“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:

#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

[Reporting Live] Sato Mieko at Nagoya Parco (January 7, 2017)

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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/

😀

 

 

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:

A Critical Point in Miho Nakayama’s Music Career

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I am slowly processing all the CDs I got from an auction lot about two months ago. There are a lot of good and surprising finds, including an album from one of my favorite Japanese female singers Miho Nakayama!! 😀

For those who aren’t familiar with  Ms. Nakayama, let me fill you in. Nakayama didn’t initially start her entertainment career in music. In fact, she was a model for magazines and print ads during her junior high school years. It wasn’t until she switched agencies in 1984 or 1985 that she became an idol singer.

She released her first single, entitled “C”, during the summer of 1985. The single did really well, reaching #12 on the weekly Oricon charts and sold over 170,000 copies. Nakayama nabbed the Rookie of the Year Award at the Japan Record Awards due to the successful start. However, her first #1 didn’t come until two years later with the release of the upbeat dance tune “CATCH ME” (which I looooooooooooove because Toshiki Kadomatsu, whom I adore a lot, wrote it).

Nakayama continued her music career throughout the late 80s and 90s. She worked with significant musicians in the industry like Mariya Takeuchi, Tetsuya Komuro, Toshiki Kadomatsu, and ANRI. She also went overseas to record material in places like Los Angeles and France.

Nakayama took a break from singing at the turn of the new century. She then went on to marry Tsuji Hitonari in 2002 (whom she would later divorce twelve years later) and put her entertainment career on hold to move to Paris with her husband. As of August 2016, she is still living in Paris and helping her ex-husband to raise her only son.

Miho Nakayama has always found new ways to reinvent her music career. Starting off with the innocent idol kayokyoku of the 80s, Nakayama bounced in and out of various musical genres like dance, latin, electronica, blues, and AOR. She constantly modified her sound every two years as the market and her fan’s tastes were continually shifting. Wondering what her fans wanted next, she decided in 1992 to go to Los Angeles and recorded the album Wagamama na Actress.

“Gakeppuchi” (崖っぷち; critical point) is a bold number that opens the album. The song attracts listeners with its boisterous and upbeat feeling. It opens with a bluesy organ solo followed by a dynamic horns section. The piece includes a wicked 90s’ style guitar solo during the break. This style reminds me of Amy Grant’s 1991 album Heart in Motion, something like “Every Heartbeat” and “Hats”. It also sounds like Peter Cetera’s 1988 album One More Story. Maybe I am just crazy. Do you hear the similarities too?

The only issue I have with this tune is that the instrumentation is a bit overpowering. Miho Nakayama has always been a good singer. However, she always had a soft voice that fits perfectly with her songs “Mermaid”, “Rose Color”, “Tada Nakitaku Naru no”, and “You’re My Only Shinin’ Star”. Those songs are pretty quiet with the instruments kept to a minimal.

I also noticed that Miho Nakayama struggles vocally with bluesy music quite often. SThe singer struggles a bit on “Gakeppuchi”. She also has problems on the poorly arranged “Sea Paradise -OL no Hanran-“. Albeit, it isn’t my favorite Miho Nakayama tune as the arrangement is so messy. It does point out that Nakayama has a weakness at very fast and loud songs. Maybe the producers should have scaled back a bit on both songs.

Overall, “Gakeppuchi” isn’t a terrible song if you ignore its flaws. I love it because the song has an upbeat tempo with an awesome 90s vibe to it.  I also loooooooove early 90’s AOR songs like this one.

If you are a fan of early 90’s Chicago, Amy Grant’s Heart in Motion era, or and Peter Cetera’s One More Story era, then this song is for you!

You can listen to the song here on Ket nool.