It’s about time! Kikkawa You released her 10th single on June 1, 2016, and before things get out of hand, I though I would lend my $1.09 on the subject. Since I haven’t written too much about the girl, I can summarize my feelings: Kikkawa You is talented enough to have been added to any Morning Musume generation. She just happened to have auditioned for the eighth generation at a time when Tsunku didn’t need anyone to wrest the lead vocals from Fujimoto Miki or Takahashi Ai- two talented girls who looked like they were going to part of Morning Musume’s plans for a long time. You can disagree if you want, but I think working on the fringe of idoldom suits Kikka very well as she doesn’t fit neatly into either category- idol or artist. Even if her popularity never catches up, I think she should be a superstar.
For a singer as talented as Kikkawa You to start her single with the lines “I’m feeling stuck in life. Don’t ignore me!” means, well exactly what it says. Forever in a holding pattern somewhere between an artist and an idol, Kikka is arguably the best vocalist to come out of Hello! Project in the last half decade. But this doesn’t mean she won’t have growing pains.
“Ha wo Kuishibare” starts with Kikka alone in a karoke booth where she proceeds to stutter through a theme, pig out on junk food, and wave out the window at passersby. We catch her at a moment where she doesn’t know what she is singing, or maybe even why she is singing. Being alone at karoke surely isn’t much of a party occasion, but as Kikka continues to sing she gets lost in the song along the way. Like everything Kikkawa You does, she IS the party and we are all invited to participate there.
To me, it’s clear that “Ha wo Kuishibare” is different in her past releases in that Kikkawa You seems to be singing about herself in this delicate transitional moment in her life. She feels time tugging at her sleeve, perhaps telling her can hang up her gloves now. All of her friends have already left the karaoke booth, that obvious metaphor for an idol career. Why does she keep it up? Can her love of singing alone sustain her through the next few years as a singer?
When Kikkawa You returns to the theme, she sings an important line: “At such a time, I need you here and I don’t want you to leave me”. And, sure you can read that like it’s a love song. Isn’t it more interesting when you think about it as a direct address to us, her fans? It sounds a bit desperate, and it sounds a bit like the ramblings one would utter drunkenly in the corner of a karaoke booth at 2 AM (yes, we’ve all been there). What happens, and hopefully what happens with us, is Kikkawa You picks up her boxing gloves and leaves the booth. As she sings, she leaves the karaoke booth for the streets of Shibuya. Standing alone amid the hundreds, Kikka puts on the gloves and takes a few swings.
“Charming Shobu Sedai” doesn’t continue the inward gazing of “Ha wo Kuishibare”. Instead Kikka turns in a solid performance in front of a very alt-rock sounding track. Guitars and drama fill the song’s arrangement. The promotional video is another one camera affair that has Kikka lipping in different corners of a loft that looks recently vacated by its artist resident. Great use of split screen turns the monitor into a mosaic which adds to the interestingness of the project; but really, there’s not much to look at.
For me, “Charming Shobu Sedai” is an easier listen. The song lines up nicely with much of my musical preferences before I entered the idol fandom. Kikkawa You’s vocal performance is top notch on both releases, which will always be a constant in her career. To me, the song sounds like Kikka leaving the bubblegum of idol-dom for a more serious sound. Which is an interesting thought when you consider chewing gum plays a part in the lyrics of the song and the PV’s final shot is Kikkawa You playfully blowing a bubble at the us.
You can buy Kikkawa You’s “Ha wo Kuishibare / Charming Shobu Sedai” at CD Japan