Maki Goto’s “SWEET BLACK”

Maki Goto / SWEET BLACK / September 16, 2009
01. Queen Bee / 02. Lady-Rise / 06. Fly away

If there’s been one distinguishing shift in my listening modus operandi since music became a Thing, it’s been the subtraction of anticipation over forthcoming albums. Ever on the decline since the beginning of the 00’s, it’s become increasingly rare to listen to pop records without a) acknowledging that the pivotal single released prior to the album will be/is the best song on the record, and b) mentally fighting the urge to defend albums on behalf of my rockist soul. It’s not that I don’t care about new albums; I do, still, listen to new releases in their entirety, and I do, still, find a few here and there that have something to say that generally takes longer than four minutes, and then makes that experience enjoyable. But the majority of pop releases have tricked me into pre-hype long enough and I can no longer bother caring until I’ve actually heard something, a practice which has made Maki Goto’s new mini-album so much less disappointing.

I absolutely adored “Fly away” when it was released back in January, but I never expected anything else to come of it. I took it for what it was: one great song by one undistinguished artist. Though clearly a morale booster, there’s something melancholy about the whole thing, like Goto sang it without any context but a sole drum to keep the beat. If she was auditioning to become America’s Next Top J-pop Queen, she at least got to wear the crown for four minutes and thirty-nine seconds, after which it was less than gracefully revoked after “borrowing” music video concepts and hosting a DIY coronation ceremony, dubbing herself Queen Bee, like hey, I may not be the new J-pop Queen or even the Queen of Hip-Pop, but I do have the power to scare the shit out of most people and cause some minor swelling. And then die. But even the annoying rasps of BIGGA RAIJI can’t ruin how fun “Queen Bee” is at its best moments: the catchy “boom boom boom boom”s, the reggaeton beat which is only slightly dated. Really, those are the best moments.

But the rest of the album is only half-heartedly interesting. “Candy” is a fun track that has some great electric guitars for a harder pop sound, but then “Mine” hovers in the safe zone, while “Plastic Lover” completely takes shelter in the sort of soft frivolity Goto has always been cushioned in. The ballads are nameless, placeless tracks bereft of moxie. The album ends up being an unresolved issue, a dead metaphor that fails to meet all the interesting allusions to flight: the bees, the lyrics (“fly high,” “fly away,” “lady rise!”), the cover of the album that features butterflies and Goto draped in feathers. It’s like she was trying so hard to make this the album that would take off, that it ended up bogged down by performance fear and inefficient collaborating crutches; you really can’t fly if you’ve got a faulty SWEET BLACK cast on your wing anyway. Time to do some trimming.

Official Site

Maki Goto’s “Fly away” and BoA’s “Eien”

Maki Goto – Fly away / BoA – Eien

These are the coolest pop videos and songs I have seen and heard so far this year. “Fly away” is dynamic, with teeth, and even though the music video is not really edgy and it’s not even all that entertaining (no story line, no discernible context for the lyrics), it’s this conventionality that works in favor of, rather than against, the music. In a time when experimental drivel like MEG’S FREAK is coming out (and OK, I acknowledge and applaud the hypothesis, but I reject its aural conclusion), it’s the simple songs that seem most stimulating; “Fly away” and “Eien” use technology that compliments the genre, rather than bastardizes it.

In fact, “Eien” is almost quaint: boy meets girl, girl falls in love, boy shares text messages, boy breaks up with girl, girl cries. The sound comes from mid-90’s era R&B and the music video is much like Maki Goto’s: amazing, entertaining dance routines, set amid some useless shots of a somewhat, to not at all related backstory. BoA looks androgynous and pulls it off beautifully and even though the dancing is kind of a Michael Jackson rip-off, what isn’t? Plus, it lets BoA show off the extent of her skills. Now there are some major gender issues that make these music videos a tad repulsive (there’s the obviousness of Maki Goto, squirming around blindfolded on a bed, following by high-heeled thrusting, but then there’s the suited, crop-haired BoA, who makes this masculine image appealing only because despite the attempt, BoA is still portrayed as so goddamn feminine, it’s regressed to an almost condescending “cute” status), but they’re still entirely enjoyable as a whole; there’s real talent here, despite how the marketers are selling it.