Idol Watch #8: May/June 2021

The best in idol from the past two months featuring mzsrz, KOTO, BiS and many more, plus a few thoughts on Tacoyaki Rainbow's recent graduation

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 Idol Watch from this year here: January & February / March & April

Tacoyaki Rainbow’s graduation came as a shock, though it wasn’t without precedent. The five members all graduated from the Stardust Planet group in May to “recharge and plan to start up a new project.” “The average age of the group was 12 when we began, and it’s now 20 after this year,” they wrote on their website in April. “We thought it was a good time to talk over everything we wanted to do going forward.” The idols had entered their now ninth year as idols—an apt point in time for them to consider their future. With the pandemic slowing down activities, Tacoyaki Rainbow also joins a batch of groups who have spent this recent down time to self-reflect.

Tacoyaki Rainbow sat relatively comfortable in the idol scene. They were give or take third or fourth in line within the hierarchy of their company Stardust Planet, below Momoiro Clover Z and Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku, though they still occupied the upper-middle tier of the scene as a whole. Music wise, they had been consistently solid. If anything, their recent output, like the 2019 full-length Nantaiteki Na Voyage, had already been working toward transitioning them into a pop outfit more mature than their textbook idol beginnings. The five had adapted well in the past year as the pandemic forced many to move to platforms such as YouTube, diligently participating in video creation and live streams to sustain attention.

But it doesn’t come as a surprise for Tacoyaki Rainbow to feel they’re at a crossroads in their career. Now a decade since the 2010s launched an idol boom, it’s becoming increasingly common for idol groups to sustain a long shelf life as Tacoyaki Rainbow. Idols are approaching an age that they perhaps did not initially imagine to hit, and they are more inclined now to think about the bigger picture. Most idol groups aren’t built with the future in mind, instead developed to capitalize on the trends of the present. Like their many peers, Tacoyaki Rainbow reached a new, unexpected point in their narrative that they have to adapt to.

Though Tacoyaki Rainbow could’ve initiated a simple name change like their peers to symbolically draw a line in the sand, they opted to go further and graduate to restart on a clean slate. Iconic and successful as their early run as local idols may have been, it’s understandable for them to want to distance themselves from that period: it’s a challenge for idols to negotiate their own history while attempting to mature and age gracefully, especially when the image of their former selves are rooted in a juvenile state of youth. Rather than reconcile both the old and new impressions of the group, it’s easier to stash away the figurative childhood photos for good and not look back.

Tacoyaki Rainbow aren’t the only ones putting away old pictures to build from scratch: in Stardust Planet alone, Awww! and B.O.L.T. began from the remaining members of Hachimitsu Rocket and Rock A Japonica, respectively. But those groups did not spend nearly as much time carving out a singular identity as Tacoyaki Rainbow. For better or worse, not every idol lasts long enough to find themselves in this position, where they have to figure out an appropriate way to deal with a former self who they no longer resemble. For a solution to their own situation, Tacoyaki Rainbow decided to not disband or rebrand but graduate to hopefully start anew. The term they chose to define this transition may seem arbitrary, though who are we as fans and followers of their stories to tell them otherwise?

In addition to our regular list of 10 great idol releases from May and June, I also listed my 50 favorite idol songs of 2021 so far. You can check out the list here. A Spotify and YouTube playlist of the songs is available as well.

“Anthem” by GoodDay [self-released]

Self-described as a “super free music unit,” GoodDay have been dabbling in whatever their hearts desire from twinkling ‘80s pastiche to a mellow surf-rock bop called “Macaroni & Cheese.” And “Anthem” is the duo’s most fun indulgence yet with the two riding the highs of exuberant pop punk. They sound nervous as they lay their feelings bare, but also invincible as they let the restless music drown out their fears and propel them forward. “I won’t talk about the meaning of love / but let’s play until we fall asleep,” they sing in the chorus, just concerned about doing what feels right then and there.

Listen to it on Spotify.

