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.
With half the year now resolved, we face the downhill slope as the last few moments of the 2010s are destined to rush past us. Likewise in rap, it feels like we’re hurtling towards a breaking point. More and more, the industry feels determined to serve up ideas that seem novel or fascinating at the start, but now feel exhausted and overly ‘familiar’. Soon, another generation will become the more prominent ‘young audience’ for the genre, and the next few years are going to signify a broader shift as musical styles and tastes will change—perhaps for the better of the genre, and all of us! It’s hard to predict accurately when any of these propositions will come into vogue with a more general audience, but even the most seemingly inane threads have served as useful genesis for ideas far down the line. For the moment, it’s simply a matter of granting due diligence to as much as possible while rejecting the eager desire to point to some self-appointed ‘zeitgeist’ which almost always fails to include a broader picture. This quarter finds rappers who are echoing the dawn of the decade’s trends through refinements, hint at breaking away from the pack, or have been the ones leading the jump the whole time.
As the 2010s have begun to wind down, I’ve started to reflect on what this decade will mean to me in terms of its music. For many reasons, I hope that it’ll chiefly be remembered for the wealth of reissues and archival material it produced. The countless number of rare, obscure, or unpublished music that came out was a constant reminder that there’s much to explore beyond the established canons we’ve inherited from critics and tastemakers of yesteryear. In a time when it’s tempting to hear music without knowledge of its context or musical lineage, these releases were very much welcome for often providing detailed liner notes and backstories of hidden histories. They were, without question, an invaluable component in the growing visibility of non-white, non-cis, and non-male artists throughout the 2010s.
Indeed, when I think about my favorite releases of the year so far, many of them are from decades past: Marvin Gaye’s You’re the Man, June Chikuma’s Les Archives, Virginia Magidou’s I Was Born a Badass Chick, Max Rambhoujan’s self-titled 12”, Jeff Majors’s For Us All (Yoka Boka), and many more. When thinking about my favorite new music coming out, a lot of it isn’t stuff that I’d say is best judged by the standards of a longplayer—rap, dance music, pop from around the world. A lot of publications will close out the decade with lists that nevertheless highlight albums. These will be incomplete retellings of our recent past.
These lists will also inevitably exclude several experimental records. One shouldn’t necessarily expect publications to be focusing on such music, but it will seem glaringly obvious in a time when there seems to be a homogenization of taste across many websites and magazines. The experimental music that will get championed will be of a few particular varieties (namely, various strands of ambient music, forward-thinking dance music, and art pop). All of this is to say that my hope for this column is simple: I want to provide a wider scope in coverage of experimental music being made today.
Despite my intentions with this list, I’ll be the first to tell you that my tastes are rather specific, and that the stress of current times makes certain experimental music more enticing than others. Last year, my favorite album was Melaine Dalibert’s Musique pour le lever du jour, a lush piano piece that I looked to as a source of comfort. François Morellet, a French painter and sculptor who influenced Dalibert, once stated, “I chose geometry because of its neutrality, the system, that would make me restrict the arbitrary nature of my decisions.” It was a self-imposed removal of self, done to highlight the innate power and beauty of art. The 25 records below don’t all follow the same line of thinking, but I do believe that they provide listening experiences that can remind people of music’s vast capabilities.
The year in idol pop began on a very dark note: NGT48’s Maho Yamaguchi addressed a recent assault she experienced this past December. “Even though this kind of thing happened, I was forced to take a break as though nothing happened; they’re just brushing it under the rug,” the idol tweeted, on the same day she discussed the event during her Showroom stream. The company saved face by firing and replacing management staff. Yamaguchi ended up leaving the group altogether, but not before revealing that her company pressured her to apologize. If she hadn’t, others would’ve been forced to read an apology note on her behalf.
It might feel uneasy to hear and read about new idol music from this quarter with Yamaguchi’s case in mind. The year already has brought a spoil of great singles from all levels of the scene. The list covers more than enough variety in style, be it rap, metal, electro and many more. But her situation shouldn’t be ignored for keeping the spirit of feel-good entertainment. The audience is held accountable in their media consumption; at the very least, idol media should not be consumed so passively.
As we begin to close out the decade, 2019 presents a number of daunting issues related to the future, namely those revolving around the internet. Like all music, rap depends on the internet for distribution and circulation as never before, and it’s been extremely apparent these days given rap’s status as the most admired of popular music. That said, all the utopian arguments that the internet would prove to be a boon to the genre and make things easier for artists and audiences alike have proven futile. History and information should be easier to get ahold of, but they’ve instead become easier to disregard. Nearly anyone can guarantee their music gets on the major platforms, but so much stratification for whose music is emphasized makes painfully noticeable the artists who aren’t heard. For all the promise that technology would make rap feel better than ever, it’s somehow managed to make it feel more difficult to explore.
The songs selected below do a great job at demonstrating how strange 2019 feels. It includes multiple generations, rappers from all across the nation, and even some from across the Atlantic. Similarities persist in some of the selections, but the differences are incredibly prominent and create a baffling sense of what can be considered “now.” So much of rap’s past is still impossible to shed, and so much of the so-called future feels illusive to point to with confidence. This isn’t to say that any one thing in particular feels exciting or enjoyable, it’s just difficult to do justice to it all with the endless sprawl of talent that continues to make itself known. For the readers: I hope these selections do their best not only to satisfy, but to confound. One can only imagine what the 2020s hold, but for now we have another year to marvel at and to endure.