Friday, January 18, 2013

My Top 10 Ballads

As you all know, I am not a huge fan of C-ute's cover of Kono Machi. I spent a whole PV review saying that I didn't like how the original Moritaka Chisato song was turned into a ballad and that I really thought it took away from the enjoyment of the song. The ballad cover sounded slow and plodding to me, and although it's not a bad song, it's definitely not one of my favorite ballads.

So then I started thinking, "Are there any good ballads I've heard lately?" I realized no, not really but then I started also thinking about what ballads did I like? After all, I don't dislike ballads; there are just a lot of ballads I dislike. Does that make sense? What I'm trying to say is I have a small amount of ballads that I like. I think the reason that I'm not a fan of a lot of ballads is simply because of my song taste in general. I like music that has energy. And by energy, I mean a song that is energetic, regardless of style. If I'm listening to a happy song, I want it to be the most energetic, over-the-top happy song I've ever heard. Almost any style of music that backs itself up with a high amount of energy, chances are I'll probably like it or at least commend the song for its energy. The things is... ballads aren't energetic. Well, most of them aren't with a few exceptions. And since they lack one of the key things I look for in a good song, naturally there aren't a lot of ballads I like. Because to me, what defines a good ballad is emotion. A ballad tends to rely more on the vocals and less the musical arrangement to carry the song and if that vocalist can't provide the emotion they're trying to convey in their song, the entire song falls flat for me.  When a ballad, can make me feel the same emotion the singer has, that's when I know I'm gonna love this ballad. What can I say? I'm very particular when it comes to what ballads I like. That brings me back to my original question: what ballads do I like anyways? Surely there's a small handful of ballads I find good, I know there are! I've decided to limit my list to only J-pop ballads, since hey, that's what I write about (although I will say there are a lot of Western ballads that I adore too). But I've managed to compile some of my favorite ballads by J-pop artists that I follow! Some of them I picked for their emotion, others I picked because they make me curl up in a ball and cry. But I love all of them!

So get out your tissues because we are diving into my top ten personal favorite J-pop ballads!

10. 575 - Perfume

Ah, what better way to start off the list than with Perfume? The reason I put 575 so low on the list is because it's kind of a borderline ballad. Then again, that's what makes it such an interesting song! In contrast to the highly bland and boring VOICE, I loved this B-side on its first listen because of it's interesting arrangement. The verses that are sung are done in a haiku style: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 5 syllables hence the title of the song. The song is pretty much about lining up verses in 5-7-5 to reach out to a person the narrator doesn't want to slip through of her fingers. 575 is kind of a "lost love" song only the love isn't quite lost yet and that provides the conflict in the lyrics. It's a pretty melancholic concept but the sung verses are absolutely beautiful in both sound and arrangement, especially with its slow tempo. And then the song transitions into the rapping part. Now you might be thinking "What the what? I thought you said this was a ballad! What the hell are you on, Nia?" I know it sounds crazy; you never really put Perfume and rapping together but in 575 it works really well! And the rapping is good, much better than I thought it would be. 575 may seem like a strange excuse for a ballad at first but the elements woven together into the song and the clever use of haiku verses are what make this an amazing ballad and one of my favorite Perfume songs in general.

9. Koi ING - Morning Musume

This is another one of those borderline ballads and I almost thought about not including it on the list. I say that because although the songs starts out much like a ballad with a really slow opening and slow-paced vocals from Miki, Ai and Eri (who all sound great in this song). But then the song gets a little bit more energetic leading up to the chorus and then it's like all this energy just came bursting out of a box! Does that even make sense? In context, going from such a slow pace to a high-energy level sounds like mood whiplash but for Koi ING, it works well. Even when the song goes back to that slow pace after the chorus and then goes right back up to having a boatload of energy and bubbly happiness, it still works. For two completely different styles to be seamlessly blended together is a pretty remarkable feat. As you can see, the fact that this song is like 60% ballad and 40% song made me hesitant to put it on this list. But there are just so many parts about this ballad that I love. Like that piano intro? I love piano intros, the #1 ballad on this list has an amazing piano intro and I love the piano intro on Koi ING. Actually, I really think that the instrumental of this song holds up just as well as the original. Koi ING perfectly combines slow and pretty with upbeat and happy and it's still one of Morning Musume's best songs.

