Shirobako

Some of the Selective Hearing have gathered to answer a few questions about the year in music as it relates to us. As always, the opinions expressed are those of the participants and they do not necessarily reflect those of the other staff and/or our partners/affiliates.

Legend

KM – Kelly-Mae
G – Greg
H – Hannah
A – Allen
T – ToZ

Year End Questionnaire

Namie Amuro retired on September 16, 2018. What do you believe her biggest impact was on J-Pop?

G: It’s hard to say what Amuro’s biggest impact on J-Pop is since she’s done so much in her career. For me I would say her chameleon-like nature to update her look and sound to fit with the times are a good example for other artists to follow.

While she was never the greatest singer (IMO) she at least managed to keep herself relevant with interesting concepts and music avoiding the pitfall of becoming the aging star whose best days were behind her.

H: Her biggest impact is probably her status as a time traveling chameleon. Seriously, she blended in perfectly with the times, not particularly altering things in any direction but acting as a conduit for existing trends to become mainstream, whether it was with the gyaru of the late 90s or hip, quasi-K-pop sounding songs to break into the mainstream in the middle 2000s.

A: I agree with everyone else, she was just consistently good at adapting and trying new genres and concepts. She was one of the big names to go tour outside of Japan while her contemporaries mainly stayed in the homeland. She even earned the nickname of the Japanese Madonna because of her evolving persona.

Personally, I always think of the ending theme of Inuyasha that she did called “Come.” Man, that got me hooked to her vocals and just made me addicted to the anime even more.

T: Even during the times it felt like she couldn’t keep up or she was done, she was always there to prove us wrong. It’s going to be weird to move into the 2020’s without her. 

Is there an upcoming or established female artist who could fill the void she left behind?

KM: Probably Suzuki Airi, if only for her popularity. Maybe that’s just me, though.

G: Nishino Kana is the first person that comes to my mind. I don’t know who else is close to the level of being that kind of pop star right now so I’m drawing a blank on anyone else. Yes, I’m pretty sure that is a shitty answer to this question.

H: Plenty of other chameleons exist, chief among them the likes of Shiina Ringo or Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Ayumi Hamasaki and Hikaru Utada returned with new music in 2018. Whose output did you like more and why?

G: I liked Hamasaki’s album a lot more than Utada’s. I just found it more easily accessible compared to the artsy fartsy stuff that Utada has done since Fantome.

H: n/a, because they both were forgettable and should probably retire.

T: It’s sad that neither of their outputs I can recall. 

Which long tenured Japanese pop idol diva will be the next to drop the mic and retire?

G: Either Ayumi Hamasaki or Kumi Koda should be next to drop that mic. It would depend on when the former goes completely deaf or if the latter just becomes more irrelevant over time.

H: There’s plenty that I would like to retire but probably won’t. I’m not even going to bother guessing.

A: I will also side with Hamasaki. I have a feeling we will here more people’s love for Utada in the next year following the release of Kingdom Hearts 3.

T: Hamasaki deserves her victory lap. 

Do you still listen to mainstream Japanese idol music? If so what acts have managed to keep you hooked this year?

KM: Of course i still listen to it! What sort of person do you take me for? And generally, Houkago Princess, Keyakizaka46, =LOVE and a few more have kept me hooked for a good chunk of the year. I really enjoyed the generic sound the year had to offer, at least.

G: I have been slowly reducing my intake of 48 music as it has gotten rather stale as the group turns itself over to the newer generations. I am more in the 46 camp (mainly Nogizaka) at the moment as they still feel fresh to my ears compared to the countless 48 groups.

Momoclo has also started to become a little tiring as well but I’m still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Although collaborating with Pikotaro does not inspire much confidence with me. With mid-level groups such as PASSPO and babyraids JAPAN disbanding I have to seek new groups to follow. Lyrical School and Wasuta are currently two of the acts I am keeping an eye on after strong releases this year.

H: Yes, Akimoto is still my bae. Morning Musume ‘18’s latest single is probably their best in over a year and a half.

