was branded as a failure and other singles failed to crack the top ten. Actually, the 2002 single “Wishing on the Same Star” was supposed to be her last before a hiatus that would have her go to the US for artist development. However, the single was a success, and Amuro was allowed to continue her career.
It wasn’t until 2004 with the release of “Queen of Hip-Pop” that Amuro fully cemented her as an R&B/hip-hop artist. As much as I hate “Want Me, Want Me“, it is a perfect example of Amuro’s hip-hop sound as it presents a backbeat (sitar) and Amuro singing the verses in a style that is similar to rapping. Other perfect examples would be the R&B-flavored dance tune “Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” (2006) and her triple A-side single “60s 70s 80s” (2008). ‘Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” is one of favorite Amuro songs in the past ten years as it features a smooth saxophone, a hip interlude, and a catchy chorus. Amuro’s vocals are perfect for this song as they are smooth yet sassy.
Recently, Amuro has gotten back into dance music with the release of “genic” this year. However, she hasn’t forgotten her R&B roots as she fuses that sound with EDM throughout the album. A good example of this fusion would be “Fashionista“. The sultry opening is mostly R&B-flavored with a baritone saxophone and an electric organ mixed in with programmed clapping. It isn’t until the chorus that the song transforms into an EDM tune.
Whether you like the idol pop Amuro, dance-pop Amuro, or the sultry R&B Amuro, many would agree that over the years, Amuro has had a huge impact on the Japanese pop culture thanks to her music and style. Many artists today and in the past have influenced by Amuro’s style. Even some have tried to copy her, in the case of the 90s’ ASAYAN group FBI. Whatever the case may be, Amuro has overcome many transformations over the years. And because of that, she will always shine brightly as a Japanese pop culture legend.
(As you can or cannot tell, Amuro Namie is one of my favorite singers. I first got into her when Avex trax has an online streaming channel for music videos back in the early 2000s. I remember the first video of hers that I watched, it was “You’re my sunshine” (1996). She later became my role model in junior high and high school as she was a great singer, always looked so beautiful, and had a great sense of style. I was lucky enough to see her live in 2012 with her Domes tour. I was also verrrrrrrrry lucky to see her up-close as I had second-row tickets. That was a dream came true!)
Check out a live performance on some TV show of “Body Feel Exit”:
Woah, it’s been a month since I updated this blog! I am soooooooo sorry! Things became busy at work, the weather has been awful lately (and that’s affects my energy levels), and I been binge watching TV shows during my free time.
One of my latest obsessions is the provocative 90s’ American comedy show “In Living Color”. For five years, this sketch comedy show entertained viewers weekly with a diverse cast featuring various members of the Wayans family, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh, the hip dancing squad The Fly Girls, and other amazing people. Although “In Living Color” was broadcasted when I was an infant, it’s refreshing to see how now-famous stars looked before they got their big break.
The theme song of “In Living Color” is another masterpiece that the program shares. Have you ever listened to a TV theme song and thought “I wish they created a longer version of this” or “I wish there was an album/single version of this somewhere”? That is exactly I feel when I listen to the theme of this show. Playing the one minute and fifty seconds version of the intro doesn’t satisfy my musical taste buds! I need more!
The theme, ironically also called “In Living Color”, is performed by the hip-hop group Heavy D & the Boyz. Formed in the late 1980s, the band was composed of four members; the Jamaican-born rapper Heavy D, the DJ Eddie F, and the two dancers T-Roy and G-Wiz. They released their debut album, entitled “Living Large”, in 1987 with huge success. It has been ranked as one of the top ten rap albums of the 20th century.
The only song that I actually knew from the group, before I discovered “In Living Color”, was their 1991 hit “Now That We Found Love“. I came across the song when I was trying to find if the “In Living Color” theme was available for purchase on iTunes. I didn’t know that Heavy D performed “Now That We Found Love” until that point. Like, I have heard it a million times on the radio when I was young. But, I didn’t make the connect until that point. I honestly thought when I was younger that “Now That We Found Love” was one of those eurodance songs by artists like Real McCoy, Culture Beat, and 2 Unlimited.
