Monday, 18 April 2011

The Hallyu Wave

Korean Pop Invasion!

Over the past 2 years, a change has been coming over the pop music industry, Korean pop has started to infiltrate the airwaves all over the world, but especially China and Japan. K-pop has a difference to Jpop as in the musicians, if they are manufactured, have been trained for a long period of time before their debut. So their singing and dancing skills are often slick and very well executed.

Korean pop music is extremely well produced. Synth is highly used, along with phat basslines and a perfect combination of good vocals and a melody that makes you bop your head. A big difference I have also noticed is, that most Kpop singers can actually sing, and have musical talent. Japanese pop seems to take looks/personality over vocal talent a lot of the time, whilst almost all the Kpop I have listened to, I have not heard a note out of place. Now, while that may come down to auto-tuning, and I am sure in a lot of cases it is, there is only so much you can improve someone's voice before it becomes unrecognizable. Try listening to Erina Mano or Koharu Kusumi. They sound very, very average even after being autotuned. So it's not an implement to be used to improve them so they sound like Mariah Carey. More to fix up the naff notes.

The training for becoming a Korean Pop Idol is extremely hard and sometimes unsurity kicks in, as a lot of highly trained people never get to debut. The people who do, get hand picked by the agenices/record companies, and even after that can sometimes be dropped. It's a very stressful life.

Considering the fact that so many K-pop groups are becoming very famous in Japan right now, including Girls' Generation, 4minute, Kara, T-ara, SHINee and many more, Jpop is going to have to up their stakes to compete with the highly professional sound and extremely polished performances that these ultra-talented young stars are bringing to the industry. Considering Japan, Korea and China have always been extremely competitive, I have no doubt that we may see some Kpop influenced songs and bands coming out over the next few years in China and especially, Japan.

Japan is going to have to put their obsession with cuteness and youth aside for a second if they are going to compete with Korea. As Kpop has a much more mature look and sound, which in turn, attracts a much more intelligent audience. In Japan, girls as old as 25, and as young as 12, are being portrayed as schoolgirls and objects of lust to try and sell more records, which attracts a very weird and often perverted audience.

While in Korea, girls and boys are recruited as young as 9-10 years old, and trained for upto 7 years before they debut. Long, long hours of dancing and singing training. As a result, they are experienced beyond their years once you see them on the television and hear them on the radio, as opposed to Jpop stars, who are auditioned and given fast-track training, and as a consequence, a lot of them are very under-par when they are first seen, and, due to the nature of the industry, the bands (or members within the band) are usually so short-lived that we never get to see them at their best.

I think Japan could take some really good tips from Korea in the way of music. The question is, how long will this wave last? Will it become a great point in repairing relations between Japan and Korea? Or will it just be a temporary fad that will fade out with time?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sun Ghost Debut Album

Love, Hurt & Paradox.


Sun Ghost bring together experienced musicians and vocalists with an obvious passion to making very likeable sounding music. This debut album is not only extremely well put-together, but also as good as anything you would expect to buy in the shops, and better than a lot of the bands that seem to be debuting on major record labels these days. Their music flows effortlessly and sounds expensively produced. As a band, their influences are not completely obvious, they sound unique, which is rare in the music industry these days.

Listening to the album a second time, I enjoyed it even more than the first, as it seems like every time you listen to it, you discover something new. Which is what we are all looking for from music, originality and a desire to listen again and again. Their lyrics are exceptionally good, brilliant in their storytelling value and very poetic (and I love the Julie Andrews reference in 'Tornado, Tornado')

All in all, this album is very worth buying, and at a very reasonable and affordable price of US$5. This album, Love, Hurt & Paradox, puts together what all musicians hope for, a fantastic debut.

Track by Track Breakdown

1. 21 Jigawatts - An eclectic mix of guitar and drums near the start, that continue in an infectious loop, with slick vocals and unique lyrics that centre around a space theme, a slight jazz undertone shows itself about 3/4 of the way through. This is a fantastic opener to this album, whetting your apetite for more.

2. Coopers Song - Starting on a brilliant riff of what sounds like an electric guitar and drum snare, this is making music sound unique again. A quick paced and long beginning that glides into smooth harmonies, crossover vocals and a slight throwback to 80's rock, this song make you want to rewind and listen again as soon as it's finished.

3. Can't Love You - Jumping straight into vocals, the lead singer shows strength and emotion usually only invoked by vocalists that have been established for a very long time. With a tender side that glows through especially in this track, the popping of the drums and guitars at exactly the right time bring a wholeness to it all. After the second listen I was singing along.

4. Jump Into the Lake - A beautiful, slow beginning, which leads into a catchy chorus, which, mixed with instrumental pauses and background vocals that mirror the guitar riffs, make for a song that you want to sing along to, but you don't know all the words yet. A chilled-out sounding track.

