As often happens this time of year, I’ve been poking around East Asian music from outside the k-pop industry. With new releases slowing to a trickle throughout December, it was as good a time as any to check in with Japan. And one of the most reliable providers of quality j-pop over the past few years has been Stardust Promotion and their sprawling EBiDAN project. I’m not nearly enough of an expert to accurately explain EBiDAN, but its system seems to mirror Japanese boy group stranglehold Johnny’s Entertainment — or for a k-pop comparison, SM Entertainment’s NCT concept. Basically, the agency has a huge roster of trainees, which then spin out into individual groups when the time is right. EBiDAN already gave us the fabulous Bullet Train, among many others. I’m hoping that Satori Boys Club (さとり少年団) will follow suit.
The single-vocalist, duel-rappers, all-dancing trio started life as one of the agency’s “street” groups, getting their name and music out there through a series of busking performances. Help You (ヘルプ ユー) is their official debut single, and its straightforward dance sound is a throwback in the best way. I knew I would enjoy the song as soon as the high energy instrumental kicked into gear, with its 90’s piano riff and wailing electric guitar. There’s something so refreshingly simple and uncluttered about its driving arrangement.
Despite his young age, vocalist Eiku manages to anchor the track with an easy-going — yet powerful — performance that avoids the hyperactive cutesiness that can sometimes mar this style of j-pop. Like the rest of Help You, the unshowy nature of his vocals actually contributes to the song’s charm. It helps that the melody is a total earworm, building to a surging, sing-along chorus. This is definitely a group I’ll be keeping my eyes on in 2018.