By Ryo Miyauchi
April to June was full of inspiring news of J-pop artists succeeding in other countries. Perfume performed at Coachella, Wednesday Campanella played Primavera, Haru Nemuri went on the road in Europe, and CHAI embarked on a tour in the United States. Babymetal also led the way for idol groups by debuting at Glastonbury. There is an audience for this music outside of Japan, and the artists themselves are taking notice. “There are people from abroad who come see us and reply to us on social media, so lately I’ve been wanting to perform overseas,” BiSH’s Cent Chihiro Chitti recently shared on music program Japan Countdown. Hopefully more acts get opportunities to travel and play their music as the year goes on. Here are some great singles by idol groups released from the year’s second quarter.
A Spotify playlist containing tracks from this list can be found at the end of the article.
GuGu-Lulu - Picked
GuGu-Lulu escape into the night in search of exciting life and romance as city-dwellers do. “Picked” unfortunately doesn’t tell a happy ending and instead makes you bear witness to the idols’ youthful innocence gradually wither away. The change in mood is subtle enough for it to go undetected if not for the lyrics in the chorus eventually fading from “you and me” into “our end scene.” The production meanwhile plots the process with a slow-burning trance beat, setting the pace and tension behind their descent into the darkness of the city.
Ototoy Friday - Spring Fever
With its mellow pop-rock and Ototoy Friday’s equally glazed rap deliveries, “Spring Fever” could be described as sounding like “a lazy Sunday.” Behind the seemingly carefree music, however, is a narrative of doomsday panic. “A firing of a missile, is that true?/It happened this afternoon according to the news,” Mana Sakura sings in the opening lyric, and the duo spends the rest of the song worrying about how they lived their lives unfulfilled as they may end any time soon.
Yufu Terashima - Last Cinderella
Yufu Terashima hangs up the bubbly image of her solo idol day gig in the afterhours cooldown of “Last Cinderella.” She unwinds to the tune of laid-back funk and loosens up enough to express what’s really on her mind: “The real me that no one knows/I don’t know why, but I get tempted to show you,” she sings in the chorus. It turns out the cheerful idol longs for the quiet, intimate moments when she’s no longer under the spotlight.
Toricago - Kuchibashi
The charred post-hardcore riff immediately sets up the tense head space explored in “Kuchibashi.” Toricago become their own worst enemies as they subject themselves into deep self-critique. “Don’t talk about ambition/Cut the chit-chat/Isn’t it pathetic,” the idols lash out, and they continuously call out their own excuses for living so cowardly while the rock music marches along. They save the most cathartic imagery for the end, snapping off that titular beak and breaking free from their inhibitions.
ZOC - Chu Pri
The fan-servicing kiss shots in the “Chu Pri” music video only scratch the surface of how much ZOC grasp their identity as idols and their relationship with the audience. The members tease the crowd in the actual sweet-toothed pop song, too, asking more and more for their attention and calling them out whenever they suspect they have another name on their mind. ZOC know their fans may find out they’re not as innocent as their image, but the idols also know they’ll get what they want if they keep smothering with cuteness.
BiSH - I Am Me.
While BiSH often release melodramatic songs that match their narrative of underdogs climbing their way to the top ranks, they bring a much lighter tone in the indie-rock jam “I Am Me.” The idols still reveal a sliver of their old mentality, fixating on why life remains unfair as they try to get a move on. That said, they also speak from the voice of a seasoned veteran—like one who’s already weathered tough times—recognizing the tumultuous present as only a phase. The music’s overall lightness then shows a maturity in both their sound and perspective.
Yukueshirezu Tsurezure - Odd Eye
The metalcore four-piece are quick to reveal their new tricks in “Odd Eye.” They proceed as usual by introducing their signature sounds of blackened guitar riffs and growls from the deepest pit of their stomachs. But they abruptly remove all that aggressive noise to let the song float almost in complete stasis, leaving behind nothing but pop drums that tap like a slowly ticking clock. Time soon resumes, and the group continues to thrash away without losing any of their momentum.
