predia’s “Kindan no MASQUERADE”

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It’s hard to compete with E-girls, who are one of the best J-pop groups we have right now (that the biggest influence on E.G. CRAZY/”E.G. COOL” is 1990’s Janet Jackson, makes it all the better), but I’m slowly warming to predia. They’re striving to have the same kind of edge without the benefit of distinctive and well-known individuals in their group — and the word individual is important here; we can instantly pick out faces and personalities like Ami, Reina Washio, and YURINO (or at least, personalities as they’ve been sold to us), but does a casual fan know any of the members of predia? The latter functions more like a collective unit than E-girls does, and its telling that an inability to connect with the group on any level other than superficial is mostly because none of the members stands out as more talented, or particularly interesting, than any other. I’m sure more enthusiastic fans beg to differ. Furthermore, because predia doesn’t have the advantage of sub units, like E-girls’s conjoining of dream, Happiness, Flower, etc., there’s less chance to see different sides of any of the members in other iterations.

Still, predia functions along much of the same ideology: a tougher, more-than–just-idols group (Avex would call them a “dance group,” I guess) that is built to increasingly appeal to female fans rather than male ones. It’s part of what I like about them so much. The other part is their music, which in a bid to compete against a group like E-girls, increases the chances that they’ll come out with something I like. Their new single “Kindan no MASQUERADE” is a great example of the type of aggressive pop that has become their hallmark. It’s nowhere in the realm of the funky-dance and cool that a group like E-girls now pulls off backwards and in heels, but there’s a studied skill and sharp attention to detail in the choreography, and the absence of a make-believe coyness, the sugar-coma levels of cute of a group and song like, say, Country Girls’ new “Peanut Butter Jelly Love.” They’re essentially incomparable, is what I’m saying, an instant plus.

I doubt that any one member of predia will eventually make inroads like former label-mates PASSPO☆ did, but it’s an appreciated alternative, and if their producers can break through the business-as-usual pop songs to release something that transcends their niche among the more mature sounds of groups like Da-iCE (say, a “Pink Champagne” or “E.G. Anthem“), they might prove some staying power beyond what anyone could easily estimate as their shelf-life. And hey, E-girls aren’t perfect either: they could take some tips on ways to fit all the girls on a jacket sleeve without resorting to terrible Photoshop templates.

Top ten albums of 2015, #8: E-girls’ E.G. TIME

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egirlsappE-girls: E.G. TIME

So here we are. The 2015 J-pop magnum opus. The album that quietly dropped on the very first day of the year and still beat out hundreds of other J-pop albums to make this list. You’re not going to find any surprises on E.G. TIME: this is unadulterated dance music, Avex Trax-style, with elements of idol pop’s optimism and verve, touches of trendy EDM showers, and the conspicuous vowels of Japanese punctuated by American words and phrases. It’s an update on 2014’s COLORFUL POP, tweaking the tracks for the ultimate frenetic dance-pop, a brand that EXILE does more or less successfully. It’s a massive girl-group firing on all cylinders, optimizing their key members for optimum vocals and choreography. The album comes charging in with singles “E.G. Anthem -WE ARE VENUS-” and “Mr. Snowman;” they’re no “RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~” but for mood-setting, you can’t get closer to this album’s raison d’etre. Add in a chunky Yasutaka Nakata production, a cover song, several other successful tie-in singles, and the album closes with some merciless reminders of how E-girls have pretty much always been this good, even if it took you this long to notice.

Limited editions of this album also come bundled with footage from E-girls LIVE TOUR 2014 “COLORFUL LAND,” one of the best concerts to be released this year: the opening performance of “RYDEEN” is still the most exciting cold open I’ve experienced all year, and possibly this decade, since Ayumi Hamasaki’s DOME TOUR 2001 A, with it stratospheric production value. It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching a concert performance in a long, long time: COLORFUL LAND is packed with costumes, color, movement, and the crackling exuberance of a group of girls who look seriously thrilled to be doing what they’re doing for their audience.

2015 was the year E-girls proved you can no longer write them off as just another double-digit girl-group cash cow. Any misconceptions you have about pop music from Japan are finally put to rest on E.G. TIME; it’s a vibrant and unique approach to pop that can’t be replicated by anyone else, anywhere else.