However, the hip-hop driven “In Living Color” is completely different from new jack swing “Now That We Found Love”. Yes, “In Living Color” does feature some of the instrumentation found in a new jack swing song; sound effects, probably a Korg M1 keyboard, and a Kawai Drum Machine, However, “In Living Color” leans more towards hip-hop as the instrumentation is bare and rough, only featuring the bare necessaries of a song. Instead, it features more of Heavy D’s rapping. The key point of the song is how Heavy D makes it more captivating by the way he shapes the phrases with his rhythm. The other key point is the deep male “In Living Color” and female backing vocals. These parts, even though small, are important as they breathe life and enjoyment to the song.
“In Living Color” is a rejuvenating theme song from a hip-hop great that will sure enough bring back memories for many readers. Like the musical side of the song, pay attention to the lyrics with the video below. I feel like Heavy D presents a critical message, even though it’s a TV theme song. However, like the song, “In Living Color” was a show about breaking barriers (including the color one) through it’s entertaining and sincere sketches. I take the song’s message to heart as I feel it is very important in the world we live in. Especially at the verses:
“And how would you feel knowing predjudice was obsolete, and all mankind danced to the ‘xact beat, and at night it was safe to walk down the street? (In Living Color)”
“Everybody here is equally kind (In Living Color) What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine. (In Living Color) And how would you feel knowing everybody was your friend From thin to thick, and through thick and thin and egotistical trips were put to an end?”
What was your favorite “In Living Color” sketch? I like many however I think Jim Carrey’s parody of Snow’s “Informer” was one of the best sketches. Jim Carrey is a brilliant comedian who can carry a heck of a tune. He should of had a singing career! Don’t miss out of his Popeye impression too.
It’s Japanese music week here on ☆ai love music☆! I swear it won’t be the case with the next post, I swear! It just happens to be the week that the Queen of Japanese Hip-Pop and my idol, Amuro Namie, released her new album “_genic”.
Has Amuro really had a dull moment ever in her career? I don’t think so. She has always dazzled many with her catchy “Hip-Pop” (a mix between hip-hop and pop) dance tunes, fashion trends, and her ambitions of always going forward. She continuously raises the bar every year in any avenue of work she does. And, that’s what I like about her. So, when Amuro announced that she was releasing a new album, I was really interested in what new concepts would she bring to the music world.
(Author’s note: I will write more about Amuro’s impact in the musical world, Japanese culture, and even in my own life when I do a write up about the 20th anniversary of her debut single, “Body Feels EXIT”, last this season. )
One of the latest trends in Amuro’s music is worldwide influence. Over the past five or so years, Amuro has been singing more in English, recording in various international hot spots like Los Angeles and London, and started to enlist more non-Japanese producers to help create her songs. One example of this is a duet with French singer David Guetta on a duet version of his hit song “What I Did for Love”. Many have speculated that Amuro is getting ready for an American or even possible a Worldwide debut in the near future. Maybe it will happen or maybe not. Who knows? Even if she doesn’t get an American recording contract, Amuro Namie is still a legend whether you live in Japan or anywhere in the world.
Before we jump off the bandwagon off with wild speculations, let’s come back and take a look at three songs from the new album, Even though the album didn’t feature any singles, it was heavily promoted on her official site and the video site Youtube with various videos. The first track showcased was “Fashionista”.
The songs starts off with a strong start, featuring a baritone saxophone, an electric organ, and a fierce rhythm. But, what the song is lacking is powerful vocals. If you listen to the chorus, Namie’s vocals are weak enough for her to struggle through the song’s fierce personality. Maybe it wasn’t her or the label’s intention to have “Fashionista” be the “it” song vocal-wise. Instead, the song bows out to the stronger player, the music video, as it just focuses on Namie’s ethereal beauty as she wears colorful outfits in a black and white world and dancing in between yellow laser beams.
“Golden Touch” is a perfect summer song that could be passed off as a distant cousin of an Ariana Grande tune. I do question Wikipedia sometimes and how it came up with the argument to classify this song as an “old-school “Beyonce–esque” R&B”. How can that be! Which song from Beyonce’s or Destiny’s Child’s discography does “Golden Touch” remind you of?
Besides that, “Golden Touch” is a cool summer-y piece that doesn’t use electrical instruments too excessively. The bass section of the synthesizers are used perfectly as they accent the down beat of each measure. What also fits perfectly is Namie’s vocals. This is the type of upbeat song that can aid her voice and create a pure harmonization, especially when she hits the nasal sections.
