Do you know what gives me a hard time? End-of-the year lists. For someone like me, who likes and tries to find value in the littlest of things, every decision involves a heart wrenching choice. Regardless, my idol friends on Twitter (you know who you are) provided me with enough motivation to attempt an end of the year list of idol releases. I agreed to this undertaking for a couple of reasons. Firstly, this undertaking provides me the motivation to look and listen at a wide cross-section of idol music. Lots of idol groups have been popping up of late, and without this project I feel like I was missing many groups that I would love.
The second reason I decided to make this list was that I found a novel way to approach the list. To explain this process simply, think about the World Cup. In this way, I acknowledge that the list isn’t necessarily the absolute list of my likes for the year. Some rough decisions were made. Some songs made it further up the list than I anticipated. Some songs ended up lost in the process. And then there was Bitter & Sweet’s “Dare ni mo Naisho”.
To begin the process, I went to New School Kaidan’s painstakingly curated Idol Release Calendar and picked out 148 songs that I had either heard, was interested in learning about, or had been recommended through Twitter (I actually listen to your tweets!). Even though I think I do a better than average job of listening to a range of artists, I think I got in a bit of a rut. One glaring gap in my listening history was almost all of the music that came out of AKS. This gap was even more difficult to overcome since many of my idol friends that listen to the 48/46 groups dismissed this year’s crop of music almost universally.
Over the course of the next three days, I listened to everything that I had not yet heard. If you follow me on Twitter, you were probably tired of hearing me go on and on about the songs I was hearing. This is what vacations are for, right? Take a few hours out of the day and listen to unfamiliar groups and unfamiliar songs! Now, I can’t say I was blown away by the many new groups and songs I heard since so much of the songs I heard felt flat and uninspired. Real gems are out there, though. If you are one of those people who only listen to a small bubble of artists, I recommend going on a journey like mine!
As I listened to the songs on my playlist, I took notes on all of the songs and graded songs on a simple ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’ system to create a “Short List”. And, I made a few choices along the way. For example, I liked all of the releases from Babyraids this year (this was a tiny bit unexpected), but I chose to only ‘Pass’ “Koi wa Panic”. I did not do so because I didn’t like the rest of the songs. I just felt the one song was the strongest representation for the group (even though a song like “Tora Tora TIger” or ” Bucchake Rock’n Hacchake Roll” could have done serious damage on the list). In hindsight, some groups were over-represented on the list. In particular, Morning Musume ’14 appeared on the Short List three times (the group released 3 singles in 2014). Even though I limited Morning Musume to one song per single, I still think I had too many of their songs on the Short List (I probably could have axed Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou Sa, which is strange if you look at my top 12). My short list ended up being 52 songs long.
This is where things got interesting. I took out my handy graphing calculator and assigned each of the 52 songs a random ID number from 0001 to 9999 (for example, Especias “Ya.Me.Te” was song #9392 while GEM’s “Do You Believe” was song #3939) and ordered the songs by ID number. I assigned the lowest six ID numbers to “Group A”, following six ID numbers to “Group B”, and the next six ID numbers to “Group C”, etc. (Group I only had four songs). This set up the “Group Battles”. In each group I chose my three favorite songs to continue on to the final round (I chose two songs from Group I).
The Group Battles eased the strain for me, since I picked half of the songs from each group. There were some tough decisions made, though. Group C was especially difficult for me. You can see that I gave up on Juice=Juice’s “Hadaka no Hadaka no Hadaka no Kiss” (KARIN!!!) and Vanilla Beans’ “Uchouten Girl“. I acknowledge this format allows weak singles in weak groups to advance and strong singles in strong categories to halt their journey. Perhaps my list would look different if Pla2Me’s “Plastic 2 Memory” was randomly sorted into Group C.
At this point, I’ll confess to some errors. Firstly, I never chose 3 songs from Group E. Secondly, Bitter & Sweet’s “Daremnimo Naisho” (a song I ADORE) mysteriously vanished from my Short List. I can only blame my weariness at 3 AM for these mistakes. As repentance, I’ll write up something short for each of these 7 songs at the end of this article.
