Idol Watch #6: January/February 2021
The first Idol Watch of the year features Qumali Depart, Nogizaka46, Hololive Idol Project and many more
Hi! Welcome to Idol Watch, a bi-monthly companion to This Side of Japan that’s all about Japanese idols! You can check out previous issues of this column in the archives.
Can BEYOOOOONDS top “Megane No Otokonoko”? It took a year and a half since their first album, 2019’s BEYOOOOND1St, but the newest Hello! Project group finally followed up their audacious debut single with a worthy successor in their latest triple A-side. They however don’t bother to leave the big shadow cast by the act’s previous release. BEYOOOOONDS instead constructs yet another record based around it in “Konna Hazu Janakatta!” and it results in an even more ridiculous spectacle than the last.
I can’t imagine any other major idol company besides Hello! Project green-lighting a single like “Megane No Otokonoko” to debut a new group. The intro alone initially tests the patience of even those familiar with the company through acts like Morning Musume. “Well, now, we are going to talk about a love story about a girl,” Momohime Kiyono begins as though you’re tuning into a rakugo tale, and the group then indulges in a one-minute skit setting up characters and back story before kicking into the actual song. From the get go, BEYOOOOONDS is confident the listeners will stick through the twists and turns despite the fact they haven’t released any music.
“Megane No Otokonoko” seems more prescient as the days go by. It acknowledges that fans interact with idol singles more than just the recorded music. Though the single feels alive enough to enjoy it in isolation, the song’s theaterical element aggressively suggests you take in the track by watching its music video. Search the title on YouTube, and you’ll soon be welcomed to other Hello! groups reenacting different scenes, like the intro of course but also the “panic train” scene in the second verse. “Megane” is a richly built world on to itself, made to be sung, acted out and spread as a meme.
“Konna Hazu Janakatta!” is even more self-indulgent with BEYOOOOONDS folding in on itself. The group briefly went meta before, breaking the fourth wall to discuss the function of a pop bridge in the bridge of “Atsui!” But here is a full-fledged meta song of BEYOOOOONDS singing specifically about being in BEYOOOOONDS: “This isn’t really our debut song, is it,” they sing while re-purposing the melody of “Megane No Otokonoko.” Like its predecessor, the song hardly cares to ask if the group deserves to reflect and relish upon the success of their debut single this early into their career. BEYOOOONDS boast even more self-confidence here now that a good chunk of the single relies on the listener being in the know of the single they’re referring to.
That said, the references mostly come off as sweet Easter eggs than it does alienate potential new listeners. “Konna Hazu Janakatta!” carries on primarily as a meta idol song about the worries and hardships idols go through to get to the top. The group simply chooses firsthand experience to illustrate that point while lyrically tipping its hat to other idols leading the scene. “This is not how I pictured myself,” they sing in the chorus, “please let me sing a normal song.” The frustration may be easier to grasp knowing the out-there nature of “Megane No Otokonoko.” However, the uncertainty in tasking your life and future in the hands of producers should resonate to idol fans regardless of their familiarity with BEYOOOOONDS.
As of this writing, I’ve not experienced “Konna Hazu Janakatta!” as just music, meaning as a standalone song removed from context of a music video. I can’t tell how effective it is stripped of its visual presentation. The song conceptually hits the mark as what I love about a BEYOOOOONDS song: “We can’t get satisfaction with just an ordinary song these days” is a lyric that sums up basically their meta-textual nature that I’ve tried to explain in the last five paragraphs. But I admit the production currently gives me a bit less when it comes to hooks compared to “Megane No Otokonoko.” It’s still a bit too early to judge in how it will fare. And if “Konna Hazu Janakatta!” reminds of anything, it’s that clarity of success comes with time.
Welcome to the first Idol Watch of 2021! For those joining us for the first time, Idol Watch is a bi-monthly column of This Side of Japan that rounds up the 10 best idol singles of the past two months. This edition brings mochi eaters, funk-drunk party-goers, data-crunching virtual singers, and many more from January and February.
For an overview of my taste and familiarity with Japanese idols, you can check out my list of 100 favorite idol songs of 2020.
“Yes Mochi Fever” by Qumali Depart [MUSIC@NOTE]
What is a more appropriate way to bring in 2021 than with a New Year’s Day-themed song from Qumali Depart? The now-six-piece prepare sticky rice cakes, a gantan staple, over spy-movie guitar riffs and powerful brass. But an innocent feast, this isn’t. What the series of mochi puns reveals— “kimochi atsuku!” “mochibe ageteko!” or really, “and with more feeling!”—is the group’s burning urge to win over the hearts of not only everyone in Japan but those overseas as the country’s ambassadors. If their newest album, the thrilling Sekadepa!, is a grand world tour, “Yes Mochi Fever” is the big party in Japan before the international trek.
Sekadepa is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Toki Wo Tomete” by CY8ER [Victor]
CY8ER headed into their last days together to the tune of a rather vicious, doomed beat. Yunomi darkens the neon glow of the group’s electro-pop into something almost pitch black, and the synths screech in the chorus as though it’s being ripping into shreds. “I still want to be your one and only / I don’t want to turn back into an ordinary girl,” they sing at one point, not-so-subtly hinting at the their disbandment that at the time laid just around the corner. When they announced that they were breaking up, CY8ER expressed satisfaction with their careers and all that they’ve accomplished. “Toki Wo Tomete,” then, may include some thoughts they couldn’t quite share then.
