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.