8. My alright sky - Suzuki Airi

Let me go ahead and say that My alright sky was the only saving grace of the Partenza album. In the middle of the electropop mess that was this mini album was a little R&B-influenced song sung by Suzuki Airi, one of it not the best singer in Hello! Project. Up until My alright sky, I hadn't listened to any of Airi's other solo songs. I mean, I knew she was a good singer and everything, I just didn't really pay attention to any of the album songs, B-sides, and the digital singles she'd released. My alright sky was the first time I realized just how talented Airi is as a vocalist; every note she hits in this ballad is perfect. She makes it sound so effortless too; one of the most difficult things for a singer to accomplish is making the song she's singing sound easy. It's extremely challenging and Airi makes this song sound like a piece of cake even. Airi's vocals are my favorite part about this song and I think it's what separates it from other ballads in that same R&B vein of music. And the song has a really good flow; it just seems to float along with Airi's vocals and it's a great song to listen to whenever I want to chill out. I actually love playing it while I'm driving considering driving in itself is extremely stressful. Funny thing is, when I first heard this song, I was like "WOW, Airi speaks really good English!" Then I found out it's not her... oh well! Airi sounds great in this ballad and that's why I love it!

7. Knight Flight - Kikkawa Yuu

I like Knight Flight for the same reason that I love My alright sky: the singer. I've always loved Kikkawa Yuu's voice (well... when it's not Vocoded and Autotuned to hell) and a ballad is the perfect opportunity for Kikka to really sing. And she hits a lot of different ranges, going from high to low then low to high and even doing a key change right in the middle of a flipping chorus! Kikka's voice is what essentially carries the song and the vocal arrangement is definitely the most interesting aspect of this ballad. I think my favorite part is the chorus and when Kikka goes partway into her head voice; usually head voice doesn't work as well on a recording as it does live, but in Knight Flight, her head voice fits with the song. And I really can't emphasize just how beautiful this chorus sounds; I wasn't expecting it when I first heard the song. Because while the verses are kind of soft, they're also pretty safe in terms of vocal range but then out of nowhere Kikka just starts hitting these high notes left and right and it works so amazingly. I actually looked up the live to this song to see if she could pull it off as well as she did in the recording and... yeah, she does. Knight Flight is a ballad that makes me appreciate Kikka's vocal abilities and it's a beautiful song. It's just one of those soothing songs that always calms me down when I play it!

6. For you... - Linlin

I think my first thought when I heard this song was, "Oh my god Linlin can sing." Something to note about Linlin was that she graduated just after I'd gotten into Morning Musume so her time in Morning Musume was an era I was never really present for. I never really got attached to her because why should I? She graduated! I'd looked into the group's past singles and I noticed she didn't even get a lot of lines or screen time so my interest in her remained low. Then I listened to For you, her solo on one of those H!P compilation albums and ever since then I've been scratching my head as to why in the hell UFP let her amazing voice got to waste. All right, I'm fairly certain it was her Chinese nationality that ever prevented Linlin from having real success in Momusu, but that's still a shitty reason to shaft her! I'm serious, Linlin's voice completely blew my mind when I heard this ballad; I had no idea she was such an amazing singer because I heard her so little in Morning Musume's songs. Linlin's voice is what makes For you such a perfect ballad; in the beginning, she sings very softly and delicate and her voice grows louder and stronger until she hits the chorus and it sounds absolutely beautiful. The minimal instrumentals only highlight how wonderful Linlin's voice is and it's a shame that I didn't hear her voice more in Morning Musume.

5. hitoribochi - BiS

Can I just take this moment to say that once again, the Brand-new Idol Society's music is totally awesome and you are really missing out if you're too stubborn to look past their weird image. I could probably make an entire list of my favorite BiS songs and Hitoribochi would definitely be high up on that list! Not only is it a great ballad, Hitoribochi is just a great song. This is a rock ballad and pretty much the only one on my list (unless you consider #2 a rock ballad). Honestly, this song feels more like a blend of rock and alternative; the opening especially reminds me something a jangly 80s band like R.E.M. or even The Cure would do. But then the chorus uses a lot of heavy guitars so I think Hitoribochi can be called an alt-rock ballad. And it's such a good song and it has everything I like in a ballad. The vocals are extremely emotional and hit their high point in the chorus and you can just hear the emotion behind the voices of BiS. The members of BiS also composed the lyrics for this song and I think that only makes the singing more genuine; the girls are singing what they wrote, not some producer, their own personal feelings and thoughts translated into music and lyrics. I would love to read an English translation of this song if I could find one someday, because I'll bet the lyrics are pretty thoughtful and carry as much emotion as the song does.

4. Sakura no Ki ni Narou - AKB48

Fun fact: Sakura no Ki ni Narou was the song that convinced me to give AKB48 another chance. At first, I just liked this song; I didn't ever expect myself to love it the same way I do now but things happen. Like graduations. Sakura no Ki ni Narou is one of AKB48's "Sakura songs" aka their graduation songs and any AKB fan knows that these songs tend to focus on growing up, graduating school, becoming adults, moving on, like a teen 80s movie only it's about Japanese idols! This is a very pretty ballad with a nice piano, soothing vocals and nostalgic lyrics. So why do I rank it so high on the list? Well... I think it has to do with the loudness of the song. The song starts out soft, really soft. But then the chorus is a bit louder. Then the following verses are a bit louder. And then the final chorus is when the song hits its peak both in volume and in emotion. Sakura no Ki ni Narou is like one giant emotional crescendo and it works beautifully. The lyrics are also beautiful, albeit somewhat abstract. What I gathered from the song is that the narrator was someone who was parting ways with the friends she'd grown close to, so Sakura no Ki ni Narou is not only a reflection of the friendships she had but a promise to remain true to those friends regardless of their obstacles. In the PV, that concept is really brought into the light and let me tell you right now, it's sad. Anyone who watches the PV knows it's essentially about a dead friend watching over her other friends as they grow up and move on with their lives while she's forever looking over them from the great beyond and it only adds to the moving nature of the song.

