Friday night Oricon (April 05, 2010)

An every Friday in a while look at the weekly Oricon Top Twenty Singles Chart.

East Asians love their ballads almost as much as they do their boy bands. Not power ballads, mind you, nor the restrained acoustic nonchalance that marks alternative, in case you didn’t start weeping yet here are some violins by way of example ballads, but the R&B trilling of rising cymbals and xylophone scales that appears twice as often as Ayumi Hamasaki channels Madonna.  Newcomers to East Asian pop may be just as disappointed as longtime fans who should know better to find the beat-driven lead single off a new album to be the only song of its kind among the dozen other tracks that feature vocal arias and a piano solo. Take for example S.H.E’s new album SHERO where the first two tracks are fit for any Top 40 and further push the techno rock repertoire the Taiwanese trio has cultivated since their inception, while the rest of the album aims for Korean drama territory, the type where someone lies dying of a terminal illness while family members watch on in guilt and sadness.

Girl and boy bands are particularly susceptible, maybe because they have a reputation of catering amour via lullabies to their young male or female fans or maybe just because they have enough people to make some interesting harmonies. Regardless, all of the cliches are present in the video for this week’s number one Oricon single, Tohoshinki’s “Toki wo Tomete“: dolorous colors in tan, black, off-black, dark black, beige, and gray, imploring gazes with overwrought lip-synching, faces crumpling as if physical torture is being leveled off camera, crazy-wide, but gentle!, arm gestures, and of course, a love interest. That the entire video takes place in a planetarium only highlights the crucial cosmically devotional aspect in case the lyrics weren’t helping. “Sometimes even little tiny things make me want to cry” they sing. Hear that ladies: These sensitive dudes need your love. Never mind that one single ago, they held the keys to their future and anything was possible: nothing is possible unless your “hearts sparkle as one.”

If boy bands aren’t your thing this week, SKE48 are here to set your rooftop plaid fantasies to life with the equally traditional J-pop chart topper complete with trumpet and average choreography. Arashi hold on to the chart at number five with “Troublemaker” (perhaps a future article entitled “J-pop Graveyard” will better sum up my feelings about this). Newcomer this week, Miliyah’s “BYE BYE,” a mid-tempo road trip reminiscent of Mika Nakashima, offers the most potential in the top ten, even with its dramatic photo-flying montage. With the inclusion of #11-20, this week’s Oricon chart covers all of its perennial bases: anime character songs, boy bands, girl bands, the rocker’s aging comeback, the indie-spirational chick, even some visual kei. But with no exceptions to the rules, this week is about as exciting as watching five young spirit-men serenade an oblivious human woman.


Friday night Oricon (August 17, 2009)

An every Friday in a while look at the weekly Oricon Top Twenty Singles Chart.

Summer has always been the de facto best music release season; there’s just something about warm weather that motivates the song writers of so many idol groups. Indeed, in Japan it brings nothing less than shame to an artist who dare not release a ballad or something of sentimental value during the winter, and so it is The Summer Single that I anticipate to effectively wash away the grime of winter coats and snow boots that still cling like crusted salt to less than warm springs.

But though I admittedly enjoy the riff after the chorus, B’z’s “Ichibu to Zenbu”/”DIVE” (#1) is pretty unfulfilling. I’m tempted to play the irrelevance card, or even the age card, but the fact is that you really aren’t ever too old to rock, there just comes a point when you stop doing it as well. Let’s put it this way: if I went to see B’z play live, I would politely tolerate “DIVE” so I could hear “Easy Come, Easy Go” and “BAD COMMUNICATION.” And so it goes.

This is the second week EXILE’s “THE HURRICANE ~FIREWORKS~” (#6) is on the charts, and listening to it again only solidifies my opinion that this song had a lot of potential before something went horribly awry. The whole traditional Japanese instruments against a contemporary beat is a bit overdone in the frenzied, happi-wearing, Japanese  masturi summer, but it’s a conceit I don’t hate as long as it’s done well (a personal favorite is 10nin Matsuri’s “Dancing! Natsu Matsuri!” – and by the way, I just watched that PV for the first time ever today and I feel really embarrased for them). I don’t necessarily hate EXILE, but it’s worth noting that they have released thirty-one singles and I have liked zero of them.

Speaking of zero, that’s how much potential GIRL NEXT DOOR has. There’s a sort of euro-dance vibe to “Be your wings” (#4) but the song is fatally flat. This group is relatively new, but as cool the PV was, I’m not holding out for anything spectacular.

I do like Alice Nine’s “Hana” (#8), though there is something desperately abingdon boys school about it. I haven’t listened to much Alice Nine since a few years ago and it’s kind of like, where did the VK go? I mean, the song is so tame, it’s almost housetrained. While suits don’t make guitar solos sound better, they do make you look classy in ways leather shorts and checkered uber-belts can’t, especially if you’re singing in front of a really large staircase on some old-timey estate. Even so, it’s like Sherlock Holmes without a pipe, or Joseph Chamberlain without a monocle; something’s just missing, you know?

On that note, my favorite single on the chart this week is STRAIGHTENER’s “CLONE” (#15). I’m not going to pretend that I’ve ever heard anything by this band before, because I haven’t, but this song is more than adequate. There’s something about the way the insistent drums belie the overall melancholy state that made me do a double-take. The guitars are a bit much, but it’s still the greatest song ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION couldn’t pull it together to write in the past three years. It may not have been the summer jam I was expecting, but at least it doesn’t rely on past glories or a gimmick.

Friday night Oricon (May 25, 2009)

An every Friday in a while look at the weekly Oricon Top Twenty Singles Chart.

If I were a Morning Musume fan, I might enjoy the banality of “Shouganai Yume Oibito” (#1), but since I’m not, the appears-approved track of the week is Mika Nakashima’s “Over Load” (#8); not because it’s particularly good, but because my diligent observation of the charts for the past six weeks has indicated how poor songs on the chart actually are; to personally rate a song higher than three on a five scale has become cause for joy. Increasingly, I’m becoming sensitive to rating within context: this song is less bad than that other bad song.

Kaela Kimura and her giant sweater-clad back-up dancers spend their second week in the top twenty with BANZAI (#18), a cute, late 90’s rocker grrrl track. THE ALFEE prove they are (barely) still alive! with single Sakura no Mi no Jukusuru Toki (#6); their appearance on May 8’s Music Station was like a sadly unironic aping of The Darkness (I’m referring to the glass-guitar wielding, pink-bell-bottom wearing, auburn-tressed vocalist) that was equal parts disturbing as it was embarassing. w-inds.’s are #2 with Rain Is Fallin’, a combination of pop, 80’s nostalgia, and Hammer time! fashion. JUJU’s low-key piano duet Ashita ga Kurunara is still in the top ten for the third week (and finally growing on me), which includes a cover of “The Rose.” Other covers include Hyde of L’arc~en~ciel’s side project VAMPS attempting Bowie’s “Life on Mars” on EVANESCENT (#4) and Kiyoharu’s “HELLO, I LOVE YOU” on Kurutta Kajitsu (#10) . All covers are, if not terrible, unnecessary.

Mika Nakashima’s single Over Load is the most entertaining of the singles this week, mostly because it’s surprising; from her role in the feature film Nana, to every pedestrian single she has released since 2001, Nakashima has been the shoulder to cry on when insomnia strikes. On her first number one single she says, “I was really surprised at first, but I assumed that that was the way it is, because I really knew nothing at all.” Which says nothing about anything. Just like this single, that I didn’t instantly hate. Again, I’m learning to judge within the system. It’s not easy.