Big news here at Make Believe Melodies – this past week, MBM headquarters moved from Osaka to Tokyo, into the hear of the Japanese music scene. Or a relatively convenient subway ride away from it. So yeah…if you are in the Tokyo area, holla at me, we should hang out and eat at the fancy Wendy’s. That, or I’ll just keep sitting in this beanbag chair I call my “office” now.
KARA “Speed Up/Girl’s Power”
Last year’s J-Popification of KARA presented an interesting situation – could a K-Pop group like KARA, part of a movement subject to all sorts of unfair nationalistic judgements, be transformed into a group sounding like other Japanese acts without sacrificing that “exotic” element? Answer was a resounding “yes” – the music they released gradually became more like other contemporary J-Pop acts (in other words, worse), but sales continued ballooning. The quality of their singles dropped, but since KARA seem content milking the Japanese market for all its worth instead of venturing to the West, it also wasn’t a bad business move.
Now comes two new singles, “Speed Up” and “Girl’s Power.” Here, KARA attempt to channel the style they still lean on in Korea while also keeping an eye on how much Yen they can rake in. “Speed Up” stands as the better song, a slinky electro-dance number that comes off like a J-Pop-ready take on last year’s excellent “Step.” It’s the best single they’ve released since last spring’s fun “Jet Coast Love.” “Girl’s Power,” meanwhile, isn’t quite as ambitious, but features enough catchy instances to not be as soul-crushing as everything the group pumped out in late 2011. It also, to KARA’s credit, continues pushing the theme they introduced on last year’s Super Girl of being a “super girl,” a sorta empty bit of empowerment but still miles ahead of most J-Acts. Still, turn to “Speed Up” for something sonically interesting.
Kis-My-Ft2 “She! Her! Her!”
The part where they whisper-grunt the song title is actually pretty intriguing. Naturally, this gets turned into but a small detail in an otherwise dreadful bit of Johnny’s pop. In the hands of a more daring talent agency, this could have been really good. Instead we get status quo.
Masaharu Fukuyama “Ikiteru Ikiteku”
Wrote about this one before, and not much has changed…I think this coincided with the new Doraemon movie, and given that context this is pretty harmless kiddie-ready fun. Like, I’m not going to throw rocks at a Discovery Zone, that’s messed up.
Porno Graffitti “2012 Spark”
So the trick with this week’s Music Station is that none of the acts listed what song they are performing, so I’m just going with the last single they released. I dropped some acts entirely for not even having anything new in 2012 (sorry Superfly!), and am now realizing I’ve written about most of these tracks before. So apologies Porno Graffitti, but if ya’ll want to hear me snark-out about this song, hit up the search bar.
Mr. Children “Inori ~Namida No Kidou”
Know what the search bar won’t help you with? Mr. Children, who I have never written about on this site for some reason. They are one of the most popular Japanese acts ever, one of the most dominant groups of the 90’s pop scene here and big enough to warrant mention on the Bubba The Love Sponge radio program in America (this is where I first heard of them, one afternoon, while flipping through satellite radio stations). How they ended up so massive I don’t know, but they keep on chugging into today like fellow Clinton-era holdovers SMAP.
This song, available in tiny clip form above, doesn’t really shed any light on why Mr. Children became one of the biggest Japanese rock bands ever. It’s the sort of song a machine would create if it was told to make music for the end credits of a cheesy movie – which is exactly what this Mr. Children tune does, offer a soundtrack for who worked as a key grip. This might not be a fair single to judge, but for what it is it seems pretty forgettable.
Rihanna “You Da One”
She doesn’t necessarily have the media-ready narrative a Lady Gaga does, but it’s not crazy to think Rihanna is the most prominent pop star in America today. She’s not flashy, but more a model of consistency, the Tim Duncan of modern-American pop. She’s adept at adapting to trends…remember when she used to exclusively do dancehall stuff? Now she’s hopped on the Euro-dance craze and seems at home…and also keen when choosing who to collaborate with. As a result, she’s been in the pop eye since her debut and has a bunch of number-one singles to her credit, and as inspired a bunch of imitators (see: Nicki Minaj whenever she tries to be a pop star). Oh, and she’s headlining Summer Sonic.
“You Da One” isn’t one of the more immediately pleasing singles in Rihanna’s recent catalog, but is a pretty pleasant bumper. It lacks the stadium status something like “We Found Love” seems built out of, but rather a surprisingly intimate number with a few weird electronic gurgles popping up in the later part of the song. Some have described this as a “filler single” and I get that – this isn’t the sorta season-defining work she’s capable of. But still pleasant stuff.
Winner Of The Week – KARA’s “Speed Up”