This Side of Japan: February 2019

Japanese music on YouTube from AAAMYYY, Atarashii Gakkou No Leaders, Rinne Yoshida and more

This month, I started to follow the idol group Kamiyado because of their YouTube channel. Last year when they were a five-piece, they treated their channel similar to Showroom in which a different member streamed live on her respectively assigned weeknight. But once one of them graduated last month, they basically restarted to approach it more like YouTubers. The thumbnails already show the shift with photos of the idols gathered around a table, crowded by huge text inserts following typical subjects like “Food Report Battle!!”

Kamiyado’s shift into part-time YouTubers seems almost a little late based on how much YouTuber culture have been growing in Japan. Some idols and former idols have already been exploring the field in a way beyond the radio-inspired talk-show format: Kyoka of Yume Miru Adolescence, Pour Lui of Billie Idle, Aika Hirota formerly of Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku, Tokyo Girls’ Style, Team Shachi, Hello Project’s content dump Omake Channel, and probably more that I’ve yet to find.

The channels I’ve seen so far make a good argument for idols to switch from Showroom to YouTube. Though it gets rid of the live-stream component, I simply find it a more entertaining way to draw out the idols’ personalities, especially for smaller idols who can have more freedom. In the case of Kyoka, who treats her channel close to a video blog, it can get almost too TMI to the point I understand why some agencies can be wary to let idols completely loose. But Showroom also can’t offer content like her “day in the life of an idol” video or her collaboration with Hirota to discuss meet-and-greet etiquette.

Two idols from CY8ER, Anna Fujishiro and Koinumaru Pochi, started their own YouTube channels this month. (The latter already had a channel but restarted with a new one.) They only really have an intro video, so what they will create is up in the air. I wonder if more will follow suit, both from CY8ER and other idol groups.

You know what else is on YouTube? Music videos! Here’s February’s video countdown of my 10 favorite releases found on YouTube. Below is also a round-up to highlight the rest of my finds. Happy listening!

10) 2: “Four Piece”

The first wide-release single by the very un-SEO-friendly band serves as a fine re-introduction to those not familiar with the group’s gutsy energy. Fitting for its self-referential title, “Four Piece” is a rock song about playing rock music and why people form bands to do just that: “‘Could I keep doing this for the rest of my life?’ / That comes out of no one’s mouth,” they shout in the chorus, and they can’t be told otherwise.

9) CYNHN: “Wire” / “Kuuki To Ink

Since last September, CYNHN has been releasing music videos in the form of original dramas for their solo singles. You’re going to have sit through some non-music parts to check out the actual songs, but like the other releases, “Wire” and “Kuuki To Ink” are both worth the effort. “Wire” hooks in more immediate through its metal-pop sound — a big shift from the softer, more traditional idol-pop of the previous singles — and the more mellow, melancholic rock number “Kuuki To Ink” provides a nice change of pace.

8) Honoka Rin: “Busui No Kiss”

Honoka Rin’s new single can be filed under the “soft-pop for emotional late nights” category in my library, and that faint synth whistling during the verses just neatly ties a sentimental bow for this package. But rather than look fondly upon sweet nostalgia, she sings a more bittersweet song with her finally mustering the courage to break off a tiresome relationship.

7) Kiki Vivi Lily x SUKISHA: “Blue in Green”

Hip-hop producer SUKISHA takes a break from his “one song, one week” project on YouTube to re-connect with singer/songwriter Kiki Vivi Lily for a new single. While it plays with low-key R&B chords and dusty kick drums like their past collaboration, SUKISHA works a slinkier house-pop beat for “Blue and Green.” Kiki Vivi Lily responds accordingly, singing cozily about a late-night romantic hang.

6) ICE: “ICE DO HAUS”

There’s not a lot of information available on the nearly-impossible-to-Google producer ICE besides the fact that their new cut “ICE DO HAUS” lands on Tofubeats’ Hihatts label. The restless, pumping acid music ought to speak for itself, though. (Please be careful if you’re sensitive to flashing images.)

5) AAAMYYY: “Over My Dead Body”

The bubbling synth and the thick slab of bass chords on AAAMYYY’s “Over My Dead Boy” don’t sound too far out from the warped textures explored with her mates in the psych-pop band Tempalay. But while the music feels adrift, the track-maker gets direct and personal in her droning pop single. “The path you chose is a place where I’m not there,” she sings in the chorus. “I want you to slowly get away from me.”

