Back in February, IZ*ONE made their Japanese debut with the stirring Suki to Iwasetai. It remains my highest-rated song by the group, but it turned out to be a total red herring. Since that initial album, IZ*ONE’s J-pop singles have been shockingly unpolished. June’s Buenos Aires merged a poor vocal arrangement with an underdeveloped instrumental. New single Vampire might be even worse.
After listening to the song, my first takeaway was how poorly everything’s been mixed. These overstuffed, muddled instrumentals have a precedent in J-pop (both the Johnnys and AKS empires have a strong penchant for this sound), but they don’t always work. And when Vampire opens with production that feels as if it was recorded from a microphone taped to an old cassette player, it’s a warning that the rest of the track will be equally washed out.
In this case, IZ*ONE sound as if they’re in an entirely different studio than the instrumental, which is packed with layers of orchestral bombast but flattened into a murky mess. Vampire’s vocal performance is just as problematic as Buenos Aires’, forcing the girls to contort their voices into the kind of unpleasant affectations that define the worst of J-pop stereotypes. The melody is lifeless, and the song can’t decide what it wants to be. It’s too middling and slow to work as a dance track, and not nearly compelling enough to stand confidently in any other way. Like so many songs attached to the Produce juggernaut, this feels like nothing more than a quick cash grab.
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