Escapist bops and deep pop: music was a mood in 2021


Earlier this month, one of the biggest musical moments of the year was awarded second place in the New Words and Buzzwords Awards year-end ranking. Word, “usseewa, “translates to” shut up “in English but, when you master the correct accent, it may sound more like” shut up F- up ”, and it was the title of a song by the teenage musician Ado.

For a society still in the throes of a pandemic, the trail served as a circular kick aimed at, well, whoever came closest. It came out at the end of 2020 but rose to prominence in 2021 as COVID-19 stole everything about young Japanese people, from paid jobs to crazy parties in Tokyo. Forgive them for needing to let off steam.

J-pop in general hasn’t quite followed Ado’s call to rage against routine. But as COVID-19 cases hit record highs thanks to the delta variant, the industry has had to figure out how to live with the “new normal.” Festivals like Fuji Rock and Supersonic put on small-scale shows, while the majority, like Rock in Japan, had to cancel for the second year in a row.

Everyone in entertainment was learning to adapt this year, and those in music were doing it after what turned out to be quite a pivotal year for Japanese pop. The first digital path forged in 2020 by artists like Yoasobi and NiziU, who used non-traditional platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and TikTok to achieve stardom, was the one older artists jumped on in 2021. Make it happen. beware, western writers: the CD narrative dominating the Japanese market is obsolete, J-pop has accepted our reality of streaming. And with live entertainment largely off the table for most of the year, the internet has remained at the center of the music world.

Watch the programming of the YouTube channel The first take shows how the old guard is embracing new digital opportunities. The site, which allows musicians to perform any of their songs in one take, was known as a taste maker for emerging artists. Recently, however, he has seen visits from J-rock giants Glay, Tomoyasu Hotei and Porno Graffitti seeking to show that they are still with him.

Even now, one of the most discussed musical topics recently has been the latest album by rock band Sakanaction. live webcast only. Neat… but not really revolutionary anymore.

Still, this is not a review. We are all in a state of “languid, and everyone deserves a little time to adjust. What could be more interesting is looking at the musical year through a blurry, emotional lens – Ado’s outburst of anger wasn’t the only “feeling” of 2021.

Break with reality

Who has not wanted to escape 2021? If a quest for the opposite of reality was what you were looking for, then K-pop had you covered, delivering positive vibes to a Japanese – and global – audience who felt utterly detached from life in the second year of the pandemic. .

Based on numerous streaming rankings and subscriptions, BTS dominated the Japanese pop scene. The smooth funk of “Butter”Was not only a digital success, but ubiquitous in TV shows, YouTube dance tutorials and TikTok downloads. next single “Permission to dance”Performed almost as well, and the band topped it off by releasing their best-of debut album in Japan, which went on to become one of the best-selling longplayers of the year (in part because it was released in nine different physical versions, reminding us how well K-pop has adapted to its neighbor’s market by adopting the sales models launched by AKB48).

That optimism – bordering on delusional, the “Permission To Dance” video crescendo with pictures of people happily removing face masks, now a feverish dream in front of the omicron – was exactly the type of fantasy people craved. even in relatively unscathed Japan. Besides BTS, other K-pop groups Seventeen and Twice continued to perform well serving their own breakout bops.

They were joined by a new generation of hybrid acts made up mostly of Japanese members but with some involvement from South Korean entertainment companies under the guise of JO1, NiziU and INI. The music and movements in these projects were built from what made K-pop a global force and that influence spilled over to groups such as BE: FIRST, a fashionable outfit born out of a series of Hulu competitions without any connection to a Korean entity.

Of course, the pop family of Johnny & Associates has remained at the center of the musical discourse, but this year an agency that was once extremely controlling and closed-minded has continued to slack off. He started an English Twitter account and adopted YouTube both as a distribution platform and as a way to showcase the personalities of their performers (Johnny’s even plans to launch a chain of games in January). This new approach coincided with the rise of a new set of names such as snowman, King and Prince and Naniwa Danshi appearing in our mentions.

Facing reality

On the opposite end of the spectrum are a lot of artists who have become even more emotional in their songwriting. Driven by the success of his 2020 hit “Yoru ni Kakeru,” a deceptively paced song concealing lyrics about throwing yourself off the top of a building, Yoasobi continued to keep it real.

The duo have never been darker than this this year (maybe YouTube slapped a “content warning” on the “Yoru ni Kakeru” video made them rethink it was too real) but Yoasobi hit a string of hits revolving around the muffled sounds in “Kaibutsu”(“ Monster ”) and lyrics touching on the boredom of modern life in“Sangenshoku”(“ RGB ”).

This world weariness has spread to established acts like Zutto Mayonaka by Iinoni and the next big thing HOUSE, while Rock act Official Hige Dandism used the pandemic to reflect on their own emotions and state of mind on the latest album “Editorial”, one of the year’s greatest feature films.

There was a portion of melancholy hidden among the floating licks of Awesome City Club’s hit “Wasurena, “while the biggest song of the year by pure metric was” from singer-songwriter Yuuri “Dry flower. Both were intimate, stripped-down examinations of failed relationships that, unlike similar pop songs of the past, were more negative than uplifting – fitting in a year in which many of our relationships seemed to be fading (you can only take ‘a limited number of alcoholic evenings). on Zoom).

The star of the Reiwa era

In August, Kaze Fujii was named one of the 21 most exciting musicians on the planet by the men’s magazine GQ. While those sort of listings are often a bit of a gamble on whether or not the artist keeps their promise, Fujii’s production throughout 2021 has been delivered, highlighted by the sparkling “Kirari. “

TikTok continues to be the primary vehicle for smaller artists to break into the mainstream, and this year it was the uncomfortable skitter of electronic artist Mom’s “Akarui Mirai“and the triumphant we-made-it brags about the rapper from Fukuoka Dada”Dropout”Which recorded teenagers dancing in their bedrooms. Meanwhile, digital natives such as singer-songwriter Vaundy tinkered with several sounds and moods (check out “Odori Ko“for a taste) over the year to become an online success story. And, of course, TikTok’s Reiwa Era delivery system brought back a few Showa Era (1926-89) classics such as the 1978 Taeko Onuki album “4:00 am“and the cult classic of the 80s by Jun Togawa”Suki Suki Daisuki”(As an NSFW meme), plus contemporary hits adjacent to anime courtesy of Ali and rapper Aklo.

Finally, one of the best tracks of 2021 was squarely rooted in the Heisei era (1989-2019). Hikaru Utada “One last kiss“was written for the final installment of the ‘Evangelion’ film series, which concluded the year with the biggest domestic box office of 2021. Taken from the context of giant robots and adolescent trauma,” One Last Kiss “comes across as a wonderful song about appreciating the moment before something ends, like all things.

Produced with PC Music AG chief Cook, “One Last Kiss” does not seek to escape cold realities or give in to cynicism about difficult times. Rather, he finds Utada embracing a hard-earned maturity – flourishing, not languishing – in a fleetingness that can be incredibly difficult to accept. It’s a place where I hope we can all be in 2022.

In accordance with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, concert halls and other public spaces.

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