Friday, December 28, 2012

So What Happened This Year?

Well... the world didn't end! So that's always a good thing! In all seriousness though, what did happen in 2012 for idols and their music? Well, obviously I can't cover what happened to the whole of idol music in general or every single idol group out there, so I'll just go over the idols I follow!

First, let's cover the most important group of all... Perfume! Maybe I should have written that as my most important group of all... 2011 was pretty average for the techno trio with two singles, some promotion and an album but it wasn't that exciting either. I think it was because everyone was cooling off from all the hype of the Tokyo Dome concert and everyone was just sort of left thinking "Now what?" I know I was! Not to say 2011 was a terrible year for Perfume but in comparison to 2012, it was much more boring. The biggest thing that happened to the group this year was their transfer from Tokuma to Universal Music Japan, a move that I think was brilliant. Nothing against Tokuma but they're kind of... closed off. To international fans, at least! Not to say that an agency should go out of their way to promote to a foreign country but you know... would it have killed you to give the songs an iTunes release? But that's in the past now because with the transfer to UMJ, we got iTunes releases among other things... One of the most talked about aspects of the transfer was the possibility of international expansion for Perfume and just how far that expansion would go. Would it be possible to see the group in a different country, or even a different continent? Towards the end of the year Perfume embarked on a global tour... that only toured throughout Asia. Nice advertising, UMJ!

I admit I wasn't that pissed off about the severely misleading tour title (even though I got excited for a moment) because I convinced myself a long time ago I was never going to see Perfume live. But that's okay! Because they did other stuff besides go on a tour! The group's debut single under UMJ was Spring of Life and it was a pretty awesome and energetic A-side to show how the girls were springing to life with a new agency! I was excited to see how the next single under the new label would sound! But then... Spending all my time was that next single. Yeah, I've said numerous times I'm not a huge fan of that song but I don't hate the song. And the B-sides were my two favorite songs this year! Still, I'm looking forward to whatever the girls release next and I'm even hoping a little bit that they'll release three singles this year instead of two. We know Mirai no Museum is going to be released but we don't know if it's going to be an A-side, B-side, part of a double A-side, anything! I'm hoping it's a B-side so I'll keep my fingers crossed until more information comes out!

Another idol group (or maybe I should say idol groups under one umbrella company) that had a pretty exciting year was none other than Hello! Project! Mainly because 2012 was the year that things got... electrifying for H!P. Starting with One Two Three by Morning Musume, a lot of H!P songs were electropop, a genre that you didn't really see a lot in the group. So yay! They finally got caught up with the times! I've personally been pretty okay with the new electropop direction along with a lot of other fans, although there are a few fans who are still a little skeptical to embrace the new direction. 2012 also showed some new marketing tactics for groups in H!P. Morning Musume in particular had their sales shoot up into the 100,000s thanks to the new marketing strategy of releasing multiple editions and more songs, allowing fans and wotas alike to buy more edition thus increasing the sales. C-ute also saw some better promotion this year and their two singles, Kimi wa Jitensha Watashi wa Densha de Kitaku and Aitai Aitai Aitai an, have become their best selling singles ever, even beating Tokaikko Junjou! That's another achievement I'm pretty happy about because I like C-ute a lot and I feel like they totally deserve all the success they're getting!

For Berryz Koubou, the biggest success they had was their Cha Cha Sing cover and it probably helped that two of the three songs on the single were covers of popular Thai songs! Want! also did decently for Berryz and it had the same electropop style that One Two Three and Wakuteka Take a chance did! I predict that in 2013 we'll see more electropop songs coming from H!P and I hope that the style doesn't grow old too fast! I think it's a fun style of music and when done right, it can work really well and have a variety of styles! Just look at Perfume! They're amazing! The two groups in H!P that had pretty lackluster years were S/mileage and Buono! It's pretty obvious S/mileage was hit hard by the loss of Yuuka and Saki; the sales this year were pretty low, with Samui ne not even breaking 20,000 copies. Buono! didn't really do much either other than release a single and an okay-ish mini album. I give them another year or two before they halt activities all together.