Happy3days - Walk On
While Happy3days deliver a familiar idol-pop message in “Walk On” about cherishing today and working to leave behind a lasting impression, they go about driving that message home by cutting to the chase. The idols intervene between the speedy metal riffs and forego singing entirely to instead read their verses straight like dialogue from a script. “The year is 2016, June 4th, this story began, and we are still on our journey” a member sings to begin the song. That break from formal pop structure allows Happy3days to stick out from the crop of groups who play with a similar heavy style of music.
Rukatama A Go Go - Runaway Girl
Melon Batake A Go Go usually play rockabilly in goth make-up, but the idol group’s Rukatama go with a slightly different style for her solo single. The stomping punk of “Runaway Girl” focuses on groove while setting a spooky atmosphere like Melon Batake’s new one. However, the idol’s vocal phrasing seems more lifted from visual-kei, and the melodrama at the core of the single sounds fitting for that metal subgenre as well. “That person who threw me away/Who are they holding close tonight?” Rukatama sings in the chorus, and she further spirals into self-loathing as she wonders why she was left behind.
Juice=Juice - ‘Hitoride Ikirareso’-tte Sorettene, Homoteiruno?
Brazen rock riffs provide a rough and tough exterior for Juice=Juice, who lay down gutsy vocals to leave no signs of weakness in their personality. And yet the idols plead for someone to see through their facade, enough to despise comments about their projected confidence. “‘You look like you can live on your own,’ but hey, is that a compliment?” they ask in the titular chorus, and it’s hard to blame the cluelessness of others or the idols themselves for building up this false character.
EMPiRE - Success Story
“Success Story” tells the same self-tortured WACK tale of EMPiRE rising above hardships while trying to fulfill an impossible dream, yet the song sounds noticeably optimistic this time around. “Let’s go! Let’s make some good noise!” the group cheers on in the chorus. The EDM-rock hybrid of the production meanwhile is sleek and dynamic, as if to encourage a sense of ease for the idols as they aspire to reach the top.
Necronomidol - Children of the Night
“Children of the Night” is the most accessible selection out of Necronomidol’s Scions of the Blasted Heath EP, compacting a lot of the heavy-metal delights spread across the record’s five tracks into a brisk pop length. After that thunderous intro, the song doesn’t let down, throwing in a galloping guitar riff that’s accented by fantastical harpsichords. The macabre music peaks in the cryptic chorus with the idols offering their souls to Death, singing their love and loyalty from beyond the grave.
Sayonara Ponytail - Sora Tobu Koguma, Junreisu
Sayonara Ponytail bring more of the whimsy found in their other whispered pop music in “Sora Tobu Koguma, Junreisu.” The idols murmur a surreal tale that might or might not be their own imagined story of how a species of bears arrived in Japan. While the narrative is told in a nonsensical way, a sense of wonder flows from the soft, otherworldly pop-rock as well as their vocals steeped in curiosity.
Kaede - Kaede No Enkyori Renai
Kaede’s soft voice and a homely folk-rock riff conjure an image of a small countryside as the backdrop of the titular long-distance relationship unfolds in the Negicco member’s solo single. But hearing how she holds the little promises between her and her crush dearly to her heart -- “let’s go take a walk along the river when spring arrives,” she sings -- the love feels as precious as an encounter in the glamorous city.
E-girls - Cinderella Fit
A summer single about tapioca boba tea comes almost too easy of a concept for E-girls, and yet they deliver a song that stands well beyond a seasonal shelf life in “Cinderella Fit.” After the EDM beat serves a juke-inspired hook as an intro, the group rides a synth production that’s as surging and candy-sweet as their E.G. Time days. They exude a stoic, hip-hop cool until the chorus, where they lay down one sincere lyric: “It’s funny, when I’m with you, it looks like I become someone else.” As much as they add edginess to their music and performance, it’s ultimately that tenderness in the middle that wins out.
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You can listen to a Spotify playlist containing tracks from this list below. Note that some songs are not available on the platform.