The last stage of my rankings was a 23 song tournament bracket comprised of all the winners from the Group Battles. In this final stage, I chose my favorite song in each two song matchup. At the very end, there was a three-way battle for first place. You can see the brackets below. After the entire bracket had been played, I sorted the losers from the quarter-finals and semi-finals into place based on my personal preferences. Of course.
So without further ramblings here is Number 244’s Top 12 Idol songs of 2014:
12. RhymeBerry – Idol Illmatic
This song caught me off guard. While I’m not a huge fan of hip hop, “Idol Illmatic” grooves along in a way that was just different and funkier than most of what I hear in idol music. I can groove along to this song for hours. I know so little about this group that I can’t even tell you the girls names (go ahead and leave me comments). The confidence with which the song was executed and the fun that permeates the release make “Idol Illmatic” a STRONG starting point for my top 12 releases.
11. Negicco – Hikari no Spur
Another group that is unfamiliar to me, Negicco brought the throw back sounds I was craving to my ears. In a genre littered with synthesized sounds, where music is programmed rather than composed, “Hikari no Spur” stands out with its piano, horns, strings, and grooving beat. But, the central focus on this song is the melody and the way it works against the bass line of the chorus. It’s a lovely composition that warms me up for the winter.
10. Palet – Keep on Lovin’ You
This song might be accused as the most generic idol song on my list. That doesn’t particularly matter when the song plays as inspiring as “Keep on Lovin’ You”. You will also notice that the song features a prominent bass part played with real instruments. In this way, my number 10 selection has much in common with my number 11. Palet’s has been in rotation for most of the year, which really surprised me. I can hope that Passpo’s little sister group will supply us with another solid release in the new year.
9. C-ute – I Miss You
In 2014, if your Hello! Project group wasn’t called Morning Musume, it better had been called C-ute. There are many reasons to love this release: multiple layered vocal melodies, actual harmony vocals, dat harpsichord, a head scratching “how’d they do that” PV, and a rock solid composition by Tsunku. When you get a chance, take a listen to the layers of instrumentation and vocals slathered onto “I Miss You”. Then, of course, Tsunku has his way with anomalous buzzes and whirs and whooshes. C-ute’s entry into the top 12 plays like the antithesis of Palet’s release in its bold approach. Of course, C-ute’s approach is always a little bit bolder.
8. Morning Musume ’14 – Shabadaba Doo
The first of the Morning Musume releases on my list is the graduation song/Love Letter from Michishige Sayumi. Remember the buzzes and whirs I mentioned in C-ute’s song? Yeah, they’re all here on “Shabadaba Doo”. While Sayumi’s style is apparent (which admittedly isn’t for everyone), the song deftly switches gears with every new section. The wonderfully jazzy verses, completely with an acoustic bass, give way to swinging electro pop sound that provides the perfect setting for Sayumi. Tsunku nails this song perfectly, which makes Shabadaba Doo a more enduring song than the primary A-Side of this release (“Tiki Bun”).
7. Tokyo Girls’ Style – Partition Love
Tokyo Girls’ Style’s entry into my list is one of those instances where I could have easily included all three of the group’s releases into my short list. In fact, “Say Long Goodbye” is so lovely, that I almost wish I had included it. You might recall that I wrote a fairly lengthy piece on this song already here. The song still plays a bit creepily, but I suppose this is the desired effect. Tokyo Girls’ Style still feels like they are daring you to objectify them. And though “Say Long Goodbye” may have been a better showcase for the girls’ talents, “Partition Love” grooves along in a way that makes one feel a little dirty after listening. Don’t get carried away, folks.
6. Pla2Me- Plastic 2 Mercy
“Plastic 2 Mercy” is the highest ranking single that I hadn’t heard before my binge. You might say that I only have this song so high on my list because I miss BiS (, but that’s not really the case. This song is solid, and Pla2Me (“Pla-knee-may”, rhymes with “anime”) mean serious business. Unlike much of the releases I see, nothing here seems like a gimmick or a joke. This is serious. If you’re not head banging by the time you get to the chorus of this song, then I don’t know what I can do for you.