3. Shin'ai - Mizuki Nana

Oh hey, it's Mizuki Nana, that artist I kind-sorta bring up from time to time even though she has nothing to do with the material I review on this blog! Yeah, this is the only non-idol ballad I felt that I had to put on here simply because I really love this ballad. I've praised Mizuki Nana for her amazing voice again and again and for Shin'ai, her voice is once again one of the reasons it's such an amazing song. I think what makes a great ballad is if the singer can convey the emotions of the song through her voice and Nana does a great job at that. There are so many emotional highs and lows in this song from the soft and delicate verses to the emotionally passionate chorus. Nana wrote this song based around not romantic love but deep love (which is the English translation of the song title), like the bond you'd have between a family member or a friend or someone else you felt really close to. Nana herself wrote this song after the passing of her father, who was pretty much the person who pushed her so hard into having a singing career. Shin'ai is completely and utterly beautiful, a perfect combination of beautiful vocals and an even more beautiful instrumental. Seriously, the harpist in this song has some skills along with all the other instruments in this song. I always get teary-eyed when listening to Shin'ai and for that reason I decided to include it in my list.

2. secret base ~Kimi ga Kureta Mono~ - Zone

Ah, Secret Base. Isn't this song pretty well-known now? I know it's been covered by Scandal and used for two different animes and I'm certain that this amazing ballad has been covered by a bunch of other different artists. But of all the covers, the original has always been my favorite. This is one of those J-pop songs where knowing the English translation actually gives me a better appreciation of the song. Secret Base is essentially about a goodbye to friend after a long summer of laughing, crying, fighting and just living out their summer in their little "secret base." It's a simple enough message but sometimes simple messages are the best to reach out to listeners. Secret Base relies on nostalgia to pull the listener in, and that message of a summer friendship and the parting of two friends really reaches out to me because it's so relatable. I can't even count the number of friends I've made over the summer and the number I've never seen again. But I remember the summers we shared together and all the amazing memories that I've kept all these years after those summers have long flown by. There were happy times, sad times, and everything in-between but I really cherish the nostalgia of my past summers so a song about that reaches out to me. And I can hear those same feelings in the sheer vocals the song; the girls of Zone sound so expressive and emotional in Secret Base and combined with the nostalgic lyrics, I absolutely love this ballad. 

1. Seventh Heaven - Perfume

I have cried many tears to this song. I think my love for Seventh Heaven has really shot up in the past year mainly due to personal events that have given the song a lot of sentimental value to me. Around October 2012, a relative I'm very close to was in the hospital for critical pneumonia and it really hit me hard when I heard the news. I remember driving to class and crying my eyes out but trying to focus on the road and not think about the possibility that someone I loved so much could die. I even ended up skipping my first class because I was too much of a wreak to make it through an hour of material I didn't even care about. So there I was sitting in my car in the school parking lot with mascara running down my face and just trying to pull myself together to get to my next class. I pulled out my iPod and put Perfume on shuffle because it's Perfume; they've always been able to lift my spirits when I'm down. I just needed something to take my mind off things and their music really does that for me. On the shuffle list, I reached Seventh Heaven and this... feeling just overcame me. It was like this combination of melancholy, hope, sadness, happiness, I don't even know how to describe it. I'd always liked Seventh Heaven but this time listening to it was different. So I listened to it again. And again. To this day, I haven't ever felt a song that gripped me so emotionally since Seventh Heaven and I knew when I started writing this list, that Seventh Heaven is my absolute favorite ballad of all time. Even without my little sob story, it's a beautiful ballad with a lot of emotion and power in it. The lyrics are incredibly melancholic and the instrumental is absolutely amazing. If you need a song that'll give you waterworks, I'd listen to Seventh Heaven. I know it has me crying every time I listen to it.

So with that sappy story out of the way, I've only got one question for you guys: what are your favorite ballads? Which ones make you feel good? Which ones make you cry? Which ones make you cry even though you're too tough to tell anyone?


  1. I don't know if I would count 575 as a ballad but that is definitely one of my favourite Perfume songs :3

    1. I was hesitant about putting it on the list because I wasn't sure if I could count it as a ballad or not but since the verses are so slow and the lyrics are rather sad, I figured I'd put it on there! It's a great Perfume song and nicely different from their usual style of technopop!