I’m hoping on Mondays (generally every week or every other week) I’d curate a themed list of five songs to introduce (or reintroduce), the idea being one song for every weekday. The music will generally be pop, but I may slip in some different genres.
This week: My first foray into Japanese music
I started listening to Japanese music thanks to my older brother, who was shown it in the mid-late ’90s. As such, the songs here reflect that same time period. If you haven’t noticed, you’ll see I’m quite partial to female vocalists.
モーニング娘。(Morning Musume) – LOVEマシーン (Love Machine)
Their 代表曲 (representative song), it’s the one song they can’t quite escape from when asked to perform on TV (despite having a great all-around catalogue). They’re celebrating their 20th year as a group, and I have a feeling something will involve this. Fun fact: the song is a celebration of the economic bounce back after the bubble burst in the late ’80s-early ’90s. This was probably one of the first songs’ lyrics I memorized. Haha. I’ll do another post just for Morning Musume and/or Hello! Project, but they’re a perennial in the charts: I don’t think they’ve fallen out of the Top 10 since their second single. Plus it helps that Tsunku (their producer, from Sharan Q) is an absolute genius.
浜崎あゆみ (Hamasaki Ayumi) – SEASONS
Again another representative song, this also won a poll (or an award) for ‘best lyrics.’ Arguably, I think this is one of her best songs no matter the version (original, acoustic, remixed, etc.). Another song I memorized rather quickly, it’s something I’m surprised people don’t normally get introduced to when they start listening to Japanese music, so I’m taking it upon myself to introduce it. I used to follow her career religiously until about Love Songs; now I would find out about stuff sporadically. Find her concert performances on YouTube–they’re quite spectacular.
相川七瀬 (Aikawa Nanase) – 恋心 (Koigokoro)
I don’t explicitly remember this as I grew up, but I rediscovered the song sometime during my undergraduate years and somehow I knew the melody and lyrics pretty well immediately. This is one of my newer go-to karaoke songs, and her overall discography and personality is pretty top-notch. She’s a good representation of what the ’90s sounded like in Japan. On a recent segment aptly named “you can’t go home until someone sings your song at karaoke,” she went home in the first half of 12 contestants–it focused mainly on ’80s and ’90s artists whose music is now ~20 years old (!). If you want to find it online and get introduced to even more artists and songs, search “カラオケが歌われるまで帰れません.”
globe – DEPARTURES
The first of the three Komuro Tetsuya-produced songs I’m introducing (who’s been laden with scandals, culminating in a ‘forced’ retirement earlier this month), this is probably the most representative of his work. So much so, they sang this at their wedding. A great song with soaring vocals, as well as a winter song staple in almost every playlist, it’s quite a difficult song to sing correctly at karaoke. I still like singing every version/cover in my car, though. I’m not a big fan of globe’s music as it edges a little too much on the grunge side of pop for the ’90s (at least in the album tracks), but their singles are pretty incredible.
華原朋美 (Kahara Tomomi) – I’m Proud
Apparently Kahara Tomomi and Komuro Tetsuya had a thing (she deliberately chose that name [or was given that name] for the same initials), but then she ended up doing drugs for a while, took a hiatus, then came back in spectacular fashion with a Japanese cover of “I Dreamed a Dream” in 2012. I distinctly remember a particular bowling alley I used to frequent played this once to twice an hour (mixed in with Carly Ray Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’) which I got irritated with, but I was actually quite happy for her comeback with a self-cover album. Rather than becoming a has-been, I think she flew to new heights with a huge improvement in her vocals.
安室奈美恵 (Amuro Namie) – CAN YOU CELEBRATE?
If you were introduced to Japanese music about the time my brother and I were introduced, there was no escaping this song. The highest selling single (roughly 2.29 million accounted for, potentially an additional million with re-releases) by a female soloist, this six minute giant of a song has been covered by countless artists, and by herself twice (both for best albums Ballada and Finally). [Side note: watch that Ballada commercial, it’s probably the best promotional clip I have ever seen.] I committed myself to memorize these lyrics, but haven’t had the chance to sing it at karaoke due to its length. Retiring in September after 25 years in show business (she’s in her early 40s if that gives you an idea just how young she started), not only am I hoping this is her last song ever, but it’s a performance to remember and aspire to for decades to come.
As a second added bonus (I ended up throwing in an additional song to this auspicious first post), please enjoy these compilations of ’90s music which totally rock. Although a lot of these compilations focus mainly on the million sellers, some hit the spot with lesser-selling but still memorable songs.
Disclaimer: I do not condone copyright infringement, and I tried my best to look for an artist’s official channel or VEVO, but in cases when it couldn’t be found, I had to use a third-party video. I do not claim responsibility for nor endorse the video poster’s actions.