Musically, AKB48 was pretty lackluster this year. Give Me Five! was a decent song but nothing special and Manatsu no Sounds good! is also on the same level of quality as that song. I loathe Gingham Check and Eien Pressure for their blandness and Uza's pretty forgettable too. But the PVs this year have been pretty creative! Manatsu, Gingham Check and Uza all had really high-budget and well-done PV with a lot of great costumes, storylines, special effects, the whole works! It must be nice having so much money to make such good PVs... Speaking of sales, 2012 proved to be yet another million-selling year for AKB48 despite the loss of A-chan after Gingham Check. Something to point out though is that the sales did drop but not by much. Through the use of some pretty desperate marketing maneuvers, Aki-P managed to keep AKB48's million-seller status solid but I think 2013 will be the make-it or break-it year for them. I think either the sales will stabilize or slowly but surely the group's sales are going to go on a very slow decline. And when I say slow, I mean really slow.

I still think the group has about three or four years left in them but it's like what Perfume sings in edge: everyone has to die someday. Aki-P also said he intended to disband the group after 10 years so... who knows? The future of AKB48 is uncertain but I hope next year will be pretty interesting! SKE48 saw an increase in sales, with Kataomoi Finally selling about 600,000 copies! I'm happy about that because it truly is a great single with a great concept! Their other singles did pretty well too and it's nice to know that the group has stabilized themselves so well with sales! NMB48 also had a bit of an increase in sales too, though they didn't sell as much as SKE48! Overall, it was a pretty good year for them with a nice variety of different singles. HKT48 and JKT48 did nothing to interest me and that's all I have to say about them. And then there's Nogizaka46. Ugh, this has got to be the shittiest rival group I've ever laid eyes on. Their sales didn't even reach the numbers that NMB48 had although in perspective they did sell pretty well this year. Still, for a rival group I remain thoroughly unimpressed.

As for other groups I follow outside of those big three, Tokyo Girls' Style had a pretty interesting year. 2012 started off pretty normally for them with the releases of Rock You! and Tsuioku, two singles that had the same mature tone as their other material. Then they up and went on a brief hiatus to train more with Avex and improve their skills. They bounced back in the fall with the release of Bad Flower and an announcement that they be performing at the Budokan this year! The group ended up becoming the youngest female group to perform at the honorable Budokan, a pretty impressive feat! Bad Flower was also a very strong single and you could tell their was a lot of improvement in each girl, especially Hitomi! It's also their highest selling single which is another great thing that happened this year to TGS!

Another girl group that I don't really follow that saw a lot of success this year was Momoiro Clover Z! This weird and wacky idol group has really started becoming increasingly popular as their songs and PVs just get stranger and stranger. Mugen no Ai was on charts for a long time and Otome Sensou and Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimi-tachi yo both broke 100,000 copies. For a group that doesn't have the legacy that H!P groups or AKB48 does, that's a pretty amazing feat! I respect MomoClo a lot for making a name for themselves and who knows? Maybe in 2013 they'll become a mighty force to be reckoned with! I think it'd be pretty awesome for another idol group to rise up and challenge the AKB48-dominated idol industry! If I had to pick a group to do that, I'd either go with MomoClo or BiS! Speaking of BiS...

2012 was the year I got into two main groups: Passpo and Brand-new Idol Society. Okay, so I'd been interested in BiS during the latter half of 2011 mainly thanks to the infamy of My Ixxx. While I'm not a huge fan of the PV, I enjoy the song and I also really love Primal! Even though I was side-eyeing their gimmicky image a little bit, I was still interested to see where this strange idol group was going to go next. They were definitely more fascinating than just about every other idol group on the market! Unfortunately, finding information about them was incredibly hard so they just sort of drifted to the back of my mind while I wrote about Perfume, AKB48, Hello! Project, etc. Luckily, the unconventional idol group bounced back into my attention when it was announced that they were debuting under Avex! That definitely got me interested since I was trying to figure out what the hell Avex wanted to do with an idol group like BiS. Well... they did some pretty awesome stuff! I love PPCC and its PV and Idol is Dead is an amazing album and you should totally buy it if you have the means to do so, especially if you're a fan of alternative/rock-ish music. Seriously, it is fucking amazing. I don't use that term lightly!

