After starting this feature in February, I hoped to post a new J-Pop round-up every month or so. But, the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt on Japan’s music industry, with very little material coming out since early April. There just hasn’t been much to write about. So, instead of featuring strong b-sides this time, I’m going to focus on some 2019 gems that I haven’t yet written about.
As K-pop has continued to disappoint in 2020, I’ve been diving deeper into the J-pop world, discovering new artists and learning about those I’ve always wanted to explore. This has resulted in the discovery of many great 2019 songs and albums that I simply didn’t have a chance to listen to before my 2019 end-of-year countdown. Consider this a catch-up, and a look into some artists I’ll likely be writing more about in the future.
Beyooooonds! – The Japanese D.N.A.
Over the past months, I’ve been falling down the wormhole that is Hello! Project. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve already been smitten by several of the collective’s groups. And for my money, their best 2019 track came courtesy of new act Beyooooonds. The Japanese D.N.A. is like Japan’s answer to Y.M.C.A – but actually good. Or, to put it in K-pop terms, it’s like the long-lost, high-octane Kara single we never got. This being J-pop, the whole thing is a little ridiculous and frantic at times, but my god that chorus hits hard! When will K-pop give us a chorus like this? It’s just unabashed joy and energy and ridiculousness.
Official Hige Dandism – Pretender
I don’t need to tell you about Pretender. It was Japan’s biggest hit last year, and pretty inescapable even if you knew nothing else about J-pop. I heard it a few times in 2019, but always dismissed it for one reason or another. Then, I watched reality show Ainori Love Wagon: African Journey, which used Official Hige Dandism’s Vintage as its theme song. I slowly fell in love the with the nuance and power of Satoshi Fujihara’s voice. Coming back to Pretender, I finally understood why it was such a slow-burn sleeper hit. There’s a timelessness to its cathartic, anthemic melody, and the same can be said about the entire album. I just adore these guys, and I’m so happy that they’ve become Japan’s “it” band.
Sasuke – J-Pop Never End
This little J-pop urchin is super endearing, from his weirdly addictive dance moves to his youthful exuberance. J-Pop Never End is an odd, kitschy burst of a pop song, hinging on a sense of 80’s nostalgia that far pre-dates Sasuke’s birth. But the more you listen to it, the more addictive it becomes. That brash, electronic freakout of a chorus hits surprisingly hard. He is some kind of wunderkind, for sure.
Prizmax – Dance
It’s a little bittersweet featuring this track, since it was Prizmax’s final release before disbandment. I wish there was a Japanese-language version (I just can’t deal with some of those lame English lyrics), but this crunchy dance rock production hits like a sledgehammer. It reminds me of the era of K-pop I first fell in love with – larger than life and funky and very SHINee-esque. That line about “a virus racing in your body” has not aged well, though…
Morning Musume – Relationships. No Way Way
Okay, I’m cheating a bit here because this actually came out in January. But, it’s too good not to include. Relationships. No Way Way (what a title!) illustrates the importance of arrangement. Morning Musume actually released this same melody on an accompanying song, but Relationships is by far the superior offering due to its incredible groove. The instrumental is just a marvel of funky rhythm. When it briefly segues into a sample of American folk song Turkey in the Straw during its electrifying dance break, I am utterly charmed.
Solidemo – Love Yourself
Another January 2020 cheat, Love Yourself is pure Eurodance cheese. Solidemo have been around for awhile, but their material has never really connected with me. However, I am a fan of this kind of big-chorused pop, as contrived as it may be. Love Yourself has an incredible chorus, chugging with blissful dancefloor energy. In 2020, that’s enough for me.
Relationships. No Way Way might just be my favourite song of the year. That chorus and instrumental are just brilliant!
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The instrumental is so freaking groovy.
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I Love all the J-pop recommendations given here. My personal favorite is “J-pop never end”.
Also , have you seen CRAVITY’s Cloud 9?
That comeback will be soooooooo good!
J-pop Never End is so fun, isn’t it?
Cravity’s song is a b-side from their album, dressed up as a follow-up single. I wasn’t too fussed about the track to begin with, but maybe an mv will change that?
Maybe , it would but I’m still happy , since you counted “ASSA” Can you count Cloud 9? It already sounds so good
Once again, a fantastic public service. There is a serious dance playlist in here, yeah seriously fun!
OK, I gotta hand it to “Relationships. No Way Way” from Morning Musume (Daughter) because I was having hella fun, the bpm was easily at least 10 bpm over what any sane person would set it at, and and then THEN they bust into Turkey in the Straw. I mean, perfect!
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Are you going to review Miyavi’s need for speed?
Now I can sleep peacefully because Nick is listening to Hello Project. Huzzahhh!!!!! You should check Beyooooonds’ album tho
Anyway abit of out topic, who wrote the title of your review in AsianJunkie?
AsianJunkie himself writes the titles. I’ve got nothing to do with them 😉
Goodness I have already listened to these songs many times since yesterday.
I think I’m falling in love with jpop but I don’t know where to start as there are so many different artists & I have no idea of where to begin.. total newbie feelings.
So I’m relying on these wonderful blogs and increasing my collection bit by bit.
Always stay happy ( ◜‿◝ )
Glad to be of service! I’ll keep them coming.
J-pop is REALLY hard to get into because it just doesn’t cater much to international fans (which is actually a good thing, imo). I’ve been listening to it for years now and am still discovering new groups and discographies.
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There is a jp version of Prizmax’s Dance! its the “intl version” which doesn’t make any sense at all and only a few lines are jp the rest is still english. Also you’ve convinced me to check out these songs they’ve been on the back burner for a while~
Omg getting into Hello! Project thats so exciting. I hope to see some more reviews of them from here soon. I was kinda wondering what you thought of some of the other major hits to come out from them last year, such as HitoSore (“You Can Live On Your Own” Is That A Compliement)