Happy mid-March! I am sorry for being absent for half the week. It is almost the end of the school year here in Japan, and I am busy with ending classes, writing reports, and having the students practice for graduation. Even though my students aren’t the ones graduating, they are going to participate in the school ceremony as it very important.
It has gotten really warm recently here in Nagoya. Next Wednesday, it is suppose to be 67°F/19°C! And in about two weeks, we get to see our first cherry blossoms bloom here! I am so excited! I love walking home under the beautiful cherry blossoms and even see them bloom next to my apartment.
So, to celebrate the coming of these magnificent blossoms, I presented you with the new Battle of the Songs: When the Cherry Blossoms Bloom!
How was your February? Did you accomplish all your goals? Or, did you have a rough month?
They say that January is one of the most depressive or happiest month or oneself. I would classify February the same way too. Although in February, you get more precise about your New Years’ goals and learn from the failures from January. Was February a happy month for you or was it a sad one?
(Warning; This is a long post that is divided into three pages. Music is on the third page;)
I was lucky enough to be nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Polly’s Pad. This is my second award in like two months. I am pleased to receive one! I also received another one recently and have to write about that one very soon! (Don’t worry Walk a Myelin* My Shoes, I haven’t forgotten you!)
What is the Versatile Blogger Award? You have to cross over the cut to find out!
Many have categorized oldies as songs that have a particular 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an oldie might be considered “too old” by the newer generations as the musical arrangement or even the vocals are outdated.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 earlier decade like the 1970s? The answer is simple, just reinvent it with today’s sounds and fresh faces.
That is 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 lovely 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. To participate in the latter two activities, 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 group 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:
Dou ni mo Tomaranai (Rio O., Chinatsu, Aina, Sara)
Kuruwasetai no (Mayu, Rio S., Kotono, Saho, Yui)
Hoshi Kara Kita Futari (Mayu, Aina, Yui, Sara, Chinatsu)
Catch Lip (Kotono, Saho, Rio O., Rio S., Yukari)
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 if 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 delighted 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 options. The options were: a two-shot 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 horrible 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.
Happy Sunday everyone! I just want to let you guys know that I saw Sato Meiko at a mini-live last week. I wrote a semi-detailed report on it on the Japanese pop site Arama! Japan.
Here is an except:
These are the wishes made by Sato Mieko, a singer-songwriter who recently promoted her newly released Triple A-side “Mou Chotto / Kimi wa Mahoutsukai / Kaze ni Natta Anata e” at a free mini-live in front of Nagoya’s Parco on January 7th.
Sato is no stranger to the Nagoya music scene. She originally started her music career as a singer-songwriter under the pen name “Fuuka Koyoi”, releasing only one single in 2007. She then went on to join the mega-idol group SKE48 in 2008 as a member of Team S. There, she regularly performed with her fellow members on the local SKE48 stage or on stages in front of thousands around the country.
She left SKE48 in 2015 to continue her dream of being a singer-songwriter. The musician went on to release a single in 2015 named “YOUR COLOR” and an album named “Yakusoku” in 2016 under an indies label. She recently released another single, her first triple-A single, on December 21, 2016. However, because of the holiday season, she couldn’t promote until January 7 when she appeared at Parco in Nagoya’s Sakae shopping district.
You can read more at: http://aramajapan.com/news/saito-mieko-promotes-her-triple-a-side-single-with-abundant-zeal/69145/
I get to talk on today’s blog about something that I loooooooooove to talk about and listen: EUROBEAT!! It seems like yesterday when I downloaded my first Eurobeat album (P.S: I mostly buy albums now, just look at my collection), enthralled by the deep electronic sounds and heavy guitar riffs in such songs like “Night of Fire” and “Like a Virgin”. Yes, there is a song named “Like a Virgin”. I too was curious if the eurobeat version was anything like the classic Madonna song. However, it is totally different.
Nevertheless, I got into eurobeat thanks to a boom in the late 90s and early 2000s that made a major impact on the Japanese music industry. One such artist that helped to make an impression was the idol group HINOI Team, a girls group that covered a lot of eurodance songs. Actually, this month marks the 10th anniversary of HINOI Team’s formation and the release of their first single, “IKE IKE IKE”. I remember listening to one of my favorite HINOI Team songs, “Super Euro Flash”, and was in love with its upbeat tempo, the applicabilityof the synthesizer, and the fast pace. It was from the up-tempo beats and a dance routine called “parapara” that made eurobeat exciting, memorizing the songs musical contours easily by using arm movements.
I wrote an extensive paper about the topic when I was taking a pop culture class at the local community college in 2008. I wish I could share it on this blog because it was a well-crafted piece (I might still have it, depending on the condition of my old college laptop that I left in America). The paper basically summarizes how eurobeat influenced Japanese pop culture and used many examples like parapara and popular artists like Namie Amuro, MAX, Ayumi Hamasaki, and others.
