While my musical enjoyment of 2013 was mostly defined by my newfound love of KPOP, I also spent a great deal of time listening to JPOP. Sadly, it’s a bit hard to be a JPOP fan in comparison: many of the music videos can’t be found on Youtube (although this is slowly changing), there is way less production value and enthusiasm on average, and the songs can often sound very similar. Even with these handicaps, I still found that I enjoyed a great deal of this year’s releases, so I thought I’d write out a list of my ten favorites and post them here (to go with my KPOP thread). Catchiness was easily the biggest deciding factor—in both which songs made it on the list and placement on said list—as that’s what I favor most. Occasionally, the videos themselves did have a small impact, but I tried to focus solely on those songs I think are my favorites. Also note that I could only feature things I actually heard; there’s a lot more JPOP out there that I didn’t have time to listen to. I hope everyone enjoys my choices!
Also, sorry for the video spam!
10. Romance Is On Its Way – Juice=Juice
Romance Is On Its Way is a sound pop song, if not a little predictable. I particularly enjoy the chorus—that clapping part is pretty great—and the bit near the end without singing where the composition is allowed to do its own thing. It feels a bit inconsistent, vocally, but that is likely due to the girls’ inexperience more than anything else (this is the group’s first year). The choreography in this video is sketchy in spots with members dancing very out of sync and without much excitement or skill. Production values are also not great, as the whole video takes place on a static, boring set. I usually turn on the video and listen to the audio, because I don’t feel the visuals add anything to the experience. Still, it’s a song I really enjoy listening to. Juice=Juice is a group I’m interested to see grow and mature over the next year or two.
Also from Juice=Juice: Hug Me Before I Ask You To
9. Living Alone in the City – C-ute
It’s the composition of Living Alone in the City that makes me like it. The girls do a decent job singing over the beat, but they never seem to match the energy of the instrumentation. I also admit that there’s something about the almost lazy attitudes of the girls in this video that keeps me coming back for more. It feels as if they didn’t realize that the video cameras were actually rolling, opting to save their energy for the real take. Maybe I’m being a little harsh—the choreography is well-executed and I find that donut part absolutely adorable for some reason—but I am constantly amused at how disinterested the group seems to feel. Still, it’s a fun song, which is the part that counts in my book.
8. Denden Passion – Denpagumi.inc
Man, this group’s songs make me feel like I need a nap after every listen. Denden Passion features a ridiculous amount of energy in both the singing and the dancing that demands every last bit of your focus and attention. This song is four minutes of catchy, adorable intensity that I guarantee will get stuck in your head. I particularly like how each member of this group sounds quite distinct from the others, something you don’t always find with these girl groups. As for the video, it’s just as flashy as the girls’ personality and shot with maximum cuteness in mind. Plus, how many music videos can you name with streamer choreography? This group’s work is definitely a guilty pleasure, but I find myself not caring as I listen to their songs yet again.
Also from Denpagumi.inc: W.W.D.
7. Voice – androp
Voice is a great pop-rock song that has me singing the few words I understand for days after I hear it. Some of my favorite pop songs have the energy that this song has, demanding that I tap my feet to the beat and nod along. Is it the most well-executed pop-rock song this year? Probably not, especially with that simplistic main riff and occasionally dull vocals. I can’t help but love it for the way it gets stuck in my head. The video has a neat section I like too, where the band members are playing while crowd surfing and looking up at a camera. It’s a cool idea that I haven’t seen done elsewhere. This song feels like something I probably won’t listen to anymore after a few months, but I plan to keep it around while my enjoyment for it lasts.
6. kanden 18gou – D=Out
Kanden 18gou is a well put-together pop-rock song with interesting progression and riffs that manage to squirm their way deep into my subconscious and reappear at the worst times. I absolutely love the chorus, the guitar riffs, and that little bass solo near the end: more songs need bass solos! D=Out is what is categorized as a visual kei band—referring particularly to their androgynous looks and dancing and Final Fantasy hair/outfits—which is made very clear in the video. I have no problems with it, but I don’t find myself as enthralled as I am by other videos on this list. My enjoyment for this song is derived purely from the way it sounds. Still, I can be happy just listening and tapping my foot to the beat.
5. Ijime, Dame, Zettai – Babymetal
NOTE: This video technically came out in 2012, but the single didn’t actually release until January of this year. Because of this, I’m counting it as fair game.
Babymetal is a fascinating group, combining racing metal riffs with the sweet, girlish tones of Japanese pop. Some people don’t seem to like the contrast between these two genres of music, but I find the combination absolutely enthralling. Their songs manage to be metal songs that I don’t hate, likely thanks to the lack of screaming vocals. Ijime, Dame, Zettai is a perfect example of what I love about this group: fast-paced and exciting instrumentation pared with cutesy singing and dancing. The video itself is absolutely ridiculous, especially the dramatic segments where the girls aren’t singing, but in the best way possible. Where else are you going to see a metal video where two young Japanese girls pretend to rock out guitar solos on guitars that are nearly as tall as they are? Babymetal delivers something I hadn’t even known I wanted, and I can’t get enough of it.