Another group that finally started piquing my interest was Passpo, that stewardess group I couldn't give a shit about in 2011! I actually went back and watched their major debut single and I can see why I didn't really gravitate toward the group. The song was okay but didn't stand out to me and unfortunately stewardesses only make me think of the pains of airplane travel. Needless to say, an idol group based around a stewardess concept was not so appealing for me. I did try to get into the group towards the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 but I just didn't have the enthusiasm to look into them. Not until Next Flight, that is. I've sung praises for The Airline Trilogy and will probably continue to do so in 2013! Next flight, Natsuzora Hanabi and Wing are all great songs and those three songs are ultimately what lead me to become a fan of the group. I also listened to their One World album and that was a pretty good album too! It was nice to listen to it as a new fan since it had a lot of B-sides on there and some new songs too!

Of course, 2012 was also the year where I lost interest in one particular idol. As much as I hate to admit it, but looking back on this year, I realized that I hadn't really followed Kikkawa Yuu. In 2011, I was so excited for her solo debut and I actively followed her solo activities, even reviewing the Konna Watashi de Yokattara PV! I love that song and I liked Kikkake wa You! as well. Hapirapi ~Sunrise~ is god-awful but then Kikka released a very nice and interesting album that I reviewed in early 2012! I think One for You! was a very well-done album with a nice variety of music styles in it! It wasn't as groundbreaking as Battle and Romance or Idol is Dead but for an idol album, it was still pretty good! Then after that, I suppose UMJ decided that somehow the direction Kikka's music was going in wasn't working so then... I guess they turned her into a Vocaloid. Kikka's fourth single was in the vein of electropop music with Autotune and sound effects that wouldn't be out of place in a Vocaloid or even a Perfume song. I don't hate electropop or the Koko Kara Hajimarunda! single but my reception to it wasn't anywhere near as warm as Konna Watashi de Yokattara or the One for You! album. My reaction to the direction was more of why? Why did Kikkawa Yuu, this idol with a beautiful voice, have to go in a direction of music that required little to no vocal talent thanks the heaps of Autotune piled onto the vocals?

What I'm trying to say is... I think Kikka could handle better than what UMJ is giving her. Again, Koko Kara Hajimarunda! isn't a bad song or even a bland song and if it had been given to someone like Watanabe Mayu or Naaboudoufu@nana, I might have even liked the song more than I do. But it was given to Kikkawa Yuu and I didn't really warm up to this Vocaloid direction she was going in. When I thought that style would be just a one-time thing, Darling to Madonna came out. That wasn't quite as Vocaloid-heavy as Koko Kara Hajimarunda! but I wasn't really that happy-go-lucky about the song either. Then the Vocalist? album came out which was filled with Vocaloid-style covers and that was when I realized this electropop direction wasn't going away for Kikka anytime soon. So instead of sucking it up and reviewing her material, I just... stopped looking at it. I still kind of follow Kikka but not anywhere as enthusiastically as I did in 2011. Who knows? Maybe her next triple A-side single will grab me like Konna Watashi de Yokattara did. But I won't be terribly disappointed if it doesn't because I've simply lost the interest I had for Kikkawa Yuu.

Graduations were pretty heavy this year, especially in terms of numbers. The group that was hit the hardest -well, I should say the groups but they're all under one franchise- was the 48 family. In total, AKB48, SKE48, NMB48, JKT48 and HKT48 had 45 graduations total. That's a huge number even for such large idol groups! Granted, a lot of the graduations were from Kensyuukei but they're idols too! Sure, they get shafted a lot and probably won't ever become front girls but they're still idols in the group! And there were also more prominent faces that also graduated this year... I think you know which face I'm really talking about. Yes, without a doubt the biggest graduation of the year was most definitely Maeda Atsuko. Even I was shocked when I found out; I thought she'd stick around for maybe three or four more years! I wasn't devastated but the graduation was still a huge shock to the infrastructure of AKB48 and ever since then, the group has been in a frenzy with changing lineups, pushing of certain girls, and a frantic search for an Acchan replacement.