One artist that helped to shape the sound of Eurobeat is Clara Moroni, who many Eurobeat fans know her under the pseudonyms like “Cherry”, “Virgin”, “Linda Ross”, and “Mela”. That is what makes Eurobeat a bit strange; most artists releases a song not under their real names but under a nickname. Maybe because it is easier to remember each artists or it creates mystery whenever a new Super Eurobeat compilation album is released every month. For Clara, I think she chose to release songs under different names as each name as had a different personality. Mela had the soft vocals, Cherry had the blazing vocals that was a perfect fit for fast-paced dance songs, and Clara Moroni is the rock side.
Whatever the case is, Clara Moroni captured the Japanese music scene when she released the song “Help Me” under the name Mela in 1991. The song became an early eurobeat hit with the memorable chorus of “Cause Baby You Can Help Me.” During the same time, she was involved in the Eurodance group King Kong and The Jungle Girls, providing vocals to their signature song “Boom Boom Dollar”.  Clara later released her debut album in Japan and Italy (Note: The Japanese Wikipedia says it was “Ten Worlds” but the Italian Wikipedia says it’s something else. Does anyone know what was the album’s name?).
Clara changed labels in 1995 and went to TIME Records. It was during this time when her popularity skyrockets as her tunes “Yesterday” and “When I Close My Eyes” became staples in every Super Eurobeat playlists. She also had “popular” songs under different names, like Linda Ross’ “Love is Danger”, Virgin’s “Only You”, and etc. Clara also provided vocals for almost all songs that “released” under the labels Time and Delta
“Round N’ Round” first made its appearance on the album Super Eurobeat Vol. 66 in 1996. It’s high energetic dance beat attracted many. The Japanese music label avex trax even became a fan, letting the Eurobeat-flavored idol girl group D&D cover it a year later.
Why does “Round N’ Round” appeal to so many? The high energy; it is a super paced song that is in the range of 150 BPM. It wouldn’t surprise me if the song is in 2/4 or in an even shorter measure as the notes sound like they were sped up. Nevertheless, the fast pace helps to create super-dance movements. If you check out D&D’s music video above, you can see there is not a moment in the dance routine slows that down or becomes unattractive. It’s always moving as the girls dances somewhat complex moves rapidly.
As for the melody and vocals, it isn’t memorable as the pace. Maybe I am a bit bias because I like D&D’s version better than Cherry’s. Olivia Luftkin, the lead vocalist of D&D, had smoother and more strength controlling her vocal range that made the cover version more uniformed, understandable, and enjoyable. It is unlike Cherry’s vocals which were choppy with notes being vaguely connected.
Another thing to point out is how the songs stretches of Cherry’s vocal range too much. If you listen to “Round n’ Round” closely, you will notice that it is all sung in the upper part of Cherry’s range. It seems taxing on her as the notes sounds strained and tinny. I think she sounds a lot better when she uses her lower range in such songs like “Yesterday” and “Too Cool To Fall In Love”. She has better control in those songs then in “Round n’ Round”.
I am not trying to argue that “Round n’ Round” is a bad song, it isn’t. I like the song as It’s “catchy” as the other songs in the Eurobeat discography. However, I think it’s not a piece that really displays Cherry’s vocal ability. Just listen to D&D version or any other songs by Cherry if you want to delight your ears with controlled vocals. If not, ignore the last paragraph and enjoy!
 “Eurobeat-Prime 3.0.” Eurobeat-Prime 3.0. Web. 24 May 2015.
About six years ago, I wrote one of the best things I have ever written; a top five musical events of 2008 in Japan. I wanted to try to replicate that concept for 2014 in this blog post. But, I realized that I really can’t. I can’t do that today because I felt that it wouldn’t truly represent what was the “best of the best”. Of course, I am free to express what I thought was the “best of 2014” here. However, there was a lot of good things in 2014 that you can’t really put in a list and say which one was number one.
Instead of presenting a concrete. numerical “the best of 2014” list, I decided to write about which songs and/or artists, in my own opinion, were very popular in Japan in 2014.
Let It Go
“Frozen” is one of those Disney movies that aspires every little girl to wear a blue dress and to wish that she has good, and not for the sake of evil, magical ice powers. The movie also has numerous catchy songs that even I have memorized and hummed at the supermarket. Hey, it is really cute to sing “Do You Want Build a Snowman?” or “In The Summer” with your friends at the karaoke bar.
But wait! Wasn’t this movie released in 2013? Why is “Let It Go” on THIS list? Even though “Frozen” was released in North America in 2013, it didn’t appear in Japanese movie theaters until March 2014. It was then that the movie got eminently popular with people going to see the Japanese, English, or the Sing-Along versions numerous times, memorizing the lines and re-acting the movie, and covering anything with Frozen merchandise. Over the last year, there was so much merchandise for this movie; like aromatic bath soaps, mini-hand towels, and even cute Olaf plushies.
