Kikkawa You – “Ha wo Kuishibare / Charming Shobu Sedai” [Review]

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.

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Tomita Mayu and Idol Violence

May 20, 2016. Local idol Tomita Mayu was violently stabbed 20+ times in the neck and chest by a man said to be her fan. From reports and tweets, the assailant, Iwazaki Tomohiro, 27, felt spurned by the young talent when she returned a gift he had given her (I believe a wristwatch?) months earlier. Tomita Mayu had been scheduled to perform at the event Koganei City, western Tokyo when she was confronted by Iwazaki near the entrance to the live house about two hours before the event’s scheduled start time. The downward spiral which began with a returned gift culminated horrifically with Iwazaki repeatedly stabbing Tomita in the neck, back, arms, and chest. As of writing, Mayu is still in critical condition and has yet to regain consciousness.

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Shinozaki Ai – “Hikari” [PV]

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!”

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Watanabe Mayu – “Deai no Tsuzuki” [PV]

Don’t you dare. I’ve been listening to music too long for you to give me problems about writing about an AKB48 release. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably had an inkling that I take a fancy to Watanabe Mayu. I wouldn’t say I was crushed by her placement in the 2015 Sousenkyo (she placed third), but I did hope she could reclaim her top spot. And, while many are off-put by her “so perfect she’s a cyborg” idol routine, this perfection is a good part of her appeal. Remember: when things look too perfect, the breakdown of this character becomes even more interesting.

The particulars of Watanabe Mayu’s fifth solo single tell a lot about the product. The song “Deai no Tsuzuki” provides the opening theme of the drama “Tatakau! Shoten Girl”, where Mayuyu plays an entitled yet well-meaning bookstore employee caught up in the in-store dramas of her workplace. If you happen to be a fan of Mayu, you should probably give it a watch.

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Shinozaki Ai – “A-G-A-I-N”

Sometimes, a release comes along that demands my attention. The latest of these comes from Shinozaki Ai, and I cannot believe it myself. I do not know where to begin with Shinozaki Ai. Mind you, I have known about the girl for quite a while from her modeling work. It is probably inevitable, and actually regrettable, but I should let the reader know that this is what I knew about Shinozaki Ai.

Yes, you could probably call her a gravure idol, although I do not actually know how such things work. You probably know where I am coming from now.

And, yes she did have a career as a singer in the idol group AeLL, which stood for “Activity eco Life with Love.” I did not get into AeLL for a few different reasons, some of which, I’ll admit, have to do with Ai’s image as a gravure idol.

After a little provocation, I gave Shinozaki Ai’s “A-G-A-I-N” a listen. It was love at first sight. The song begins with that persistent guitar lick looped over a half-time beat that grooves throughout the song. Sounds layer over each other and build toward a memorable chorus hook. Instrumentation added and subtracted from the arrangement provide a sense of movement. “A-G-A-I-N” sounds slick because it is a slick production. Whether these artificial grooves have anything to do with the PV (more on that later) remains to be seen.

The real attraction with the music, though, is Shinozaki Ai’s voice. I did not expect her voice. Ai exhibits great control a voice that plays expressively and with drama and emotion. Honestly, even though I think “A-G-A-I-N” is a solid release, Ai’s voice will be the one thing I will return to again and again.

So much of Ai’s work is tied into her visuals, that we need to talk about the PV itself. We do not get the scantily clad gravure model in “A-G-A-I-N”. We get an attractively styled Ai with an oversized pastel sweater and similarly hued knee socks. The knee socks does it for most people, and there is plenty of Zettai Ryouiki for a tease. Ai also does an outstanding job modeling the hell out of a lollipop. Ai is a popular, successful model: she knows what she is doing.

But, then there are the parts of the PV that seem pointed toward commercialism and the production of people. Much of the PV looks like product placement. Nail polish, glass beads, marshmallows, hair spray, and even Shinozaki Ai herself appear on rotating platforms like they are featured items in a QVC advert. Ai walks among the litter of products and peers into a heavily teased box where we see … another Shinozaki Ai. The NiB Ai comes complete with a clutch-able teddy bear (because nothing is cuter than a cute girl clutching a teddy bear). In the second verse Ai sings, “Even adult but like a kid, you are the teenage dream.” This is some real self-aware stuff! Ai knows she is a product unnaturally infantilized, sold among the air fresheners and party favors.

The identity crisis brought on by years in the public eye causes a schism that most of us will never know. As an entertainer, are you the same person that appears on you album covers, your photobooks, or your magazine layouts? In the public eye, will you do things, wear things, and say things that you would never say in private? Who is Shinozaki Ai? And, what relationship does she have with the 14-year-old(!) in those bikinis? From the PV for “A-G-A-I-N”, Ai seems to know that two of her exists simultaneously. To further that distinction, Ai acknowledges her factory produced doppelganger. Ai holds a sing-off with her plastic self! All the while, the silent agreement pervades- you can buy the Ai in the box, the one she keeps at a safe distance from herself. But, the real Ai? They are similar things, but they’re not the same.

Follow Shinozaki Ai on Twitter @shinozakiai_226

You can buy Shinozaki Ai’s “A-G-A-I-N” at CD Japan.

2014 Single of the Year!

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.

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LA Idol Festival- Tokyo Meru, PASTEL CALLA, Chii Sakurabi [live]

I didn’t really know what to expect . I bought tickets for something called “LA Idol Fest“, but there wasn’t much of a web site and little information about the scheduled acts. Tokyo Meru? Chii Sakurabi? PASTEL CALLA? Never heard of them. I knew the coming weekend was Anime Expo, so I thought I would gamble and start the weekend off a little early. I took care to avoid listening to the groups before the event, which is a bit like avoiding the trailer of an anticipated movie. On July 2, I went to the Nirvana Bar in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo and sat back expecting the worst.
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Kikkawa You versus

Kikkawa You- Vocalist?
Former Hello! Project soloist Kikkawa You’s new album is a cover album! There’s something about vocaloid in the description, but to tell the truth I don’t know what all that is about. I adore her voice, and I appreciate her covers of oldies. It’s nice to know about the musical tradition from which these idols come. If you are reading this then chances are you, like me, did not grow up listening to Japanese popular music. This is like a quick education.

In the spirit of the American elections today I’ve decided that it’s time to vote! Do you like Kikkawa’s cover? Or do you prefer the original? I won’t tell my preferences, but I will say I prefer some of the originals. Which ones, you ask? I may say later. Maybe.

While you are at it, buy Kikkawa You’s album here: Vocalist? at CDJapan

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