Minding The Gap

Up-Front and the Hello! Project have filled the gap in their release schedule with solo videos from two of their more popular idols and two full-length videos for ad campaigns. Let’s start with the most recent and work our way backwards.

Morning Musume and H!P leader Mizuki Fukumura gets her first proper (digital) solo release, a cover of KAN’s “Extra.” The mostly solo piano arrangement is identical to the original save for the key change, and after listening to both versions of this conventional ballad, I’ve come away with a greater appreciation for the singing of… KAN. This isn’t meant as a shot at Fuku, but rather an honest observation. Fuku falls into a trap that I imagine a lot of singers better than her would fall into when covering this song: putting too much emotion into her performance. The gut instinct is to emote when singing a love song, but “Extra” isn’t a love song, it’s an unrequited love song — the narrator is an extra in the life of the one they love. KAN’s restraint is appropriate to convey the lack of emotional connection the lyrics relate, and what emotion he does convey is mostly rhythmic or melodic. For the most part, though, he sings it simply. By contrast, Mizuki’s whispers and choked notes feel a bit, uh, extra. It’s entirely possible that the recording director coached Fuku to sing it this way, so I’ll give her a mulligan on this one.

Former MM leader Sayumi Michishige checks in with her first video in two years, an odd clip for “Sayutopia” from her latest compilation album of the same name. The song itself is from 2019 and fits seamlessly next to her other MVs, especially “OK! Ikimakucchae,” which is not surprising since the songs share the same writing team and arranger. It’s upbeat electronic idol-pop that should include a Melodyne license with every purchase.

So what’s so odd about this video? In terms of presentation, it’s a pretty stark break from every other piece of post-MM Sayu media. It’s obviously low budget, which is fine — I don’t mind the “low budget” so much as I do the “obviously.” Everything she’s done up until this — every video, photo shoot, album cover etc — has been presented with an almost fashion-model level of chic, and this ain’t that. The locations, the sets, the lighting and Sayu’s styling all feel off in an almost disturbing way. The huge pink inflatable-suit wearing extras don’t help in this regard, nor does the barrage of bright colors mixed with the nighttime shots of Tokyo. My sense is that the director is trying to convey “FUN” but what I’m mostly getting is “DRUGS.” With only 19K views after two days, it seems Sayu’s fans are as confused as I am.

Angerme and Ora² are back for Round 2 of their partnership following the extraordinary “SHAKA SHAKA TO LOVE” song and video. The original was about as close to perfect as it gets, from the song, the performance, the dance and the video — everything worked together to form a tight, fun package. I was crestfallen when I saw that the new song was not in fact a new song, but merely an update of the original, because it’s tough to improve on perfect.

“SHAKA SHAKA #2 LOVE Colorful Life Hen” trades the Vegas Revue arrangement of the original for off-the-rack electronic idol-pop, and the wonderfully seamless rap section for an ill-fitting neo-traditional Japanese bit that kills the flow and vibe of the track and requires a klunky build up to get back into it. The acting and the gags all feel forced this time around, in direct contrast to the original. It’s all very TRY HARD and all totally predictable once they decided not to write a new song. About the only thing that matches the original is the styling, which is fantastic.

Also continuing an advertising collaboration are Beyooooonds and Kagome, who dropped their second video late last month. Unlike Angerme, Biyo gets a brand new song, “Furefure Everyday,” and it’s winner. It doesn’t hit as hard as “Vitamin ME” right off the bat, but it hits hard enough to keep you coming back, and eventually you’re hooked. Hoshibe Sho provides another stellar pop song that features more hooks than a meat locker, this time with a folk feel and arrangement that includes banjo and fiddle along side the traditional guitar-pop array. The video is pure fun, with the girls sporting adorable summer dirndls and harvesting over-sized fruits and veggies (balloons). Miyo especially stands out to me, because I just always expect her to be the stylish “tough bitch,” so seeing her look and act so cute is a surprise. Everyone looks great, though, and the acting is as perfect as you would expect from Beyooooonds. In short, it’s everything that “SHAKA SHAKA #2” is not.

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