Next week on November 13th, 2013, FujiTV’s mega-idol group is having a simultaneous single release for the main group as well as the debut single of the brand new sub-group, Idoling!!! NEO, and to make the release more interesting, the producers stated this to be a literal battle between the two. The conditions are that the group who gets the highest rank on the Oricon chart for their upcoming single wins the contest, and the loser will have an episode dedicated to a punishment game on the Idoling!!! TV show following the results.

For this project, all of the 6th generation members became “Idoling NEO,” and 4th generation’s strongest members, #23 Ito Yuuna and #25 Goto Kaoru, were both transferred to NEO to support the new girls. The main group’s single excludes all NEO members and keeps the name simply as “Idoling!!!” This also marks the first time Idoling!!! has had an official sub-group release since 2009, when they separated the group into  Tokimeki Idoling!!! and PuyoPuyo Idoling!!! for their dual video game tie-in singles “Te no Hira no Yuki” and “Love Magic Fever,” respectively.

The main Idoling!!! group’s single is titled “Shout!!!” and is a high-energy, high-speed rock song, bordering on a heavy metal style, where Idoling NEO’s single, “MeroMero” is a lively electronic dance number with some catchy, pop-oriented passages and stylish dancing. The polar opposite styles for the two singles was a good move, giving some diversity to the listeners instead of having the groups compete the exact same style, and both styles fit the group they’re written for very well.

We’ll take a look at these releases one by one to see how they compare with each other.

Idoling Shout

First up is “Shout!!!” by the main Idoling!!! group. Here’s the PV:

Song Review:

“Shout!!!” starts with a fast, distorted bass guitar riff, and soon the drums and wailing electric guitar jump in with a high tempo, kicking you in the face right from the start. It soon settles into the verse, driven by a fast, thrashy punk beat on the drums with some heavy guitars kicking in occasionally to drive it forward, and after a few measures, the guitars kick in full force until the pre-chorus arrives.

The pre-chorus is short and sweet, quickly leading us to the chorus, and to kick off the chorus, right at the end of the pre-chorus, #14 Sakai Hitomi belts out a scream at the top of her lungs while the rest of the song goes silent; a perfect lead-in to the strong, hard-hitting chorus. The chorus features rapid-fire group vocals that fit the tempo and pace perfectly, and have a fun melody that still has tons of attitude and badass rock sound, not just your typical idol-rock chorus.

This brings me to another major point that I feel is fairly constant with almost all Idoling!!! music, that being the genuine feel of the songs and the authenticity they retain to the style they’re featuring within the song. The group has performed songs from most of the popular genres of music from all around the world, giving listeners a ton of diversity, but at the same time, they don’t just lightly feature these genre elements in the song and adapt them into a typical idol formula. They seem to go the other way around, building the song from the ground up as if an artist of that style would be the one performing it, then they adapt a few idol sensibilities here and there without losing the legitimate feel of the original style.

“Shout!!!” feels like a rock song that would be performed by a real rock artist, not just an idol song that was arranged with rock instruments, which is something rare in today’s idol market where more idols are trying their hand at rock or metal styles, and few groups are doing it right. They definitely got it right here.

Getting back to the song, the first post-chorus section is a repeat of the intro, but with the rhythm changed to be a heavier, more headbanging sound than in the intro, and it leads back into another verse/bridge/chorus pattern, when it then hits the interlude.

The interlude features riffs and progressions unique to the song so far, including a breakdown with palm-muted guitars and subdued drums, as well as a little more of an “idol” type melody, which shortly bursts back into full band and into another final chorus. The song finishes with a powerful ending with another lightning-speed guitar solo over the main intro riff, and a guitar-only finishing line based on the main riff.

Another thing I greatly appreciate about this song is the length (or lack thereof.) It seems far too common nowadays for idol music to use a ton of padding and drawn-out repeats of earlier sections to make the song unnecessarily longer (probably just to draw out more PV screen time…average idol song length seems about 4:30-5:30 anymore,) but this song clocks in at about 3:15, very short and to the point. The high tempo makes that 3 minutes feel like a lot longer while you’re listening, since so much is happening, and that’s how a good, concise songwriting effort should be.

The song is full of attitude and charm from start to finish, and keeps a legitimate heavy rock feel throughout, as well as not over-staying it’s welcome, and I don’t think there’s much they could’ve done better. I’ve already jammed out to this on my guitar a few times, and it seems to get more fun every time. It’s good to see the group recovering from their last few somewhat weaker singles with something fresh and full of impact.

Song: 5 out of 5

PV Review:

The PV for “Shout!!!” has just as much badass attitude as the song does, featuring the girls in hardcore rock outfits, all in black and red with chains, zippers, and metal all over them, making even the cutest girls have a solid “don’t mess with me” look from head to toe. There’s very little smiling going on in the video as well, which helps with the image overall. It doesn’t really come off as forced, and fits the song like a glove, thankfully avoiding being just another typical idol video with ear-to-ear smiles for the whole thing, as well as avoiding the corny acting that populates a good amount of modern idol PVs.

They even threw in a bunch of headbanging and rocking out with guitars and standup microphones for good measure, as if you doubted how much they could kick your ass from the outfits and stern facial expressions. The video production and lighting is very well-done, and they used a lot of bold, striking text appearing on screen with the lyrics from time, which adds a lot of visual impact without being distracting, much like their PV for last year’s “One Up!!!” This is up there as one of my favorite PVs from the group so far, for style and substance.

