This week signals a unique moment in Idoling!!! history, as their first solo artist, Yokoyama Rurika, releases her debut single. After 7 years in the industry, Idoling!!! management felt it the right time to finally unleash their performers as solo artists, and have already announced two solo debuts this year (the other being the group’s leader, Endo Mai, debuting in July.) Rurika hits the scene this week with her strong, unique voice and fresh, high-profile production on her solo debut “Walk My Way.”

As a preface, the song is produced, written and arranged by Maeyamada Kenichi (better known as Hyadain) who has become the biggest J-pop music producer in Japanese music over the last 5 years, writing and arranging dozens of popular anime themes as well as being the biggest music contributor for Stardust Production’s Momoiro Clover Z and Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku. He’s also known for producing and writing music for Koharu Kusumi, AKB48, Oshima Mai, YuiKaori, Denpagumi.inc and a host of other artists from across the Japanese music spectrum, including many solo releases of his own.

This song employs Hyadain’s signature classical-inspired compositions, with 8-bar passages, odd time signatures and playful, dynamic rhythms, molded into a fun, energetic J-pop arrangement. He has become known for his flexibility and eclectic style among J-pop producers, and this release definitely uses that talent to the fullest extent.

In addition to his trademark style of progressive J-pop, this song, like many of Hyadain’s, was written with the artist’s unique vocal timbre, range, and voice quality in mind, and custom-made to fit her personality and image. Hyadain commented that Rurika is easily one of the top 3 vocalists he has ever recorded with, and said that her high ability as a singer pushed him to change his ideas of what he wanted from the song, even during the recording sessions, to get the most out of what she could do, even letting her make some of the decisions on improvisational vocal changes, which recording takes to use, and let her do all her own backing vocals for the tracks. Once the song starts, you’ll instantly hear what he’s talking about. Lets take a closer look at the song.

Here’s the full song and PV: 

The song starts with a jazzy, upbeat, piano-heavy intro and some very vibrant, high vocal notes accompanying it. From the second the song starts, we get an idea of what we’re in for and get to hear the powerful, emotive singing voice Ruri has cultivated in her years as a performer, as the whole song is sung with a strong volume, regardless of where the notes fit on the musical scale. We also quickly see how much of a central part the layered piano is going to play in the entire instrumental.

After the quick intro, we come to the main lead melody, with her voice accompanying a short lead guitar lick, mostly vocalizing and mimicking the notes the guitar belts out, with the resulting sound being a beautiful mesh of human voice and brilliantly toned guitar. After the short establishment of melody, we move on to the verse, where the tone of the song takes a 180 degree turn.

With the start of the verse, we switch to a more serious, mature, cool, and slightly dark passage, using much lower notes than the previous passages we’ve heard so far, and temporarily losing some of its previous cheerfulness. This section is mostly powered by the strong piano notes, and plays with the rhythm a bit. Here, we also hear the first of Hyadain’s usual, abundant piano fills that make these passages so much more than just a few boring chords in succession. His fills give these passages a sense of movement and flow, bringing the songwriting to life, while giving an aural feast of lush, layered piano along with the rest of the standard band arrangement of guitar, bass, and percussion.

The verse being in a lower range gives a wonderful sense of build-up to the song, letting it rise in pitch and composition as the song unfolds, with the pre-chorus following next, where we get a change in the rhythm and tons more gorgeous piano fills along with the cheerful feel from the earlier sections making a slight return. After the hopeful, ascending pre-chorus, we finally burst into the chorus where we get back to the bright sound from earlier.

The chorus is unique to the song so far, and is a culmination of everything that we’ve heard previously, using lots of piano fills, lively and high vocal notes, and a elaborate composition. The chorus is a fitting climax to the rest of the song, switching to a fun, disco-style dance beat for its running time, before heading right back to the intro section with more extensive vocalizing and soaring guitar leads.

The song repeats the whole structure up to this point one more time (with some added guitar and piano embellishment) before heading into the instrumental break/guitar solo. The break introduces yet another unique progression behind it that hasn’t been used yet, with a short, jazzy guitar solo to lead back into the final chorus (not without a few surprises and changes to the vocal melody) and final repeat of the intro, doubling as the closing.

Overall, this release is one of the best possible ways to introduce a solo artist to the world, with a strong, vibrant tune that has close attention paid to the singer’s personal character traits and strengths as a performer. This is something Hyadain has done very well in the past with artists like ex-AKB48 Oshima Mai, with her debut solo release being a great reflection of her personality in musical form.

“Walk My Way” is also easily identifiable as a J-pop song, though it doesn’t sound specifically like an “idol” song, but fits more in line with what a mainstream artist would release. Hyadain commented on this aspect himself, saying that Ruri’s prowess as a professional singer transcends being “just another idol solo” and shouldn’t be taken as such.

Unfortunately, in today’s Japanese music scene, solo singers aren’t as popular as they have been in the past, as the recent “idol boom” has brought back the love and support for group artists, but with the power of this release, Rurika easily stands apart from the multitude of solo and group artists in the industry today, and hopefully she can make an impact on the music world outside of idol fans.

Song: 5 out of 5

As a quick note about the PV, I’m glad they went with a more mainstream kind of PV instead of just making a generic idol PV full of tropes. They kept it very simple and appropriate to the song, showing her in different walks of life, not just dancing around like a typical idol. She’s not a little kid anymore, and I’m glad they’re focusing on her mature image so much, by showing her going to her many different jobs (which she actually has,) and hanging out with friends.  I love the color composition and style throughout the video, with a lot of location changes, outdoor tracking shots, and a few close-ups thrown in for variety. It isn’t the most exciting or creative thing we’ve ever seen, but much better-produced than most idol-related videos, and very appropriate for the type of music.

PV: 4 out of 5

The different versions of the single also include a number of B-side tracks ranging from contemporary folk-rock to mid-tempo ballads, showing how her voice can perform with a multitude of different song styles and arrangements (all with great results,) and giving a little bit of variety for everyone.

If you like what you hear and see, head over to your retailer of choice and pick up a copy of this special moment in Idoling!!! history and support a stand-out artist from an idol background!

Related Links:

Yokoyama Rurika Wiki Entry (Generasia)

Rurika’s Official Blog (Japanese)

RCA/Victor official Rurika Artist Profile (Japanese)

Walk My Way (Regular A)

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Walk My Way (Regular B)

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Walk My Way (Limited A)

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Walk My Way (Limited B)

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