“Are you Happy” with Morning Musume’s Latest Song?

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What is your current earworm?

Mine is Morning Musume. ’18’s “Are you Happy?”, which was released last month. The Japanese pop idol group Morning Musume. or their sister groups have been mentioned here many times before. I am a huge fan of the group, and this year marks my 14th anniversary of being a fan of Morning Musume. and their umbrella group, Hello! Project.

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Reporting Live: Yufu Terushima Brings a Nonchalant Vibe to Nagoya with “Watashi ga Chiru”

Whenever I hear the name “BiS”, I think of these words and phrases: punk, rock, rebellious, and in-your-face. So when I stumbled across an announcement about an in-store event with former BiS member Yufu Terashima, I wondered if it would be a thirty-minute concert of punk rock music. But the realization was the exact opposite when the singer sang the opening lines to her first song.

Terashima — who prefers fans to call her “Yuffy” due to the complexity of her first name — always dreamed of being an idol. The singer yearned after Morning Musume. when growing up, and she was a “live idol” — an idol who performs at primarily live events —when she went to Waseda University. Yet, she wanted more: she wanted to be a full-time idol.

Yuffy’s dream came true when she joined the pop-rock idol group BiS in 2011. But, it was short-lived as the group disbanded two years later. This lead the way for the idol to start a solo career. She made her indies debut in 2014 with the single “#Yuufuraito”, then making her major debut with EMI Records a year later.

Japanese idols in today’s world seem to have either a concept or a color scheme going on; Morning Musume has a rainbow scheme, AKB48 has the whole “Idols You Can Meet” idea, and Yuffy has “Yurudol” — a blend of “Yuruchara” and “Idol”. Mascot characters from various cities, prefectures, and companies meet idols. Now, that is an interesting idea. Too bad I didn’t notice it when she came to Nagoya last week.

Instead, what I saw was a concept of a beautiful fairy-like princess decorated in pure white and baby blue, flowers adorning all over her. I felt guilty when I glanced at her while she was heading towards the stage. I was an older woman with stubborn acne sprinkled across my bare “no make-up” face, looking like I traveled to hell and back, wearing nothing too fancy while Yuffy was flawless. I felt guilty being underdressed and looking like a banshee. Oh well.

Yuffy started at 2 pm sharp, performing a set of songs featured on her latest album Kimi ga Chiru ”You Will Fall”. Her first song had technical difficulties as the sound technician kept playing the wrong song three times in a row. They fixed it soon after, letting her settle into the ambiance mood of the atmosphere and perform her mini-concert without further hitches.

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Listening to the songs featured on Kimi ga Chiru makes me feel ambivalent and nostalgic. The songs are something akin to late Showa/early Heisei idol music — which would be from 1985 to 1993 for those who are not familiar with the Japanese calendar. The chorus and the melody that introduces the song inflicts a nostalgic feeling. Also, Yuffy’s bright vocals and the nonchalant instrumentation brings a peaceful spirit to each track. It is refreshing in today’s musical scene to hear something like Kimi ga Chiru as EDM suffocates today’s music scene: heavy synthesized music that seems too generic.

Although my pre-live expectations of Yuffy being a punk rock idol were shot down while listening to her live, I did become a fan afterward. The songs on her latest album are serene, amusing, and likable. Not to mention that she is cute, a trait that I sometimes yearn for. I can’t wait for her next release to see what kind of music she will perform next. Will she keep that cute style? Or go another way? Only time will time.

You can listen to the title track from her newest album below:

Revisiting an Oldie From a New Generation

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 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 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: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 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 Image and video hosting by TinyPicoptions. 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.

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After Thought: The Beginning of a New Adventure (aka My Thoughts on ℃-ute Disbanding)

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It comes as no shock as the Japanese pop girl group ℃-ute announced that they are disbanding on June 2017. The reason? The girls realized that they have completed their idol dreams and have developed new ones. Many are sad that some of the girls are going into “disappointing” careers. Some are just sad as they are kicking the can. But, nothing ever really last forever. Even SMAP, who has been in the Jpop idol business long before these girls made their début in 2006, is announcing that they are disbanding by the end of this year (Thank god!).

I should be sad. I should feel sorrow for these lovely girls who are about to leave their singing careers. I should be saying something along the lines of “Like come on, Airi, you should be a solo singer”.

But, I am not.

I am really not.

It has been predicted for a long time that these girls would eventually graduate Hello! Project someday. Let’s face it. We knew that the other H!P Kid members were going to be grouped into another kids unit after Berryz Koubou was sticking with a permanent line-up by mid-2004. We also knew that ℃-ute would eventually break-up when Berryz Koubou disbanded last year. It’s just a simple cause and effect.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t a big ℃-ute fan for a long time. Sure, I love a couple songs here and had a favorite member or two (Hey, Erika Umeda!) there. Yet, I was more into Berryz Koubou starting from my high school days to recently as they had talented members, catchier songs, and a stable lineup.

I actually lost interest in ℃-ute around 2009 or 2010 when Umeda graduated. She was my favorite even though she barely got any lines and was more of a background performer. Nevertheless, she was an interesting girl and was a good performer. At least she was able to carry a tune and dance pretty well unlike some girls…

The group’s musical quality has been diminishing over the recent years. It is true that the girls have grown-up and thus their musical and style tastes have changed. However, it didn’t get better, it got worse. I blame someone who calls them ℃-ute’s vocal couch as I feel like he or she didn’t coach them well. Airi can’t sing high notes really well anymore, Mai’s vocals got worse over time, and Chisato had to get surgery because of nodes. You hear this limiting and painful vocal style of not properly singing through your nose in other groups sadly. I experienced it first hand with a trial lesson at a well-known vocal studio.

One more thing, ℃-ute’s songs are always a hit or a miss. Other groups within Hello! Project (like Berryz Koubou) had more memorable songs than ℃-ute ever really did. I mean some songs like “Dance de Bakoon!”, “Bye Bye Bye”, “Massara Blue Jeans”, “THE FUTURE”, and others are impressive.  Hell, “Dance de Bakoon!” is a superb signature song for  ℃-ute as it’s funky and makes you want to dance. Still, there is a handful of the group’s songs are lackluster or have not a lot of meat on the bone. I still think one their latest songs named “Naze Hito wa Arasoun Darou?” is too mundane. Maybe that is because a) UFA is giving this group the short end of the stick or b) UFA is just having a bad year in producing decent good music (which isn’t really the case because Morning Musume. had a great single this year…)

Nonetheless, I am happy that the girls are going into something they love to do. Furthermore, they seemed to be pleased with their eleven-year career.

Maybe we should start making predictions for their last concert? I am secretly wishing that Erika Umeda would come back…

By the way, enjoy my favorite ℃-ute song, the 80’s flavored “Bye Bye Bye” (I think it would be something that Duran Duran would do):

P.S: I was watching a lot of C-ute’s music videos today. Oh my word, the music video for “Kanzen na Otona” is awful. The shot is 0:13 is so horrible that I want to call it something like “Dinosaurs Ready for Dinner” because it looks like it:

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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