Drift Away to an Island Paradise with Anri’s “Windy Summer”

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Summer has finally begun here in Japan. “Umi no Hi” Sea Day is the unofficial start of summer as the rainy season is over and it’s time to enjoy the sun. But, unlike the photo above, Japanese summer is nothing like a tropical paradise. We have reached the dog days of summer! Today’s temperature was 40°C (100°F) with humidity levels hanging around 80%. It ‘s a perfect day to hide indoors and dream about a cool tropical paradise with Anri’s “Windy Summer” under the air conditioner.

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“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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#Throwback Thursday: Misato Watanabe Grasps on the Last Memories of a Past Love With “Moonlight Dance”

I wanted to write a weekly Throwback Thursday last week. But, April has been such a busy month for me as it is the start of the new school year. I will try to write two Throwbacks this week to compensate.

Misato Watanabe is a female vocalist hailing from Kyoto Prefecture. She made her debut in 1984 after winning the Best Vocalist Award at the 3rd Annual Miss Seventeen Contest. Watanabe didn’t make her appearance in the music industry at first. Instead, she began as a model for the magazine Seventeen. The Kyoto native went on to become a singer by releasing her debut single, entitled “I’m free”, a year later. It was with her fourth single, “My Revolution”, when she capitulated into stardom. Tetsuya Komuro composed the song, who has been a pivotal hitmaker for big-name artists like Namie Amuro, globe, TM Network, and others. Watanabe went on to enjoy releasing numerous hit singles and albums after her ground-breaking single.

Released in the late spring period of 1989, “Moonlight Dance” is the 13th single by Watanabe. It was also featured on the album Flower bed. This was the album that first introduced me to “Moonlight Dance”. But, it’s not the first time I have listened to her music. You see, I have been listening to Watanabe’s songs for about eleven years. The first album that I heard was ribbon. I downloaded it at first as I was curious about Misato Watanabe. I would, later on, buy a physical copy of the album along with other works as I wanted to listen to more by this vigorous vocalist.

However, the way how I collect and listen music has changed recently. A year ago, I subscribed to a plan of unlimited streaming on Spotify. There is a significant collection of music from all different genres, artists, label status (Indies or Major), and countries within Spotify’s library. I also enjoy the “My Daily Mix” playlists that mix songs I like with similar-sounding ones that I haven’t heard before. And, from one of those playlists is how I met “Moonlight Dance”.

The song is a dark, minor tune that details one woman sadly reminiscing the memories of a past love. She wonders where those good old days that were filled with the warm summer light, the fun activities, and the times where the two lovers spent together. This pain of reminiscence is carried evenly with each instrument part, with the guitar part being the most prominent representation. A prime example is where the guitarist, Nobuyuki Shimizu, plays a high-pitched distorted sub-melody during the pre-chorus (1:21). This screeching distortion would be critical in later Tetsuya Komuro tunes, especially nine years later with globe’s “wanna be a dreammaker”. The reason why this sound is prominent in these two songs is the fact that it may be the “being heartbroken” sound as the distorted guitar’s tone carries similar feelings; regret, sadness, anger, and brokenness.

Besides the guitar part, everything else is subdued, excluding Misato’s rich vocals. Even Tetsuya Komuro’s important synthesized notes aren’t heard much throughout the song, just little flutters of notes here and there. The primary focus is on the vocals and guitar. Though, the mood of “Moonlight Dance” reminds me of T.M Network’s “SEVEN DAYS WARS”, “Self Control”, and “Fighting (Kimi wa Fighting)”, except that “Moonlight Dance” is placed in a moodier minor key.

“Moonlight Dance” wasn’t a number one hit for Misato Watanabe. Nevertheless, it’s a decent song with Misato’s powerful vocals. It has grown into being one my favorites by the Kyoto native as I love minor pieces like this one as they convey raw, sorrowful, and powerful emotions. Also, the “old fashion love song for you” part is my favorite part of the song. I love it as it appears out of the blue.

Check out a live performance taped in 1989 below and tell me what you think.

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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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:

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!