Also from Babymetal: Megitsune
4. Sara Sara – Spitz
Sara Sara is a nice change of pace from the rest of my list: a slow song with a fantastic lead singer and a pretty tune. It’s rare for me to latch onto songs that don’t feature a fast-paced, memorable riff or a pounding beat, but I loved this song from the first time I heard it. It’s such a beautiful song that it makes me wish I understood Japanese better so I could interpret what was being said (looking up the lyrics is cheating!). Even still, I do my best to hum/sing along when I can follow it well enough to do so. The video isn’t anything special, just featuring the band playing in a recording studio. I like this choice, though, because it puts the focus on the song itself. This also means it’s one of those songs that I can enjoy no matter how I’m listening to it, video or no video.
3. Galaxy Supernova – Girls’ Generation
For those of you who aren’t aware, Girls’ Generation is a predominately Korean pop group (the first KPOP group I ever heard, in fact). In the last year, however, Girls’ Generation has shifted to a heavy focus on Japanese songs instead, expanding into a new market. For those fans of their Korean work, it’s been fairly depressing to go nearly a year without a new Korean release.
I almost didn’t want to include Galaxy Supernova on my list out of some silly grudge, but there was no way in hell I couldn’t. It’s such an energetic and catchy pop song that WILL get stuck in your head no matter how hard you try (helped by the easy-to-remember chorus). Even though the song is in Japanese, it features that intensity and instrumentation found more commonly in Korean pop songs. It demands your attention and pounds in your ears in a way that most Japanese songs seem to rarely match. Sadly, the video doesn’t quite match up, especially when compared to older Girls’ Generation videos. The choreography is superb as always, but it all takes place in a very static area with no cuts to other shots. Watch some of their Korean videos like I Got a Boy or Gee and you’ll wonder how this video came out so plain. Even with the flat video, Galaxy Supernova has to be called one of the best pieces of JPOP this year.
2. Mottai Night Land – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
I didn’t really like Mottai Night Land when I first heard it (like most Kyary songs). It sounded grating and plain and nearly made me discard it as anything worth listening to a second time. I persevered, however, because I knew that it would grow on me. Each subsequent listen, however, drove it deeper and deeper into my brain, wrapping its creepy tentacles around the pleasure centers found within. Kyary’s cutesy voice and ear-pleasing cadences combine with the enjoyable composition to create a song that I have listened to many more times than I’d like to admit. If you don’t like it at first, I advise you to give it at least a second listen; you may find yourself liking it after all. The video is just as creative, colorful, and batshit crazy as her other videos. I could point out the crazier moments, but it’s really something you just have to see to understand. Enjoy your pop-infused Kyary nightmares!
Also from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: Invader, Invader
1. Magic of Love & Sweet Refrain – Perfume
Try as I might, I could not get this down to a single song. Perfume is easily my favorite J-pop group, combining electronic and pop in a style that I can’t get enough of. Every new release from them brings me untold excitement and happiness, nearly bringing me to squeals of joy. I just could not decide on only one of their fantastic songs from this year, instead settling on a tie between two.
Magic of Love is such a fantastic song. I could listen to it for hours straight and not get tired of it. It’s easy to sing along to, even with my lackluster Japanese skills, and the composition is magical (pun not intended). I can’t really explain why I enjoy it so much, but it perfectly tickles all the pleasure centers in my brain, turning me into a giggling idiot every time I hear it. If I had to pick my favorite song across all types of music for the year, it would be this song. The video is pretty great too, featuring a colorful set and superb choreography: you won’t find another group that manages to dance in sync as well as these three girls.
Sweet Refrain, on the other hand, is a creative masterpiece, easily putting the video for Magic of Love to shame. The layers it has and the time it must have taken to craft the video are mind-boggling to think about. Every time I watch it, I notice something I had missed in previous viewings and am that much more impressed by the whole thing. The girls manage to impressively line up their dance moves and positioning even with the variety of shots and styles. They are also absolutely stunning in their outfits. I really enjoy the song too (just not as much as Magic of Love!). Perfume has an excellent composer who melds the pop vocals and beat with the wubby synth of an electronic song perfectly. It just isn’t quite as endorphin-releasing as Magic of Love.
As you can see, there was no way in hell I could make this choice. Both of these songs, and videos, are extraordinary. It’s no surprise to me that Perfume managed to not only top my list but did it twice! I can’t wait to see what my favorite group has in store for 2014!
Also from Perfume: 1mm