If you’ve been reading TheNumber244 for a while, you probably noticed the high praise I heaped upon Shinozaki Ai’s “A-G-A-I-N” earlier this year. In case you hadn’t, I can paraphrase by saying that Aichan’s voice is one of the most enchanting things to come out of Japan in 2015. In support of her new album, the “interestingly” titled “EAT ‘EM AND SMILE”, the gravure idol extraordinaire turned singer released a PV for her track “Hikari”. Honestly, it’s been burning up my playlist. The melancholy mood evoked by the song, the plucked string bass accompaniment, and Ai’s expressive vocal delivery … all of it pulls the heartstrings. The chorus hits, and I literally say, “Damn, this is a gorgeous song!”
Aichan briefly in Hollywood
The light coming down is beautiful
Airports, hamburgers, and karaoke
The promotional video seems shot entirely from a phone at the end of a selfie stick, and entirely in airports or in America. Shots of Shinozaki Ai getting touristy and eating hamburgers pepper the PV. Central to the video, Ai dons her yukata and does up her hair & makeup and prepares for street performances in New York’s Times Square. It’s performance in its most brutal setting.
You can see the looks of the passers-by. Even amid the menagerie of Times Square, Ai must have stuck out. Look at how striking her clothes are in contrast to her surrounding. Her immaculate coif, her finely made face … even without singing I imagine she attracted a crowd (as she always has). Of course, I think there is a deeper meaning here.
Many of us like to think that we are listening to our favorite artists because of the music. Some wear it as mark of pride with mottos like “above all, the music matters more than the image”. I know. I used to be like that, too. It’s a lie. The image, the fashion, the politics, the other fans, the perception of those fans – all of it informs our decision to “fan” a group or artist or idol. I’m not interested in getting into a discussion about whether this is a good/bad thing- it’s a reality. My parents listened to the Beatles for of their mop-tops as much as wanting to hold their hands. I don’t believe for one minute that people listened to Frank Sinatra just because of his phrasing. In all my years as a musician, only the musicians I knew who paid attention and carefully cultivated their image ever “made it”. Why should Shinozaki Ai be any different?
So, when I see Shinozaki Ai doll herself for her soap box between Sixth and Broadway, there’s an understanding. It’s a performance art and not just a singing gig. The yukata worn dangerously low on her shoulders is part of her identity as a singer. The look of a full-figured Japanese doll is her professional identity, why should she run from it? She is all these things and more. The trick is to remind us all of her multidimensionality so our very one-track minds do not put her in the box instead of atop of it.
I fully believe that Aichan intends to make her career as a singer. I don’t know if this means abandoning her past, but I know that because of her past any discussion of her vocal merits inevitably turns into a discussion of her work as a model. I suppose this speaks volumes about her success in her first career. Equally, though, it casts suspicion on her decision to sing and instant skepticism on her artistic merits. Maybe that’s just me. I am often beside myself thinking of Shinozaki Ai as a serious singer.
Now I know this isn’t a single release, but I cannot fail to give the girl credit or ink for her release. I don’t know why, but the career trajectory of Shinozaki Ai really captures my attention. I refuse to acknowledge any shame in her works as a model, nor do I accept any attempt to put an asterisk on her musical achievements because of her gravure work. Ai has serious talent as a singer. I can’t wait for more releases in 2016.
You can buy Shinozaki Ai’s “EAT ‘EM AND SMILE” at CD Japan
EAT ‘EM AND SMILE [Cardboard Sleeve (mini LP)] [w/ DVD, Limited Edition]
EAT ‘EM AND SMILE [Regular Edition]