See also: “Itsumade Tattemo” by Circle Crusher; “Kuru Kuru Kakigoori” by Not Equal Me

“Noise Cancelling” by mzsrz [Avex Trax]

Once shrouded in mystery, Avex Trax’s new group mzsrz (read as “mizushirazu”) have been slowly coming out more to the spotlight. The five-piece seem more willing to play the pop game in their second outing, “Noise Cancelling,” from the impression left in the production, albeit on their own terms: while usually obscenely loud, Teddyloid meets them more than halfway with a sleek, muted synth pop that bashfully skitters and rattles. The introverted singers, though, remain closed off in an almost teenage manner, flatly refusing to see outside of their own purview: “first of all, I don’t care what happens / this distracting world / is so tainted, I could puke,” they sigh in the chorus. They sign out passively expressing disinterest, but it’s clear they want to be anywhere but here.

Listen to it on Spotify.

See also:Yasouuta” by NightOwl; “Ni Zettaiteki Ni Damaserete” by Sakki No Onnanoko,

“Princess Dempa Power! Shine On!” by [Toy’s Factory]

“Your dreams came true? Oh, congratulations,” Nagi Nemoto greets her new group mates with deep, hilarious sarcasm before leader Mirin Furukawa lays down the reality check: “from here is the real show.” The five new members of Dempagumi spent the previous third of “Princess Dempa Power! Shine On!” walking down the red carpet in awe taking in their new life, the musical-esque strings fluffing up their princess fantasies. The song then pulls the rug from underneath them and transitions into a separate, equally theatrical number with the rest of the group snapping some sense into these fresh, naive idols. Crammed with information, delivered in all sorts of vocal styles, “Princess Dempa Power! Shine On!” is as busy and overwhelming as the start of idol life can get.

“Princess Dempa Power! Shine On” invites comparisons to the group’s ambitious epic “W.W.D. II,”, from its multi-suite production and particularly with Hyadain’s lyrics speaking on idol life: “A happy ending just because your dreams came true? / there’s no way,” the idols pout in the chorus. “I want to do this and that / see what’s next / I’m greedy like that!” The lyrics specifically nods to the newcomers, whose journey as an idol in Dempagumi is just beginning. Congratulations on getting the role, but there’s so much more to do, Hyadain seems to advise while reminding them of their infinite potential as performers. A tough reality continues to creep into Dempagumi’s wonderful songs, but the fantasy-fiction-leaning track evidently sings of a far more optimistic message about becoming an idol.

Listen to it on Spotify.

See also:Oh! Darling” by =LOVE; “Genkai Mugendai Ken%” by Qumali Depart

“Back to the Universe” by KOTO [On the Stage]

KOTO performed her last show in April, retiring from the game for good after working for almost a decade as an idol. The icon went out with a bang in “Back to the Universe,” delivering one last electro-pop hurrah. “Let’s go universe, just watch me,” she sings over synths that scream as loud and flashy as her best works. And flex she does to ensure her final single remains unforgettable, especially in the rap breakdown: “Even now during these tough times / in your heart, I’m the cutest in all of space,” KOTO boasts before she departs Earth, and there’s really no reason to disagree.

Listen to it on Spotify.

See also:Bungee Jump” by .BPM; “Nolka Sulka Polka” by HULLABALOO

“Ujira To Omedatsu” by Iginari Tohokusan [Stardust Promotions]

Stardust Planet has been somewhat of a pop-punk idol factory in the past year or so, pairing their peppy stable of younger groups with killer, head-bobbing riffs, and Iginari Tohokusan’s latest is one that’s tough to beat. If the idols haven’t already beaten your head silly with the titular hook of “Ujira To Omedatsu,” the song only progressively grows in power until the group goes full force in the chorus: “I want to jump in a train that’s so full you can die / and go! On a date!,” they shout with so much excitement, especially that latter line, like their dreams are finally coming true. They’re so psyched to do everything with you—Barbecue! Karaoke! Vacation in Brazil!—and their enthusiasm to make the best of their time together sounds even more infectious over equally elated pop-punk music.