I personally don’t know why “Let It Go” is so beloved among people here. I don’t really like it, I am sick and tired of the song already. But, maybe the song is popular due to; the lyrics that expresses the topics of freedom, empowerment, and being yourself, the song’s climax of a soft beginning to a boisterous ending, or that the song gives a chance for girls of any age to think that they are some wicked cool ice queen with magical powers by doing the motions from the movie. If you stop to ask people on the streets here why they like Frozen, many will give you different reasons why. However, they all will agree that the song is addictive. Many of my younger students have proven this point by singing and dancing to the song whenever it plays on the radio during free time.
Though I am finished with “Let It Go” and privately wish that it would stay in 2014, the song will hold steady in the hearts of many for years to come.
“Youkai Watch” is a Japanese video game turned animation (or anime) show that began in April 2014. I seen a little bit of the show to know that there is a special watch that can detect “ghosts” and some characters named “Jibanyan” and “Whisper” (voiced by the ever-charming Tomokazu Seki), The anime has even surpassed the long-time favorite Pokemon to be the top grossing and most beloved anime of 2014.
Besides the eccentricity of the show, “Youkai Watch”‘s catchy theme songs have proven to be a sensation all over Japan. Both “Geragerapō no Uta” and “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” are well-liked with their bizarre lyrics, fetching melodies, and simple dance moves that everyone knows. My students can genuinely dance to “Geragerapō no Uta” and I always see many kids trying to dance to “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” at a special booth promoting the song’s artists Dream5 in the local department store. It just surprises me something like “”Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” is really popular here. Maybe it’s because of the lyrics’ content. Unlike America which doesn’t like to talk about people’s bathroom business, Japan loves to talk about it freely and openly with kids laughing about the subject. Only in Japan will a song include something so trivial like the topic of poop in a kids song It’s so bizarre. But, that’s just me.
“Geragerapō no Uta” and “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” also shows how powerful commercialism is in Japan or any country. I was talking with a friend while watching the prestigious end of the year singing competition, Kouhaku Utagassen. Both songs’ artists, King of Cream Soda and Dream5, were invited and performed a special medley of “Youkai Watch” songs with the show’s characters. And my friend said that it was a mystery in why “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” was performed as it’s not a great song. True, it’s not a good song. “Geragerapō no Uta” is just as bad due to the obnoxious singing style of ZZROCK. However, because how popular the show and the songs got, they were able to perform on the show. Besides, Kouhaku Utagassen these days isn’t about who or which groups or songs are the best musically in that specific year. It’s actually about what was popular in terms of sales, people’s interests, and etc.
I don’t think “Yokai Watch” is going anywhere but up anytime soon as it was renewed for a second season. Both “Geragerapō no Uta” and “Yōkai Taisō Dai-Ichi” will be as memorable as Neon Genesis Evangelion’s “Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis” as both songs have grabbed everyone’s attention and won’t let go.
By the way, the lyrics to “Geragerapō no Uta” were written by motsu. Before becoming a member of King of Cream Soda, he was in a band called m.o.v.e for about fifteen years. And I loved them (and motsu too)! I remember when m.o.v.e came to America about ten years ago to attend an anime convention. He actually gave me a hug when I requested one when I was getting a CD autographed. I was so happy because not many artists freely accept hugs from their fans (unless you are Sting’s song but that is another story for another time).
Ok, enough with the cartoons! Let’s get down with the real stuff like EXILE. EXILE is a dance and vocal group that is mostly composed of males. They formed in 2001 but didn’t get really popular until two or three years later with the single “Choo Choo Train”. Since then, the group has been growing in popularity and members as they formed new groups like Sandaime J-Soul Brothers, E-girls, and etc or took over existing groups like DREAM. Much like Akimoto’s “48 Family” or Tsunku/Up-Front Agency’s “Hello! Project”, all the groups relating to EXILE are placed under the umbrella name “EXILE TRIBE”. EXILE and their brother/sister groups have won many awards, including Sandaime J-Soul Brothers winning the top prize at the Japan Record Awards in 2014.
Although EXILE has been around for such a long time, I feel like 2014 was truly EXILE’s year. Maybe because EXILE put out some of their greatest hits in their discography this year. My personal favorite is EXILE TRIBE’S “24WORLD” due to the high-level energy and fast pace of this “EDM meet 80’s”-styled song. If you don’t get my 80s reference, just listen to the bridge.
One of my favorite parts of “24WORLD” is in the pre-chorus with the “Woah Woah” and how the backing vocals are placed. My other favorite part is in the catchy chorus that has been stuck in my head forever. They also have some great costumes in the music video and awesome multi-colored ones at the recent live for MUSIC STATION.
Another great song was the award-winning “R.Y.U.S.E.I”. I don’t really like the song but I let you, the readers, decide how award-worthy the song is.
And that is the best of 2014! There are many things (bands, artists, songs, and etc) that made 2014, in its own right, to be a memorable year. But, that is up to you, the readers, to decide. Maybe 2015 will be different? Who knows. Let’s just wait and see.
P.S.: I was super excited that 2014 was the year of TM Network! Well, kind of. They celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2014 with new albums, a single, and a big concert tour. Hopefully, I get to see them perform live before someone decides to retire (erhm, Komuro Tetsuya, don’t even try).
Enjoy the blast from the past with one of their first songs: