My Five Favorite Men in Japanese Pop
Partially inspired by Randi’s Top 20 Asian Females post over at pink_wota, partially because after a recent JE-fandom wankfest post that sprung up on LJ I need to remind myself who I love and why I love them, and also just because.
Also because I’m procrastinating on the other 19 posts I have waiting to be written on this blog. (Some go back to… March. When I started this version of the blog. Ouch.)
Unsurprisingly, you will see Johnny’s on here. Very unsurprisingly, you will see AAA on here. (At least, I would hope that’s very unsurprising to you. If not, you haven’t read this blog much, have you?) Because this is a list of only 5 men and all of them in primarily music-based careers. If we were to throw in actors, the list would be longer, include a variety of ages (including one Terajima Susumu and one Yamamoto Taro), and be somewhat less personal and pretty. If we were to throw in males in Japanese music who I feel admiration towards (Kimeru, Gackt, and Miura Daichi being three of them) then this would be a lot less personal, and only slightly more pretty. Hopefully what you want from me here is the personal and a bit of the pretty.
o5/ Sakurai Sho [Arashi]
For a fandom I only recently began to consider joining, this hit me hard. But if you’ve read this blog, you know Arashi hit me hard too.
I’m still not quite sure what Sho has done to be ranked this high. What I can tell you is that everything I’ve seen and known of him has left me amused or appreciative in some way. He can’t play sports (except soccer) to save his life, but has built his body to one of the best to be found in Arashi. While I’m at it, he’s not very artistic, either. But he’s worked and earned himself a bachelor’s degree in Economics while Arashi as a group was still in their fledgling stage. He’s a regular newscaster, and while I’m sure part of the reason why he was offered the post is because he is a member of Arashi, it still means he’s getting practice with a job that he can continue to do long after his boyband years are over. He loves kids, and he apparently comes up with the stupidest pick-up lines. His rapping’s not especially good, but he’s in a boyband and the focus of that usually isn’t rap, and his singing isn’t bad at all. And when Arashi is raging insanity on a variety show, he seems to be the sanest – even as he joins in the fun.
Basically, he’s my complete opposite in almost every way. (But for the record – I also fail at sports and pick-up lines. Not that I really want to use the latter on anyone anyways.) Because of that he also intrigues me. I like learning more about him, and especially what he does in a position so different from mine, because it’s a fun person study. And it’s also inspiring, I suppose. But excuses aside, I am amused and attracted, and that may very well be why he has achieved his place.
o4/ Sueyoshi Shuuta [AAA]
There are times when I think Shuuta shouldn’t be on this list. While my second favorite member of AAA, a big part of his appeal comes from his looks. (By the way, that picture up there is driving me to distraction.) I do enjoy his singing voice, yes, but it doesn’t pop up as often as I’d like in AAA songs for me to enjoy it as much as I could. I think his dancing skills are really good – I’m still wowed every time I watch the Dance Corner from the 1st ATTACK DVD. But breakdancing and hip-hop dancing are the norm for a large number of groups I pay attention to.
And then my mind lands on Otakon and I know just why he is where he is.
He doesn’t pander to the fans anywhere near the level that Nissy does, but he’s very personable. He does as much of a job as Hidaka when it comes to crowd-raising, though his image within AAA has usually been the strong/silent type. He’s a jokester – AAA agrees unanimously, and just by his talks during the MC at the Otakon performance, it’s easy to tell.
Also, I got to hug him and that makes me happy. That one thing alone may be half the reason why he’s this high. I know you’re laughing at me now. Shuddup.
o3/ Segawa Mototaka/motsu [m.o.v.e; Mother Ninja]
motsu is very likely the oldest man on this list. The next oldest man is only about to turn 29 when the next year comes – on a good day without the airbrushing, motsu looks a few years older. And actually, he doesn’t look all that physically great compared to the other guys on this list.
But yet he spins out his interesting lyrics and raps with the younger kids just fine – though in actuality, he’s been pumping rap since before they actually came on the scene. He’ll play himself up as the joke in the name of fun and for the sake of entertainment, but he takes his work seriously. He’s easily an actual MC and the Japanese concept of it (which would be “the designated rapper”), but also a remixer and lyricist, sings decently, acts well enough for the camera in their music videos whether he’s being a zombie or green-armpit haired pseudo-punk rocker, and quite the television personality. I sound trite, I know, and these words have been used to describe many a favorite Japanese entertainment persona – but I think it’s especially clear how well they suit motsu. All you need to do is watch their PVs or listen to a few different songs from m.o.v.e to see how much of a chameleon he is – he adapts himself to the situation and atmosphere perfectly, and if there isn’t one, he creates it. motsu is the quintessential entertainer, and I think – hope – Max Matsuura realizes it. (Though he may, because despite m.o.v.e not selling amazingly well in Japan, they’re still on the avex label. Or that could be because they go way back with avex.)
Oh, and his hair. His ridiculous hair. Be it an afro, a mohawk, near-bald, spiked, hip-hop, dreadlocks, it doesn’t matter. He changes it, wears it, and does it proud. And does me proud to be an amused fan in the process.
o2/ Domoto Koichi [KinKi Kids]
It would be a lie to say this man was my introduction to Johnny’s fandom. First off, that was NEWS; second off, if you’ve been reading this blog since its first incarnation, you know my interest in him started only a year ago with the J-drama series Remote.