Other than Acchan, none of the other front girls have departed yet but who knows? I predict another curveball graduation in 2013... I'm just can't pinpoint who's going to leave yet. Some of the other prominent graduations from the AKB48 were Sato Natsuki, Masuda Yuka (someone I liked in the group), and most recently Kasai Tomomi. This one was also pretty out-of-nowhere considering she's just debuted as a soloist but perhaps focusing on a solo career is her reasoning for graduating. In other 48 families Jo Eriko, one of the faces of NMB48, graduated and Yokoyama Yui quickly took her place in the group and from SKE48 another face named Y K graduated. You can't help but wonder what goes on behind the closed doors of that famous AKB48 theater when all the fans are gone to make so many girls want to graduate... and how many of them do so willingly. Then again, I could go on and on about idol graduation conspiracy theories all day!

Hello! Project, while not having as many graduations as AKB48 did, was also hit with some pretty impacting graduations. Starting off the year was Niigaki Risa's graduation in May and that left a huge impact on the vocal quality of the group and unfortunately allowed the ascension of Sayashi Riho to the front. Whether this was a blessing or not is... debatable. The biggest punch for me about Gaki's graduation was not only the fact that her amazing voice would be gone from the group but also the fact that it was revealed that she originally wanted to go out with Ai but UFP basically made her stay so that she could lead the newbs of the group before departing. Think of how sweet it would have been for the last two girls of the 5th Generation to go out together as the best friends they are... it's sad but it happened. However, Gaki did manage to get a double graduation, just not with the person she'd hoped for. Yep, the next graduation was Mitsui Aika's aka The Graduation I Didn't Give a Shit About. Yeah, Aika was always sort of that... person in the group that was filler for the back row to me and her graduation didn't affect me in the slightest. Besides, she's still in Hello! Project doing god-knows-what so she's not gone for good. She was in one of the Satoyama sub-units which proves she's doing something productive!

And that was it for H!P... for 2012! In 2013, two more members are going to be graduating, the first one being Mano Erina. Now this graduation was more surprising to me since I'd actually started to like her songs a lot more, especially Song for the Date. But with her last single being released and a best-of album in the works, I can't deny it's coming... leaving no more soloists in H!P. Will Mano's graduation take the concept of a soloist with her or will her departure leave a neat little spot for someone else? Like Miyamoto Karin. We won't know until next year! Just like we won't know who the graduation of Tanaka Reina will affect Morning Musume. Personally, I'm excited, interested and a little bit scared to see what her leaving will do to the group. What I hope is for more even vocal distribution but then I remember that it's UFP and promptly shove any hopes of that happening out of my mind.

2011 may have been the year I started this blog but I think 2012 was the year things really started picking up! This year I wrote 48 different reviews: 42 PV reviews, 3 singles reviews, and 3 album reviews. That's a lot! Almost 50 actually... I took a little break from March to July to focus on schoolwork and life in general but I think the break actually helped! I look at my writing pre-break and post-break and I think there's definitely some improvement in my writing style and structure! My paragraphs somehow got longer than before... how did that happen? Since when did I find so much stuff to say!? Still, I think I really developed a better style of what I review and how to review it; I talk about major news (i.e. graduations) review PVs and sometimes singles or albums if I have a strong opinion about it and occasionally I do editorials. I really like doing my editorials and next year I'd like to do more, especially if I can find more material to analyze and pick apart!

I think my favorite editorials to write were the more rant-y ones simply because ranting is unhealthy but fun to do! I also liked writing about lip-syncing simply because it's a topic I have very strong opinions about and I felt capable of writing it with the ability of backing up said opinions. And of course, the most infamous editorial I made was probably the post I wrote about Youtube idols and the decision to link it on Tumblr was like kicking a hornet's nest with a giant Doc Marten boot. I will say, I put a lot of time and effort into writing that one as nicely as possible and even thought about not posting it considering the sensitive topic it was covering. However, in the end I am glad that I wrote it and despite the backlash it received I stand by what I said. If you, Beckii Cruel or any of your minions are reading this, I do apologize for being scathing, narrow-minded, vindictive, and cruel but I'm a writer and pissing off people comes with the job of being a writer. I figured I couldn't last forever without pissing at least one person off...

