On paper, Manon should be an artist right in our wheelhouse. It is offbeat pop featuring a lot of production work from HNC, an artist responsible for some of this blog’s favorite songs of the 21st century. And yet…nothing Manon has put out to now has really clicked with me, and even seeing her live failed to inspire much beyond “work in progress.” Part of the issue might be the timing of it all — Manon arrived at a moment when a lot of labels realized “kawaii hip-hop” could be a thing, and this is at least partially how Asobisystem (Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Yasutaka Nakata, etc.) pushed her, even if she didn’t do much to stand out from the pack. Though maybe it all just comes down to the music, which is too rough to be top-tier pop but also sounds too polished to reveal any interesting wrinkles. And now with so many young independent artists actually managing that balance, Manon’s music feels disjointed.
“Winter Lil Life” inches closer to a workable model for Manon…she doesn’t try to do too much, opting for a nice follow-the-bouncing-ball flow frosted in Auto-tune that works well with the keyboard flights of fancy. But look…we are here because of Sleet Mage, who steals this completely via their short verse, hopping between weird sing-song and traditional rapping, throwing in shouts out to anime and playful adlibs alongside the frosty emotional bars we’ve come to expect from the Sapporo artist. Ultimately, “Winter Lil Life” is just a slight shift in the right musical direction for Manon, but a big leap in showing that she’s at least in the same orbit of artists worth learning from. Listen above.