PV: 5 out of 5

Idoling Neo

Now, moving on to Idoling NEO’s single “MeroMero,” which is the debut effort not only for the group itself, but also for most of the girls in the group, since five of them are brand new and have never been involved in a release before. Here’s the PV (1080 HD recommended)

Song Review:

The song is a somewhat standard idol dance song, but with a strong arrangement, starting off with a quiet intro, with softly spoken repeats of “crazy love” by each member, going in order of Sato Rena, Furuhashi Mayu, Ito Yuuna, Hashimoto Ruka, Seikya Mayu, Sato Michaela, and Goto Kaoru, for those unfamiliar with the group. The vocals are backed up by a faded synth, some tight percussion effects, and the layered acoustic guitar found throughout the whole song.

Once the verse starts, we’re introduced to the hard dance beat that continues through most of the song. The verse also furthers the premise from the intro, which is the emphasis on solo singing throughout, which makes sense, given the relatively small number of girls here.

The verse features a solid chord progression driven by quick acoustic guitar strumming and jumpy dance percussion, accented with some high electronic synths. Each girl gets their own part during the verse, so you get a good idea of what their singing timbre sounds like for the first time.

The pre-chorus follows, with a somewhat common and very chant-able “idol” progression where the rhythm section slows down to highlight the dance steps and create a build-up for the chorus. If you’ve ever listened to idol music before, you’ll know what to expect here.

The chorus naturally follows, with some very quick vocal patterns, similar to how the “Shout!!!” chorus starts, with repeated lines in rapid succession. This is also where the group vocals start for the first time, and it takes some of the pressure off of the individual girls, who were all going completely solo up to this point.

The infectiously catchy pop chorus progression flows well, and the heavy bass synth gets kicked into overdrive for this section, making it a more lively song than it has been so far, and this’ll probably be stuck in your head for a while after listening.

The structure repeats again until the dance break interlude that features some high synths over the rhythm from the chorus, almost what I’d call a “synth solo,” for the most part. The interlude feeds back into the chorus again, which has a build-up this time.

Everything eventually dies back down to the outro, which is almost the same as the intro, with the repeated “crazy love” parts, but it gets cut short this time around and ends with a whisper of the song title, “MeroMero.”

While this song doesn’t do anything groundbreaking and sticks to a pretty standard dance pop sound, the arrangement and songwriting is done well enough that its still quite enjoyable, just don’t expect any wheels to be re-invented.

I’ve heard the song compared to a K-pop sound, which I can see some small similarities too, but this doesn’t give me an overall K-pop vibe, since the synths and electronic elements aren’t at the forefront of the song, they’re mostly in the background while the organic-sounding guitar leads the mix, and there’s a wonderful lack of auto-tune compared to most K-pop productions.

My only real gripe with the song is the vocal production in a few parts, where the solo lines sound somewhat odd, but this isn’t really very surprising, given that five of them have never sang professionally before. These odd vocal recordings or performances don’t detract much from the song, they just prevent it from being a truly top-notch studio pop recording, and I have a feeling they’ll get much better at the singing as time goes on, as long as they keep NEO as a permanent group (which looks fairly likely.)

Goto and Sekiya’s vocals are definitely the strongest here when on their own, but this is pretty consistent with what we’ve heard from all of them so far, and the others aren’t terribly far behind, though they can still use some work.

On the subject of vocals, I also found it somewhat uncharacteristic of an idol production that there are absolutely no vocal backing tracks behind the solo parts and only very light backup vocals during the chorus. It leaves the solo parts sounding a little bare, especially since the girls are mostly inexperienced with vocal recording and performances and are still very young, but it still manages to sound quite good despite the lack of layered backing vocals. It almost seems like a bit of a risk in today’s idol production world to do this, but it definitely didn’t hurt them much, and I appreciate the effort.

Song: 4 out of 5

PV Review:

The PV for “MeroMero” is rather impressive in most respects and does a good job establishing the individuality of the members, with lots of close-ups and solo shots, all matched up with when they’re actually singing. The outfits were chosen well and there’s a lot of well-shot cinematic scenes and angles here, making it a fun watch.

The choreography also fits well, and the video zooms out to group shots at the right times to show the more synchronized and interesting dance steps. Not really anything to complain about besides a few of the close-ups feeling a little awkward and not quite matching the vocals, but not anything major. The video keeps things fairly simple in concept, but not simple enough that it gets boring.

PV: 4 out of 5

After all is said and done, I’d definitely have to say I like “Shout!!!” more than NEO’s effort, but they both have their own merits and are fun listens any way you look at it. It’ll be interesting to see how the contest between them ends up, and though I don’t think the new girls could possibly get more sales than the well-established main group, it’d be a pretty interesting turn of  events if they did.

Which one do you guys like more? I’m interested to hear some other opinions on these to see if NEO’s style fits some other people’s tastes a little more than mine. Please comment below to share or you can always contact me through Twitter! Don’t forget to cast your vote for the contest by buying the single of your choice:

Shout!!! Regular Edition

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Shout!!! DVD Version

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Shout!!! Blu-ray Version

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MeroMero Regular Edition

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MeroMero DVD Version

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MeroMero Blu-ray Version

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