5. Photo Radar Blues - An almost silent introduction that breaks with one chord, broken up again by what sounds like a steel drum, the start of this song is almost hushed, a brilliant combination of instruments that just seems to work. Slightly angsty lyrics and feel to parts of this one, although that's lightened by the claps in the bridge and the thick vocals of the chorus. The vocals get stronger as the song continues.

6. My Theoretical Favourite Person - Jumping straight into slow vocals, that's broken by a drum beat and a beginning that made me nod my head. Brilliant. Sun Ghost have mastered the art of instrumental pauses and injecting different sounding riffs into one song, which shouldn't work, but totally does. The feel-good track of the album.

7. What Aren't You Telling Me - A slower song, and soulful vocals that are backed up with slowly rising guitar and drum beats. The vocals rise by the second verse, bringing out the skills and raw power of the lead vocalist. This song showcases the way the band works together as a unit, and it really shows how advanced they are in music making.

8. Tornado, Tornado - Starting with an awesome riff and building to a fully blown melody, the vocals are second to the fantastically powerful beat of the music in this track. Energetic and something you know would sound amazing live. Dropping the beat a little in the bridge, in picks up again in the chorus, which just gets you excited every time the beat drops, as you know that incredible beat will start up again soon. I found myself doing air guitar to this track. It's brilliant. The drums pack a powerful punch near the end, bringing this album to a delightful close. My favourite song of the album.

Sun Ghost Official Website

Buy the album HERE

Sun Ghost Official Twitter

Sun Ghost Official Facebook

Make sure to check Sun Ghost out. They are a band that is sure to break the big time!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Morning Musume and Hello Project

モーニング娘。 * ハロー!プロジェクト

The origins of my fandom in Hello! Project are fairly tame. Mid 2001 I started watching subtitled Anime (particularly Sailor Moon) and loved it, part of the whole experience was listening to the many songs that were included in the opening titles, ending credits, and image songs for all the different characters. I listened to the soundtracks many a time, and even more when I found Sera Myu, which was like the holy grail for Sailor Moon fans.

This is the typical story for most J-pop fans, finding it through Anime, then getting obsessed and not watching Anime or reading Manga for a long time afterwards, as you are too busy trying to listen to every J-pop artist around at the time. I first found Ayumi Hamasaki, another very common artist for people to start with. This was 2003, and I absolutely loved her. I looked up similar artists and found Kumi Koda and BoA this way.

Late 2003, I started completely by accident, upon some pictures of a girl band that I thought were very pretty. I was always a fan of female vocalists and girl bands, and looked them up by saying something like '12 member Japanese Girl Band' - Of course, at the time, the only girl band with that many members was Morning Musume.

I looked them up online and found a few music videos, also found out a song called 'Roman ~ My dear Boy' was their most current release. I promptly bought a few DVD's of theirs that chronicled their music videos up to the time, and a concert, which I remember vividly was '2002 Love is Alive! - Maki Goto's graduation. I watched that first before any of the music video DVD's, and was promptly BLOWN AWAY.

This concert blew my mind. I remember being absolutely fixated on all the members and speechless at the enormity and extravagance of it all. The 5th generation members were my favourite at the time, and Risa Niigaki especially struck me. Being quite close to all of them in age I was just amazed that girls the same age as me could perform as good as that. I rewatched that concert so many times before I realized I could buy loads more concerts, but still to this day, that is the best Morning Musume concert I have ever watched.

Shortly afterwards, my PV DVD's arrived and I invited a few friends over to watch them with me. Again, immediately, Yuko Nakazawa stood out as being particularly beautiful and talented. We were head over heels with her, and intoxicated with the cute and funky poppy songs, and with the consistently changing member lineup. We learned all of their names especially quickly, as they all have such individual looks, it wasn't hard. We were only mixed up between KagoTsuji for a very short period of time. As they actually look nothing alike. But when someone dresses them indentical with mirrored hair, it can get a bit difficult.

As the time went past, we got into all the different Hello! Project groups. At that time, Berryz Koubou were in their infant stages, but I still found them incredibly talented and liked them from the get go. C-ute didn't exsist until 2005, but I liked them too (not as much as Berryz though.) Also Otomegumi/Sakuragumi, Shuffle Units, Country Musume, Coconuts Musume (who already by then was just Ayaka and Mika, very soon only to be Ayaka) and the soloists, Maki Goto and Aya Matsuura being the two biggest at the time. All this bubblegum pop was swirling around in my head and to be honest, I got a little obsessed.

