Photo by me at a Circle K.
SMAP “We Are SMAP”
Long-time-coming theme song “We Are SMAP” might mark a turning point in J-Pop history. Since the early 1990s, the Johnny’s-concocted boy band has dominated the Japanese pop scene, hitting Oricon gold with many singles and albums during that stretch. They’ve hosted multiple TV shows…including one with a cooking segment…and have become the go-to Japanese boy band of reference when foreign critics discuss J-Pop. They became a rare specimen – a Japanese group able to prominently hang around for a long time in an environment ready to chew up new stars and spit them out.
Those days might be over, though. MTV reports SMAPS’ upcoming “We Are SMAP” tour may not sell-out. The article goes on to note Arashi have become the go-to J-Pop boy band for TV specials and commercials, signaling a big shift on the Japanese boy band pyramid. All empires must fall, and it appears SMAP’s might be starting to decline.
Taking a listen to “We Are SMAP”…removed from YouTube since I first listened to it, will update when online again…the question becomes “what took so long?’ That sounds really harsh but “We Are SMAP” sounds trapped in another time. It’s slow and overwrought and schmaltzy. Whether you like their music or not, younger acts like Arashi and Hey! Say! JUMP (future kings of J-Pop) make songs that are much more lively and exciting. Much more “now,” if you will. SMAP dominated for a long time, but “We Are SMAP” makes one wonder if they can possibly remain as big for a third decade. Time to let a new bunch on top.
Though SMAP can at least still lay claim to having their own sports drink, pictured at the top of the page. It tastes kinda good too!
With that said, I really hope it’s not BREAKERZ. Somehow managing to do worse with nearly every rock cliche than even VAMPS, BREAKERZ latest single features: robotic lead singing, completely out-of-place electronic noises, way too dramatic everything and a guitar solo so stupid even a Guitar Hero character would slap them upside the head for forcing it into this song. It would be misguided to say BREAKERZ are everything wrong with J-Rock-Pop today because other such bands simply sound boring at worst…BREAKERZ slice them self out of that scene but instead of moving in an interesting direction choose to dramatically slide into an 80s style of rock that never actually existed. It’s actually sort of an accomplishment.
Hey! Say! JUMP “スペシャルメドレ”
A medley, so don’t expect any words spent on music. Instead, lets revisit a claim I made in the SMAP entry. Arashi have become so big in part because they managed to nab two prime age demographics (a friend introduced this idea to me, I have no real facts here SHOCK) – when they debuted, people my age aka young-to-mid 20s were in junior high school. They became the first wave of Arashi fans. During the “Arashi renaissance” if you will, these people grew up and still supported the group while Arashi also managed to remain marketable for current-day junior high (and even younger!) students. Now they appear ready to knock SMAP out of the top boy band spot.
Hey! Say! JUMP might be in an even better position. They debuted in the late Aughts and, based on my observations, have become popular with junior high school kids, especially younger ones. Typical of a new Johnny’s outfit. Now, here’s the key…they are already dipping into the next wave of fans lives. The group contribute a lot of songs to cartoons aimed at kids in the single digits and even appear on some children’s programming. They are making that connection early on in an attempt to develop boy band loyalty (something Japanese kids don’t fuck around with). This technique, coupled with the group’s stupid young ages, bode well for their future. The only potential hitch could be the number of people in the group…they are actually spilt up into two groups…but then again that hasn’t hurt EXILE or AKB48.
Their music still isn’t very good though.
OK, this article has officially become a “J-Pop idols of the future NOW!” feature. Former TV idol turned singer Becky should pay her publicist/manager of brand a nice bonus because she’s everywhere. Her picture blankets the convenience store, TV ads, train station posters, you name it. She’s on the rise as well and she sorta deserves it because her musical output has gotten a lot better. Last year’s “Kokoro Komente” was completely forgettable, but this past February’s “Suki Dakara” saw her making great pop strides. Now comes this song (translated as “Emerald”) and Becky seems to be improving. Most of the kudos go to the production, especially that solid beat and the little electrical waves running over the song. Becky herself sounds fine and, save for a goofy guitar solo, the song never embarrasses itself. Not bad Becky, not bad.
YUI “Please Stay With Me”
YUI seems to be a little desperate with a title like that. The songs totally a ballad, but one of the better ones I’ve heard in a while thanks mostly to those sparse verses. Still, I can’t drone on about the future of J-Pop with “Please Stay With Me” so I’ll keep it short.
Winner Of The Week – Becky for sure. Not the strongest field but easily the most enjoyable track of the lot.
BONUS: Since there actually not that much music in this post, here is a bonus J-Pop song I’ve been digging lately. Toshinobu Kubota’s “LOVE RAIN” simply sounds really catchy and tough to really elaborate on…I like the goofy keyboard sounds maybe?