CY8ER is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Michi” by Amefurasshi [Stardust Promotions]
Stardust did not waste any time following up a fantastic year with Amefurasshi releasing a worthy single not even a week into 2021. After last year’s grand, EDM-assisted makeover, the four piece change their look once again now as a preppy girl group straight out of a high-school dance club. I can’t help but be reminded of NiziU and Twice from the cheerleader claps; the clavichord riff adds a goofball charm like the latter K-pop act’s early years. While the idols try to play it cool, not even their hip-hop breakdowns can fully mask how much they’re blushing from seeing their crush. When they drop the charades and embrace the feeling, it inspires the best moments in “Michi.”
“Boku Wa Boku Wo Sukininaru” by Nogizaka46 [Sony]
I’m still fascinated whenever the 46s or 48s pursue this sort of wordy, pause-less lyrical format that’s primarily unique to Sakurazaka. I’ve talked before about how it’s a style that’s grown to be more and more contemporary, but it still feels uncharacteristic for a pop giant such as the 46s and 48s to adopt a style that eschews easy melodies for a set of lyrics that’s impenetrable upon first glance. “Boku Wa Boku Wo Sukininaru” draws comparison to an early Sakurazaka track through that run-on vocal style but also its plodding piano riff. And yet the shining, big-sisterly words of hope marks this unmistakably as a Nogizaka song. “I didn’t think I needed friends all this time / I was lonely, with regrets and lies I couldn’t forgive,” they confess in the chorus. Through similar styles and experiences, they subconsciously make conversation with the brooding, angsty teens of early Sakurazaka while showing that there are other points of view to show through this format.
Boku Wa Boku Wo Sukininaru is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Shijoshugi Adtruck” by Hololive Idol Project [Cover Corp.]
Vtuber group Hololive’s weekly singles campaign have been consistently offering the goods since the year started, not just in quality but diversity as well. Out of a batch that includes a burst of electro-pop hype and some theatrical flair, my top favorite is the maximal guitar-synth blend of “Shijoshugi Adtruck” with members Natsuiro Matsuri, Ookami Mio and Shiranui Flare. The lyrics are as dense and sprawling as the noodling riff, more seemingly concerned about how impenetrable these baroque phrases are and how overwhelming they all flow with the tumbling rhythms.
Listen to it on Spotify.
“Pa-Reé” by Up Up Girls (2) [T-Palette]
For the first teaser of their whopping quadruple A-side, Up Up Girls (2) party to a bouncy dance beat that can be comfortably queued before Yamamoto Sho’s funk-loving idol-pop creations. The piano riff in particular is just asking to be tweaked as the main motif of an extended house remix. The idols are so carried away by the irresistible music, their lyrics soon read unintelligible like they’re trying to remember the words on the spot. All I can make out from the chorus is “Restarirettsupa-ré,” a declaration to “let’s start, let’s party!” charmingly garbled beyond recognition. That said, I think you get the gist after listening to how much fun they’re having.
Tsuyogari Rai Rai Rai / Semete Semete / Pa-Reé / Garasu No Junjou is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Systematic” by Sandal Telephone [self-released]
The once-bubbly funk of Sandal Telephone hardens into sleek New Jack Swing in “Systematic,” and the idols, too, settle into a no-bullshit attitude. They put on a rather un-amused face against an equally steely drum-machine beat, but it’s only the proper response to a once-significant other who keeps playing too hard to get. “Even if you show me smart game with systematic love / if there’s nothing in it, it won’t work even if you try,” they sing in the chorus. Sandal Telephone has already seen it all and now too fed up to further participate.
Systematic is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Bubble” by Old Newspaper [Doping!]
Since trio Infume! Dope-chan put out their still-solid debut EP around this time last year, they’ve built a small collective of like-minded pop-rap idols in Doping! Records. Old Newspaper is a new duo from the self-produced crew, and their debut single “Bubble” boasts a idol-rap charm that should satisfy fans of the past KouteCa incarnations. “Cleanse away today / Pop, goes the bad, and what’s left are the bubbles,” they sing-rap in an Auto-Tune’d drawl over a chill electro-pop beat. Filled with blips of arcade-game noises and mini Travis Scott-esque ad libs, “Bubble” presents a bite-sized idol-rap escape.
Scooooop is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“The Light” by FAKY [Rhythm Zone]
A certain corner of J-pop Twitter may accuse me of crying wolf after their years of neglected potential, but I’m just here telling it how I see it: the past year has seen FAKY on a roll. The group has only been sticking to their guns, delivering R&B and hip-hop cool; perhaps the trends are just finally aligning to their tastes. They recruit in-demand producer Maeshima Soshi for “The Light,” who stashes away the future-bass synths in favor of groovy funk. “Things are starting to change, I’m feeling so excited / I’m going to make it however I please,” they sing in the chorus while rocking to the classic dance-pop sound. Hopefully, this points to better things to come as the group search for new thrills to escape the mundane.
Listen to the song on Spotify.
“Double” by Tokyo Tefutefu [Codomomental]
I sense an itch from Codomomental to expand their metal-adjacent brand, and Tokyo Tefutefu’s “Double” serves as a good example. The production follows a rather expected direction from the idol subgenre with maudlin pianos pinging across the track as intensely as the aggressive rock music. The lyrics are where the group tries to mix it up, incorporating lengthy dialogue sections that ramp up the moodiness: “Sorry, I’m sorry. ‘It’s all OK,’ is what I should’ve said you the most,” they plead to an unknown other as they constantly reference to an ambiguous regret and sorrow. If screaming to release anguish won’t cut it in a crowd of idols doing the same, Tokyo Tefutefu decide to bottle it and lyrically build a vivid world around it.
Listen to the song on Spotify.
The next issue of This Side of Japan is out March 10. You can check out previous issues here.
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