5. Morning Musume ’14 – Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa
Morning Musume’s second entry in my top 12 is a song that I tried to eliminate from my short list. In the end, I didn’t have the heart to cut “Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa”, and with a fortunate draw the song lands here at #5. The song isn’t a slouch, but it’s easily the fluffiest of Morning Musume’s A-sides this year. I am a sucker for the way the song grooves through the verses with a minimal bass line only to release into a shuffling, energetic chorus. It’s may be an upbeat, peppy song but it is far from standard fare given the idol landscape. You can read my longer review of the song here.
4. Fairies – Bling Bling My Love
I have this thing about seriousness, I suppose. Fairies bring their “a game” with “Bling Bling My Love”. The song is filled with attitude and a thumping drive. The girls also seem like they are truly playing up their sexy side with this release as they strut through some Los Angeles landmarks. I watch the PV and fixate on legs, legs, LEGS (sorry mom). While some may accuse Fairies of going full K-Pop with this release, let’s remember that there’s no reason why Koreans should have a monopoly on leggy girl groups with an urban sound crossed with a narrow remembrance of the 1980’s. “Bling Bling My Love”
3. Team Syachihoko – Shampoo Hat
I don’t know if I properly conveyed my love of this song when I reviewed it here a few weeks ago. Much like the way Tsunku has been recently playing with the applying different textures to songs using his unusual soundboard, Team Syachihoko move through a stunning variety of percussion sounds and electronic doo-hickeys. I already waxed on the orchestral arrangement providing the foundation of “Shampoo Hat”, and all of those thoughts are still true. The moment after the second verse where Sakamoto Haruna (green) lifts her head and sings “dakedo” and the moment after the bridge where Sakura Nao (blue) sings “Shampoo Hat” are completely free of instrumental accompaniment. Pure unfiltered moments like these are a treasure amid the busy arrangements of most Team Syachihoko songs. So, while Team Syachihoko may get full crazy again on their next release, take a moment to see the group exposed in the unique setting of this release.
2. Cheeky Parade – Together
OK, Cheeky Parade at number two caught me off guard, too. I don’t really hear much love for the Avex group, and I’m not even suggesting they deserve more love. But, with “Together”, Cheeky Parade provide a cathartic release of a song. I really went with my gut in putting this song at number two. When I strip away all of my defenses, the way Cheeky Parade sing “TOGETHER!” in the chorus is the essence of why I listen to idol music. It’s exciting, uplifting, enthusiastic, and hopeful. In contrast to so many of the releases I listened to in preparing this list, absolutely no one slept through the details of this song. I hear the song, and I am compelled to copy the choreography in my car, on the bus, or even at work. Arms outstretched and welcoming perfectly tells the emotional feeling of “Together”. I can’t even listen to the song at work because when I hear the song, I cry with a smile on my face because it’s just too beautiful. When you watch the live PV, pay attention to the look of pure joy on Cheeky Parade’s faces- they know how great “Together” is.
1. Morning Musume ’14 – Toki wo Koe, Sora wo Koe
This shouldn’t even be a surprise. In my review, I think I all but called “TokiSora” the best song of the year. The songs emotional delivery is complex and bittersweet and reminds us of the close relations between “hello” and “goodbye”. The themes of fate and eternal longing are captured perfectly as Tsunku rips apart the piano and string lines only to piece them back together- which sounds suspiciously like the theme of the song. The song is serious and introspective and miles away from the youthful exuberence of the first PV of this new generation Morning Musume (“Maji Desu ka Ska” or “Pyoko Pyoko Ultra“, take your pick). “Toki wo Koe, Sora wo Koe” is the kind of wonderful, poignant release that is a rarity in the idol world. The opposing forces of space and time, past and future, gravity and expansion, and fate and freedom all make an appearance in this release from Morning Musume ’14. With its deep-rooted, multi-faceted meaning and its multi-layered melodies, “Toki wo Koe, Sora wo Koe” is my song of the year for 2014.
As promised, here’s the rest of my short list. …But first
Bitter & Sweet – “Dare ni mo, Naiso”
I LOVE this song. I love the way the strings accent the verses with their pizzicato. I love the way the song groves along with its steady pulse in the verse and triplet feel in the chorus. I love Tasaki Asahi’s goofy smile when she plays her synthesizer solo. I love the glances Hasegawa Moemi and Asahi give each other (which should be a shipper’s dream). Do you know how I feel about this song, yet?