Tokyo Invader is out now.

See also:Smile Flower” by B.O.L.T.; “Barikata Pride” by Batten Shojotai

“Love” by BiS [Nippon Crown]

The name of the game for BiS’s “Love” remains the group’s foundational genre of pop punk, but the single provides enough of an upbeat deviation from Kenta Matsukuma’s usual maudlin string-and-punk combo for it to break out of the WACK monotony. Slightly rough to the touch, the jaunting rhythm section competes with proper bands in the lineage of Green Day’s Dookie—an album BiS once paid homage to. But more than riffs or off-the-cuff production, “Love” proves its pop-punk zeal through its chorus that finds the four wearing their hearts proudly on their sleeve: “I want love!” They shout. “I’ve been looking for it for years / Gimme!” BiS don’t sound desperate to mend their loneliness than they are eager to finally find what they’ve been searching for.

Touch Me / Love is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.

See also:A Song of Punk” by ASP; “The Same Old Sun” by SIPP

“Cinderella” by Owaranaide, Yoru [Day-Break]

Owaranaide, Yoru let in some sunshine to their pensive pop in “Cinderella,” the first installment of the group’s monthly singles campaign. The song sets a more glittery, sparkling image of the idols through sprightly pianos reminiscent of post-Vocaloid pop acts such as YOASOBI. But like the latter act, the sunniness of the music is only a distraction to a bleak outlook that lies underneath. The idols try their best to be fooled by their own facade to escape and enjoy a better time if only for a fleeting moment: “here, I can be OK with myself,” they sing in the chorus while calling the midnight dance floor their temporary home. The group sounds so free, it’s too tragic to wake them up from their sweet fantasy.

Listen to it on Spotify.

See also:Senkou Nights” by React!on

“Mizugarasu” by RYUTist [Penguin Disc]

Ohzora Kimishima’s abstract folk already makes for a great companion on paper with RYUTist, who thrives in rich, ornate arrangements rooted in the natural world. That being said, the singer/songwriter throws a sharp curve ball of a production for the idol group to inhabit. “Mizugarasu” opens with a prickly cut-and-paste collage of guitar plucks, backwards synths, and skittering drums, like a IDM remix of a breezy acoustic-pop tune, and the idols interact with their new, tactile surroundings with curiosity. Their lyrics warp as does their music, and their gestures of affection feel exclusive to such a surreal world: “We are going to become glass,” sings the idols in the chorus, so sure and determined to hold you tight. Before you can wonder about the meanings, the bubbling sounds continue to collide and create new, fascinating sparks.

Listen to it on Spotify.

See also: AOAWASE” by CYNHN

“Parallel” by Link Laze [noe]

Link Laze keep it short and sweet for their summer release. “Parallel” leads a straight-shot ride with its crescendo-and-drop EDM trajectory while the duo laces their own memories and emotions in the electronic glitz. “I’m going to keep putting them together / until I can’t understand a thing,” the two open the song as the rave piano peaks and launches into electro-house fireworks. Everything then turns into a blur as the music never lets down. Link Laze, meanwhile, try their best to enjoy the here and now while their world moves forward in tremendous speed.

Listen to it on Spotify.

See also:Re Enter” by Pupa!!

“Addict” by akugi ft. Motochika Kasane [Codomomental]

While Codomomental is chiefly made up of metal idols, the company’s new act akugi invites label mates to take on hardcore dance beats. A highlight off of the Playplay EP, “Addict” for example finds Zenbu Kimi No Seida’s Motochika Kasane stepping out of her usual field of play to sing on a seething hard trance production. The peaking build leads into an icy synth loop that refuses to loosen its grip, persistently on hot pursuit. Despite the shift in genre, the brooding mood and energy—“it doesn’t make sense to live,” Motochika cries out—unmistakably stamps “Addict” as a Codomomental release.

Playplay EP is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.

See also:moon light” by Crossnoesis

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Next issue of This Side of Japan is out July 14. You can check out previous issues of Idol Watch from this year here: January & February / March & April

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