The Music That Made 2015

When thinking of what to write about 2015, I kept on hitting a roadblock.

What was so special about 2015 in terms of music? 

At least in Japan, many of 2015 hits were recycled tunes that were heard before. EXILE and Sandaime Brothers, AKB48’s “Halloween Night”, King of Cream Soda creating different versions of that hit Yokai Watch song, and countless idol groups debuting as they copied already popular artists’ sounds for a chance of fame. It seemed like these artists want to hold on to that fame by regurgitating that popular tune than exploring new avenues.

Even in Korea, the same type of music is continued to be released. Although, it was a bit invigorating to hear that some artists released material with a different flavor of pop. For example, WONDER GIRLS with their throwback to 80s’ synthpop and BoA experimenting with current electropop.

“REBOOT” is my favorite Kpop album of 2015 while Girls’ Generation’s “Party” is my favorite song. You are probably thinking why do I like this generic summer pop song? It may be generic but it’s so fun, screams “girl power”, and makes me want to party straight away. The video is super cute and fun, making me wish I was escaping to a tropical beach.

America is a bit different though. Taylor Swift, Adele, and Sam Smith all dominant the music charts and award programs on their own accords. Although I don’t like “1989” that much (because I think she is selling herself to commercialism and straying from her “true” self), Taylor Swift turned heads when she released an album that was groundbreaking and refreshing.

But, the biggest accomplishment of 2015, in terms of Western music, is Adele’s “Hello”. Now, I don’t really know what is the big deal about this song as it is not really popular in Japan. However, after listening to the song for the first time tonight, I can see how it has touched many. Adele crafted the song very well to attune to everyone’s feelings with it’s melody, lyrics, and pace.

Even though 20 wasn’t popular in Japan, the concept of “self-producing artists” was. One of these artists was Gen Hoshino, who has been slowly but surely noticed by mainstream listeners. His music reminds me a lot of John Legend and Macy Gray. With his whispy, soulful voice, upbeat pop instrumentation, and charisma charm, who can’t resist him and his songs like “SUN”?

Hopefully he can dip a little more into neo-soul and funk in 2016?

Another trend that crept up in popularity here in Japan is the “band boom”? Bands like Gesu no Kiyomi Otome, KANA-BOON, Sekai no Owari, ONE OK ROCK, and others have abandoned the traditional Japanese rock sound in favored of a diverse one that is constructed by range of instrumentations, technology, techniques, and genres. Gesu no Kiwami Otome.’s latest song “Otonatic” is an example of this.

…and Sekai no Owari’s “Anti Hero”.

It kind of reminds me of the New Wave boom in the 80s but tamer. In the 80s, new wave music was a buzz as that genre too used less guitars and more electronic devices. A great example of this was The Police, who started off in the late 70s with punk rock and ended on a jazzed up, spiritual “new wave” sound.

The same goes with the current “band boom” in Japan. Although, what makes the “band boom” different is how they present themselves and their music; clean, well-kept, crisp, and simple. Ryotaro Aoki pointed out in a recent article on The Japan Times is that the bands today are getting rid of those blazing guitars that made songs in 90s and 2000s chaotic and using more instruments to present a clean yet simple song. These songs also have lyrics that contain more personal messages in order to garner attention from the younger generations.[1]

As we head into 2016, it is unsure if the band boom in Japan will continue to rise or even fall in popularity.  And, if it will influence other acts including idols (please, let Sayaka Yamamoto write at least one NMB48 song) and EDM acts.

Time will only tell.


 

References

[1] Aoki, Ryotaro. “Gesu Tapped into the 2015 ‘band Boom’ | The Japan Times.” Japan Times RSS. 6 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2015/12/06/music/gesu-tapped-2015-band-boom/#.VpOO2xV97cf)

[2] “Gesu No Kiwami Otome. and the Band Boom of 2015 | Japanese Entertainment News.” ARAMA JAPAN Gesu No Kiwami Otome and the Band Boom of 2015 Comments. 1 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9V5aByfeCM)

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Kubota Toshinobu – “Missing”

toshinobu-missing

Kubota Toshinobu has been rocking the Japanese music world for thirty or so years. In that time span. he has been able to adapt to and re-define musical genres while pioneering new ones like Japanese hip-hop and Japanese soul. Kubota made his start in the early 80s after winning the EastWest singing contest. But, he didn’t start off as a singer. Instead, he started as a producer; writing songs for various artists like Koizumi Kyoko, Tahara Toshihiko, and others. He was able to release material for his own solo career in 1986 when he released the single “Shitsui no Downtown”. He then released his debut album, “SHAKE IT PARADISE”, a few months later with mediocre reception.

His popularity didn’t peak until the late 80s after he released his first number one single, “You Were Mine”. After that, he started to experiment with assorted musical genres and recorded material in New York City, where he presently resides in. This led to the release of his first English album “Sunshine, Moonlight” in 1995. However, the focal point of his career would come a year later when he released the single “LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG” with English model-turned-singer Naomi Campbell. Due to being the theme song to the mega hit dorama “Long Vacation”, “LA・LA・LA LOVE SONG” sold over a million copies and became the third best-selling single for 1996.

Kubota still produces and releases music today but not like the success he had in the 1990s. Nevertheless, he celebrated his 25th Anniversary in 2012 with a nationwide tour.

For today’s blog post, I thought we could go back to the early beginning of Kubota’s career. “Missing” is a popular ballad, according to my co-worker, that was featured on his first album, The song really sounds like a modern song; if you forget about the excessive use of the crystallized keyboard sound. I think the reason why it’s so modern because the song features minimal instrumentation. Instead, what shines here is the strength of Kubota’s vocals, lyrics, and the camera work of the music video. The lyrics are about a person who is longing to hold a loved one in one’s arms while rendezvousing about their time together. This heartbreaking feeling is conveyed perfectly in Kubota’s vocals as they are powerful, raw, and full of emotion.  Finally, the lyrics are translated again in the music video as its modest setup might tug your heartstrings a bit. I let you be the judge of that when you watch the video below.

What makes “MISSING” a great song is the fact that it’s modest, simple, and full of poignant. I even cried when I first listened to this song a few months back. How about you? How does this song affect you?