Revisiting an Oldie From a New Generation

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

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an oldie might be considered “too old” by the newer generations as the musical arrangement or even the vocals are outdated.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:

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.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out a live that did in September 2015:

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

Musical Reactions: Morning Musume. 15 Wants To Tell You That They’re the “One and Only” with This Tune

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Morning Musume. or even their umbrella group Hello! Project has been impressing fans around the world since their debut eighteen years ago. From the shocking selections of new members from Mr. Producer himself, Tsunku, to their attempts to reach fans overseas with adding members with diverse skills, this Japanese girl pop group tries to keep their fans on the edge by challenging themselves with new goals. This group even has amazed me over the year in terms of their sound as they transitioned quite seamlessly from disco-themed hits like 1999’s “LOVE Machine” to the EDM music that the current line-up is known for.

However, their amazing dance routines and the diversity of the member’s skills isn’t the only things that makes this group astonishing.

This does:

 

The song above is called “One and Only” which is the current opening theme for the music program “J-MELO” on NHK World. One of the things that surprised me when I first listened to the song is that the whole thing is in English, a language that was very challenging for most of the group’s members.

This song feels like it features a lot of Miki Nonoka, a member who is a native speaker of English due to living overseas in the US. That is understandable since Nonoka is an ideal lead for this song due to her English ability. But, what irks me is that it seems like the mixer cranked up the volume on Miki’s vocal track. I feel that during the group chorus, the only person I can hear is Miki as her vocals consume the others. Or maybe I am just imagining things as: (a) I just can’t pick out everyone’s voices just yet (which is unlikely) or (b) since everyone got the same coach to teach them the English pronunciation, each member just have the same vocal style and pronunciation while singing in English. Just wish I could  hear a little more of Kanon Suzuki’s lines. 😦

What makes this song kind of confusing is its identity. Is it a traditional pop song? Or is it an EDM tune? I recently read up on Tsunku’s notes to see what was the song’s style. The only thing he mentioned is the song’s changing keys and the cool guitar riff during the intro. I feel like the guitar riffs are the best part while the generic claps and the EDM-style synthesizer sprinkled here and there are the worst parts. The song doesn’t really need them as the guitar and bright piano got everything covered. I know it’s the current trend for Morning Musume. But seriously, won’t it be nice to take a break from EDM once in awhile? Go traditional!

Some people have complained about the lyrics contents as the words are just plain terrible. For me, I personally don’t care about the lyrics. I am just happy that they are in English and the girls are trying their best to sing them. But, I do think that the dance is a bit whack, especially at 0:03.  Dance moves like that makes you question what was the choreographer thinking when he or she came up with the moves. Did you really want Morning Musume do some mutated dance routine from “Thriller”?

Overall, the song is decent. Will it be a hit? Naaah. Is it decent? Yes if you just ignore the weird dance movements and the annoying EDM instruments that pops up time to time. I wish it featured more members and wasn’t a “Miki Nonoka featuring other members that are supposedly part of this group, whaaaaaaat?” song.

What do you think about Morning Musume’s first English song? Is it good? is it horrendous? Comment below!