Yoshimotozaka46 will be the new saviors of us all, and anisong idols are the current “big thing” (in addition to several other Big Things). In general, the output has been good but sparse due to drought (AKA fans leaving for other things)

A: First half of the year, yes I was still heavy on the 48/46 group with Nogizaka46 really being the standout in my playlists. But I have been slowly moving to the dark side since the second half had pretty pedestrian singles from 48 and 46.

If you have gone underground with your Japanese idol music this year who and or what songs would you recommend people check out?

KM: Honestly, I really do like LONDON BLUE’s stuff. Even though they went major this year, they’re still underground in my eyes. READY TO KISS are mainstream as underground, major idols I guess, but they had a fun collection of music this year as well. NECRONOMIDOL also did pretty well, but their tours helped with that. They had a pretty solid run and I think they’re one of the stronger groups this year had to offer.

G: Outside of the mainstream stuff I have tried to dip my toes in the waters of what some call the “Alt Idol” world. NECRONOMIDOL, PassCode and CY8ER have been the ones who have kept my interest so far. Each of them are different from the normal type of idol music I listen to but somehow still appeal to me.

H: More than underground idols, I’d actually recommend underground otagei (chikagei, per the parlance). It’s time to bring back the yakkai in idol otaku land.

IZONE-La-Vie-en-Rose

K-Pop experienced a resurgence within the Selective Hearing staff thanks to Produce 48 and its group IZ*ONE. What do you think the appeal of this collaboration was?

KM: Now hang on a cotton-picking minute, I do not thank the likes of Produce 48 and IZ*ONE for me liking K-pop this year. That happens to be thanks to Dreamcatcher, who are actually talented and have a good image. I mean that’s a biased opinion on my part, but I guess the appeal of the sell-out K-pop group known as IZ*ONE was the fact Sakura was guaranteed a spot, and also the general idea of AKB going down the Korean music route for a little while.

G: Oh Produce 48. How I love thee and hate thee at the same time. I thought I was done with K-Pop but this show brought me back into the fold. For me the initial appeal was to see a bunch of 48 idols go through an ass whooping boot camp of training. In the end I found myself more invested in several trainees and their journeys to possible superstardom through hard work, determination and maybe plain luck (and some possible network rigging).

It is a tried and true formula that has worked its magic on the staff here who have watched the show in its entirety.

H: Korea has always been more than happy to consume J-pop (legally or illegally, even back when it was banned by the government), and Hallyu is experiencing a resurgence in Japan. The timing was just right.

A: Produce 48 was absolutely perfect timing, not only for the world but it had perfect timing with me as well. The shadow of it looming over the AKB48 World Sousenkyo had a lot of appeal to me. Maybe I did want to see how Japanese girls go up against the machine that is Korea idol world. A part of me wanted to see them start from scratch, even with their popularity in Japan, and root for them as they go through the show.

What ended up happening with me was that I found myself falling for Korean trainees that had trained for years with their heart and souls on the line. I saw them get along with the Japanese trainees and overcoming hardships together while performing a bunch of addicting K-Pop songs from groups like AOA, IOI, and KARA that I later added to my own personal playlist.

The show was also very accessible as anyone can download the TVing app and see bios for all the girls in English. There were cute videos of their audition songs, Hidden Box games, behind the scenes that brought you closer to your favorites and made them very relatable. They also streamed the show live as it was being played in Korea.Plus there were many fans that quickly turned out subtitles for the show in almost a day or two. It also hooked me emotionally as I haven’t laughed so hard and shed so manly tears for anything idol related in years.

T: First of all, I stayed listening to K-pop even before my fellow staff got into Produce 48. But to answer the question, the fact of this collaboration alone made it worth looking at. 

Should there have been more Japanese members in the group or did the people get it right?

KM: If there were more Japanese members, it’d sound a lot worse than it already does I guess, vocals wise.