4) Atarashii Gakkou No Leaders: “Koigeba”

The idol group’s new single tackles the taboo of student-teacher romance, and so perhaps it’s better to experience the song strictly through audio. Suzuka shines as usual with her voice drawing tragedy out of the salacious material as it pairs with H ZETT M’s melodramatic jazz-pop. The music video, meanwhile, show secret meetings alluded in the song through footage of surveillance cameras. At least Suzuka brings her humorous self to provide some light relief.

3) Qumalidepart: “Sekaikei”

Last month’s “Shadaikun” was a fun, if not typical Qumalidepart single with peppy synths that hops and skips like a Sakurai Kenta production wont to do. The idol group also tucked in this alt-rock number in the release and gave it a video treatment that unfolds as earnest as the music. It’s an ideal B-side, playing a suiting counterpart to the title track. I would say the change of pace fares even better than the main show.

2) Rinne Yoshida: “MU” / “#film

After an impressive year with a debut full-length and a stunning SKY-HI collaboration, model/pop artist Rinne Yoshida drops follow-up single in #film without a loss in quality. While Yoshida tries production and writing for the first time in the sentimental pop-rap “#film,” she connects with Wednesday Campanella’s Kenmochi Hidefumi for “MU.” The latter is a more straightforward EDM-pop single compared to their previous collaboration on last year’s Seventeen, but its production still delights with a gliding piano riff that makes a delicious impression before segueing into those squeaky, radio-friendly vocal skips.

1) Ziyoou-vachi: “Kaen”

While my casual check-ins with Ziyoou-vachi, or Queen Bee, saw an act not always tied to the rock-band image, the music itself was a product of the traditional four-piece vocal/guitar/bass/drums setup. “Kaen,” though, doubles down on their pop ambitions teased in previous singles. The band modernizes their rock with EDM motifs, adding in break beats and treating guitar riffs as a drop. More impressive is their play with structure: the second verse shifts entirely, stuffed with ideas pulled from dance and rap.

More Japanese music from February…

New albums…

  • A good half of Aimyon’s Shunkanteki Sixth Sense featured her breakout hits from last year, but there’s also new tracks like “Yumeoi Bengal,” furnished with less pop twinkle and more rock jangle — well suited for the live environment filmed in its video.
  • CHAI’s Punk lives up to its name more through message than sound. The fuzzy yet sweet garage-rock of “Choose Go!” and the single’s football-themed video offer a good preview of what you can expect.
  • The hot funk of “Slumberland” is more or less the epic energy that King Gnu works with as a whole in the band’s Sympa. Personally, I prefer the more laid-break intermission, the previously released “It’s a Small World” from the album.
  • Polkadot Stingray’s Uchoten was a good display of their range, and “Denkkou Sekka” in particular finds the band pulling back the intensity of their previous singles for a lighter, more pop affair.
  • If you already know retro-pop duo WHY@DOLL, you probably know what to expect from the title track of the idol group’s new single, Que Sera, Sera, and there’s more of that breezy, shiny funk music in the four-track release.

Featured in movies…

  • Seiko Oomori contributed a song, “Low Happyendroll (Shojo No Mama De Shinu),” for the new film series 21st Century Girl, and you can hear a snippet of it in the trailer. The slow, melancholic string-pop reminds me of the kitixxxgaia singles, like a paired-down sibling of “Kimi Ni Todokuna.”
  • Liz and the Blue Bird showed the great potential of Homecoming’s music for movie placements, and it seems the director for upcoming rom-com Ai Ga Nanda thought the same with her calling up the indie-rock band for a sweet, jangling title track, “Cakes.” You can hear a portion of it in the trailer.

