The year in J-pop…
2018 saw some turbulent events in the world of Japanese music, including some line-up changes and one significant retirement. But among the stories were some good record releases – and more than a few newer acts to keep things interesting. Here’s J-Pop Go’s review of the year…
Rock outfit BRATS released a new video for their song ‘Kimarigoto’ in the first part of 2018. J-Pop Go’s review summed it up: “There’s certainly a heavier feel to ‘Kimarigoto’ that was perhaps missing from earlier releases.”
Switching the focus to BRATS probably provided some relief to Rei Kuromiyama. She hadn’t enjoyed a great 2017, suffering from throat problems coupled with her departure from The Idol Formerly Known As LADYBABY.
Meanwhile, her former outfit released a memorial compilation album titled Beside U. They later reverted to their original name of Ladybaby and also expanded their lineup so that Rie Kaneko was joined by new members Nana Ikeda, Emily Arima and Fuka Karasawa. They also released a comeback single ‘ホシノナイソラ’ (Hoshi no Nai Sora) towards the end of May this year.
April saw the advent of a new Japanese cultural event. The Japanese Sake Festival had a focus on the country’s most well-known drink, but the other aspect of the event that made it stand out was the choice of stage performances (including J-Pop Go on DJ duties). With such diverse talents as Rie Fu, Miou, Yue Miyagi, Akari Mochizuki, Hidè Takemoto, Kayono Wakayagi and Hibiki Ichikawa gracing the stage, the festival offered up a full day’s entertainment.
Back in the UK, we were pleasantly surprised by the launch of a new record label that wanted to focus on Japanese music. Read The Air kicked off by announcing the signing of Maison book girl to their roster and releasing their single ‘Karma’.
Formed in 2014 by former BiS member Megumi Koshouji, Maison book girl pull in influences that include Scandinavian dreampop to Japanese classical music. They staged a live performance to coincide with the label/single launch, which our review concluded: “There’s a more organic feel to MBG’s material than their contemporaries, but it feels fresh and is more dynamic than you might expect. Strident rhythms and unusual time signatures compete for attention across a number of tightly-drawn tunes.”
But that wasn’t the only surprise for J-pop fans in 2018. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu returned for the Halloween-themed The Spooky OBAKEYASHIKI. While the Halloween theme was slightly out of season for UK audiences, it didn’t stop the show providing an engaging selection of KPP tunes. “…there’s still some killer tunes in Kyary’s arsenal” J-Pop Go’s review concluded, “and plenty of striking visual ideas in both her videos and stage performances that continue to dazzle.”
June saw the return of the legendary Utada Hikaru with her seventh studio album Hatsukoi (aka ‘First Love’). The release coincided with Utada’s 20th Anniversary as an artist in Japan and the album went on to secure the top of the Oricon album charts.
Summer also gave us the return of occult-themed idol outfit Necronomidol to the UK. Appearing as part of the Black Winds Over Albion tour, Necroma shared the bill with fellow idol acts Screaming 60s and 2& (Double And). Our review summed it up: “Songs such as ‘Strange Aeons’ and ‘Starry Wisdom’ come to life with a beefy intensity courtesy of the live band setting. Meanwhile, the various members flit back and forth across the stage in a bewildering choreography that makes you wonder how they don’t trip up over each other’s feet.”
2018 provided a strange year for the mighty BABYMETAL. They launched their own record label, Babymetal Records, along with some cryptic messages about a “dark side” to the outfit and the portent of “seven metal spirits”. But fans seemed more concerned with the absence of Yuimetal from BABYMETAL’s US and European performances during May and June. The outfit had also been struck with tragedy when Kami Band guitarist Mikio Fujioka died at the start of the year.
The trio bounced back with the release of ‘Distortion’, a composition that our review summed up as a “kinetic slice of energetic metal pop”.
BABYMETAL also announced the launch of a graphic novel in October titled Apocrypha: The Legend of Babymetal. The publication’s promotion stated the novel’s story: “BABYMETAL assumes alternate forms and identities in order to confront a time-hopping force of darkness intent on bringing about the true apocalypse.” This coincided with the announcement the same month that confirmed fan’s suspicions – Yuimetal had parted ways with the group with a view to pursuing a solo career.
