“Rain Is Fallin'” didn’t exactly set any new rules, nor was it a game-changing single – that would be the preceding single Everyday, w-inds.’s first single to sell more than 60,000 units since 2005. The problem was falling back on the time-honored winter ballad, a perennial cease and desist in the midst of bombing singles. As the 00’s round the corner and Korean pop bands begin their surge for Japanese chart dominance, many bands are realizing they can’t beat ’em and so choose to join ’em: in May, w-inds. teamed up with G-Dragon of Big Bang for “Rain Is Fallin'”, another one of those 80’s throwbacks to shutter shades and wayfarers. But it did the boys good: not only were they back on the media radar (and finally allowed a few guest television appearances by the almighty Johnny), but they were on my radar at all. To speculate whether or not the single would have done as well without G-Dragon is a disservice; like “New World,” the song is all Keita Tachibana, a figure so heralded that even a specially composed song by American R&B artist Ne-Yo only cuts it as the second track.
Tachibana’s talents as the leader of the group are never more apparent than in “New World”‘s PV, a mix of swanky choreography, classy wardrobes, and Chuck Bass inspired smirks. Though the song is heavily techno-influenced, it’s all borrowed for pop purposes without alluding to any of the usual techno casualties that made “Rain Is Fallin'” a trendy throwback instead of innovation. Tachibana may have won a prize for the best blog in 2006, but his real talents lie in popping, locking, and b-boying, and what he lacks in strong vocals, he makes up for in charm, something the other two members desperately seek in their respective vehicle songs (cue “Truth ~Saigo no Shinjitsu~”). But perhaps more importantly, the titular song strays far from the winter ballad mold, smartly setting the group apart from other charting singles.
If 2009 is any indication of Western hip hop artists appealing on behalf of “discovered” talents (see: Kanye West, Mr Hudson), then even Japanese groups, hugely popular all over Asia but virtually unknown in the West, aren’t immune; Ne-Yo composed “Truth ~Saigo no Shinjitsu~” after recognizing the band’s “musical potential,” as if they have culled a decade of popularity based on “potential” alone. As testament to the fallible approach, “Truth” is the least enjoyable of the single. Two other tracks, “Fighting For Love” and “Tribute,” the former which features a healthy violin line, and the latter which is a close approximation of a “Rain Is Fallin'” outtake, are both chorus-heavy, the type of radio-friendly songs that make instant hits. And instant hits are exactly what Japanese pop bands will need in the following decade, a time we’ll see extra effort to maintain domestic sales. Several artists aren’t slated to make the cut, but you can be sure w-inds. will be if they manage to continue their upward slope of relevant material in hopes of breaking out of the Johnny’s mold and finally writing a few rules of their own.