Singles…

  • PASSPO’s Mio Masui return with former members of mimic as part of new garage-rock three-piece BabooBee with debut song “Right Now!
  • Chanmina refuses to be pigeonholed in “I’m a Pop.” The chorus is a little undercooked — perhaps a bit better seen through its music video— but her trap-inspired style isn’t too bad.
  • Erika Nishi shares her second single of 2019, “Bitter,” this time with a lyric video. (Though her previous, “Romance,” doesn’t have a video, it is now streaming.) It works with a similar retro-ish synth-pop sound as usual but with a slight modern touch — mainly speaking about those vocal squeaks.
  • Every Little Thing’s Kaori Mochida goes solo for the first time in seven years with upcoming project, Ten to Ten. The low-key synth-pop of “Kimi to Boku No Shoshitsuten” reminds me of an Asako Toki deep cut, which is a sound I would not have expected to describe an ELT project.
  • Kayako Yoshizawa’s music has yet to hit streaming services, so you still have to resort to her music videos if you want to enjoy her latest album, the fantastic Jyoyuu Shimai. The good news is she uploaded another piece from that record, “Saishuukai.” It’s the album closer, but a strong song all on its own.
  • MOSHIMO writes a punk-rock complaint to pathetic boyfriends and his even more pathetic friends in “Tsutta Sakanani Esawoyare.” The opening line is already a humorous start: “Hey, here me out / why have we only going on famiresu dates recently?”
  • The Novembers are gearing up a new album, Angels, and their first offering “Down to Heaven” from the upcoming project is a Japanese take on Nine Inch Nails-esque screeching electro-rock that I didn’t know I wanted.
  • Seiko Oomori updates her 2013 song “Zettai Kanojo” with a fresh synth-pop production and a Sayumi Michishige feature — a guest spot Oomori from six years ago would probably faint after knowing it would become reality.
  • Stereo Girl wind down a bit in the daydreaming rock single “I Wanna,” and the music video literally sees the band bleeding their heart out for the one they adore. The change in mood, though, is a welcome one.

Idols…

  • Hello! Project decided to put out videos for three of their groups during the same month for some reason. Here’s a quick rundown: Juice=Juice gets aptly melodramatic in “Potsurito” (Solitary) and says goodbye to a graduating member in “Good Bye & Good Luck!”; Morning Musume ’19’s high-energy EDM/arena-rock hybrid “I Surrender Aisaredo Ai” probably sounds better in the live setting as shown in the music video; Tsubaki Factory continues last year’s fantastic streak with the brazen theme “Saikaime No Date Shinwa” and the more contemporary “Fuwari, Koidokei.”
  • Speaking of Hello! Project… College Cosmos pitch its concept of “we are university students too!” hard on their debut singles “Kigounankajanai, Watashitachiwa” and “Yume Wa Ijiwaru.” The former is all about finding yourself outside of “uniforms,” and the latter’s video just shows scripts of negative comments like “they told me I was too old to be an idol.” Does it work? Well, I for one am too weak for that kind of cheesy nonsense.
  • Billie Idle cool down from their usual punk antics for an earnest slow jam in “Soshite, Mata…” and the Kayokyoku TV homage of the music video is very much fitting. Oh, and please, don’t ask me to explain the Bully Idol remix because I have no idea what it’s about either.
  • Yuka EMPiRE of EMPiRE announced her leave from the group this month, which only makes the idol group’s new music video for the maudlin-as-usual single “Pierce” more emotional to watch.
  • The newly formed Gunjo no Sekai already has a follow-up with the drum ’n’ bass-tinged electro-pop single, “Nonstop,” and it’s bound to make a better impression than their previous.
  • I don’t know what Monster Girlfriend mean when they describe themselves as “a voguing-kei girl group,” but their first wide release, “GAM,” is a fine electro-pop single. No, there is no voguing involved in the music video.
  • Uijin’s new sister group Raymay’s music is now streaming! You can choose from the metal-pop-meets-rap “Pulsar” or the more preppy alt-rock “Anyone.”
  • From the sound of “Knock! Knock!,” the upcoming new Sora Tob Sakana album might be headed to a new musical direction than last year’s projects. That guitar riff in the chorus is a new one for the group at least.
  • Does the big honking drop of Super Dragon’s “Warning” work? Maybe not quite, but it’s such an obnoxious production for a boy-band single, and I’ll take “odd but satisfying” over “blandly successful.”
  • Meanwhile, MADKID take the edgy boy-band title this month with “Rise,” which stuffs double-time raps throughout its action-movie dance-pop. The mouthful verses frankly get a little exhausting to follow in the already-high-energy song, but the chorus makes up for its not-quite-fulfilled ambitions.
  • I don’t know what inspired Tokyo Girls’ Style to go for a more traditional retro idol sound in “Hikari,” especially when the past two years had them release so much more interesting music that operated outside of it, but sure, I’ll take it, I guess…

music, etc.