G: In an ideal world there would be 6 Japanese members and 6 Korean members in IZ*ONE. In the real world that was never going to happen. The Japanese members who did make it in (with the exception of Sakura) do deserve to be part of the group based on their performances in the evaluations and how they were portrayed to the viewers through the skillful and somewhat manipulative editing of Mnet.

H: I have no opinion on this, to be frank.

A: During the results of the finale, I would have said one more Japanese girl would be ideal and I would have went with Takahashi Juri. I even didn’t agree with maybe three of the Korean finalists. Now I would say the group is perfect with the members they have now and I wouldn’t change it for anything. They have everything covered so the balance is great. All the girls have their own strengths they bring to the table that makes them each unique and not carbon copy clones. 

T: Would it really change how things would’ve gone?

How high of a ceiling do you think IZ*ONE has and who do you believe will be a breakout star once their 2 years of promotion are up?

KM: I have no comment for this one really, I don’t know who the members are outside of Sakura (sadly).

G: As of this writing? IZ*ONE have a very high ceiling and a lot will depend on whether these girls get worked to death or not. If they are managed properly they have the potential to be the “global group” that Produce 48 claims them to be. As for who will breakout after their 2 years are up? I dunno, it’s too early to tell. I am rooting the two members from Woolim (Eun Bi and Chae Won) to stick around longer once IZ*ONE’s time ends.

H: They’ve certainly shattered my expectations, but their true ceiling or test will be whether or not they can surpass Wanna One (IOI unfortunately was and continues to be a joke) and reach or at least have a hope of surpassing Twice.

A: The ceiling is super high after seeing them already winning awards and having high sales. Now with the recently announced strategy of their Japanese debut, they are absolutely going all out for the girls in Japan. As for breakout stars, Sakura and Wonyoung are going to be big in Korea. I also feel that Cheayeon will continue to wow people with her dancing maybe even winning awards, she should have her own dance agency and train others after her idol career.

What K-Pop acts and/or songs from this year would you recommend to our readers?

KM: Yeah, no further comment, because even Dreamcatcher’s music wasn’t that good this year.

G: From this year? I would say give Heize, Red Velvet, CocoSori, EXID, BLACKPINK and TWICE a go.

H: The output this year almost reminds me of the K-pop golden age. I’d just go through everything – all the groups, from BTS to Wanna One to Twice, have been churning out some fantastic stuff.

A: I’ll recommend what people have been recommending me all year! Red Velvet, TWICE and BTS are what most of my friends have been listening too. Personally, BLACKPINK, Fromis_9, SUNMI, BoA, and of course IZ*ONE.

T: I shall direct you to my top 10 K-pop songs of 2018. 

Outside of J-Pop and K-Pop is there anything that stood out to you musically in 2018?

KM: Probably MNL48. Though I was against the group at the beginning of the year, all thanks to terrible management and a loss of many members, the group actually managed to find its footing along the way, coming out with some solid cover-songs. They may not be the best-budgeted 48 group of the lot, but boy, they are fun. So, despite underestimating them early on this year, they really did stand out in the end of it all.

G: Calvin Harris had some solid releases with Dua Lipa (One Kiss) and Sam Smith (Promises). Craig David also released another album (The Time Is Now) to follow up his successful comeback from last year.

What else? The Black Eyed Peas went back to their old pre-Fergie sound with their album Masters Of The Sun Vol 1. If you missed that version of the group then definitely give that album a listen. If you’re really lazy then just try their song Dopeness featuring CL (formerly of 2NE1) and see if that interests you.

Speaking of going back, give Nile Rodgers and Chic’s new album It’s About Time a listen if you’re in the mood for a disco groove. Try the opening track Till The World Falls or the single Sober and see if it’s something that works for you.

H: China has always had an identity, but there’s nothing that stood out to me as much as Higher Brothers did in the past couple of years. While they debuted last year, I only got to see them live and discover them during the 88 Rising US tour. Their unabashed pride to be Chinese while simultaneously loving both the good and the bad – epitomized in their Made in China track – just makes them a really enjoyable act.