And funnily enough, it wasn’t even that I adored him in Remote – his acting was wooden at times (to go with the character, perhaps), and his looks in that drama nothing so special. It was that I looked him up after Remote, and that I liked what I saw and heard. And despite all that liking, he really wouldn’t be as high on this list as he is if not for the Magic special that he hosted in mid-September, where I got to see Koichi mix with magic tricks and be genuinely wowed with a childish enthusiasm.
I still maintain that he isn’t the best singer. He is not the most charismatic man, and he’s not especially “cool”, either – something he’ll be the first to admit. But he is a pretty good dancer, who has a hot body and face, and he has fun working hard at what he does with who he does. (I think especially of Musical Academy here.)
And like most Johnny’s members that have fangirls trailing after them, he is a big dork. His nickname is apparently “Prince” because he seems like one with his mouth closed, and he has the ability to portray himself as impossibly sexy for a man who looks like a girl, but it is his childish aspects that draw me to him. Koichi makes me think that it is okay to stay a kid even when everyone is watching you sex things up on stage, and while I know that’s part of selling himself, it is nonetheless a quality I appreciate.
o1/ Urata Naoya [AAA]
This man deserves no less than the top spot on this list. Let me recount to you a tale from this past weekend.
I went to a karaoke marathon with friends. 6 straight hours of singing and fun, you read that right. It didn’t matter that at times there were people singing alone, or that not everyone knew or especially approved of the music genres entered (I cringed as my friends roared out visual kei in my ears, they groaned with the boyband entries. We’re even.) – the point is that we had fun.
I digress greatly. At one point, NEWS’ Hoshi wo Mezashite popped up – a song that I put in and would be singing solo to. Like most Asian karaoke places and machines I’ve seen in the US, this place usually doesn’t use the original music videos – and the video they used for this was of a group of street dancers.
Surprise, surprise, guess who was in that group? And guess how I reacted? If you guessed “Freaked out every time Urata came onscreen and pretty much forgot to sing the song”, you get a cookie.
He drew my attention the instant I watched AAA’s debut music video, he captured my thoughts for the past two years plus, and he is the one I continue to pay attention to until he fades completely from the public eye. His voice has evolved from the slightly-above-average one of backup dancer, to that of one who deserves to be a lead singer for the group. His looks and style have changed in various ways – and to be honest, I don’t think he really has developed a sense of fashion yet, nor is he an especially handsome man, but it endears me to him. If there is a man in J-Pop that I can and will say that I love, it is this one. I dropped everything for a weekend in Baltimore to see AAA as a whole, but the first one I cared about speaking to (and the first time I have initiated any dialog in Japanese with a native speaker) was Urata, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I can’t say Urata has changed my life and I can’t say I’m his biggest fan. (It’s really hard to claim that, for anyone. There is usually someone bigger whose life has been actually influenced because of the person’s presence, and they are usually related or dating. I am neither in this case, and I really think that if you’re going to claim either bit without being one or the other you’d better have a pretty good reason.) What I can say, though, is that he has made me content to watch him, to appreciate him, to adore him from (much) afar, and to continue to do so for as long as I can.
I suppose there also needs to be a special mention.
Special Honors/ w-inds.
All three boys are included in that, relatively equally. (Okay, so Ryuichi gets shoved… somewhere… a bit lower… I’ll be running from his fangirls if you need me now.) They were essentially my first actual J-music fandom, where I grew out of merely enjoying the music as it came my way and started searching out specific artists, paying more attention to the people behind the music – not just vocalists, but lyricists and composers and even labels – and the marketing of Japanese idols.
Keita (who I affectionately dubbed and have since continued to call “Tacchicken”) caught my notice first because of his role as lead vocals, but then Ryohei grew onto me as the shy dancer and eventual leader of the trio, and Ryuichi, despite slipping out of the rapper role, managed to squeeze himself into the doorway as well. And for the time that I was their fan, I grew with them. Saw them develop into more than just processed talent, and grew myself. (Perhaps not mentally. The jury is out on that one.)
Whenever the questions “Why do you like so-and-so group?” or “Why is [artist] important to you?”, I rarely know what to answer. And as if in exchange for my inability to answer, there is always the “They cheered me up when I was feeling incredibly depressed” response, the “They helped me to keep going when I didn’t know what to do” and “They inspired me” sort that makes you wonder. Are these people delusional? Was the music incredibly profound and somewhere along the way I missed it? Were they personally affected by something that just didn’t reach me? I don’t mean to cheapen their feelings, but for someone like me, who is generally apathetic, it’s too hard to believe. And it’s usually hard for me to answer that sort of question with anything more than “I just like them. WHY IS THAT NOT ALLOWED?”. With w-inds., though, I know why I’m grateful.
Without them, I undeniably wouldn’t have started this blog (which was originally started because I wanted to post my opinions on their BOOGIE WOOGIE 66 single) or fell in love with AAA or really have known anything about anyone in Japanese music, much less typing this now. I could be another one of those music “fans” who don’t care whether or not BoA actually sang the song, or have little opinion except for what everyone has said without ever actually hearing whatever is being discussed just to seem knowledgeable. And I think had I not discovered that I did like this group, a lot of friends (online and off) that I have made and met would not be people I know or be friends with today. For the time I was their fan, they were a defining part of who I was. I really have a lot to thank them for, and while they’re not as high on my lists anymore – they’re certainly hovering around there.
But in retrospect, perhaps I should be blaming them instead. All those dollars and minutes spent on CDs and DVDs and merchandise and words and breaths wasted and… oh dear.
w-inds.? I want my life back. The past 4 and a half years, all of it.