Sadly, I did notlike the video at all. Sure, it did have a cool concept and stunning visuals. But, didn’t you get bored after a while, just having your index finger pointing to one section of the screen? I did. And, I really wished I could touch, or at least experience the feelings of touch, Amuro’s finger at the end of the video. Just touching a computer screen that has Amuro’s trying to touch your finger doesn’t cut it.
But, congratulations to Amuro. “Golden Touch” was featured on an American radio station! The song was part of the lineup on a recent episode of Jenna Marble’s Youtube 15, which is on SiriusXM’s Hits on 1. I wonder if “Golden Touch” will be Namie’s guide to the American music market…
(…which could happen because the song is a peeeeeeeeeerfect summer song that resounds the current American music tastes and last year’s summer hit, Ariana Grande’s “Problem”.)
The last song I want to talk about is “Anything”. When I was reading up on the numerous album reviews all over the internet, this one written on KPopBreak made me think a lot about this song when the author E.T. compared it to TLC. Because the author is right, it actually does! Doesn’t it remind you of “Unpretty“? Both songs feature lyrics of girl empowerment, using the same acoustic instruments, and similar melodic and rhythmic structures in the chorus. Hmm….
But I do have to give “Anything” some credit. It’s a pretty ballad with a strong message and got some great vocal action and decent English pronunciation from Amuro. Futhermore, ballads have always been Amuro’s strong point and “Anything” furthers that point with her soothing and strong timbre.
The album features ten other songs that I will not review right now because I don’t have a lot of time to do a full, in-depth review. (It’s already 1 am here and I have work in the morning.) Nevertheless “_genic” doesn’t really impress me from what I heard on Youtube. It has some decent songs but it isn’t as memorable as her 2012 album “Uncontrolled”, which is one of my favorite modern-day Amuro albums.
How did you enjoy _genic? Do you think Amuro Namie has what it takes to release an album in America?
It’s been another day where I am sitting at Starbucks and writing as I wait for my internet to be installed at my new apartment. My new apartment? What? The reason why I haven;t been writing a lot on this blog recently is because I recently moved from countryside Yamanashi to big city Nagoya. Because of this, I lack internet at my place and it’s takes time to get be hooked here in Japan. Don’t worry, I be up and running, writing more, once I get my place online.
But, since I am on a writing spree, I would like to share a song I been listening all day today. The song is performed by the Japanese duo named TRUE KISS DESTINATION. This band was another in a series of groups, artists, and projects that was founded and produced by the music mastermind of the 90s dance scene, Tetsuya Komuro, TRUE KISS DESTINATION was formed in late 1998 when it was announced that Komuro was going to work with former dos member Asami on a dance music project. The duo released their first indies self-titled album on February 1999. Released on the group’s very own label, “TRUE KiSS DESTiNATiON” was hailed as a sensation at various dance clubs as it added an American hip-hop/R&B flavor by being recorded in the heart of New York City with various American artists like De La Soul and Lisa Wilson featuring on certain tracks.
TRUE KISS DESTINATION moved on with a major debut in the spring of 1999 by releasing the single “AFRiCA”, a cover of the classic TOTO song. The group had about average success as their singles and albums charted in the top 50 on the Oricon charts. When they planned to release their fifth single in late 1999, TRUE KISS DESTINATION decided to shorten their name to “Kiss Destination”.
Asami and Tetsuya Komuro kept on releasing music well into the new millennium, often on indies labels, while the pair became closer romantically. The two decided to get married in 2001 and had a kid together. However, the wedding bliss ended a year later when the couple decided to divorce. Thus, ending TRUE KISS DESTINATION.
“VICTIM” is a song that was featured on the duo’s debut indies album. The song features minimal background instruments like the typical drum kit found in any dance songs, the synthesized sounds, and boom bass. I think what makes up for the lack of instrumentation is the vocals, especially in the chorus. Asami doesn’t really have bad vocals as her singing and stamina is really strong during the verses. But, it is during the chorus where the song and even her vocals really shine when her vocals are combined with the hushed R&B background vocals.
What also stands out is the erratic rhythms throughout the song. The use of staccatos in the chorus intensifies it as makes the melodic arches more dramatic. The staccatos are also found throughout the song: the background vocals introducing the song, the musical interludes, and other places.
Despite it’s simplicity, “VICTIM” is a hidden treasure with the great use of the vocals, the R&B sound, and the fact that it’s produced by Tetsuya Komuro and Marc Panther, a match made in heaven.