A: Shallow from A Star Is Born, was one of only times I had goosebumps listening to a song while watching the movie in the theaters. It has a high potential to not only be nominated for Original Song for the next Oscar Awards, but taking the win as well.

T: Not only did J. Cole’s KOD album is one of the best releases this year, but he has had an amazing 2018 with his feature work. Shout-out to 2DopeBoyz for putting together a playlist of all songs J. Cole had a feature this year, which is a highly recommended listen for me. He had different styles of rapping with a variety of topics to rap about throughout the year, and it’s hard to deny what kind of year he had. 

PV’s of 2018

Chiima/Kelly-Mae/Has the best DAD BOD

Keyakizaka46 – Glass wo ware!

Keyakizaka46’s first release of the year is another fun creation of cinematic glory, editing prowess and choreographic genius. Though it feels somewhat like ‘Footloose’ in its vibes, the end product is a masterpiece that fits the lyrics perfectly and depicts the struggles of standing out within a hive mind society, whilst also having your co-workers’ back in a stressful situation where you feel like everyone else is against you, or that you are alone.

Houkago Princess – Kaguya ni Negai wo

With its use of colour, lighting and tone, Houkago Princess create yet another mesmerizing story in Kaguya ni Negai wo as they portray the traditional tale of Kaguya-hime. The last release for members Odagiri Nana, Yamaguchi Miran and Kizuki Saori, the final story for the three remaining members of HouPri’s original indies period is a pivotal one that showcases the parallels between the life of a Moon Princess and that of an idol, both of whom have to return to their original lifestyles despite wanting to stay exactly where they are.

Suzuki Airi – Distance

Though the song lacks in being somewhat memorable, Distance is a remarkable piece of cinematography, and by far the best music video from the former Hello! Project Ace’s recent solo debut. Beautiful, varied and serious, Distance showcases many different ways in which distance itself can be perceived, whilst also cementing Airi’s career as a promising solo artist for the upcoming year.

Greg/#1 Chief Rocka

Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B – Finesse (Remix)

EXID – Lady

These tracks are the throwbacks to when the New Jack Swing sound that once ruled American R&B in the 90’s to early 2000’s. As Ice Cube said, “You can new jack swing on my nuts!”

fromis_9 – Love Bomb

I only knew of fromis_9 because of Jang Gyu Ri’s participation in Produce 48. Their mini-album From.9 was the first release I picked up after learning about them. The lead single from the album called Love Bomb is infectious and has a similar vibe to Red Velvet’s #Cookie Jar where it gets in your head quickly and never leaves.

The video is just as frantic as the song with colorful visuals and attempts to blow things up with many explosives. Too bad they only blew up a melon at the end of it.

Hannah Lee / Angry Daenjangnyuh

K/DA – POP/STARS

Hands down the most successful cross campaign I’ve seen in quite a long time. The unveiling was absolutely something else.

Uesaka Sumire – Pop Team Epic (OP Ver)

This anime was absolutely something else, and I’d equate it a bit to Lucky Star if the sales weren’t such utter shit. RIP Takeshobo, you will not be missed.

Childish Gambino – This is America

The cinematography in this one could inspire lines and lines of text, but I’ll just leave it at: clearly, this dude knows how to make a great movie, and the song is good, so you should watch it.

Allen/The Dirty DD

I refer to my Year End Music Report for my favorite PVs/MVs of 2018.

TOZ/Lieutenant of SH

Taeyeon – Something New

She throws a hammer at a dude in the elevator who is trying to kill her, and that’s not even the best part of the video. 

Jay Rock – Wow Freestyle feat. Kendrick Lamar

The back-and-forth rapping, the flutes in the beat, plus a cool slow-down effect in the second half of the video makes this one memorable. 

The Jazz Hope Cafe – Morning Stroll

I got way into listening to lofi and vaporwave music this year. Sometimes when I need that little bit of motivation, I would throw this on and vibe out. It’s mostly a still-image, only with some birds flying around. But the combination of the two really helped set the day for me.