One of the few nuggets of gold to come out of the shit-pile that was 2020 H!P was the series of solo recordings released on Youtube. These are my five favorites, and you’ll notice some of H!P’s best singers missing from the list. The success of these recordings, for me, depends heavily on song choice, and these five were the best marriage of song and singer of the bunch.
5. Mei Yamazaki – “Tegami (Haikei Jūgo no Kimi e)”
When I saw that Mei had gotten a solo video of this song, I was intrigued, but also a little worried. I knew she had raw singer’s talent, but everything I’d heard from her to this point was very childish. How would a childish 15 year old girl be capable of singing the words of a 30 year old woman speaking to her own 15 year old self? Turns out Mei can sing with more maturity than we’d heard yet. Yeah, she still sounds like a kid, but she sings with appropriate weight and seriousness to make it work, and we hear more individual personality here than anything she’s yet done with Morning Musume.
4. Layla Ise – “Mikazuki”
Talk about a revelation! I’d seen enough of Layla to know she was competent young singer, but her version this oft-covered song showed me a personality to her singing that I didn’t know she possessed. She’s strong and clear throughout, even during the quieter sections, and makes what has become a J-pop standard all her own. She’s got a bit of mojo in her voice, too.
3. Miyo Hirai – “Umi no Koe”
I was giddy when I saw that Miyo would cover this song, because I knew she was one of the few in H!P who could really do it justice. The one nagging fear I had was the producer asking her to sing it with the same desperation as Kenta Kiritani, but they let Miyo be Miyo, and she delivers just the right amount of emotion for her. Miyo’s voice is perfect for this sort of neo-traditional Japanese pop, and she has the vocal range hit the lower notes with strength and clarity.
2. Momohime Kiyono – “Kosui”
This wasn’t one of the videos produced by H!P, but rather a performance on J-MELO that came out at the height of the lockdowns, and it’s phenomenal. I knew Hime was good, but I had no idea she could she could control herself this well and still pour so much raw emotion into it. That a 15 year old can deliver these lyrics with believable emotion is astonishing. She has the tools to eventually become one of H!P’s best singers, and by that I mean one of the best ever.
1. Sayuki Takagi – “Aitakute Ima”
Okay, I hear you: “WHERE THE #@*! IS SAKURA ODA?!” Oda’s version of this is a prime example of the wrong singer for the song. I love Sakura, but she’s not cut out to sing Misia. Sayuki is cut out to sing Misia, and listening to their takes back-to-back drives this fact home. Most people think of effortless, powerful belts and sweet improvs when they think of Sayuki, but she proves here that she can be just as exciting and engaging when restrained. She murders this track. I’ve stopped pretending that Sayubee isn’t the single greatest singer produced by the Hello! Project, and this performance is what sealed the deal for me.
These videos give us a closer look at the individual performers of the Hello! Project, and I think they push the girls to improve in a way they might not within the confines of their normal group routines. I hope they continue to produce these long after the lockdowns are a distant bad memory.