Tomohisa Yamashita’s “YOU”

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Tomohisa Yamashita / YOU / October 08, 2014

Tomohisa Yamashita is either the greatest or worst experiment in current J-pop history. He’s one of those superstars that Johnny & Associates aren’t quite sure what to do with: on one hand, they want him to be the ideal J-pop heart throb, crooning mellow, buttery pop songs and indulging his fan club members (“Sweeties”) at every opportunity, whether by packaging his CDs with undergarments, or seductively unbuttoning his clothes on concert tours. On the other hand, he’s given the opportunity to release some of the most interesting electronic dance songs in J-pop, gems that are hidden away as B-sides that never see the light of an album release; yet we know the management company is aware of the treasure they’ve got, or else they wouldn’t be performed at every concert as if they were hit singles. Because of this, you can literally split Yamashita’s songs into two categories: typical Japanese pop, with a few R&B or Latin-inspired numbers, or heavily Western-influenced electropop. This has been the strategy since day one, when he released his first album, SUPERGOOD, SUPERBAD, a two disc set with the first featuring the former, and the second disc featuring the latter.

While I’m not too keen on the typical Johnny’s numbers, I will say they have grown on me, in the way that once you’ve decided you like somebody, you tend to be a lot more forgiving of his shortcomings. And I do like Yamapi, as he’s known to his fans — he doesn’t have the greatest voice or even a unique stage presence (a lot of his recent concepts, especially the 2013 A NUDE tour, have been inspired by/blatantly copied off of Michael Jackson, Johnny’s current obsession), but he is an incredible dancer and, whether or not he has much say in it, he is making a lot of bold choices in his discography. Are there really any genuinely popular, young male solo artists in Japan right now? And ones who, spur of the moment, apropos of nothing, release a limited edition dance EP with tracks produced by artists like Yasutaka Nakata and Shinichi Osawa? And then, as if remembering this is a member of Johnny’s, quickly following up with an album with zero trace of numbers like “Nocturne,” the amazing B-side to 2013’s meh SUMMER NUDE ’13? There really isn’t. Yamashita is the exception that underscores the rule that sticking to the playbook is what Japan believes is best.

And yet there’s an audible struggle here, between trying to please the young girls and their moms who spent years supporting Yamapi when he was in NEWS and appearing in countless dramas, and a performance artist trying to appeal to a wider, less niche audience. YOU, as almost all of Yamashita’s full-length albums, is a case of the former. Yamashita dedicated this album to his fans and the album is fittingly full of appeals and petty declarations to pretty girls in his more suave avatar (“Birthday Suit,” “Issho,” and “BRODIAEA”). There’s also a couple of rock and upbeat pop numbers, but overall, YOU is catchy and safe, the type of album with melodies so simple, you can start humming them after a single listen.

It appears as though Yamashita’s team will continue to release two types of music for the artist, either perpetually testing out the waters, or else just letting their star indulge in something he wants to do once in a while. It’s fairly doubtful that he would be willing to let go of his steady fan base for less lucrative, but perhaps more self-fulfilling, career choices, but it’ll never hurt to keep one eye on this guy at all times. Depending on which Yamapi camp you spend nights roasting your fantasy marshmallows in, this could be your new favorite album, or one you’ll find a lot more interesting once you see it performed live; it’ll certainly carry the less apologetic fans over until the next “LOVE CHASE” or Asobi. For those of us, it can’t come fast enough.

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8 thoughts on “Tomohisa Yamashita’s “YOU”

  1. You can call me Zer0 (@GKZer0) October 20, 2014 / 3:29 pm

    I honestly have a very very hard time getting into Yamapi for the reasons you list. His discography feels like such a crapshoot, I never know if I’m gonna get a solidly produced, bold piece of badassery or a safe, run-of-the-mill piece of inoffensive background sound. Given his natural talents for dancing and making faces on the dark side of seductive, I would certainly prefer he stick with the western-style electropop, but JE’s typically Japanese conservatism would never allow a 100% shift of that nature, even if it did mean a far more cohesive product.

    Meh. 😛

    • appearsdx October 22, 2014 / 10:04 am

      I have to agree, I don’t think they’re going to let him go full-on into either genre completely, though I’m not sure how much they’re accomplishing with the current strategy. It would be very interesting to see which songs fans overall prefer.

  2. unavis October 21, 2014 / 8:57 pm

    An interesting read. Thanks for giving a possibility for a discussion.

    I, on the contrary, really like this album. (Earlier this year, I didn’t even know Tomohisa existed.) And to tell you the truth, not because it appeals to me as a fan girl who’s dreaming of getting laid, excuse my language. (Perhaps if I was still 15…) I find that it’s close to what I would call “his” music. (Not to mention the fact that it’s the most cohesive album he’s got, and I’m glad I got it now and not several years later.) I think it fits him when it comes to his vocals, and I would like to hear an acoustic version of several songs, which is another reason why I like the material on this record: I’ve got a feeling it would sound nice that way. Now, an acoustic concert won’t happen, not in this lifetime, but a girl can dream… 😉

    I do like the melodies on this one, which is something that doesn’t necessarily have to do with how catchy they are. (“Hello” on “Asobi” is catchy, imho, but I don’t like it music-wise.)

    Aaaand I did like three tracks from “Asobi” as well, already from the previews. (“Dress Code”, “Moon Disco”, and “Mysterious”. They are in the same category as “Birthday Suit”, by the way, with regard to appeals. At least, that’s how I perceive it.)

    I guess part of it depends on your/mine/anybody’s own musical taste, and that’s totally fine. (There are things that, in my opinion, he shouldn’t have done at all. Never again. For example, “Shiver”.)

    PS.: I would also disagree with you on “Brodiaea” ’cause I don’t consider it a song for the masses. But then again, the masses might not like what I like.

    • unavis October 21, 2014 / 9:03 pm

      Oh, and if I may, I would like to ask you the following question. So, you have all these songs to choose from. Taking that into consideration, what your version of an album would look like? Which songs are the bold choices you’re talking about? (I understand that “Nocturne” is one of those.) I didn’t quite catch that, so could you be more specific? What would an ideal (next to ideal, next to next-to-ideal) Yamashita Tomohisa’s album look like, from your point of view?

      Thanks.

      • appearsdx October 22, 2014 / 10:01 am

        Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate your thoughts on this! I think my ideal Yamapi album was already released…and that would be disc 2 of SUPERGOOD, SUPERBAD, which has an overall upbeat dance-pop sound to it. Those are the songs I really prefer. Like I said, the more mellow R&B and J-pop stuff has definitely grown on me with time, and YOU is an album that I do like, regardless of not including any songs like “Nocturne” (which, even if they were on this album, would halt the flow if all the other tracks were the same). I guess I just think it’s interesting that they’re giving him two very different types of music and also separating them on different albums, almost like they want him to have two different careers. It’s a fascinating approach, and I don’t think preferring one over the other diminishes someone’s status as a fan. But overall, yeah, I would definitely like to see another album full of songs like “Candy,” “LOVE CHASE,” “Nocturne,” “Hit the Wall,” “Turn Off the Lights,” etc.

        Thanks again!

        • unavis October 22, 2014 / 11:00 am

          Ok, gotcha. Thanks for answering! I appreciate it.

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