I bought Shirts, CD's, DVD's, Musicals, funny little accessories, rare items, got a fringe cut that made my face look silly but I wanted it anyway because everyone in Morning Musume had a fringe (even Risa by then.) My favourites at the 2004 period were: Risa Niigaki, Hitomi Yoshizawa, Miki Fujimoto and Kaori Iida. Brilliant girls, and I really envied Miki's brilliant voice.

What I always thought was ridiculous, is that they are not allowed to have boyfriends, or even friends who are boys at any time, because they have to be perceived as 'available' (this is the same of many idols, even to this day, AKB48, Idoling!!!, etc)

This, unfortunately encourages what is known as the 'wota' - extreme fans who collect everything about their favourite girl and have a delusional vision that she could one day be his girlfriend. If you have ever seen any videos of these people, they are quite..sad, and will probably never get a real girlfriend because of their lonely habits. They hang around with packs of other wota, worshipping their idols like they were 15th century monarchs.

It's unhealthy and it's weird, it's bad enough if the wota were of similar ages to the girls, or even in their mid to late twenties. But they aren't, they are older, 30s, 40s, 50s, now, it's fine to be a fan at any age of course, but to think that your favourite Girl Band member will drop everything to elope with you one day is very, very sad, and should not be encouraged.

I was shocked at the low sound of the cheering from my first Morning Musume concert, and we didn't understand that the male fanbase often scare a lot of the female fanbase out of the concerts from their annoying and pathetic habits. I say the girl fans need to take back the concert majority! Take on the wota!

As the years went by, my fandom of Morning Musume seemed to go down, and peaked at Kanashimi Twilight, I have not been such a big fan since that time. Hitomi leaving and Koharu becoming a front girl was a big drop for me, and my focus seemed to shift to Berryz Koubou, who have not had a member change since Maiha Ishimura left. These girls are extremely talented and all have pretty good voices, Miyabi Natsuyaki and Yurina Kumai, in my opinion, being the strongest vocally.

Their songs have been consistently good since their debut in 2004, and their dancing and concerts have only gotten better. Since they have been such a strong unit for such a long time, I feel that if one left, which may happen pretty soon as they are all adults now. It may break the strength, although C-ute seemed to be fine after 3 members leaving, and they are probably better without Kanna Arihara, Erika Umeda and Megumi Murakami, although they all contributed at the time, it is no point staying if your heart isn't in it, as it will show right through your performance.

As of 2011, we now have 4 new 9th generation members in Morning Musume, the first upbeat and happy single since 'Ambitious! Yashinteki de ii jan' (which wasn't very well put together anyway, this feels like a better production), Berryz Koubou have just had their strongest and maybe even their best album ever (7 Berryz Times) and are about to perform in the USA. C-ute have had an incredible single (Kiss Me! Aishiteru) and what I am anticipating to be a fantastic album, full of their electro-infused dance tracks that they have become so good at. Smileage, even though I am not too fond of them, are gaining sales and popularity with each single, and hopefully one day, when they stop sounding like 8 year olds (>.>) will become strong in their own right.

As for soloists, since Tsunku took the rash (but probably correct, looking back) decision to graduate the entire elder club (any graduated MM members plus Aya Matsuura) from Hello! Project and move them to their own fan club called M-Line. There seemed to be a gap in the Hello! Project for great solo vocalists. Erina Mano took the stage in 2008 and debuted under a major label in 2009. While she is not terrible to listen to, I can see big potential in H!P's newest soloist. Yuu Kikkawa.

She was in the finalists for 8th generation, which Aika Mitsui passed, and was instead put into H!P Eggs, getting experience from performing in the Milky Way unit with Koharu Kusumi and in exclusive H!P egg concerts, everyone was surprised when it was announced she would be debuting under a major label with the song 'Kikkake wa YOU!' a play on her name.

Watching the video, it is clear a lot of work has gone into it, and while I am kind of a little sick of the 'child woman' angle (she is almost 20) - I can see why she is going to be very popular. She's cute and has a very sweet voice.

Now that Eri Kamei (one of my favourites) JunJun and LinLin have graduated from Morning Musume, and Ai Takahashi is going to graduate in September. A lot hinges on the new generation of Morning Musume, will a 10th gen audition be rushed through? 4th, 5th and 6th gen were all added in quick succession. Does that mean over the next few years we will see an onslaught of new faces and Morning Musume will become fun again? As Ai Takahashi's graduation will leave a big hole, a BIG hole in Morning Musume, maybe the biggest since Natsumi Abe graduated. The difference is that Natsumi had a solo career to fall back on. Ai doesn't. Will they finally give her the solo career she so deserves? Or will she fade into obscurity like so many others before her?

I hope to see Hello! Project gaining sales and popularity faced with J-idol giant and superseller AKB48.

The future of Hello! Project is bright!