As ever, the summer was dominated by Hyper Japan, which saw the event return to London’s Olympia. For this year’s event, Hyper Japan had a broad variety of music guests designed to appeal to everyone from rock fans through to idol pop enthusiasts. As a result, the likes of Yukika, Deadlift Lolita, The Sixth Lie, Roa, Ezypt, Tokyo Flavor and LONDON BLUE peppered the weekend with music performances.
Gothic pop outfit Die Milch returned with new studio album Sinfonia. Following on from their 2015 outing Imperial, Die Milch showed that they had lost none of their talent for stylish compositions. Our review summed it up: “Sinfonia is an accomplished album that delivers some superb baroque pop moments. ”
Meanwhile, BRATS released their eponymous debut album which featured a variety of heavy rock numbers. J-Pop Go mused over the current status of the band: “BRATS may not get the profile that many of the other contemporary rock outfits are currently enjoying, but as an album BRATS demonstrates both a confidence and a collection of talents that’s guaranteed to take this trio places.”
Perfume continued to demonstrate their dominance of the J-pop/technopop world with the release of Future Pop. Their sixth studio album, once again masterminded by writer/producer Yasutaka Nakata, featured some fine moments, particularly on the subtle melodies of ‘Tokyo Girl’. It debuted at the top of the Oricon album charts and the group also took time to unveil a new collection of clothing inspired by Perfume’s stage outfits.
Former BiS member Tentenko teamed up with Toothpaste Records, a new record label venture based in London and Tokyo. The result of this was a vinyl release of her eponymous debut album. Although the album features a disparate number of songs from Tentenko’s years of creating music, there’s a surprisingly smooth flow across all the tracks on the album. Gems such as the Shōwa-era pop stylings of ‘Good Bye, Good Girl’ and the shimmering synths on a a cover of Ikue Sakakibara’s techno-kayo 80s hit ‘Robot’ gave the album a real punch.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu met the autumn months with the release of her fourth studio album Japamyu. The album was packed with bright pop moments and included previous singles such as ‘Sai & Kou’ and ‘Harajuku Iyahoi’.
More dramatic news came via Namie Amuro. The iconic J-pop star announced her retirement in September. Amuro had charted a musical career that had seen her dabble in R&B and electronic music across the arc of her extensive musical history. As an artist, she’s sold over 36 million records and is recognised as one of the biggest and best-selling Japanese musicians of the modern era.
In other sad news, idol outfit Moso Calibration announced that they would be disbanding in 2019. Emerging from the Dear Stage stable (home of Dempagumi.inc) in 2013, MoCali have built up a respectable fanbase on the back of tunes such as ‘Chichin Puipui’, ‘Unbalance Umbrella’ and ‘Bang Bang No.1’. The group made their first UK appearance at Hyper Japan in the summer of 2017, along with a special compilation album Moso Calibration – Greatest Hits via JPU Records, to coincide with their UK visit.
Hyper Japan returned with its annual winter event. Once again, the musical guests were an eclectic selection of acts ranging across a variety of genres. BANZAI JAPAN surprised us with their energy and talent for polished idol pop. MUTANT MONSTER continued to demonstrate their ability for guitar-fuelled performances and the oddly-monikered Xmas Eileen gave a powerful live show for beats and vocalists with attitude.
Necronomidol released their new studio album Voidhymn. J-Pop Go spoke to the outfit briefly and also reviewed the new album, which we summed up as another dynamic collection of songs. The news was tainted with some sadness with the announcement that Sari and Hina were due to graduate from Necroma in the new year.
Ass the year came to an end, there were already announcements for what lies ahead in 2019. Perhaps the most intriguing news was that 2& (Double And) would be returning to UK shores for performances. But also that she would be joined by Garuda and Hanako-san as part of another superb multi-act line-up via the Orion Live UK team. We look forward to all the J-pop action in 2019!