Hit Campaign: 5 Kanebo CM Singles 1980-1985
Checking out some of the amazing songs produced as tie-ups to Kanebo's cosmetic commercials
This feature is part of This Side of Japan #54. You can return to the main newsletter here.
The research for this issue’s Oricon flashback single deepened my interest on a lot of different pockets of Japanese pop culture, including the short history of tie-up songs commissioned by Kanebo. Several Showa-nostalgic bloggers and columnists recalled an intensely competitive air from the ad campaigns between the cosmetics company and its competitor Shiseido—a few referring to the event as the “commercial song wars.”
While they each had already begun building up their momentum a few years prior, 1978 was the year both companies achieved their first commercial breakthroughs. Shiseido scored a number-one hit that summer with Eikichi Ozawa’s “Jikanyo Tomare.” Kanebo took over the top spot with their own summer campaign song, Circus’s “Mr. Summer Time,” but its competitor’s next ad tie-in, Takao Horiuchi’s “Kimi No Hitomi Wa 10000 Bolt,” swept most of autumn with the era’s idol phenomenon Pink Lady being the only act to interrupt its run.
The arms race between Shisedo and Kanebo continued well into the ‘80s with many different musicians getting involved in the game. They called up leading names in the then-emerging “new music” scene like Yumi Matsutoya, the artsy corners of new wave like Ippu-Do’s Masami Tsuchiya or the rosters of booming idols like Seiko Matsuda. The collaboration between Ryuichi Sakamoto and RC Succession’s Kiyoshiro Imawano spearheaded by Shiseido in 1982represents one of the most creatively fruitful (and certainly one of the most expensive) efforts to surface from this effort. Now far from its simple jingle origins, the cosmetic companies brought about legitimate pop hits of the season.
Fitting this huge piece of context in the write-up for this issue’s Oricon flashback would distract from the discussion of the actual song but it’s also too fascinating to ignore it altogether. So I dedicated a separate feature here to go through some other songs commissioned as campaign tie-ups for Kanebo. I focused solely on singles from Kanebo ads because the Oricon flashback selection is also a release from the company, and I disqualified songs that charted number-one in hopes that I can cover those as an official flashback in a future issue—well, except for one selection.
Here is a list of 5 songs commissioned for a Kanebo campaign from 1980-1985:
“Kuchibiruyo, Atsuku Kimi Wo Katare” by Machiko Watanabe [CBS Sony, 1980]
Highest spot on the Oricon at #4; top 10 from March 24 - May 5, 1980
“May your lips do the hot talking,” Machiko Watanabe sings in the titular chorus of “Kuchibiruyo, Atsuku Kimi Wo Katare,” and the arrangements ring just as triumphant as the singer-songwriter’s uplifting words. While she writes about women on paper as a collective subject, the conviction in her voice makes it as though she’s placing direct attention to you, the listener and possible audience for the summer lipstick line. Watanabe establishes enough sincerity in her message for it not to be muddied by the commercial origin of the single, enough to make her sentiment resonate to a new generation four decades later.
“Harusaki Kobeni” by Akiko Yano [Japan, 1981]
Highest spot on the Oricon at #5; top 10 from March 2 - April 20, 1981
The hook for “Harusaki Kobeni” amounts to relatively minor work compared to the rest of what copywriter and lyricist Shigesato Itoihas done, but that only makes its playful brilliance more maddening. “Mini mini mini kitene (come look for me),” Akiko Yano sings in the chorus a sweet, childish pun of a lyric that doubles as the tag line for Kanebo’s Lady 80 mini lipstick. The slightly corny humor fits with the oddball technopop music arranged by Yellow Magic Orchestra, as well as a natural product from Akiko Yano and the whimsy she brings to the track.
“Kimi Ni Mune Kyun” by Yellow Magic Orchestra [YEN / Alfa, 1983]
Highest spot on the Oricon at #2; top 10 from April 11 - June 6, 1983
After arranging a campaign song for Kanebo in 1981, Yellow Magic Orchestra became the main stars of a tie-up single with “Kimi Ni Mune Kyun.” If YMO’s pop-idol ambition in the song seems informed by slight irony—watch the trio of grown men rock in unison to the beat in the music video—they let their seriousness talk through their choice in collaborator: lyricist Takashi Matsumoto, who had written multiple Seiko Matsuda number-ones by that point. They end up with a shimmery, summer-ready new wave tune featuring the most enduring hook of their career, plus an inspiration to give YMO one last go at an album.
“Rock’n Rouge” by Seiko Matsuda [CBS Sony, 1984]
No. 1 on the Oricon during the weeks of Feb. 13 - March 5, 1984
Make-up commercials were reserved more for models, but the appearance of Seiko Matsuda in Kanebo’s 1984 lipstick ad began to shift the approach. The teen idol helped present the shilled kit as being more for the young, everyday person but all the while still providing them an aura of TV star glamor. “Pure pure lips” fittingly went the campaign song’s central refrain, ordered yet again to lyricist Takashi Matsumoto by this time the Kanebo producers; the attached funk musiclikewise flowed cool as a breeze, ecstatic but also sweetly casual. Though, let’s be honest: if we’re thinking the year 1984, Seiko did Kanebo bit of a favor giving the company a hit rather than the other way around.
“Love, Kakushiiro” by Tatsuya Moriyama [Epic / Sony, 1985]
Highest spot on the Oricon at #19 from Oct. 21-28, 1985
“Love, Kakushiiro” brings this feature full circle: Masami Tsuchiya returns to the hands of Kanebo as the arranger of this glam rock single. The flourishes from the glittery synths to the flowery sax no doubt echo back to Tsuchiya’s former band Ippu-Do, and it suits Tatsuya Moriyama’s howls into the night that channels classic R&B. The lead lyric is just as notable, twisting the ad copy for foundation into an expression appreciating the hidden side of a significant other. Cosmetics almost seem beside the point when it inspires an emotionally rich single like this.
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I wrote about this collaboration, “Ikenai Rouge Magic,” on This Side of Japan issue #30.
Yes, he’s the person who made the MOTHER games, and he has also written dozens of copy for Studio Ghibli. You should check out his Wikipedia page.
"Kimi Ni Mune Kyun” is responsible for popularizing the phrase mune-kyun.
Arranged by Yumi Matsutoya!