So in December last year, I also released my own personal hopes and dreams for 2012 about the groups I followed. I'd written a variety of things about a variety of groups with hopes ranging from possible to highly unlikely. Now this year, I'm going to put on some nostalgia goggles and see what did and didn't happen in 2012! So hop in my time-traveling fish and let's take a look at what I hoped and dreamed for in 2012!

AKB48 Blows Me Away

- Didn't happen. In hindsight, I'm not terribly surprised that AKB48 didn't "blow" me away; they pretty much stuck to their music formula this year and didn't take any huge risks. I can see why; that formula's helped make them the best-selling idol group in Japan right now. Why risk that success by changing the song formula? Still, I don't think there was one song that really impressed me this year except for Show fight! That song is flipping awesome. But yeah, Give Me Five! was okay, same for Manatsu, I can't stand Gingham Check and its blandness, Uza's forgettable, and I hate Eien Pressure as much as the past two Janken singles. Some of the B-sides were okay but not enough to be huge standouts in my book. I will say although AKB48 was lacking to me in terms of musical content, they had some pretty damn awesome PVs. Manatsu no Sounds good!, Gingham Check, Uza, Show fight!, and Kodoku na Hoshizora were all amazing PVs even if their respective songs ranged from forgettable to great. This was just a boring year overall for AKB48 in terms of music. In terms of everything else this was a crazy year for the group. Anyways, I will say though one of their sisters groups did blow me away: SKE48! Kataomoi Finally is probably my favorite single of 2012, or one of them at least! Their other songs were pretty nice too but wow, Kataomoi Finally... and the PV is probably my favorite PV of 2012.

Berryz Koubou Doesn't Graduate

- Yay! This happened! And I also think 2012 was just a better year for them and C-ute. They released Chou Happy Song which is such a great collaboration and Berryz released some covers of Thai songs and those also proved to be very successful in both quality and finances. Cha Cha Sing sold over 30,000 copies and that may be little for a group like AKB48 but it's a lot more than Berryz has been selling lately (for comparison Be Genki could only sell around 17,000 copies). Want! is also a pretty hopping electropop song (even if I strongly dislike the costumes for it) and that managed to sell a pretty decent amount too!

Morning Musume Finds their Style

- Wow... this actually happened! Of course, it didn't really look like it was happening when the year first started. The 10th Generation debuted with the much-reviled PyokoPyoko Ultra and its ultra-hideous chicken suits and I've already given that song enough flack as it is. For me, it was a terrible start to 2012 and made me uneasy of Momusu's future singles. Was this what was going to happen from now on? Were we doomed to get nothing but childishly annoying songs with this newer group of girls? After Gaki's graduation, the 50th single was released and with that single things got... electro. Like, really electro. Yep, the electropop style of One Two Three was met with (mostly) positive reception and UFP's perspective on life must be "If ain't broke don't fix it! And it is broken, keep using it until it magically works again!" After the success in sales of One Two Three, Wakuteka Take a chance followed with another heavy dose of electropop and the group's 52nd single, Help me!!, is also an electropop song. Of course, it's too early to predict whether this trend will grow stale and overused with the fans or triumphantly prevail but nevertheless it is a style that I think Tsunku and UFP are ready to invest in. Now if only they could do electropop with more than two girls getting solo lines! Reminds me of my next hope I had for 2012...

One of the Momusu Members Pulls a Chisato On Us

- Haha, no. When I say "Pull a Chisato" I mean an underrated, underused member of a group suddenly gets a huge push to the front and stays there, like Okai Chisato did in 2011 for C-ute. So Oda Sakura can't pull a Chisato because there's already a lot of attention and anticipation about her future position in Morning Musume. Eripon's been getting a slight push on the B-sides but not enough that I would say she's getting a lot of attention. Same with Masaki, she's been getting a push that's a little bigger than Eripon's but in the long run it's not the level that Riho's gotten. Mizuki also has a mild push with minor vocals and being forever paired with Sayu and Ayumi's getting a decent amount of attention too. Zukki and Haruka have gotten squat, especially Zukki. I suppose someone getting such a great push that Chissa did is only something that happens once every blue moon for UFP... It's just really frustrating when the person being pushed is one of the front girls you're not okay with! I feel like all the people I really want in the front are forever doomed to be shafted by UFP... but who knows? Reina's graduating and with that vocal crutch gone someone has to take her place. It's shaping up to be survival of the fittest for Morning Musume and I hope Haruka comes out on top.

