The arc of SixTONES’ 2021 discography has played out differently than I would have expected. Accurately or not, I associate them with a certain rock-influenced style that comes across as big and edgy. Apart from their January album, most of their recent work has leaned closer to alternative pop and/or hip-hop. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just not quite what I thought they’d be releasing.
With new single Mascara (マスカラ), the group has scored a major coup by collaborating with one of Japan’s hottest artists. The track is composed by Daiki Tsuneta, frontman of incredibly popular band King Gnu. As such, it sounds more like the work of an alt-rock band than an idol group. I love when Johnny’s groups go as “Johnny’s” as possible, so this may not be my preferred sound for SixTONES. But, I also appreciate the agency’s desire to break free from common perceptions and evolve with the times.
As a song, Mascara gets stronger as it goes on. The production is slick and slinky, built atop a nimble guitar loop and brisk percussion. There are moments that feel almost freeform, adding a jazzy appeal to the track. But, Mascara’s beating heart lies within its chorus, which pulses with added energy. It may not hit you forcefully on first listen, but the refrain gains steam with each repetition. Additional guitar comes in during the bridge and vaults us toward a standout climax that brings everything together. It’s like a sneak attack, but in the best way. Even with this knockout chorus, I think Mascara is on the weaker side of SixTONES singles. But, it certainly has its charms.