 

Reporting Live: ayumi shibata promoting “Babyrock” at Kanayama Asunal (August 6, 2015)

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It seems that this weekend is Up-Front Group Weekend! I talked about Morning Musume’s first English song on Friday. Then I saw Ciao Bella Cinquetti yesterday, performing a mini-live at a mall in central Nagoya.  And now I am going to talk about a former Hello! Project member, ayumi shibata.

This sweet-sounding singer got her start in 1999 after passing the 2nd Morning Musume and Michiyo Heike Little Sister Audition with three other girls: Hitomi Saito, Megumi Murata, and Masae Ohtani. These four then-teenagers formed the group Melon Kinenbi and released their debut single and one of my favorite songs, “Amai Anata no Aji”, in the winter of 2000. While releasing material with the group and going on various concert tours, ayumi also participated in various project in Hello! Project like 11WATER, Tanpopo, Elegies, and others.

However, she left Up-Front Group for another agency, Trick Function, a month after Melon Kinenbi broke up in 2010. She changed agencies in order to start a solo career with a clean slate. She performed her first self-penned song, “YOU&I”, during a small event held in Tokyo a few months later. ayumi wouldn’t release a physical debut single until a year later when “believe” was released.

“Babyrock” is the newest digital single released by this artist under the label SMC Entertainment. It is described as a pop-rock tune with a lot of girly rock flavor packed inside. You could say that this song is more upbeat than a Kana Nishino song while slower than one from Ai Otsuka. But what makes “Babyrock” different from other girly pop-rock songs is that this piece is very upbeat, has a summer-like flavor, and always presents a positive feeling. The nature of the song makes you want to stand up and bounce to the beat during the chorus as it’s so refreshing and makes you feel totally happiness.

As the blog Selective Hearing mentioned in their review, “Babyrock” is actually similar to the pop-rock music that Melon Kinenbi was doing at the end of the group’s career. So if you were fan of that side of Melon Kinenbi, you would most definitely love “Babyrock”. Plus, it really suits ayumi’s vocal skills. Although her vocals are not the best and can be too nasal sometimes, they mesh pretty well with the instrumental. ayumi wasn’t my favorite Melon Kinenbi member (That honors goes to Masae Ohtani, who had amusing song names) but she is pretty decent and got some decent material for a solo career.

During late July and August, ayumi went around to various malls, radio stations, and venues to promote her new single. One of the places she visited was Kanayama Asunal, which was holding a tenth anniversary special live for a weekly @FM radio program on August 6th. She was one of three guests who appeared at the live event along with the mall’s own idol group Juliet and an acoustic version of T.M. Revolution, Bokota.

I was able to find a seat in the bench section that was located in front of the stage thirty minutes before the live’s start time. It was very hot during that time and I really didn’t want to stand up for the entire time. During the long wait, Juliet came on to do a mic check and to practice their songs.

Then the live event started promptly at 6:30 pm. The event was formatted like a radio program where the artists would perform a couple songs while getting interviewed by the show’s hosts in between. The first group up was Juliet, whom I didn’t bother to pay any attention to because they were not my cup of tea. Their vocal skills were weak and I felt like they had bad makeup and/or fashion. They looked like unflattering Barbies. This group didn’t really appeal to me when I watched them perform.

Thirty minutes after the show started, Juliet exited the stage while the show’s hosts then introduced the one person I came to see. This singer started off her mini-live by singing a fast-paced song. ayumi sang about four songs in total during her time on stage. I don’t know exactly what were the songs but I suspect that the majority of what she sang came from her single “Hito Kakera no Kiseki”. I just remember that she sang a beautiful ballad that almost brought me to tears as it was so touching. She closed the program by singing “Babyrock” which she rallied up the audience to clap along.

After she finished, I decided that I wasn’t going to stick around for Bokota as I was too hungry to stay. I went to Chieco Kawabe’s Hawaiian-themed pancake shop “88 Huit Huit”. While Chieco is my favorite Sailor Mercury ever (besides Ayako Morino), the restaurant has tasty food and great drinks.

If you are into the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen, Kana Nishino, Ai Otsuka, or other pop-rock female artists, then you should absolutely out “Babyrock” below with no hesitant. It’s an upbeat song that leave you with a good feeling inside and outside.