Perfume Releases Something Edgy

- Unfortunately this did not come true; Perfume's music remained pretty light this year. That's not to say their music wasn't good, it was just very light. Point, Hurly Burly and Spring of Life were all very nice songs but not anywhere near as hardcore as Perfume can get. For a long time (well not really a long time but about two years now) I've really wanted Nakata to dabble into a harder-sounding more techno song like edge, GAME, or Fake It. I still do but I don't think this hope is as strong as it was in 2011. In fact, with the preview of Mirai no Museum, I'm starting to give up the idea of Perfume doing another hardcore song. It feels like their releases are getting lighter and happier in terms of sound and again, that's not a bad thing but a turn back to that direction would be really, really awesome. Two of their most popular songs are edge and Fake It and they're also two of the hardest songs the group has released. Who knows? Maybe their Japanese fans don't like harder and edgier type songs and since foreign fans aren't who the group particularly caters to, we're forever doomed to get stagnant singles that all have the same tone... That's so bleak though! I'm still going to cross my fingers and wait for another darker song even if I have to wait for five more years! Or FOREVER!

S/mileage Doesn't Give Me Another Heart Attack

- S/mileage didn't give me a heart attack. They just bored me to death. In hindsight, while 2011 was a really shocking (and infuriating) year for the previously 4nin S/mileage, it was also really interesting. As much as I hated the auditions for a second generation and the graduations of Yuuka and Saki, it was very interesting news that was very heavily talked about in the blogsphere. There were a boatload of varying opinions on the graduations/auditions and it was probably the biggest idol news of 2011, for me at least. I almost wish this blog had existed so I could have commented on it at the time... 2011 was also a pretty strong year for S/mileage's music. Sure, Tachiagaare sucks and the Koi ni Booing Buu! PV is terrifying but Shortcut, Uchouten Love, and Please Miniskirt Postwoman! are all really kickass songs that highlighted the best of S/mileage, particularly Uchouten Love. Now whenever I watch one of their older PVs, I get depressed because 2012 was not a good year for S/mileage. That chemistry from the original group is clearly gone and there were no breakout songs I really liked by them. Chotto Matte Kudasai! is forgettable and Dot Bikini is so quirky it's weird. The group did redeem themselves a bit with Suki yo, Junjou Hankouki and Samui ne is all right so maybe 2013 will be a better year for them.

Tokyo Girls' Style Gets Even Awesome-r

- I'll say semi-true. None of the group's material got to Limited Addiction levels of awesome but it was a pretty decent year for TGS in terms of music! The group also released an album titled Limited Addiction and that was pretty decent too but probably not my favorite album of the year. The only single that didn't jazz me was Tsuioku but Rock you! was a pretty cool single and Road to Budokan 2012 ~Bad Flower~ was without a doubt the strongest overall single the group released this year. That's probably because after releasing Tsuioku, the girls went on a three-month break, training some more with Avex and polishing their skills for the next single. That training really showed in the Road to Budokan single and you can tell how much the girls have improved, especially Hitomi! Oh my god, Hitomi sounds so good in Bad Flower and... everyone else does too but Hitomi when did your voice lose its squeak!? I think with that training, the girls really grew as idols and what I'm hoping is in their 2013 singles that we can see more of that improvement. Of course, I also want the songs to be good as well but ability of the group plays a part in that!

I Write More in This Blog

- Well, considering this post I'm writing write now is my 130th post and my 115th post for 2012, I can happily say this came true! I honestly can't believe I've written this much over the course of a year and managed to keep my grades afloat but somehow... I did! I really did! I even managed to pick up a few more readers this year and I recently broke 30,000 views! 30 flipping thousand! How crazy is that!? I'm hoping that next year I can continue writing on my blog and maybe I can even expand to talk about a few more groups like I did this year! I already have a few ideas of what I'm going to do next year and it's... well, I'll let it be a surprise! I'll just say that I think you guys are going to find it very interesting!

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