My Tournament Bracket
The complete short list, sorted into group play (with some commentary)
Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku – Haitateki (I really like this one, and was hoping it would go further. Great energy, bad draw)
Odatomo – Kodachi wo Nukeru Kaze no you ni (probably the best from Satoyama/Satoumi)
Bitter & Sweet – Bitter & Sweet
BiS – Final Dance (RIP)
Tokyo Girls’ Style – Partition Love
Morning Musume ’14 – Shabadabadoo
Party Rockets – Kasabuta
Vanilla Beans – Kitto Ii Basho (I’m turning into a Vanilla Beans fan)
FantaRhyme – Eye of the Wise (I REALLY wanted this to go further. Another casualty of the draw.)
M Three – Your Love
Dream5 – Break Out (Interesting entry. I like the song’s sound palette)
Passpo – Perfect Sky (Not anywhere near the best Passpo Song, but still a solid entry)
Group C (Lots of problems choosing a winner here!)
Prizzmy – Butterfly Effect (I don’t know why I love you, but I do. I do.)
Vanilla Beans – Uchouten Girl
Negicco – Hikari no Spur
Juice=Juice – Hadaka no Hadaka no Hadaka no Kiss (I wish H!P Jesus had a better release this year)
Morning Musume ’14 – Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa
Team Syachihoko – Shampoo Hat
Prism Box – Happy Star Restaurant
Team Makenki – Mugen Fly High
Palet – Keep On Loving You
Super Girls – Hanamichi Ambitious
Watanabe Miyuki – Yasashiku Suru Yori Kisu wo Shite (I’m surprised this advanced, too. I like retro, I guess?)
Dempagumi.Inc – Chururi Churira
Group E (the lost group)
Terashima Yufu – Campanula no Yuutsu
I’m a bossa nova kind of guy!
Kus Kus – Koi Moyou
These girls look so cute. It’s such a winning song, that it probably would have advanced to the tourney!
Berryz Kobo – Romance wo Kattete
Besides being the last single from a group I have loved, the song is just great. I get dewy just hearing the into!
Caramel Ribbon – First Secret
This song impressed me with it’s unassuming personality. It pure, it’s pop, and I like that.
GEM – Do You Believe?
I’m in love with this chorus. It feels right and sounds right. Another group winner!
Sakura Gakuin – Heart no Hoshi
The song is written by Kawase Tomoko and Shunsaku Okuda (Brilliant Green, Tommy February6, etc.) and sounds like the little sister of Tommy February6. It’s a great chorus and a great song!
NMB48 – Rashikunai (There’s so much wrong here, but I still like what I hear)
Pla2Me – Plastic 2 Memory
C-ute – Kokoro no Sakebi wo Uta ni Shitemite
LinQ – Wessai! Gasssai! (RAMEN!!)
Tokyo Girls’ Style – Say Long Goodbye (Why didn’t this advance?)
Kikkawa You – Urahara Temptation
Kikkawa You – Amai Melody
Dempagumi.Inc – Sakura Apparition
C-ute – I Miss You
Ito Momoka – Poker Face
Rev from DVL – Love Arigatou
AyumiKurikaMaki – Jet Kuma Star (This probably should have advanced, too. Drop-D Idol music FTW!)
Group H (another really difficult group!)
Cheeky Parade – Together
Babyraids – Koi wa Panic
X21 – Happy Appli
AKB48 – Kokoro no Placard (No, I really like this. I don’t care what you say. )
Sunmyu – Junjou Mermaid
Morning Musume ’14 – Toki wo Koe, Sora wo Koe
RhymeBerry – Idol Illmatic
Fairies – Bling Bling My Love
AKB48 – Kibouteki Refrain (I’ve written this song off countless times, yet I still listen. Why is that?)
Especia Ya.Me.Te. (I don’t know why this doesn’t connect with me better. Maybe this 80z is not my 80z?)
AND FINALLY a full of the singles I considered/listened to this year:
end of year singles
Well, that was exhausting.
This was quite the process for me, so I hope you enjoyed the results. Please comment if you would like me to make another one of these end of year charts for 2015!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!